Horsetail Falls was another one of the really easy waterfalls to visit within the Columbia River Gorge. Perhaps the hardest part about a visit to this waterfall would be finding a parking spot, especially if it happened to be later in the day. After scoring a parking spot, all we had to do was cross the Old Columbia River Highway and we were pretty much staring right at the waterfall! We’ve seen this waterfall in high flow during a rain storm in the Spring as well as in lower flow in late Summer. During high flow, there was too much spray around the falls to get close to it. But in the Summer, we were able to take advantage of a short footpath that went around to the left descending to the shady plunge pool where lots of people were chilling out to enjoy the cool light spray from the falls or wading in the calm plunge pool, especially on a hot day. There was also a picnic area before the descent sandwiched between the falls area and a sign adjacent to the start of the hike up to the Ponytail Falls.
In any case, this year-round waterfall on Horsetail Creek featured an impressive 176ft drop broken into two tiers through a narrow chute flanked by rounded dark gray rock layers composed of columnar basalt. Given the moisture resulting from a moist climate as well as spray from the falls, lots of moss had grown on these steep cliffs concealing much of the signature hexagonal columns normally associated with basalt. As far the shape of the waterfall, we tended to think of it as having more of a skinny hourglass shape. Some of the early visitors who saw the falls envisioned a horse’s tail and the name stuck. A sign here said that this was an example of a tiered waterfall though others in the literature believed this falls had a horsetail formation. We’ll leave it up to you to determine how this waterfall should be classified.
Given the height of the falls, it wasn’t easy to photograph up close, but if we tried to get all of the Horsetail Falls in a photo, the midday and afternoon could very well be shining right against the camera lens in the line of sight of the falls. Indeed, this north-facing waterfall would probably best photographed under overcast skies or when there were long shadows either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
The parking lot for Horsetail Falls was about 2.5 miles east on the Historical Columbia River Highway from the Multnomah Falls Lodge. We accessed the Old Columbia River Highway to that lodge by taking the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) off the eastbound I-84, then keeping left to follow the Old Columbia River Highway east for about 5.6 miles to the parking lot on the left (note the Multnomah Falls Lodge was 3 miles from this exit). The exit 28 was about 25 miles (about 30 minutes drive without traffic) east of Portland, where the I-84 freeway began.
Coming from the other direction, we took exit 35 (Ainsworth State Park) off the westbound I-84, then followed the NE Frontage Road for about 1.7 miles to the parking lot for Horsetail Falls on the right. This exit was about 9 miles (15 minutes drive) west of Cascade Locks.
For some geographical context, Portland was about 49 miles (over an hour drive) west of Cascade Locks, 75 miles (90 minutes drive) west of Hood River, 80 miles (1.5 hours drive) east of Cannon Beach, 112 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Eugene, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Medford, 173 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Seattle, Washington, 440 miles (7 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho, and 423 miles (6.5 hours drive) north of Redding, California.
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