Latourell Falls was a gorgeous waterfall that had the distinction of being the closest major waterfall of the Columbia River Gorge to the City of Portland. It possessed remarkable overhanging columnar basalt cliffs that allowed Latourell Creek to do a 249ft free-falling plunge with no contact with most of the underlying cliff, making it in one of the more unique such waterfalls in the gorge. Even the mighty Multnomah Falls made contact with its underlying cliff for most of its drop, but as you can see in the photos later on in this page, the drop of Latourell Falls was mostly a straight plunge before it smashed into the jumble of broken basalt rocks at its base. Speaking of the basalt, the overhanging cliffs showed obvious hexagonal column formations (hence it was said to be an example of a columnar basalt waterfall). Some of them were vertical while others seemed to have been bent and sheared off. Whether its current form was the result some repeated violent episodes of massive lava flows and massive Ice Age floods, it seemed certain that this waterfall showed plenty of signs of a seemingly cataclysmic past. And even though basalt columns and waterfalls weren’t all that rare around the world (Svartifoss in Iceland and Browns Falls in Australia came to mind as examples of such waterfalls with pronounced basalt columns around it), Latourell Falls could very well be one of the tallest and largest waterfalls of this kind in the world!
Our visits to this waterfall were very straightforward. From the fairly spacious parking lot, we took a well-developed and short path descending towards then along Latourell Creek before reaching the base of the waterfall. The trail continued to bend back away from the falls towards a footbridge spanning the creek for an opportunity to use its railings to steady the camera and take that silky long exposure shot (assuming you didn’t bother bringing a tripod down here). The trail actually kept going and it turned out to be part of a longer 2.1-mile loop hike that encompassed the Upper Latourell Falls (said to be 80-100ft tall). Since I didn’t do that hike, I can’t really say much more about it though I am keen to give that hike a go when the opportunity presents itself.
In addition, there was a paved ramp that ascended from the parking lot to an alternate view of Latourell Falls, which is shown at the top of this page. This particular view was more distant, but it allowed us to experience the falls with more of context as the view was more elevated though the trees seemed to be in the process of obscuring the view as they would continue to grow. The trail continued to ascend beyond this point as part of the other side of the 2.1-mile loop hike encompassing the Upper Latourell Falls. On the way back down to the parking lot, I had to be careful because the ramp was steep enough with enough loose gravel to cause the footing to be a bit slippery.
Latourell Falls was the westernmost of the major waterfalls along the Old Columbia River Highway. The shortest, most scenic, and potentially the fastest way to reach the waterfall was to drive about 19 miles on the eastbound I-84 from Portland to the exit 22 towards Corbett. Once we got off the ramp, we then turned right at the stop sign and followed the NE Corbett Hill Rd for about 1.3 miles before turning left at the fork to go east on the Historic Columbia River Hwy for 5.2 miles to the Latourell Falls Parking Lot on the right (note that the Vista House was about 2.8 miles on the way or 2.4 miles west of the parking lot for the falls).
Alternately, we could drive on eastbound I-84 for 25 miles (30 minutes drive without traffic) to the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28), then turn right to follow the Historic Columbia River Highway headed west for 2.8 miles before reaching the Latourell Falls Parking Lot on the left.
You can find this waterfall a little over 3 miles due west along the Historic Columbia River Highway from the Bridal Veil Exit off the I-84. This exit is 26 miles (30 minutes drive) east of Portland.
If you’re headed west on the I-84 then the best exit would be at exit 22 for Corbett. This exit was about 22.5 miles (under 30 minutes drive) west of Cascade Locks. Once on the Corbett exit, turn left and follow NE Corbett Hill Rd and follow the directions as above (for the Corbett exit and not the Bridal Veil exit).
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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