Multnomah Falls

Columbia River Gorge / Portland, Oregon, USA

About Multnomah Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside; 2 miles round trip (to top)
Suggested Time: 90 minutes (to top)

Date first visited: 2009-03-28
Date last visited: 2017-08-16

Waterfall Latitude: 45.57627
Waterfall Longitude: -122.11596

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Multnomah Falls is easily the Columbia River Gorge’s most famous waterfall and could very well be the state of Oregon’s prime natural attraction.

While our visits have constantly shown that it was always busy here (hardly surprising as it’s said to be visited by over 2 million people a year), all of that was forgotten once we stood before this towering 620ft two-tiered column of water with year-round flow.

Multnomah_Falls_009_08212009 - Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls

In fact, we’ve frequently seen this waterfall proclaimed to be the second tallest year-round waterfall in the United States and the fourth tallest in North America.

Whether these claims are true or not, it felt like all the academic trivia didn’t matter so much as we were content to simply enjoy it for what it was – a majestic waterfall!

Thus, we could totally understand its popularity, especially considering it was pretty close to Portland.

Heck, we enjoyed this waterfall so much that we even felt compelled to put it on our Top 10 List of the best waterfalls in the USA as well as our Top 10 Best Oregon Waterfalls List.

The Heritage of Multnomah Falls

Multnomah_Falls_17_022_08162017 - It can get quite busy on the iconic Benson Bridge, which sat between the upper and lower drops of Multnomah Falls
It can get quite busy on the iconic Benson Bridge, which sat between the upper and lower drops of Multnomah Falls

Even though we’ve seen quite a few towering waterfalls of at least this size, what really made this one stand out was that it seemed to have a bit of heritage to go with it.

Case in point, there was an arched bridge spanning across the waterfall’s lower 69ft drop.

Called the Benson Bridge, it was built in 1914 and named after a Norwegian-born lumber baron who deeded this falls as well as a few others to the City of Portland.

I think it was this bridge that really made Multnomah Falls a recognizable icon.

Multnomah_Falls_17_003_08162017 - In front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which acted as a visitor center, souvenir shop, and as a cafe
In front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which acted as a visitor center, souvenir shop, and as a cafe

Fronting the falls was the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, which was built in 1925 and had a classic look about it thanks to designer Albert E. Doyle who designed many recognizable buildings in Portland.

These days, the lodge was being used as a souvenir shop, visitor center, and restaurant.

Experiencing Multnomah Falls

As for visiting the falls, it was literally a breeze.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was to find parking despite its massively large combined parking area encompassing an area right in front of the historic lodge as well as a separate lot sandwiched between the opposite directions of the I-84 (see directions below).

Multnomah_Falls_17_008_08162017 - It can get quite busy at the Multnomah Falls given how easy it was to access it, especially in recent years as its notoriety as well as the population overall has grown
It can get quite busy at the Multnomah Falls given how easy it was to access it, especially in recent years as its notoriety as well as the population overall has grown

Once we parked the car, we literally just had to walk towards the concrete walkway adjacent to the historic lodge and immediately start cranking our necks to gawk at the towering waterfall.

If the views weren’t enough, it was possible to hike up a paved path towards the Benson Bridge even up to the top of Multnomah Falls or beyond (which I’ll describe later on in this page).

Julie and I have been to the falls on at least three separate trips so far.

The first time was in the midst of some pretty nasty late Winter storms in late March/early April of 2009.

Columbia_River_Gorge_074_03282009 - Multnomah Falls when we first saw it in late March 2009 when it was swollen by a late Winter storm
Multnomah Falls when we first saw it in late March 2009 when it was swollen by a late Winter storm

As you can see from the photos on this page, the thickness of the Multnomah Falls was quite noticeable under those wet conditions.

As a result, the viewing area at the base was sprayed with mist so it wasn’t easy to take photos from there without waterspots getting on the lens.

The next two times we came here were in August of 2009 and 2017.

While the falls took on a more slender appearance (see the photo at the top of this page), we felt it was just as beautiful (if not more so) than the swollen state of the falls that we saw it in during the rain storm on our Spring 2009 visit.

Columbia_River_Gorge_414_03302009 - Context of the Multnomah Falls Lodge fronting the Multnomah Falls itself under some fairly bad weather so there wasn't a whole lot of people when we showed up in late March 2009
Context of the Multnomah Falls Lodge fronting the Multnomah Falls itself under some fairly bad weather so there wasn’t a whole lot of people when we showed up in late March 2009

One thing we hadn’t done was to try to photograph the falls with Autumn colors, which I’m sure would add a whole different character to the scene.

Finally, we got to spend a bit of time at the visitor center given the bad weather on our first visit here in March 2009.

That gave us a chance to learn a bit more about the geology of this place as there were pretty cool 3-D models on display, waterfall comparisons between the Multnomah Falls and other famous ones, lots of historical and scientific tidbits, and more.

I guess in the end, there were certainly many ways to linger here and soak in the experience, so to speak.

The Top of Multnomah Falls (Difficulty: 2.5)

Multnomah_Falls_17_065_08162017 - Looking down over the brink of Multnomah Falls
Looking down over the brink of Multnomah Falls

While the views from the immediate lookout would be pretty sufficient for viewing and photography purposes, sometimes we felt like we needed to do something more to savor the experience.

That’s where this option to extend the visit comes in.

While the vast majority of visitors (some jokingly say 95% of them) would be content to go no further than the Benson Bridge (about a quarter-mile up or a half-mile round trip), I actually managed to go all the way to the top and back.

This longer hike encompassed the Benson Bridge as well as a surprise waterfall further upstream of the main drops of Multnomah Falls.

Columbia_River_Gorge_395_03302009 - An overhang with fencing put in place to catch falling rocks that might shed from the vertical cliffs around Multnomah Falls
An overhang with fencing put in place to catch falling rocks that might shed from the vertical cliffs around Multnomah Falls

The top of the falls was a one-mile hike in each direction or 2 miles round trip.

The paved ramp to ascend beyond the main lookout began behind the Multnomah Falls Lodge.

After passing through a gate (which I’d iamgine would be closed if the there was trail work or if the conditions were too dangerous), the path made a couple of switchbacks before following beneath an overhang.

Cages were set up to prevent large objects from falling onto the trail at this overhanging section.

Under rainy conditions, we also spotted a temporary waterfall that flowed before the overhangs then underneath the trail eventually joining up with Multnomah Creek down below.

Multnomah_Falls_17_030_08162017 - The trail continuing beyond the Benson Bridge towards base of the upper drop of Multnomah Falls before climbing in earnest up the 11 signed switchbacks to the top of the falls
The trail continuing beyond the Benson Bridge towards base of the upper drop of Multnomah Falls before climbing in earnest up the 11 signed switchbacks to the top of the falls

After a quarter-mile, I approached the often crowded Benson Bridge, where I could look upstream at the 520ft upper drop of Multnomah Falls or look down at the crowded main lookout where people were already starting to look tiny.

Beyond the bridge, the trail ascended towards one switchback close to the upper waterfall before veering away and going around a bend towards a shaded forested area.

Right around the bend, I was greeted with a sign saying “Switchback 1 of 11” so I treated that as sort of a progress indicator though some of the switchbacks didn’t seem to be counted if they were shorter and in succession.

The path remained sloping and paved as it navigated up the switchbacks, and even though the crowds had considerably thinned out compared to the Benson Bridge and the base of the falls, there were still enough people on the narrow trail slow my progress.

Multnomah_Falls_17_054_08162017 - On the ascending asphalt trail leading up to the top of Multnomah Falls
On the ascending asphalt trail leading up to the top of Multnomah Falls

This was especially the case when I had to be opportunistic about passing slower hikers, especially those in groups.

Some parts of the paved trail showed damage from tree roots growing beneath the asphalt while others had rocks strewn across them.

I wonder if it’s perhaps cheaper to have a natural trail instead of a paved one.

Nevertheless, some of the switchbacks revealed partial glimpses of the Multnomah Falls while others revealed parts of the Columbia River.

The climb actually topped out at around switchback 7 or 8, where it had climbed about 895ft up to that point.

Multnomah_Falls_17_059_08162017 - The trail to the top of Multnomah Falls was both narrow and busy so passing opportunities were quite limited
The trail to the top of Multnomah Falls was both narrow and busy so passing opportunities were quite limited

Then, the trail started descending for the remaining switchbacks before a signed trail junction took me onto the final spur leading to the overlook above the top of Multnomah Falls.

The continuation of the main trail kept going towards Larch Mountain.

On the final approach to the overlook, I saw plenty of people enjoying the calmer parts of Multnomah Creek as it appeared to be the only place in the immediate vicinity to access the creek (it definitely wasn’t allowed at the bottom).

When I finally got to the overlook platform (about a mile or more from the base of the falls), there was a surprise cascade or waterfall about 15ft tall, which sat a little more set back from the main drop of Multnomah Falls.

Multnomah_Falls_17_074_08162017 - The surprise waterfall just upstream of Multnomah Falls
The surprise waterfall just upstream of Multnomah Falls

With the railings at the overlook, I was able to try my hand at steadying the camera for some long exposure shots.

Anyways, more often than not, I generally think that experiencing the top of waterfalls to not be the most compelling spots to enjoy them.

However, in this instance, the different perspective and that sense of vertigo when I looked down towards the parking lot had definitely made the experience memorable.

While this lookout platform was nowhere near as busy as further below, there were always at least a handful of people around so it was still relatively busy.

Finally, when I had my fill of the top of the Multnomah Falls, I then went back the way I came, which initially climbed the first few switchbacks before descending the rest of the way.

Multnomah_Falls_17_092_08162017 - Making quick progress on the downhill hike to return to the bottom of Multnomah Falls after having been to its top. Note that the verticall cliffs here hinted at the geology necessary to give rise to the waterfall
Making quick progress on the downhill hike to return to the bottom of Multnomah Falls after having been to its top. Note that the verticall cliffs here hinted at the geology necessary to give rise to the waterfall

During the descent, I tried to use my momentum to make quick progress and get back down in nearly half the time it took for me to go up.

That said, it took me just under 75 minutes to complete this hike.

Authorities

Multnomah Falls resides in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Portland in Multnomah County, Oregon. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Multnomah_Falls_17_005_08162017 - In the Summer, this walkway to Multnomah Falls was much busier than it was in the Spring. This photo was taken in August 2017. The next several photos took place on that same day
Multnomah_Falls_17_012_08162017 - Just to drive home the point about how busy it gets at the lookout for Multnomah Falls, here's what the lookout area looked like during our visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_014_08162017 - Starting the walk above the lookout area for Multnomah Falls to approach the Benson Bridge and beyond during our visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_018_08162017 - Crossing a bridge over a seasonal side creek en route to the Benson Bridge and ultimately the top of Multnomah Falls during our visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_020_08162017 - The paved walkway leading to the Benson Bridge as seen during our August 2017 visit. Notice the netting on the topright to shelter the walkway from any rocks shed by the vertical cliffs around Multnomah Falls
Multnomah_Falls_17_025_08162017 - Looking downstream from the Benson Bridge during my pursuit of the top of Multnomah Falls during my visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_027_08162017 - Looking upstream at the upper drop of Multnomah Falls during my pursuit of its top in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_034_08162017 - Heading away from Multnomah Falls as the trail to its top rounded a corner beyond the Benson Bridge with a glimpse of the Columbia River in the distance. This photo was taken in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_036_08162017 - Looking back at some of the vertical cliffs hugging the Multnomah Falls Trail beyond the Benson Bridge as I pursued its top in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_040_08162017 - Ascending the switchbacking asphalt trail up to the top of Multnomah Falls during my visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_042_08162017 - You never know what you'll find in Nature.  This snake was seen along the trail though it was shy and didn't seem like it wanted to have its picture taken during my August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_17_043_08162017 - About to catch up to some people further ahead on the trail to the top of Multnomah Falls in August 2017, and it's often difficult to pass groups of people like this unless they're considerate enough to let you pass
Multnomah_Falls_17_050_08162017 - Damage on the asphalt suggested to me that the surface holding it up was starting to slide down the hillside during my August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_17_082_08162017 - This graffiti-filled sign was at the peak of the climb (about the 7th or 8th switchback; don't remember). This was during my August 2017 visut to the top of Multnomah Falls
Multnomah_Falls_17_081_08162017 - Looking towards the area upstream of Multnomah Falls where people were enjoying themselves alongside Multnomah Creek during my August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_17_061_08162017 - Approaching the overlook at the top of Multnomah Falls during my visit in August 2017
Multnomah_Falls_17_079_08162017 - Finally making it to the viewing deck at the top of Multnomah Falls, where there were still quite a few people during my August 2017 visit even though it took a little work to make it up here
Multnomah_Falls_17_064_08162017 - Looking towards the Columbia River and the I-84 from the viewing deck at the top of Multnomah Falls during my August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_17_087_08162017 - Heading back down the trail towards the bottom after having my fill of the top of Multnomah Falls in August 2017, but I had to get by this large group
Multnomah_Falls_17_102_08162017 - Looking back at the very crowded Benson Bridge during my August 2017 visit as I headed down from Multnomah Falls' top
Multnomah_Falls_17_108_08162017 - Finally returning to the main lookout at the bottom of Multnomah Falls during my August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_17_114_08162017 - Last look back at the steps leading up to the main lookout at the bottom of Multnomah Falls to end off our August 2017 visit
Multnomah_Falls_002_08212009 - Full view of Multnomah Falls when we saw it in its late August 2009 flow
Multnomah_Falls_012_08212009 - More offset look at the Multnomah Falls in its more graceful late Summer state when we were here in August 2009
Multnomah_Falls_002_jx_08212009 - Just focused on the lower drop of Multnomah Falls as seen during our August 2009 visit
Columbia_River_Gorge_075_03282009 - Approaching Multnomah Falls in high flow under some pretty foul weather in late March 2009. Notice how much more swollen it looked on that day
Multnomah_Falls_033_jx_03282009 - When the weather's foul, the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge provided a warm and cozy retreat. We certainly needed this respite during our rainy first go at Multnomah Falls in March 2009
Columbia_River_Gorge_218_03292009 - We came back to Multnomah Falls the next day when the weather finally started to improve in late March 2009.  It was still in high volume as you can see here
Columbia_River_Gorge_371_03302009 - We came back again the very next day, and here's a look at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge fronting the waterfall itself on the last day of March 2009
Columbia_River_Gorge_372_03302009 - Walkway leading up to the Multnomah Falls as seen during our March 2009 visit when the weather finally calmed down and we came in the morning
Columbia_River_Gorge_380_03302009 - Direct look up at the Multnomah Falls in its high volume state on our March 30, 2009 visit
Columbia_River_Gorge_381_03302009 - Full frontal look at Multnomah Falls in high flow during our last visit in March 2009
Columbia_River_Gorge_387_03302009 - View of the Multnomah Falls on the way up to the Benson Bridge on our last visit in March 2009
Columbia_River_Gorge_398_03302009 - The upper drop of Multnomah Falls in high flow in March 2009 as seen from the Benson Bridge
Columbia_River_Gorge_404_03302009 - Looking down at the Benson Bridge spanning over the lower drop of Multnomah Falls on our late March 2009 visit
Columbia_River_Gorge_405_03302009 - Looking down across the lower drop of Multnomah Falls from around the Benson Bridge during our late March 2009 visit
Columbia_River_Gorge_408_03302009 - Looking straight down from the Benson Bridge during the rain storm-augmented aftermath of our last day of March 2009 visit. Note how empty the lookout area was
Columbia_River_Gorge_411_03302009 - For a before-and-after comparison, here was the Multnomah Falls from the main viewing deck a couple of days after a rain storm in March 2009. Notice the companion ephemeral waterfall to the right of it
Columbia_River_Gorge_413_03302009 - Focused on the lower drop of Multnomah Falls and the arched Benson Bridge when the falls was in full flow in March 2009

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There are actually two different parking lots for Multnomah Falls – one in front of the historic lodge along the Historic Columbia River Highway (or Old Columbia River Highway) and the other sandwiched between both directions of the I-84.

Since parking is typically tight for the lot at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, sometimes there’s bound to be more parking space at dedicated off-ramp right off the I-84.

I’ll describe how to reach both of them.

The Parking Lot in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge from eastbound I-84

For the parking lot in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge, we accessed the Old Columbia River Highway by taking the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) off the eastbound I-84.

Multnomah_Falls_17_002_08162017 - The parking lot fronting the Multnomah Falls Lodge
The parking lot fronting the Multnomah Falls Lodge

At the off-ramp, we then kept left to follow the Old Columbia River Highway to the parking area fronting the lodge in 3 miles.

The exit 28 was about 25 miles (about 30 minutes drive without traffic) east of Portland, where the I-84 freeway began.

The Parking Lot in front of the Multnomah Falls Lodge from westbound I-84

Going in the other direction, we took exit 35 (Ainsworth State Park) off the westbound I-84.

Then, we followed the NE Frontage Road for about 4.3 miles to the parking lot for Multnomah Falls on mostly the right side of the road.

This exit was about 9 miles (15 minutes drive) west of Cascade Locks.

The “Freeway Island” on the eastbound I-84

To access the “freeway island” parking lot from the west, take the eastbound I-84 to the exit 31 (the off-ramp is on the left).

That leads straight into the parking lot.

Columbia_River_Gorge_417_03302009 - Looking towards the Multnomah Falls Lodge under less busier conditions from the same parking lot in late March 2009
Looking towards the Multnomah Falls Lodge under less busier conditions from the same parking lot in late March 2009

This exit was about 3.4 miles past the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28) on the eastbound I-84, or about 29 miles east of Portland, where the I-84 started.

The “Freeway Island” on the westbound I-84

To access the “freeway island” parking lot from the east, take the westbound I-84 to the exit 31 (again, the off-ramp is on the left).

That leads straight into the same direct-access parking lot mentioned above for the eastbound I-84 directions.

This exit was about 4 miles west of the Ainsworth State Park Exit (exit 35) on the westbound I-84, or about 12 miles 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.

Top down sweep of the falls with lots of random chatter behind me


Checking out the brink of the falls and the overlook context


Sweep from bottom to top in late afternoon with some rare sunlight shining on the cliffs


Looking down from the concrete bridge towards the base of the falls before sweeping upwards towards the other end of the Columbia River Gorge

Tagged with: columbia river gorge, portland, oregon, multnomah, waterfall, pacific northwest, mt hood, mount hood, benson bridge, multnomah lodge, larch mountain



Visitor Comments:

Top of Multnomah Falls July 31, 2014 5:29 pm by Ryan Majewski - Love this place. I'll make this short but sweet. I've been to the falls twice my self. The first time it was a typical Portland day,slight drizzle,mid spring when I ventured to the top of Multnomah Falls. Not difficult but not easy either. Basically a 5/10 on scale. The view on the other hand from… ...Read More
Multnomah Falls September 6, 2008 5:45 am by Ciarra Taylor - I haven't been to many falls, but one of my favorites is Multnomah Falls in Oregon. It is on the Columbia River in the Columbia River Gorge area, which is about 40 to 50 minutes east of Portland. There are also several other waterfalls along that area that are very nice to see and hike… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Multnomah Falls 2004, Oregon, USA July 10, 2013 5:18 am by Pam Shipp - I lived near this waterfall for a few years and never got tired of visiting it ...Read More
Walk to the top well worth the trip (Multnomah Falls) December 16, 2011 1:43 pm by Travis - I was in Portland for work and my boss suggested I go to the falls. I stopped in for a look and after seeing the falls from the bridge I decided to walk up the trail to the top. It says its about a mile to the top what it doesn't say is it is… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.