About Tamanawas Falls
Tamanawas Falls was one of the more pleasing waterfalls as Cold Spring Creek fell freely over a basalt lava cliff in a classic rectangular shape.
It’s said to drop 100ft with a width of about 40ft though I’ve seen a height figure of as much as 150ft tall in the literature.
Thus, it had a size that easily rivals the convenient waterfalls found on the north side of Mt Hood at the Columbia River Gorge.
Speaking of Mt Hood, Tamanawas Falls provided a bit of a more back-to-Nature experience as it was on the quieter eastern slope of this iconic volcano dominating Portland’s skyline when facing east.
After Cold Spring Creek lost contact with its underlying creekbed, it then crashed into the jumble of rocks below before continuing its eventual feeding of the East Fork Hood River.
Given the amount of recess behind the falls, it appeared to be in the advanced stages of waterfall formation as the back spray continued to chip away at the softer rock holding up the overhanging cliffs.
While there was no official trail to access that recess, I’m sure many hikers would find a way to scramble back there.
After all, it would yield that behind-the-waterfall experience that seemed to be a pretty common occurrence for many of Oregon’s waterfalls.
Experiencing Tamanawas Falls
In order to access Tamanawas Falls, I went on an out-and-back hike that was 3.6 miles round trip according to my GPS logs.
That said, in Gregory Plumb’s book as well as some local trail signage, they stated that the hike was more like 4 miles round trip.
Nevertheless, it took me a little under 2 hours to complete this hike.
The trail was pretty well-maintained for almost its entire length as major water crossings were bridged.
There was sufficient also signage at the junctions to not get lost.
However, there was a major rock slide at about a quarter-mile before the waterfall that was doable when I did the hike in August 2017.
The forest service had plans to rework the trail and finish the rework by Spring of 2018 so it might be cleaned up by the time you do this hike.
Tamanawas Falls Trail Description – from the trailhead to Cold Springs Creek footbridge
From the spacious pullout (see directions below), the Tamanawas Falls Trail passed by some picnic tables and signs.
One interesting sign talked about how log jams and large logs stabilize stream banks and improve fish habitat.
The trail then crossed over a sturdy bridge traversing the East Fork Hood River.
Apparently, this bridge was re-built as a result of a major flood that washed the previous bridge away in 2007.
Beyond the bridge, the trail briefly meandered through forested terrain before it started climbing as it rose high enough to overlook the Hwy 35.
During this stretch, I also noticed some pronounced basalt formations high up on the cliffs above the opposite side of the road.
The trail then descended towards a smaller footbridge over Cold Springs Creek at about 0.6 miles from the trailhead.
Beyond the bridge, I then went left to follow the trail upstream along Cold Springs Creek.
It also appeared that the trail went right (i.e. downstream from the bridge) though it was said that other trail went to the Polallie Trailhead.
Tamanawas Falls Trail Description – following along Cold Springs Creek to the rockfall
Anyways, from here on out, the Tamanawas Falls Trail would continue to follow along the northern banks of Cold Springs Creek.
For much of the next mile, the trail continued to skirt very closely to the Cold Springs Creek.
In a couple of sections, it looked like Cold Springs Creek could be eating away at parts of the trail when in high flow.
Along the way, there were some exposed roots and some fairly eroded parts sloping into the creek.
However, for the most part, the gradual climb was hardly noticeable.
At about a half-mile from the footbridge over Cold Springs Creek, I started noticing some attractive intermediate cascades on the creek.
In another 0.1 mile, I then saw a small waterfall spilling into a dark pool.
Some use trails leading down to it suggested to me that some hikers might have used that pool to dip and cool off.
At about a mile from the footbridge over Cold Springs Creek, I reached a trail junction where a temporary yellow sign pointed me to keep left for the Tamanawas Falls.
The path on the right was apparently for the Tamanawas Tie Trail.
Immediately after this junction, I then encountered the big rock slide where giant boulders had obscured whatever trail was once there.
I could see that this landslide moved an old bridge all the way down to Cold Springs Creek down below.
Tamanawas Falls Trail Description – from the rockfall to the waterfall
At first the scramble seemed pretty straight forward as I looked for relatively flat boulders to stand on.
However, the further I went, the more jumbled the boulders were and the trickier the scrambling became.
Some flags and signs were erected to make a switchback out of the scramble (to minimize the already existent erosion).
Then, after switching back once more, I made it up to the continuation of the original dirt trail.
In the remaining quarter-mile, the Tamanawas Falls Trail skirted high above Cold Springs Creek while re-entering the forest.
Next, the scenery opened up with Tamanawas Falls making its dramatic plunge up ahead at the head of the canyon.
After getting through one more small grove of bush and trees, I was then on the talus slopes peering right at the impressive rectangular waterfall flanked by overhanging cliffs.
Although it appeared possible to continue scrambling onto the slippery wet rocks to get through the waterfall’s mist and behind the falls itself, I was content with my views.
Thus, I turned around and headed back the way I came.
On the way back, I only encountered a handful of hikers/
So while this trail was said to be heavily-used, it didn’t seem to quite get the crush that I’d typically see in the Columbia River Gorge.
It was either that or maybe I got an early enough start to even beat the rush on the return hike to the trailhead.
Tamanawas Falls resides in the Mt Hood National Forest near Hood River in Hood River 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.
Since I was based in Portland, I’ll describe the driving route to Tamanawas Falls from there.
Basically, I headed east on the I-84 towards Hood River for about 80 miles (about an hour drive) before taking exit 64 for the Mt Hood Hwy leading to White Salmon and Govt. Camp.
Turning right at the off-ramp, I then remained on the Hwy 30 going south for about 24 miles (passing through Mt Hood Town en route) and eventually arriving at the large pullout for the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead.
This pullout was right off the right side of the road (west end).
It was 5 miles south of the Pollallie Trailhead and a quarter-mile north of the Sherwood Campground (so if you made it out to there, you missed the nearest trailhead).
This drive took me about 90 minutes.
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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