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Visit Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge, But Don’t Make Our Mistake

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Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is one of the world’s most iconic waterfalls. Revereed for its two-tier plunge and picturesque appeal, the double cascade sees two million visitors a year, most during the summer months.

If you’re planning to visit Multnomah Falls in Oregon, it’s best to go prepared. Due to the sheer number of visitors, there may be entrance restrictions in place and highway exit closures to navigate.

Here is what you need to know about visiting Multnomah Falls and some tips for realizing the most enjoyable experience, particularly if you’re bent on photographing this Oregon wonder.

Where Is Multnomah Falls and Why Is It So Special?

Multnomah Falls Oregon is located in the Columbia River Gorge. You’ll find it right off the historic Columbia River Highway, a scenic byway filled with waterfall hikes and breathtaking views of the Mighty Columbia.

The jewel in the crown of the gorge is the 2-tiered 635 foot tall Multonmah Falls, deeded to the town of Portland by lumber baron, Simon Benson in the early 1900s.

Visitors flock to Multnomah Falls for its Instagram worthy beauty and for the chance to ascend to the Benson Bridge, placed strategically in the middle of the falls, allowing you to view both the upper and lower cascades.

What Is the Multnomah Falls Bridge?

mini aussie visits Multnomah Falls with Benson Bridge in the gackbround.
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The view of the Multnomah Falls bridge with the two-tiered plunge behind it is probably one of the most famous in Oregon history, reproduced across countless social media accounts (including ours), as well as myriad travel magazines, brochures and posters. It’s only fair. After all, the bridge has a long and storied history.

Officially known as the Benson Bridge, this historic structure was nothing more than a fanciful daydream at the start. Samuel Lancaster, lead engineer of the Columbia River Highway remarked how nice it would be to have a viewing structure to the falls. Overhearing the remarks, lumber baron Simon Benson asked how much it would cost to build.

Lancaster quickly ran the calculations on the back of a napkin and Benson committed the funds to build the 45-foot reinforced-concrete deck poised 105 feet above the lower Multnomah Falls. Benson later purchased 1,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge and donated the 140 acres surrounding Multnomah Falls to the city of Portland as a park.

What Is There to Do at Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge?

Beyond viewing the falls and snapping some Instagram-worthy shots, the area surrounding the falls is home to the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Multnomah Lodge is constructed using every type of stone found within the Columbia River Gorge.

It houses a restaurant, offering both take out and fine dining, and features a visitor center exploring the history of the Gorge. If you plan to dine in the lodge, reservations are highly recommended.

We’ve enjoyed both take out and dine in service, and found the food to be delicious, but the real key to dining at the lodge is the chance to view the falls. The best views are provided with carryout service, since a shaded stone patio directly in front of the falls offers a prime viewing locations. However, dining inside the lodge offers a chance to experience this architectural wonder. Some tables will provide a glimpse of the falls, particularly if outdoor seating is available.

Multnomah Falls is also the trailhead for an interesting climb to the top of the falls with a continuing trail to a less populated site you won’t want to miss.

Where We Missed the Boat, So to Speak, On Our Visit to Multnomah Falls

Mother daughter travel bloggers enjoy the view of the Columbia River Gorge from the Multnomah Falls Trail

Multnomah Falls is the starting point for one of the most strenuous climbs in the Columbia River Gorge, but if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll experience incredible river views and a chance to look down the length of the plunge from the top of the falls.

The excursion sets off as soon as you cross Benson Bridge. While most people travel only a few steps beyond the falls, we decided to take the challenge and set out on the uphill climb.

We were rewarded soon enough with a view of the sun breaking out over the Columbian River, set apart by the contrasting somber hues of the tree trunks surrounding the trail. From there, the paved path continued upward, shaded by ancient timber that recently survived the 2017 Eagle Creek Wildfire. You’ll see the evidence throughout the climb as the charred trunks are constant companions during the first few switchbacks.

Young woman and dog climb the switchbacks of the Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge trail
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In all, there are eleven switchbacks to the top of the falls. As you approach the third switchback, you’ll round a bend to a new vantage point of the upper tier of Multnomah falls as well as a nice view out over the Columbia. Someone has thoughtfully placed a bench here, giving you a chance to sit and enjoy nature while recovering your breath.

Mother daughter travel bloggers enjoy the view of Multnomah Falls from the trail

Once you leave the viewpoint, it’s uphill almost all the way. Traversing the remainder of the switchbacks reveals increasingly higher views of the river gorge. It’s nice encouragement as you continue to climb as are the numbered plaques at most turning points, indicating which switchback you’re currently entering.

Multnomah Falls trail switchbacks
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Eventually, the trail levels out and you round a bend. Soon after, the trail looks to continue straight, but to reach the top of the falls, you’ll need to take a right, stepping down a large stone drop and heading east.

From here, the trail meanders for a bit before hitting another downward stride. As you sink with the trail, it’s hard not to wonder why you just endured so many grueling upward switchbacks only to descend again.

Right before you step onto the viewpoint at the top of the falls, you’ll make your way down a stone stairwell. Watch your step here as it’s easy to get distracted by the view out over the Columbia. In fact, it’s the Columbia that’s the star here as the view of the top of the falls provides little more than a glimpse of disappearing water over the ledge of the upper plunge.  There is a nice small cascade that you won’t see without making the climb, but all in all it’s the outward views that dominate.

View of the top of Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge
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It’s at this juncture that we made our fatal mistake. Our itinerary called for a continued trek back to the point where the trail to the upper falls broke off from the main trail. From there, we were to trek the Larch Mountain Trail upcreek past the old junction with the Perdition Trail.

This journey would have rewarded us with a relatively quiet jaunt to the Lower, Middle and Upper Dutchman Falls, an overhang called Dutchman Tunnel and onto Wiesendanger Falls. (A plaque honoring Albert Wiesendanger, a Forest Service ranger, can be found in Dutchman Tunnel.

A bit longer, and we would have reached 4 more switchbacks. Continuing the climb, we would have risen above Wiesendanger Falls, and past the rim  of Ecola Falls. Unfortunately, we failed to view our itinerary and returned back to Multnomah Falls Lodge. Don’t make our mistake as the journey across the multiple falls listed above is rumored to be one of the best Oregon hiking trails and certainly one of the most scenic in the gorge.

We’ll have to take the word of others for now until we make our way back to visit Multnomah Falls again.

Tips for Visiting Multnomah Falls Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is the most visited site in the Northwest. That means you’ll be joining throngs of other visitors during the peak summer months and may even encounter crowds during other times of the year, particularly on weekends.

If you plan to take pictures of the falls, it’s best to arrive early. We hit the parking lot across from the lodge at 7:15 am on a Saturday, and at least 15 cars were already in the lot. By the time we made our way up to the lower viewing point, there were a few people on the bridge.

We took probably 5 minutes snapping pictures and then started our way up the trail toward Benson Bridge. By this time, there was a couple ahead of us on the trail and another that went racing by us. When we reached the bridge, we were sharing photo ops with a family of 4 and three other couples.

It wasn’t bad compared to what we experienced as we returned ninety minutes later from our hike to the top, but it wasn’t ideal for snapping that winning photo. If you plan to take pictures free of other visitors, try to arrive as the sun rises, come late in the evening or visit during the off season – either before May or after October.

Early mornings are also prime for hiking the trails. We had the switchbacks up to the top of the falls almost to ourselves on the way up. We let one group pass us and met with another couple at the viewpoint rounding the third switchback.

On the way down, however, we passed multiple groups all heading upward. Considering that the viewing platform above the falls has enough room for around ten people, your best bet is to hit this trail early in the morning or later in the evening.

View of Multnomah Falls Oregon with green umbrellas in the foreground
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We had a nice early start and then ordered take out from the Multnomah Falls restaurant. We were able to enjoy a hearty meal in full view of the falls by using the tables on the viewing platform across from the coffee kiosk.

All in all, a visit to Multnomah Falls is a must-do when visiting the Columbia River Gorge, but timing is key if you want the chance to enjoy the area with some sense of solitude.

Parking at Multnomah Falls

There are two parking lots for Multnomah Falls. The first is located directly across from the entrance point on the Historic portion of the Columbia River Highway. However, this parking lot is small, has a limited number of spaces and fills quickly during peak visitation seasons.

To ensure you find a place to park, it’s best to use the lot located directly off of Interstate 84 off exit 31. There is ample parking here, and a clever path leading under the highway and railroad tracks will take you directly to the falls without the hassle of fighting for a spot in the closer lot.

Directions to Multnomah Falls

Visitors traveling from Portland should hop on Interstate 84 east and take exit 31 and follow signs for Multnomah Falls Parking. From the parking lot, follow the footpath that leads beneath the interstate to reach Multnomah Falls.

Visitors traveling from points east of the falls should take Interstate 84 eastbound and leave the freeway at Exit 31. However, reaching the parking area from this direction is not always guaranteed. The exit may be closed during some summer months and weekends due to extreme congestion. If this happens to you, continue traveling eastbound and take exit 25.

Before reaching the toll booth to Rooster Rock State park, make a U turn toward Interstate 84 eastbound as shown in the map below. Once on I-84 eastbound, continue to Exit 31. Once you have found parking, take the footpath beneath the highway to reach the falls.

Avoiding the Parking Hassles, Shuttles to Multnomah Falls

Parking at Multnomah Falls can be a nightmare during high traffic seasons. To help guests reach the falls without fighting throngs of fellow drivers or jockeying for a parking space, a number of shuttle services have emerged. Transporation is easily accessible and offers a carefree ride into the gorge, with multiple pick up and drop off points along the way.

  • Columbia Gorge Express (provided by Columbia Area Transit): Bus service picking up and dropping off in Portland, Troutdale, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks, Hood River. This is a great option if you only plan to visit Multnomah Falls.
  • Gray Line Tours: offers a narrated half day excursion to Multnomah Falls on a luxury motorcoach, with stops at the Vista House and Crown point, as well as a hop-on and off trolley, allowing you to visit all of the stops along the Historic Columbia River Highway at your leisure.
  • Sasquatch Shuttle offers a number of routes, including direct access to Multnomah Falls via the Multnomah Falls Experess, leaving every 30 minutes from the Sasquatch parking lot in Corbett.

Visit Multnomah Falls – the Timed Entry System

If you plan to visit Multnomah falls, it’s important to note that a timed-entry system will be in place during the summer of 2024. Guests will need to pay $2.00 per vehicle to access the falls and lodge area.

Tickets will be required from May 24, 2024 through September 2, 2024 between the hours of 9:00 am and 6:00 pm.

While this is a generous amount of time to view the falls and check out the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, it’s not nearly long enough if you plan to hike much beyond the falls themselves. Fortunately, guests are free to stay longer if they are hiking the trail to the top of the falls and beyond or dining in the restaurant. However, guests that leave will not be permitted to re-enter.

Booking your timed entry is fairly easy, as long as you have internet access. Simply visit the Recreation.gov website and select Multnomah Falls (I-84) Timed Use Permit. Or you can click here to reach the website booking page directly. You may also use the Recreation.gov mobile app.

Some travelers may get lucky and find a limited number of tickets available without a fee at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale, Oregon and at the Cascade Locks Historical Museum in Cascade Locks, Oregon. However, availability is not guaranteed, so you could easily miss your chance to see this Oregon wonder if you bank on scoring the free tickets. If you are determined to visit Multnomah Falls, it’s best to pay the $2 to schedule your timed entry ahead of your visit.

If you want guaranteed entry with no fee, consider utilizing one of the shuttles that service the Columbia River Gorge and stop at Multnomah Falls. Guests who choose to ride the Columbia Gorge Express TransitGray Line Open-Air Waterfall Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley or Sasquatch Shuttle can visit Multnomah Falls without a fee and do not have to worry about finding parking. This can offer quite a benefit during busy summer months and weekends. Cyclists are also permitted to enter the Falls without a timed entry permit.

When can I book my timed entry reservation to Multnomah Falls?

Reservations open on a rolling basis and are available 14 days in advance of arrival. The booking window opens at 7 a.m. Pacific Time, and if you’re visiting at the height of the summer months, it’s advisable to hop on the system as soon as your booking window opens. However, if you miss your chance to obtain a ticket during this time, a secondary window will reopen 2 days prior to your arrival.

Can I modify or cancel my time entry reservation to Multnomah Falls?

Reservations can be cancelled, and guests who change their plans to visit Multnomah Falls are requested to do so. Ticket dates and times may also be modified up until midnight of the day prior to the original arrival.

You can check the Recreation.gov website for more information on reservations to Multnomah Falls.


EXPLORE WITH US

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Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughters. Kathleen has been a professional writer for more than a decade, helping businesses craft compelling content to advance organizational goals.

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Kathleen Hesketh and Ali Patton, mother daughter travel bloggers

We're Kat and Ali, a pair of mother-daughter travel bloggers exploring the U.S. We're sharing our experiences, tips and insights to help you more easily get out and explore the beautiful landscapes and places of this nation.

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