Waterfall chasing trip in the Columbia River Gorge
Our local play and testing ground here at Cnoc Outdoors is the Columbia River Gorge: we can hit the first trailhead 20 minutes out of Portland and enjoy some amazing hikes. One of my favorite ones is sort of a W style trip (which loops back) that combines Angel's Rest, Wahkeena Spring and Falls, Multnomah Falls and Devil's Rest. In this full day hike, you get some of the best views in the Gorge along with the most magical and less known parts of it. At times, I like to use it as a sneaky overnight trip to test gear, having a night somewhere off the trail near Devil's Rest.
This trip is for the warmer seasons when snow is no longer an issue as the climb up to the ridge at any of the points can be snowy and very icy. In late spring to mid fall, the trail is clearly marked and easy to follow, though a map is always recommended (you can get one here).
- Start: Angel's Rest Trailhead
- Finish: Multnomah Falls Parking lot or Angel's Rest Trailhead
- Distance: 10 miles or 18.5 miles
- Season: late spring to mid fall
Park at the Angel's Rest Trailhead (arrive early, as it fills quickly) and follow the clearly marked trail going up to Angel's Rest, some 1550 feet further up. The trail wades through woods and over streams, opening at times to reveal the wide Columbia River to the north. This section is busy most of the year but is well maintained by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge and it is still a wonderful hike. Passing several talus sections and endless switchbacks, you arrive at the ridge to find a tricky trail to Angel's Rest, passing a split to the right heading to Wahkeena Falls. Don't worry, you will be back.
Follow the trail to Angel's Rest with caution, especially when it's wet as there is a tricky climb. From there, you need to hang on to your hat (and anything else) as it is always very windy up here, but the views are worth it. On clear days you can see the Pacific to the west, Mt Rainier to the north, the eastern plains of Oregon and Washington and Mt Hood to the southeast. Most of the time, though, you can enjoy the fast moving clouds along the Columbia Gorge below you.
Head back to the fork, some 160 yards and take the left fork, heading to Devil's Rest and Wahkeena Spring. After a few more switchbacks and 200ft of elevation, you will reach another trail split: a right to Devil's Rest and left to Wahkeena Spring. Head left on a level trail with occasional views across the river to the Washington side of the Gorge. After a mile or so, the trail starts to descend towards Wahkeena Spring, passing a couple of talus sections.
Wahkeena Spring is a great place for a little break, though it can get a bit muddy at times. The spring itself is just on the trail and can't be missed: there is a small peaceful pool there. After exploring the spring area, head back to the trail and continue northeast for another 100 yards. At the junction, you can turn right and head to the top of Multnomah Falls or straight to Devil's Rest, or turn left towards Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, and many other smaller ones. I picked left, descending slowly on the endless switchbacks, enjoying the volume and strength of the waterfalls along the way. This is truly a magical little section of the trail with so many things to see. The descent can be hard on the knees (you should have trekking poles), but it reaches the Wahkeena Falls parking lot at the end.
Take the small trail heading to Multnomah Falls (#442) east, it is a short 800 yards walk just above the Historic Columbia River Highway. At the end of the trail, you will find yourself in the midst of the masses coming to see the amazing Multnomah Falls and you can choose to finish the trip here (after seeing the falls, of course!) or continuing back up to Devil's Rest and some very unused sections of this area.
If you decide to continue, climb the steep and busy (and paved) trail #441 all the way to the top of Multnomah Falls. The climb is long and challenging, but pass the upper Multnomah Falls until arriving (700 ft higher) to a junction leading to an observation balcony above the falls. The view here is really stunning, both on the river and on the falls, but again, it can be crowded. Return to trail #441 and take a right, you will immediately be alone.
From here on the trail is less maintained but is quiet, secluded and has a wild feel to it, which is an amazing contrast to Multnomah Falls. Climb a bit further, passing several small waterfalls and pools - the trail is actually constructed at times - until reaching the almost secret Wiesendanger Falls. These, in my opinion, the most beautiful falls along this trail: hidden, falling into a bowl shaped pool, they are surrounded by lush green foliage and steep cliffs, it is worth staying for a while to look at. The area around the falls had a few mudslides and can have snow well into spring, so be cautious climbing up from the falls.
After 500 yards of hugging the creek, the trail reaches another split in the trail: continue with the 441 trail to Larch Mountain or right on the #420 to Wahkeena and Devil's Rest. Turning right, the trail climbs slowly on gentle switchbacks that opens at times to a new view of the Multnomah area, giving glimpses of Washington and the Columbia River. It isn't long before you reaching another trail junction, just before the junction off Wahkeena Spring, that leads north to Devil's Rest.
The trail climbs steeply into the thickening woods, passing several streams until leveling out for a bit, offering great views of the snowy peaks of the Washington side. This is the area I usually choose for my occasional camps, there is water around and it is just out of the Mount Hood National Forest.
If you choose a camp, a rest or just a quick glance to the north, it is another 600-800 yards to Devil's Rest: an anticlimactic "peak" as it is truly a rock in the middle of the woods. If you are here late in the evening or early in the morning, the area does have an ominous feel to it though.
From Devil's Rest, it is a straight walk down along trail 420C to the Devil's Rest Trail, passing mossy old woods with soggy ground and deep shadows - you can almost imagine the Grimm brothers making up stories here. On the Devil's Rest Trail the woods open up a bit at times, crossing a few meadows until reaching the Foxglove Trail and turning west towards Angel's Rest and the car. In this section, you will pass one of my favorite parts of the Gorge: an old, lush section of forest that seems to redefine the green spectrum: so many shades. I usually walk this part slower to absorb some of this vibrancy that exists there, even if it's rainy.
Once back at Angel's Rest, you can choose to have another look from there or just head back to the car and the waiting meal at the end.
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