Best Hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Overview

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a spectacular river canyon, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, that meanders past cliffs, spires, and ridges set against nearby peaks of the Pacific Northwest’s Cascade Mountain Range. Shaped by ancient volcanoes and floods, the Gorge forms a boundary between Washington north and Oregon. Nearby national forests include Gifford-Pinchot National Forest and Mount Hood National Forest. In addition to the best hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area described below (split between the Oregon and Washington trailheads), the area also provides great fishing, biking and water sport possibilities. There are also many drivable sightseeing opportunities along the historic Columbia River Highway.

StateOregon; Washington
Nearest Metro AreaPortland, OR
Area Size295,000 acres
EstablishedNovember 17, 1986
Hiking Trails220 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

(*** = best hikes in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area)

Oregon

Eagle Creek Trail #440*** – 12.4 miles out and back
Punch Bowl Falls
Punch Bowl Falls, Photo by Alan

This spectacular cliffside hike passes through a forested basalt cliff overlooking Eagle Creek. It affords spectacular views of the creek’s slot canyon, where a cool, ethereal fog offers a reprieve on a hot summer day. Small waterfalls trickle along the sides of the cliff, and the trail passes many larger waterfalls, including the iconic Punch Bowl Falls, which is accessed from a side trail about 2 miles up the trail. About 3 miles up, hikers will encounter the aptly named High Bridge, which traverses a narrow gorge 150 feet above the creek. Many hikers choose to backpack as far as Tunnel Falls, about seven miles up the trail, where they can pass behind falling waters.  

Mount Defiance Trail #413 – 7.2 miles one-way
Dog Mountain from Starvation Ridge Trail
Dog Mountain from Starvation Ridge Trail, Photo by Mitchell Friedman

At 4,960 feet, Mount Defiance is the highest point in the Columbia Gorge. There are views of the Cascade Range and the Columbia River Gorge. Visitors can also combine Mitchell Point Trail #417 and Starvation Ridge Trail #414 for a demanding 8.7 mile day hike. Otherwise, you can utilize a 2nd vehicle to do the trail one-way or return after summiting Mount Defiance for a 10.8 mile roundtrip trek.

Multnomah Falls Trail*** – 2.4 miles out and back
Multnomah Falls, Oregon, in the autumn.
Multnomah Falls, Photo by Bonnie Moreland

Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest with more than 2 million stopping by each year to take in the views! Fed by underground springs from Larch Mountain, the flow over the falls varies, but is usually highest during winter and spring. 

Munra Point Trail – 6.3 miles out and back
Munra Point looking back South
Munrah Point looking back South, Photo by Ray Terrill

Extremely steep but manageable trail up to Munra Point that offers some of the best views in the entire area. This trail is unmaintained by the Forest Service. Starting from the Yeon Trailhead, hikers will pass by the beautiful 289′ Elowah Falls. Just over 2 miles in, the trail climbs almost 1700′ in under a mile to the top of the ridge!

Oneonta Trail #424 + Horsetail Falls Trail #438  – 3.4 mile loop
Horsetail Falls, Oregon,  in autumn
Horsetail Falls, Photo by Bonnie Moreland

The journey starts with a steep ascent up Oneonta Trail to the popular Triple Falls, 1.7 miles from the trailhead. Head back down to the junction with Horsetail Falls Trail where you will descend to an area that passes behind the based of Upper Horsetail Falls (also called Ponytail Falls) and through a basalt half-tunnel. This route ends at Horsetail Falls on the Historic Columbia River Highway, within a short jaunt of Oneonta Trailhead. Named for its characteristic form, Horsetail Falls plunges 176 feet within view of the Historic Columbia River Highway’s “Waterfall Corridor”.

Pacific Crest Trail to Dry Creek Falls – 4.2 miles out and back
Dry Creek Falls
Dry Creek Falls, Photo by Jonathan Miske

Popular out and back trail that starts at the Bridge of Gods trailhead. Hike almost 2 miles southbound to the bridge that crosses Dry Creek, then divert uphill on the dirt road 1/4 mile to the falls. You can return to the trailhead from here or continue another 1.6 miles to the impressive hump-shaped outcroppings known as Herman Creek Pinnacles.

Wahclella Falls Trail #436 – 2.4 miles out and back
Wahclella Waterfall, Oregon
Wahclella Waterfall, Photo by Bonnie Moreland

Wahclella Falls Trail offers a relatively easy, 2.4 mile out-and-back day hike through a slot canyon to one of the more spectacular waterfalls in the Gorge. This makes for a great family-friendly hike for those with kids that want to stretch their legs but aren’t looking for something extreme.

Wahkeena Falls Trail #420 + Devils Rest + Angels Rest Loop*** – 8.5 mile loop
Wahkeena Falls
Wahkeena Falls, Photo by John Fowler

There are many options in the area but this route combines 3 great trails for an incredible loop. Wahkeena Trail offers a 2.8 mile hike filled with lush scenery, Columbia River views, glimpses of waterfalls, and charming historic stonework. Continuing on to Devils Rest Trail, there is quite a climb with some more beautiful views. Then onto Angels Rest Trail, a classic hike that is best known for being a good workout that rewards with a spectacular view of Portland. Hikers can finally return to the trailhead near Wahkeena Falls.

Washington

Beacon Rock Trail – 1.8 miles out and back
View from top of Beacon Rock
View from top of Beacon Rock, Photo by David Fulmer

The Beacon Rock Trail ascends to the top of Beacon Rock (850’ elevation), one of the world’s largest monoliths. The trail was built directly onto the side of the rock with 52 switchbacks. Views include the Columbia River Gorge, Bonneville Dam, and Pierce Wildlife Refuge. Interpretive panels along the trail explain history and geology.

Cape Horn Loop #4418 – 6.5 mile loop
Beacon Rock and the Gorge from Nancy Russell Overlook-Columbia River Gorge
View from the Nancy Russell Overlook, Photo by U.S. Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region

This strenuous trail is noted for its many scenic overlooks with classic views looking east up the Columbia River Gorge. Enjoy the six mile loop seasonally from July 16 to January 31 (closed beginning February for peregrine falcon nesting season) or take the trail 2 miles to access the Nancy Russell Cape Horn Overlook. Look for waterfalls, wildflowers and many species of birds.

Dog Mountain Trail #147 – 6.2 mile loop
Dog Mountain Trail in Washington
Dog Mountain Trail, Photo by Jeff Hollett

This trail is best known for the dramatic yellow balsamroot and other native wildflowers that blanket Dog Mountain’s high meadow from April to June, but its spectacular panoramas of the Gorge reward hikers throughout summer and fall. This is a difficult hike with steep grades of 10-25%.

Hamilton Mountain Trail – 7.8 mile loop
Hamilton Mountain in WA
Hamilton Mountain, Photo by Jeff Hollett

This hike can be found within Beacon Rock State Park and offers expansive views of the Columbia River Gorge. Visitors will also be able to see Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens on a clear day. You can turn around about a mile from the trailhead at Rodney Falls, Hardy Falls, and Pools of the Wind. Or continue up to the 2,438′ summit of Hamilton Mountain.

Featured Image: Columbia River Gorge, Photo by Bala Sivakumar

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2 Responses

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