Last Updated on March 11, 2023
Multnomah Falls is one of the most iconic sights in the Pacific Northwest. The falls are located in the Columbia River Gorge, just a short drive from Portland. Multnomah Falls is actually two waterfalls; the upper fall plunges 542 feet, and the lower fall drops another 69 feet. Together, they make for a stunning sight. Visitors can take a short hike to an overlook, or walk all the way to the top of the falls. On a hot day, there’s nothing better than standing under the waterfall and feeling the mist on your face. Whether you are a local or just passing through, Multnomah Falls is definitely worth a visit.
The falls are located only a 30-minute drive outside of Portland, on Multnomah Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. Multnomah Falls is Oregon’s most recognizable waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Oregon. It is also easy to reach, making it one of the most popular outdoor attractions in the Pacific Northwest.
We have visited Multnomah Falls a few times over the years. When we are adventuring through Oregon, it is always a welcome stop to view and feel the beauty and power of nature’s creation. Plus, who does not like to always be chasing waterfalls?
Guide To Visiting Multnomah Falls
Here is everything you need to know before your first visit to Multnomah Falls:
Is Multnomah Falls open?
The United States Forest Service will again require reservations to visit the waterfall corridor from May 24th, 2022 until September 5th, 2022. Reservations will be required from 9am until 6pm. You will NOT need a reservation to visit Multnomah Falls if you hike, bike, take a Tour Bus or ride the Sasquatch Shuttle (Exit #28). More information can be found here.
Also, the US Forest Service is currently doing intermittent maintenance, repairs, and upgrades to the trails around Multnomah Falls. The latest updates on these trails can be found here.
Multnomah Falls Hours
Go early for the best chance to see the falls, as it is on a first-come, first-serve basis between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm daily.
Are Tickets Required?
No fee is required to visit Multnomah Falls. Parking is also free of charge. However, during peak times you may need to reserve a timed use permit (usually starting late May). See the current disclaimer about the restrictions above.
The historic Multnomah Falls Lodge is located at the base of the falls. Inside you’ll find a restaurant, a gift shop with Oregon-produced goodies, and an information center. If you are exploring beyond Multnomah Falls, the information center is a fantastic spot to grab some brochures and ask questions.
How Did Multnomah Falls Form?
Multnomah Falls is one of the most iconic landmarks in Oregon. The falls are located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, and they cascade down a cliff face from a height of 620 feet. But how did this natural wonder come to be?
Geologists believe that the Columbia River Gorge was formed by a series of massive floods that occurred between 15 and 17 million years ago. As the glaciers melted at the end of the last ice age, huge amounts of water were released into the Columbia River basin. This surge of water caused the river to cut through the soft rock that makes up the gorge, carving out the steep canyon walls that we see today.
The formation of Multnomah Falls is thought to have been caused by a landslip that occurred during one of these floods. A large section of the cliff face gave way, sending a torrent of rocks and debris hurtling into the river below. Over time, the flowing water carved a path through this debris, creating the magnificent waterfall that we see today.
Multnomah Falls (and neighboring waterfalls) were formed as a result of the Ice Age floods. The Missoula Floods were cataclysmic glacial lake outburst floods. They periodically swept across eastern Washington and down the Columbia River Gorge. After the Missoula Floods, the valley walls were remarkably eroded, causing steep vertical slopes. This created one of the greatest accumulations of high waterfalls in North America. Multnomah Falls is one of the best-known examples of this.
Can You Visit Year-Round?
Multnomah Falls is an incredible sight all year round. The falls do not dry up during the summer. The waterfall is fed from rainwater, underground springs from Larch Mountain, and snowmelt. However, the falls are at their maximum force during spring, when rain and snowmelt provide that extra force.
The busiest times to visit the falls are in the summer months of June to August. It is busier on nicer days and on weekends. Always try to visit mid-week if you can. If you want to visit with fewer tourists, the trick is the same as always, go early.
In the winter months of November to February, it is less busy. You may also be able to view the falls covered by snow and ice.
How Do You Access The Falls?
The I-84 parking lot is the only way to access the falls. Parking or stopping is not allowed on the historic highway.
Multnomah Falls Parking
Parking is free at Multnomah Falls. Ensure you get there early because the parking lot closes at capacity and does not re-open until 10% of the vehicles leave.
How To Get To Multnomah Falls
The easiest way to get to the falls is by car, via I-84.
Multnomah Falls is a popular short trip from Portland since it is only about a half-hour drive. Travel east on Interstate 84 and take exit #31, Multnomah Falls.
If you do not have a vehicle, it is possible to get there with a combination of tram and taxi, but allow for extra travel time. It is estimated that it would be a minimum of $63 to get to Multnomah Falls from Portland, using public transportation.
Another option is to take a tour to see the falls. Turn your quick visit to the falls into a day of adventure. Take a scenic flight over Multnomah Falls, or pair your visit with a Portland to Mount Hood Wine & Waterfalls day tour.
How Long Does It Take To Hike To Multnomah Falls?
It is a moderate, 2.2-mile hike with 700 feet of elevation gain to reach the top of Multnomah Falls. You can also view the falls from the viewing platform near the base of the falls if you do not want to hike to the top. From the car, it is around a five-minute walk to the viewing platform to witness the falls roar.
If you have time, you can also take the more difficult 5.4-mile and 1,600 feet of elevation gain, and hike to Wahkeena Falls. At 240 feet, Wahkeena Falls is not as well-known but is worth it for the pretty views and considerably fewer visitors.
Can You Swim In The Falls?
Swimming is not allowed. There isn’t much of a pool at the bottom, either. See the photo below of the view looking down from the Benson Bridge.
Can You Bring Dogs To Multnomah Falls?
Dogs are allowed, providing they are on a leash. If you’re traveling with Fido, please never leave him in a hot vehicle!
Multnomah Falls Bridge: Benson Bridge
Part of what makes Multnomah Falls so spectacular is the iconic, Benson Bridge.
The Multnomah Falls Benson Bridge is a beautiful sight. The bridge spans the length of the falls, offering stunning views of the waterfalls and the gorge below. The bridge sits at the halfway mark of the cascade and gives another breathtaking perspective.
The bridge was built by Italian stonemasons in 1914. The bridge is named after Simon Benson, who donated the land for the falls in 1915. Today, the bridge is a popular spot for photographers and nature lovers alike. Visitors can take in the magnificent views of the falls from the bridge, or they can hike to the top of the falls for an even closer look.
Can You See Multnomah Falls Without Hiking?
To get the full experience of the falls, we recommend making the stop to take in the views from the viewing platform. You can also see Multnomah Falls from I-84 off the main highway that winds through the Columbia River Gorge. However, the full experience is really where you will understand the grandeur and beauty of the falls.
Multnomah Falls Legend and Native American Lore
The Multnomah Falls legend is a heartbreaking tale of sacrifice and love. The Chief of the Multnomah people had one surviving child, a beautiful daughter whom he loved with all his being. He searched far and wide for a husband for her. When he found her match, she fell deeply in love. The Chief held a celebration of the upcoming wedding and guests from all over started to fall ill and die. The children were impacted first and even the strongest warriors were getting extremely ill.
A medicine man said that the Great Spirit was unhappy and had told him that, to save the others, there had to be a sacrifice of a young maiden’s life. This maiden had to be the daughter of a powerful man, a leader of the people. The Chief refused to commit the sacrifice of a young girl.
The Chief’s daughter felt that she should be sacrificed, even though she wanted to marry. She slipped away and climbed the trail to the Great River high above the gorge. She asked for a sign that her sacrifice was needed and a full moon appeared. And so, she stepped off the cliff and fell to her death.
The next morning, the people woke up feeling strong and healthy. After finding his daughter, the Chief asked for a sign that his daughter was at peace. A loud thundering noise gave way to a stream of water, falling over the cliff’s edge, to fall at the feet of the Chief.
The waterfall today is seen as a sign of love and sacrifice.
Oregon is an outdoor lovers’ paradise. It is a place that we keep returning to again and again because there is always something incredible to see. Multnomah Falls is one of our favorite sights in Oregon. One glance of the falls in person and you’ll understand why people fall in love with Oregon so easily.
Have you seen Multnomah Falls? Where is your favorite waterfall?
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