Columbia River Gorge is an amazing place, with its scenic waterfalls, steep sided basalt canyons, and lush green vegetation. Slightly over an hours drive from Salem, this hike provides the opportunity to see four beautiful waterfalls.
We park in the area for Horsetail Falls and after admiring the view of the falls from the trailhead, we hike up the gravel trail heading east. It switches back and forth and soon comes to a junction where we stay to the right. In less than a half-mile we round a corner and are rewarded with views of Upper Horsetail Falls, (also known as Ponytail Falls). Here, Horsetail Creek shoots through a crack in the huge basalt cliff and drops into a pool below. The trail passes under the waterfall, and continues uphill along the steep, wooded gorge wall. A few more ascending switchbacks and we come to a cliff top with views of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s very windy here, but we stop to admire the view and the train that is traveling east on the tracks below us.
After a short rest, we head back to the trail passing Trilliums and licorice ferns and a “weeping” mossy basalt rock wall covered with the new growth of maidenhair ferns. Soon the trail descends steeply into the Oneonta Gorge and we cross over Oneonta Creek on a well-built footbridge. The gorge is narrow with a waterfall up stream above the bridge and a pool below with fallen trees piled upon each other. Below the pool is the top of Oneonta Falls. We stop here to enjoy the view of course, and listen to the songbirds that are singing to each other across the canyon.
We continue hiking up the steep trail on the west side of the gorge and soon come to another junction. This time we head left towards our destination, Triple Falls. The trail is a little steep in places and rocky, but over all, not too bad. As we climb higher above the canyon we can still hear the power of the water in the creek below us. There is a large rockslide that has taken out part of the trial, but it doesn’t appear to be dangerous, so we cross over and continue on.
We come to a fork in the trail with no signage and after talking to some other hikers, we take the lower fork which leads down to a cliff with a view directly across to Triple Falls. Stunningly beautiful, the falls are actually formed from one creek (Oneonta), but divides into three distinct falls as it drops 130 over the edge. There are fallen trees at its base and a footbridge above that leads to more extensive hiking. This is a good place to rest and enjoy the beauty before us; the waterfalls; the canyon and the brilliant lime green color of new growth. We are so lucky to live in Oregon.
We head back the way we came, so that we can admire once again the waterfalls and the gorge. The songbirds are still singing to each other, probably competing for mates! The trail is steep downhill, so we are careful to watch our step. This is a popular trail on the weekends since it is close to Portland, and we encounter many people on this trip. Dogs too!
How to get there:
Head north on I-5 and take the exit for I-205 just after Wilsonville. Passing through Portland, take I-84 East towards Hood River. Take the #28/Bridal Veil exit and turn left onto the Historic Columbia River Highway. Continue 5.2 miles to the parking area for Horsetail Falls. It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the trailhead from Salem. There are bathrooms and a picnic area here.
Distance and elevation gain:
It’s approximately 4.8 miles out and back and 740 feet in elevation gain. It’s a moderately easy hike and open year round.
Fees and Permits:
There are no fees or permits required to park here. It is a dog friendly trail, though you might want to keep them on a leash. There were lots of dogs when we visited, but they were all friendly.