Chasing Waterfalls and Fall Foliage Along the Historic Columbia River Highway

When you think of great places to see the fall foliage in the United States, the New England states are probably the first places that come to most people’s minds. As someone who grew up and currently lives in New England, I definitely agree with this, but traveling has shown me there are so many other parts of the United States that are just as beautiful, if not even more beautiful during the fall. One of these places is the state of Oregon.

From the moment I got off the plane in Portland Oregon, I was so impressed with the vibrance of the fall colors. I just knew that when I ventured outside of the city of Portland, it would be even more beautiful and I was definitely right!

Fall view along the Historic Columbia River Highway

Less than a half hour from Downtown Portland, is the beginning of the Historic Columbia River Highway in Troutdale. The Historic Columbia River Highway travels 75 miles east thru the Columbia River Gorge to The Dalles. As a National Historic Landmark, the Historic Columbia River Highway was the first scenic highway planned in the United States and was constructed between 1913-1922. Driving along a section of this highway, I can confirm that it certainly is scenic. The fall foliage along this historic highway is absolutely stunning!

Historic Columbia River Highway

While a drive along the Historic Columbia River Highway during the fall months is magical in itself, on the western end of the highway there is a 13 mile stretch referred to as “waterfall alley” and it really is the star of the show on this historic highway.

Latourell Falls

The best part of visiting “waterfall alley” is that many of the waterfalls are very easily accessible from the highway which makes them perfect for all ages and abilities to be able to enjoy. For those wanting more than just stopping and seeing a waterfall, there are hikes near the waterfalls for closer and different views of them.

Latourell Falls: Heading east from Portland, the first waterfall that you will come to is the 224 foot Latourell Falls. There are plenty of viewing options for Latourell Falls. If you aren’t much of a hiker or with young kids or older family members, there are great views right by the parking lot, as pictured above.

If you are looking for a hike, from the Latourell Falls Trailhead you can take the Latourell Falls Loop Hike. This 2 mile hike will take you to the upper falls and the lower portion as well. If you aren’t up for the entire loop, you could always do an out and back of the lower or upper portion. The lower portion wasn’t as steep as the upper portion if you are looking for something a little less strenuous, but the entire loop really isn’t difficult as you will only gain about 700 feet and this is mostly at the very beginning of the upper portion of the trail.

Shepperd’s Dell Falls: Next up is the often overlooked, Shepperd’s Dell Falls. This series of falls is 220 feet high with the lower accessible portion being 82 feet high. There is a very short .2 mile round trip trail to the falls from the parking lot.

The falls cascade thru a creek under the bridge to the other side of the road. While not as popular, it’s a pretty quick stop that is worth it in my opinion.

Shepperd’s Dell Falls

Bridal Veil Falls: I feel like there are a million waterfalls named, Bridal Veil Falls! Oregon’s Bridal Veil Falls are just as beautiful as it’s name sake in other states.

There are two trails located at the falls. The first is a .3 mile trail down to the falls. This mostly paved trail passes over a bridge to a viewing platform at the base of the falls.

There is also a half mile interpretive trail loop with many views of the river as well as signs that will teach you more about the history of the area. The views are absolutely stunning from the lookouts, even on a cloudy and rainy day. There are also picnic areas located along the interpretive trail, making for a great stop for lunch if the weather is nice.

Bridal Veil Falls

Wahkeena Falls: The next waterfall, Wahkeena Falls, has a rather small parking area, I had to drive by a couple of times before I found a parking spot. There is a trail from the next waterfall, Multnomah Falls, but it was closed for repairs when I was there. In fact the short trail to the viewing platform for Wahkeena Falls seemed to be closed as well. So I got just a little peak of the falls, guess I’ll have to go back to see it up close.

Multnomah Falls: The star of the show in “waterfall alley” has got to be Multnomah Falls. This famous waterfall is the most visited natural attraction in the Pacific Northwest and at 620 feet tall, it’s the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. This two tiered waterfall has a viewing platform at the bottom as well as viewing from the Benson Bridge in between the Upper and Lower Falls. Also located here is The Multnomah Falls Lodge which includes a visitors center, gift shop, snack bar and restaurant.

Multnomah Falls

Due to the popularity of these falls, you must pack your patience, it’s not unusual for there to be a backup of cars on the road waiting to get into the parking lot. Even late afternoon on a rainy late October day I waited a good half hour to get in the parking lot. During the summer months in 2021, they instituted a timed reservation system to visit these falls. Another option during the summer and on weekends in the fall is to take the waterfall trolley (more on that later) which includes access to Multnomah Falls without the timed reservation ticket.

The Multnomah Falls Trail is 2.4 miles roundtrip and will take you to the Benson Bridge in between the Upper and Lower falls and then to the viewing platform at the top of the upper falls. The portion of the trail past Benson Bridge to the top was closed for repairs when I was there in late October so check the website before you go for any closures. To the Benson Bridge it’s just a half mile roundtrip and the views are stunning from there.

Multnomah Falls from Benson Bridge

Oneonta Gorge and Tunnel: My next stop was to Oneonta Gorge. Here you can hike to see a few waterfalls located in this slot canyon. Sadly the trail to these waterfalls was also closed.

All of the trail closures are due to repairs needed due to the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. The fire was started by a teenage boy who set off fireworks during a fire ban. Please respect the beautiful world we live in and heed all rules when it comes to fires and fireworks. We all saw how awful wildfires could get this summer from natural causes out of our control like lightning, we do not need to add to this by causing wildfires due to irresponsible campfires or fireworks.

Even without being able to see the waterfalls, Oneonta Gorge is definitely worth a stop, the area is beautiful and you can walk thru the Oneonta Tunnel, which was also ruined in the Eagle Creek Fire but recently reopened in spring of 2021.

Horsetail Falls: The final waterfall that you must see is the 176 foot Horsetail Falls. When the trail is open, you can actually hike to Horsetail Falls from Oneonta Gorge.

Horsetail Falls

The great thing about Horsetail Falls is they are right next to the highway. After a long day of driving and hiking in the rain, it was nice to just stop and enjoy the waterfall. if you are interested in a hike, the Horsetail Falls Loop is 2.3 miles roundtrip and will take you to another waterfall, Ponytail Falls. Ponytail falls are a great waterfall to check out as you can walk behind these falls, which is always a fun experience.

Horsetail Falls

Waterfall Trolley: As I mentioned above, parking and traffic can get bad, so during busy times like the summer, it may be best to take the Waterfall Trolley. The trolley is hop-on, hop-off and stops at the majority of the waterfalls. The parking is at the west part of the highway in Corbett. In 2021, the trolley ran Thursdays – Mondays during the summer and Saturdays and Sundays thru mid October. Check out the website for the full schedule and updated dates in future years.

Oregon leaves are huge!

One last side note, the one thing different from New England foliage and Oregon foliage has got to be the size of the leaves. I couldn’t get over how big they were, they were pretty much bigger than my head! I saw many people taking pictures holding the leaves in front of their face to show how large they are. Definitely don’t see leaves that size up in Vermont or New Hampshire!

If the Historic Columbia River Highway is on your bucket list, I highly recommend visiting in the fall. While beautiful all year long, in fall it truly shines!

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30 thoughts on “Chasing Waterfalls and Fall Foliage Along the Historic Columbia River Highway

  1. I lived in Portland for three years and visited Waterfall Alley many times, so it was fun to revisit those waterfalls in your post. I think the Columbia River Gorge is one of the most beautiful areas in the country

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such lovely photos! You definitely have some wonderful shots. I really like the Horsetail Falls with the leaves framing the waterfall. Oh and the Columbia River Hwy Bridge picture is really pretty!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You captured my attention from that first beautiful image right to the end – waterfalls are so stunning to visit that I would love to make this trip. Thank you for letting me travel there virtually 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Pacific Northwest may be more rainy but it’s still a beautiful place to visit in fall. I love the colors where I am in Vancouver as there are a nice mix of fall colours and the evergreen trees. Looks like Oregon is similar. What a gorgeous looking place

    Liked by 1 person

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