If you’ve ever visited the waterfalls and trailheads along the Columbia River Gorge during the summer months, you’ve no doubt seen the heavy amount of traffic and parked cars filled with waterfall adventure-seekers.
To improve the experience for everyone, those who use their own personal vehicle to visit the Gorge’s famous Waterfall Corridor in peak season must obtain a Timed Use Permit. There’s no permit needed if you bike in, ride a shuttle or take transit.
The permits are only be needed for visits between late May and early September. They are needed to access the federal lands along the 6-mile stretch of road between Bridal Veil Falls State Scenic Viewpoint (Exit 28) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). Everything east of Hood River does not need a permit.
Permits are available at WaterfallCorridorPermits.org for a nonrefundable transaction fee of $2 per vehicle.
The permits are available both online and in-person (for a limited amount of same-day permits, with no transaction fee).
In the meantime, here are the basics so you can get planning and have the most enjoyable experience.
Does everyone need a permit?
All drivers of personal vehicles using the Waterfall Corridor must have a permit. Your personal (or rented) car or motorcycle is a personal vehicle, including vans and pickups. This includes ride-sharing vehicles such as Uber and Lyft. Recreational vehicles and trailers are also personal vehicles, but must be under 35 feet long to safely navigate the winding, narrow road.
What does the permit allow?
Once you arrive during your designated time slot, you can stay as long as you like. Parking is not guaranteed.
Is this a parking permit?
This permit allows you to use your private vehicle to access federal lands along the Waterfall Corridor. Oregon State Parks and U.S. Forest Service sites in the Waterfall Corridor do not require parking permits. Parking is not guaranteed anywhere along the Waterfall Corridor. Only park in marked parking spots.
How will my permit be checked?
Be prepared to show receipt of your permit on a mobile device or a printed copy. Oregon State Parks staff will be at the two permit check-in points just east of the Bridal Veil off-ramp (Exit 28) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). Once you enter through an entry point, you do not need to display your permit. Visit during your permit time and stay as long as you like. Permits will not be checked upon departure.
What happens if I show up without a permit?
All private vehicles need a permit to access federal lands adjacent to the Waterfall Corridor between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from just east of the Bridal Veil off-ramp (Exit 28) to Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). Drivers of vehicles without a permit will be asked to turn around.
There are several options for obtaining a permit once you arrive at the Waterfall Corridor:
- If permits are still available for the day of your visit, get your permit online. Note that cell service within the corridor can be limited. Please remember to travel with care and don’t use your cell phone while driving.
- A limited amount of permits (around 10%) will be available for same-day purchase at three sites: the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale, the Cascade Locks Historical Museum, and Multnomah County libraries.
If no permits are available, consider going by bike, transit or tour instead.
Why is this permit needed?
About 2.5 million visitors come to the Gorge each year, the majority by car. This stretch of roadway is narrow and curving with few shoulders and room for parking. There’s far more demand for activities here – wildlife watching, photography, hiking, cycling and more – than the roadway and parking lot can handle during peak times.
All of this congestion creates dangerous delays for emergency vehicles including wildfire responders. Drivers who park illegally block the travel lane and cause safety hazards for pedestrians and cyclists.
What if I want to visit Multnomah Falls?
If you’re planning on visiting Multnomah Falls between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 24-Sept. 5, 2022, you must also book a Timed Use Permit (in addition to the Waterfall Corridor permit) at Recreation.gov. These tickets (a nonrefundable $2 transaction fee) are also by car, not by person (as during the 2021 season).
Visitors are asked to arrive during the hour of their ticket. For those who enter via tour, display the sticker at the entry station, right before the pedestrian tunnel.
Tickets are required for those visiting Multnomah Falls from the historic highway. If you get the $2 permit to drive the highway, you do not have to have a ticket for visiting the falls, but if you park at Exit 31 you do need a ticket to visit the falls.
What if I live or work within the permit area?
People living or working within the Waterfall Corridor area where permits are required do not need a timed-entry permit. Separate passes will be issued as needed. If you need to visit a house or business, see more information.
What about dog walkers?
Dog walkers and other pedestrians do not need a permit to access the corridor. (Note that some places along the corridor prohibit pedestrians, such as the viaducts on both sides of Multnomah Falls and other places there is little or no shoulder.)
What about going by transit, tour bus or bike?
Go by Shuttle
Take the Columbia Area Transit bus from Gateway Transit Center in the Portland metro area, Cascade Locks and Hood River directly to Multnomah Falls. Tickets are available online, including yearly passes. Find a multitude of private shuttle options in this primer on taking car-free trips to the Gorge.
Buy a GorgePass: This annual pass with unlimited transit to and from Portland and around the Gorge is an excellent option for those who plan for multiple visits. The pass is $40 for adults and $20 for children, with $1 of each pass going to the Gorge Equity Fund. The hop-on/hop-off shuttles allow you to explore the area at your own pace via the network of four Gorge transit systems.
Go by Tour
Drive to the private tour provider parking lots in Corbett (use Exit 22) for the Gray Line Waterfall Trolley. For the Sasquatch Shuttle, park at Bridal Veil (use Exit 28). Several private tour providers also serve the Historic Highway Waterfall Corridor.
Ride a Bike
Cyclists do not need a permit on the Historic Highway. Bring your own or consider booking an e-bike to travel the Waterfall Corridor, including Multnomah Falls. Outfitters like Ebike Multnomah Falls (located at Guy Talbot State Park in Corbett, at the Latourell Falls Trailhead) let you park at the shop, rent an e-bike and take a self-guided tour, available April through October. In 2.5 hours you can see five waterfalls (including a couple miles of walking), or you can linger and do some short hikes for a half-day rental. A full-day rental can include a stop for a picnic or dining at the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge restaurant – book a table for the best experience. Ebike rentals include maps and instruction; riders must be age 16 or older. Pedal bikes are available for children under 16.
Where can I go for fewer crowds and no permit required?
Just minutes east of the Waterfall Corridor there are a number of spectacular sites to see, including the 2.4-mile round trip to Wahclella Falls and the 4.4-mile out-and-back at Dry Creek Falls. There’s also the Bonneville Lock and Dam and the car-free Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, where you can walk or cycle two favorite segments: the Wyeth Trailhead to Lindsey Creek and the Twin Tunnels Trail, named for long tunnels chiseled through the basalt as part of the original road, which ends in Mosier. From there you can discover wineries, U-picks and other farm-to-table treats along the East Gorge Food Trail.
Where else can I see waterfalls?
Love waterfalls and want to visit a different region? Southern Oregon is home to a number of kid-friendly waterfalls; throughout Oregon there are many lesser-known waterfalls; and Central Oregon’s Waterfall Trail will surprise and delight.
Tips for Visiting
- Highway construction projects and traffic backups in the Gorge are common. Check TripCheck.com for traffic updates and road conditions before you go.
- Consider visiting earlier, later or midweek for fewer crowds, and continue eastward past the Waterfall Corridor to explore the less-crowded East Gorge area.
- Have a Plan B in mind. Check Ready Set GOrge for more trip-planning ideas.