The Columbia River Gorge is home to more than 75 waterfalls, and the grandmother of them all is Multnomah Falls. The tallest waterfall in Oregon (and second tallest year round waterfall in the United States), its water falls down in two steps for a combined height of 620 feet. I am lucky enough to live near the westernmost opening of the Gorge, only a few miles from the natural wonder that has captured my attention and the focus of my camera lens on more than one occasion.
My favorite time of year to visit Multnomah Falls is right now, in the coldest part of winter. The rock faces surrounding the falls are iced over, creating an even more awe-inspiring view. The throngs of visitors clear out slightly, during the colder months; for me, the brisk air only adds to the intensity of the experience. I head up the moss and fern-lined ¼-mile trail towards Benson Bridge to a small wooden bridge over a small stream, which flows from the very top of the crest of the Gorge. As I round the last corner, I can hear the crashing of the falling water and feel the mist hit my face. Coming in close contact with any large waterfall is an amazing experience. The air around me is energized, the falling water creating a magnificent roar as it plummets. I step out onto Benson Bridge and I am only a short distance away from the base of the top tier. I step backwards and rest my back against the north side of the bridge, craning my neck up in amazement at the sheer height and power of the waterfall. I turn around and gaze straight down into the lower tier as it drops below me another 69 feet in its final descent. The water then thins out to a small creek and meanders off towards the Columbia River, almost in a daze.
From here, I continue up the trail another mile. This portion of the hike is more challenging than the first short trek that brought me to the bridge. The trail is full of switch backs, but the goal of reaching the top keeps me going. Cold air fills my lungs and cracks in the back of my throat. I am led up through the woods until I finally reach Multnomah Creek. Off to the left there is an old stone bridge crossing the creek where I rest and take in the green forest around me. The climb has been worth it, and as I take the old stone stairs down to the overlook, I marvel at The Columbia River Gorge spread out in front of me like a surreal painting, while Multnomah Falls thunders down below. I timidly reach out to the far rails of the circular wooden deck and lean over to view the water as it quickly drops down out of sight below me. To my left is Little Multnomah Falls, a comparatively tiny waterfall that cascades down the creek before the water takes its large drop. I cannot help but feel so small in this environment, yet so lucky that I am able to so easily enjoy nature’s gifts only a few miles from my doorstep.
I take my time walking back down the path, briefly stopping one last time at Benson Bridge, and can’t help but smile at a small child who is witnessing this marvel for the first time. “Mommy, it’s so tall,” he says in admiration to the woman holding him tightly in the cold air. At the bottom of the trail, I head over to get a cup of tea at the coffee stand outside of Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge, built in 1925, is built from the many different types of rock found in the Gorge. I cup the warm beverage in my hands as I peruse the gift shop’s many postcards, mugs and gifts. I feel complete as I head back to my car with a camera full of photos and fresh air running through me.
Thanks in part to its easy access off of I-84, many visitors come to marvel at Multnomah Falls’ beauty each year. Summer months can be busy with visitors; during the winter months, dress accordingly – the mist from the falls and the wind from the Gorge makes a cold day even colder!