The Columbia River Gorge offers moments of magic through scenic beauty and adventure that come from poking around seldom-seen sites prized for spring time splendor. I call the mile-long trail to Wahclella Falls a “back-pocket hike” because it’s handy and easy to reach and just a stone’s throw from Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Gorge.
Tanner Creek lures you along the gentle trail that has about 300 feet of elevation gain. Watch for foamy sheets of water that drain across canyon rock walls – they are a delight to stop and enjoy before Wahclella Falls explodes into view with deafening style.
Named for an ancient Chinook Indian village site, Wahclella Falls does so in two tiers, dropping 50 and 80 feet respectively out of a narrow gorge. It pours into a large pool at the head of a massive basalt amphitheater and it is a fine place to enjoy a picnic while the rushing water washes your stress away.
It is a fine setting for getting away from it all, but don’t get too comfy for there’s more springtime falls in the Gorge to explore – in fact, there are more than forty of them, and according to famed Oregon landscape photographer, Steve Terrill, here’s the best part:
“They are all so different; Shepperd’s Dell Falls sits in a fine little pocket just off the scenic highway, Latourell Falls can be seen right from the roadway and then Wahkeena Falls sweeps and terraces down all those rocks. Plus, there are so many hiking trails up here that if you want to get away from it all, the Gorge can help you do that.”
Near Mosier, discover another hike that’s well off the beaten path when you stroll the Memaloose Hills on a wildflower hike that can take you up to six miles and an 800 foot elevation gain. The trail is jam-packed with flowers including stunning Balsamroot, Columbia Desert Parsley, Glacier Lily, Prairie Star and Shooting Star.
This public landscape is open anytime thanks to the efforts of a true Columbia Gorge “patriot,” Nancy Russell, who founded Friends of the Columbia Gorge in 1980. According to the Executive Director, Kevin Gorman, Russell was the reason the Memaloose Hills are now yours to explore as a part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “Nancy would do anything to protect the Gorge, just like a mother would protect her children. She was fierce and protective and she cared quite a bit about this area. She really was a big advocate of the public’s right to enjoy special places like this.”
This landscape – nearly 5,000 acres of the broad Rowena Plateau landscape is just getting started; the peak of the wildflower bloom is still weeks away. “It really is a stunner,” added Terrill. It is probably the most dramatic wildflower display in the gorge. It is a gorgeous place to look at with the bright and beautiful patches of Balsamroot and the brilliant red Paintbrush right next to them…just an explosion of color up here.”
Directions to Memaloose Hills: take exit 69 on I-84 to Mosier. Go through town and drive 3 miles to the signed “Memaloose Overlook” parking area. You’ll see an unmarked trail going into the wildflowers opposite the overlook. Explore and enjoy!