Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Multnomah Falls

February 25, 2019

Dropping 620 spectacular feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest of the Columbia River Gorge’s many waterfalls (77 on the Oregon side, to be exact). It’s also close to Portland and just off Interstate-84, making it one of Oregon’s most visited and photographed natural sites, attracting more than two million sightseers a year.

Because of the falls’ popularity, parking is very limited. Crowds and delays are common during spring, summer and autumn, especially on weekends. So how do you experience it all like a pro? From when to go and how to get there, here’s what you need to know to consider when visiting Multnomah Falls.

Quick tips for visiting Multnomah Falls

  1. Plan to visit early morning or late afternoon on weekdays. Avoid weekend crowds.
  2. Check road conditions and parking lot availability before traveling.
  3. Pay attention to road signs and parking lot information. Do not stop on I-84 if the gate is closed.
  4. If traveling on the weekends, consider taking a shuttle like Columbia Gorge Express.
  5. Hikers should check current trail conditions.
  6. Bring water and appropriate clothing and footwear.
  7. Explore the rest of the hikes and communities along the Columbia River Gorge.
Two people pose for a photo in front of the Multnomah Falls sign, with the awe-inspiring cascade in the background.
Multnomah Falls is one of Oregon’s most visited and photographed natural sites, attracting more than two million sightseers.
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Multnomah Falls is a special place for so many reasons. Geology is one of them. Yes, Multnomah Falls is fed by rainfall but also by snowmelt and underground springs from Larch Mountain. If you look closely, you can see five flows of Yakima basalt in the falls’ mossy cliff face.

Design is another remarkable feature here. The iconic, postcard-famous Benson Bridge spanning the lower falls (built by Italian stone masons in 1914) was named for Simon Benson, a prominent businessman who owned the falls at the time.

The Multnomah Falls Lodge is a wonder in itself. Built in 1925 and named the nation’s first National Historic Landmark, the lodge structure includes every type of rock found in the Gorge. On the lower level, you’ll find the Multnomah Falls Visitor Center and Gift Shop, as well as a restaurant that offers Northwest fare in a cozy dining room.

When to go

Autumn: There’s a quiet beauty to the falls, as gold maples frame the cascade and the cliffs. There are also fewer crowds when the rush of summer vacation is over and as the waterfall flow is a bit lower (but still scenic). Even still, your best bet for solitude is a weekday.

Winter: Seasonal rains create booming waterfalls, and occasionally, freezing temperatures encase the falls in ice. If roads are safe, make the trip for an unforgettable experience.

Spring: Rain and snowmelt push the waterfall to its maximum volume, and the wildflowers on nearby trails are in full bloom. Larger crowds of visitors start to arrive during the weekends and spring break.

Summer: For the best experience in any season (but especially in the busy summer months), come early, bring water and prepare for an adventure. Visit midweek in the early morning or late evening for fewer crowds, though summer days are almost always busy.

A bus stop sign for the Columbia Gorge Express includes the website ww.ColumbiaGorgeExpress.com
Traveling by shuttle is also a low-stress way to visit the Columbia River Gorge.
Hikers walk off the luxury motor coach of the Columbia Gorge Express.
The journey to Multnomah Falls is half the adventure when you ride the Columbia Gorge Express.

How to get there

By shuttle: The journey to Multnomah Falls is half the adventure when you ride the Columbia Gorge Express — luxury motor coaches with huge windows that are ideal for head-swiveling views of cliffs, waterfalls and the river. Traveling by shuttle is also a low-stress way to visit the falls and other Gorge attractions, especially on busy summer days.

Shuttles travel from Portland’s Gateway Transit Center to Rooster Rock State Park, Multnomah Falls, Cascade Locks and Hood River. Rooster Rock shuttles get especially full on weekends — you may have to wait for a second shuttle midday in summer. Also bring outerwear as the stops are outdoors and exposed to the elements. To avoid that, go early or late, and don’t forget to bring a full water bottle for the ride.

Round-trip fares to Multnomah Falls are $5 from Portland and $10 from Hood River. A $15 day pass ($12 online) lets you hop on and off at all stops. Or ride free from Rooster Rock to Multnomah Falls (with $5 park entrance fee). Buy tickets online or upon boarding with credit card or exact change.

Questions? Friendly staff have the answers. Buses run about every 30 minutes in summer; see the schedule for other seasons.

A sign denotes the Historic Columbia River Highway, a designated Oregon Scenic Byway.
The Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway is known as the “King of Roads.”
Visitors walk by a sign indicating that the parking lot is full.
If you drive to the Columbia River Gorge, carpool with friends and family to keep one less car on the road.

By car: You can travel by car to Multnomah Falls via I-84, but note that driving there can be tricky because the falls’ parking lot is frequently at capacity and closes until 10% of spots are open. The parking lot accessed by unusual left-lane exits (Exit 31) off the highway in both the eastbound and westbound directions. Watch for congestion around them. When the lot is full, as it often is, an automatic gate bars the freeway exits. Don’t slow or stop in the left lane to wait for the gate to reopen — 65-mile-per-hour traffic is behind you. If you drive, carpool with friends and family to keep one less car on the road.

What to do when the parking lot is full / gates are shut:

Eastbound: Keep on I-84 to Exit 35/Ainsworth. Turn around and head west to Exit 25/Rooster Rock. Pay $5 to enter, park, and ride the free bus.

Eastbound: Continue east on I-84 to Exit 44/Cascade Locks. Park free at Eagle Creek Overlook Park (next to the Post Office), at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, or on the street where permitted. Then board the Columbia Gorge Express on WaNaPa Street at School Drive, and enjoy the 17-minute ride to the falls.

Westbound: Drive 6 miles past the falls to Exit 25/Rooster Rock, pay $5 to enter, park, and ride the free bus.

Visitors poses for selfies on Benson Bridge, with the Multnomah Falls cascade behind them.
Visitors can hike to the magnificent Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls.

What to do at Multnomah Falls

Hikes: Many trails in the Gorge were impacted by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Though most trails have reopened, hikers are warned to enter at their own risk because of hazardous conditions. Make sure to learn about the conditions of trails before you plan your trek. Hike to the magnificent bridge at the base of the upper falls and bring binoculars to spot wildlife all around you, including in Multnomah Creek down below.

Dine and fuel up: Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the restaurant in the upper portion of Multnomah Falls Lodge, which is accessible by elevator. Weekend options include a banquet brunch. Or pick up a snack or coffee for the trail at the snack bar on the lower level. Purchase a souvenir or locally made gift to bring back to your family and friends.

Learn and pitch in: Check out the Visitor Center on the lower level of the lodge, where you can learn the history of the lodge as well as the efforts made by Gorge communities and emergency responders to save the Lodge during the 2017 fire. See the ongoing response work, and learn how you can help protect the Gorge through the Friends of the Columbia Gorge Trailhead Ambassadors program, a stewardship work party or other event.

Respect the area: Wherever you visit the Gorge, follow Leave No Trace practices — pack your trash out with you, stay on trails, and respect wildlife and locals alike. Always check with the Friends of the Gorge before you head out on your adventure to receive up-to-date trail conditions and visitor information.

A bird's-eye view of Cascade Locks showcases the blue Columbia River, green trees and the impressive steel Bridge of the Gods.
Cascade Locks is located on the banks of the Columbia River by the famous Bridge of the Gods.

See the whole Gorge

If Multnomah Falls is full or crowded, take it as an opportunity to see more of the Gorge, outside of the waterfall corridor. Just minutes to the east, sculptural landscapes of cliffs and plateaus offer a fascinating and beautiful counterpoint to the lushness of the Gorge’s west end. Consider taking the Columbia Gorge Express shuttle to see much of the Gorge car-free

Rooster Rock State Park: Just six miles west of Multnomah Falls is the 2.7-mile Rooster Rock Loop, with three miles of river access, two disc golf courses and covered picnic shelters that make for a lovely afternoon retreat. (Note: there’s a clothing-optional beach at the east end of the trail, not visible from the main park.)

Cascade Locks: In this charming community, fuel up with food and drink at friendly eateries including Cascade Locks Ale House, Thunder Island Brewing, Locks of Dogs & TreatsEastwind Drive-InBrigham Fish Market or Locks Waterfront Grill. Find more fascinating Gorge stories at the Port of Cascade Locks Visitor Center and Cascade Locks Historical Museum. Stretch your legs nearby at Dry Creek Falls, a 4.4-mile hike that starts at the famous Bridge of the Gods.

Hood River: You’ll find a dreamscape of abundance here, a city bursting with dining and shopping and outdoor recreation opportunities galore. Great options include pFriem Family BrewersSolstice Wood Fire Pizza, Café & Bar and the brand new Ferment Brewing Co., with waterfront views from the tasting room and handcrafted kombucha alongside their craft beer and food menu. Visit the History Museum of Hood River County or walk the Hood River Waterfront Trail, which runs 2.8 beautiful miles along the river, with great viewing of kiteboarders and windsurfers.

Mosier: Welcome to the town of Mosier, where you can amble through a pioneer cemetery to the 100-foot Mosier Creek Falls. A 4.5-mile section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, known as the Mosier Twin Tunnels trail, is closed to car traffic. Take in some of the Gorge’s best views along the 3.3-mile hike at Mosier Plateau, a family-friendly trek on gentle trails, with some incline, that pops with wildflowers in the spring and leads to the iconic Ramona Curves viewpoint. Post hike, head a few blocks downhill to Mosier Company, a newish hot spot (with a large, dog-friendly patio) serving up tasty sandwiches, salads and craft drinks on tap along with their own artisan coffee brewed fresh on site.

The Dalles: Just 16 miles down the road from Mosier, there’s plenty to see and do in The Dalles, the Gorge’s largest city. Tour the Fort Dalles Museum, learn the tribal history of Celilo Falls and Celilo Park, and stop for refreshment at Freebridge Brewing, Sedition Brewing Co., Sunshine Mill Winery or the new Kainos Coffee, which also makes woodfired pizzas. The Dalles isn’t complete without a stop at Klindt’s Booksellers, the oldest bookstore in Oregon.

The 2017 Eagle Creek fire damaged many hiking trails on the Oregon side of the Gorge. If you are interested in hiking, please visit Friends of the Gorge to ensure the hike you want to do is open. For more information about best practices, visit Ready, Set, Gorge!

A cyclist looks over the Ramona Curves viewpoint.
Take in some of the Gorge’s best views along the Mosier Plateau, home to the iconic Ramona Curves viewpoint.

About The
Author

Laura O. Foster
Laura O. Foster writes books about Portland and nearby places in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been featured on Oregon Field Guide, Oregon Art Beat, AM Northwest and KBOO, as well as in The Oregonian, Willamette Week and the Portland Tribune. An Oregonian since 1989, she lives with her husband on 20 acres of forest in Northwest Portland with the youngest of their four children. Her newest book is "Columbia Gorge Getaways: 12 Weekend Adventures from Towns to Trails."

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