Waterfalls hiking sampler
Wednesday, February 25 | 11:30 p.m.
BY ALLEN THOMAS
COLUMBIAN STAFF WRITER
DODSON, Ore. — Thankfully, February transitions to March this weekend. The process of getting winter behind us and spring at hand hastens.
And with the arrival of March, it is time to resume hiking. Nothing too strenuous and nothing too far from home.
Which leads us to the western end of the Columbia Gorge, where waterfalls and easy trails abound.
Here’s a waterfalls sampler: Six waterfalls in 7.3 miles split between two trails, no more than 700 feet of elevation gain, and easily accomplished in three to four hours.
The first trip combines Horsetail Falls trail No. 438 and Oneonta trail No. 424 in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for a 4.3-mile semi-loop.
Head east on Interstate 84 in Portland and take exit 28 at Bridal Veil. Go east on the historic Columbia River Highway for 3.1 miles to Multnomah Falls, then another 2.5 miles and turn left into the parking lot for Horsetail Falls.
The 176-foot Horsetail Falls along the road is as far as many visitors here ever go.
But Horsetail Falls trail No. 438 begins just east of the waterfall, makes switchbacks up the slope, then curves left into the canyon above the falls.
Immediately, comes another falls in view, sometimes called Upper Horsetail Falls, but more commonly known as Ponytail Falls.
This falls is between 100 and 125 feet, according to author Gregory Plumb in his book "Waterfall Lover’s Guide Pacific Northwest.’’
Ponytail Falls shoot out over an overhanging ledge with the trail passing behind the falls. This perspective offers a chance at some interesting photography.
Horsetail Falls trail continues on, entering the canyon of Oneonta Creek and dropping to cross a bridge spanning the stream at 1.2 miles.
At a switchback just prior to the bridge is a superb view into narrow Onenota Gorge, a slot canyon only about 25 feet wide.
Just upstream from the bridge is a 60-foot falls on Oneonta Creek.
After crossing the creek, trail No. 438 ends in another 0.1 mile at its junction with Oneonta trail No. 424.
Turn left at this junction and climb gradually for 0.8 miles (2.1 total, so far) to Triple Falls, where three fingers of Oneonta Creek fall 100 to 135 feet.
Triple Falls is a worthy destination any day of the year. Portland author Doug Lorain says autumn may be the best time, when the big-leaf maples turn yellow and sprinkle the canyon with dabs of color.
The bridge across Oneonta Creek just upstream of Triple Falls has been removed due to rot.
Stan Hinatsu of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area office in Hood River saidmoney has been identified to replace the bridge.
It may be late summer before a contract gets prepared and issued to build a replacement bridge, he said.
To finish the trip, retrace the 0.8 miles back to the junction with Horsetail Falls trail No. 438, then bear left and stay on Oneonta trail No. 424 another 0.9 miles back to the old Columbia River Highway.
Turn right and walk along the road, passing through a restored tunnel near the crossing of Oneonta Creek, for 0.5 miles back to the Horsetail Falls parking lot. That brings the total distance to 4.3 miles.
The 125-foot tunnel through 200-foot-tall Oneonta Bluff was built in 1914, part of making Horsetail Falls and Oneonta Gorge a part of the historic highway.
In 1948, Oregon realigned the highway, and filled the tunnel was rock. It was reopened in 2006.
Elowah Falls — Once back at the car, continue east on the old highway, turn right on Frontage Road and follow the road to the parking lot on the right for John B. Yeon State Park.
The trail begins along an old and leaky water tank to the west of the parking lot. At the first junction, stay on the main trail to the left, climbing to a second junction at 0.2 miles.
At the second junction, take the right fork and climb into a huge basin with a view of 289-foot Elowah Falls. The trail here has been blasted into the side of the cliff and the metal guardrails add a welcome degree of safety.
Hikers arrive at Upper McCord Creek Falls at one mile from the trailhead. This twin falls drops 100 to 125 feet.
After enjoying Upper McCord Creek Falls, retrace the route back to the junction, turn right and drop 0.5 miles to a viewpoint of Elowah Falls.
One word of note: These two falls, especially Elowah, are well worth the hike, but don’t expect a lot of solitude. Noise from nearby Interstate 84 seems to funnel up the McCord Creek canyon.
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