Forming much of the border between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River bisects the volcanic rocks of the Cascade Range. Over the last 12-17 million years the volcanoes of the Cascades have built themselves skyward while the relentless erosive action of moving water has worked its way down. For over 80 miles the mighty Columbia has carved its way through the resistant basalt of the mountains, creating the Columbia River Gorge. This stretch of river is the only water route through the Cascade Range and one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest.
While out here visiting customers my business partner and I found ourselves driving right through the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Interstate 84 and a number of parallel side roads follow the river, providing access to the approximately 80 waterfalls on the Oregon side. The most impressive of these is Multnomah Falls, dropping 620 feet from the northern flank of Mount Hood to the river below.
As the second-highest year-round waterfall in the United States, Multnomah Falls attracts over two million visitors per year. To accommodate visitors and promote tourism the city of Portland and wealthy financiers built the Multnomah Falls Lodge, offering information, dining, and rooms to travelers. Today the US Forest Service administers this location as part of Mount Hood National Forest.
While Multnomah is the most impressive waterfall to be found here, many others are also worth a visit. Since we were out here on business my friend and I didn’t have time to see many, but another notable cascade was Wahkeena Falls:
We hiked here quite a bit, from the moss-covered rocks and stone bridges surrounding the top of the falls to the colorful autumn leaves near the base:
Along the way we also came across this modest yet attractive waterfall. There are so many in this area that some, like this one, don’t even have names:
Although we had a long drive that evening, it was worth stopping for a couple of hours at these remarkable locations. If you’re ever near Portland, OR or Yakima or Kennewick, WA, this area is worth driving a couple of hours to see. If you have more time I suspect it’s worth an extended visit. The magnificent waterfalls, lush foliage, and rugged terrain are perfect for exploration.