Columbia Gorge Waterfall Run


I am a little behind in writing up this adventure.  The weekend before Christmas I was up in Vancouver, WA for Christmas with my wife’s family.  On Saturday, it was sunny and cool, so I took my long run to the Columbia Gorge.  There is an ultra marathon held in the gorge in March which I was hoping to run in.  Unfortunately, it filled up in 12 hours, and I was not one of the lucky few. I decided to run a portion of the course for my long run as an out and back. I started the run at Wahkeena Falls just off the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway.  Even though it was sunny out, I was in the shade due to being on the South Side of the Gorge.

Wahkeena Falls Trail Head

Wahkeena Falls is a 282-foot  waterfall just up from the trail head.  Right off the bat, you start climbing, passing by the waterfalls and then climbing up switchbacks to a viewpoint above.  The switchbacks were paved and covered in moss; there were even a couple of groups of people coming down who thought I was crazy running up.  Past the viewpoint, the trail starts to run next to the stream above the falls.  It was damp but not muddy; I do not think the trails in this area are ever dry out. The trail was like a wetter version of the trails I run in Bend.  They were rocky like I am used to which made it important to watch your footing.

Wahkeena Falls from Below

After climbing for some time the trail passes below Fairy Falls, an otherworldly waterfall what spreads out as it drops.  Past the falls, the trail continues to climb and starts to leave the creek behind.  The trail continues to climb, but now it is a bit more gradual and even entered the sunshine from time to time.  At the top of the climb, I was about 1500 feet up from the trail head.  As I traversed the hillside, you would get the occasional view down the gorge to the river below.  Once on top the trail begins to turn downward, eventually reaching the stream above Multnomah Falls.  The trail through this section had some patches of snow leftover from earlier in the week.  The creek above Multnomah Falls is very scenic with lots of smaller waterfalls.  Eventually, the trail descends most of the elevation gained earlier and crosses over the creek right above the falls.

Fairy Falls

When I reached the paved trail it instinctively turned right and headed uphill thinking the falls were up there.  After about 30 seconds I realized I was taking the trail to the bottom without going out to the viewing platform above the falls.  I did not climb all this way, not to take a look from the platform.  So I back tracked to my wrong turn and ran down the trail to the platform right above the falls.  The view down is impressive with the parking lot, interstate, and Columbia River below.  Multnomah Falls is 620 feet tall making it the largest in Oregon.  After taking a short break, I began running down the trail to the bottom of the falls.  There are about 11 switchbacks of paved trail descending to the bottom.  The trail is about 1 mile long and filled with tourists whom I got to dodge along the way.  Right before the bottom I saw where my trail would continue down the gorge.  I passed the trail to take the opportunity to check out the falls from below before retracing my steps back up to my turn.

Single-Track Trail

Once on the gorge trail again it became single-track dirt.  This section of the trail is obviously less used than the sections I had just run.  There were some downed trees and branches to dodge along the way.  I even doubted that I was going the right way at certain points.  Eventually, the trail reaches more used sections as it approaches the next group of waterfalls.  The trail crosses over Oneonta Creek and then climbs up to another viewpoint down the gorge.  After a short section along the ridge, the trail comes up to what I think is the coolest waterfall along the route.  Ponytail Falls shoots out of a small gap in the rock, and the trail actually goes behind the falls and through a cutout in the rock.  Past the falls, I continued along the ridge for about another mile before turning around to make sure I was back in time for Christmas dinner.

View East Down the Gorge

The trail back to the car was less eventful than on the way out.  I backtracked on the same route back to Multnomah Falls.  I stopped again at the falls for a couple more pictures, and this time took the short route near the road back to the trail head.  This section is only half a mile long compared to the 4 mile and 1500-foot  climb I took on the way out.  Overall, the run ended up being about 15 miles and three hours and 15 minutes.  I even played around with my new toy, a GoPro Camera, and am in the process of making a video of the run.  Check back later to see the video.  If you are ever in the Portland, OR area this is definitely a great run.  The trail is a good mix of single-track and gorgeous views.  Hopefully, I can get into the race in a couple of years and do the whole thing; there are about 18 miles of single-track past where I turned around.  As always, your mileage may vary.

Ponytail Falls

Gear Used (noteworthy)

  • Ultimate Direction Wasp Hydration Pack – Worked great, the stretch pockets are big enough to hold my GoPro camera when it was not in use.
  • La Sportiva Crosslite 2.0 Shoes – A shoes truly made for mountain running.  Good protection from the ground and large lugs for traction.  I appreciated these shoes on the rocky terrain; my more minimalist shoes would have been too little shoes on this day.
  • The North Face Impulse ½ Zip – I really like this top.  It is just the right thickness to take the chill off on cooler days.  The arms are also nice and long which I appreciate.
  • GoPro Hero2 Camera – First use, it works well.  Now I just need to work on my video editing.  Look for the video soon!

About the Author

I am an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, climber, skier and many other activities that would make this list too long. I started Your Mileage May Vary Reviews in Early 2011 to combine two of my passions: sports and gear.

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