In this guide, we will discover 8 Best Waterfalls near Portland in USA (2023).
So, let’s begin!
1. Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls is the crown jewel of waterfalls near Portland. This two-tier, 620-foot waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge is easy to access from Portland, less than 30 miles away. It attracts over 2.5 million visitors each year. This height and crowd size make Multnomah Falls the tallest waterfall in Oregon and one of the most visited in the Pacific Northwest.
The sheer size of the falls dominates the environment, with a lush Pacific Northwest landscape unfolding in all directions. Adding to the pure natural display are noted pieces of now historic architecture. Benson Bridge is the iconic pedestrian path between the two plunges, and the grand Multnomah Falls Lodge beckons at the base of the falls.
Alongside its historical aesthetics, Multnomah Falls Lodge offers visitors resources like a restaurant, gift shop, and coffee stand. An interpretive center is also on-site, detailing the historic lodge and the ecology of the neighboring falls.
Multnomah Falls is easy to appreciate from near the base of the lodge, with little walking required. Visitors can also hike up a paved trail to the Benson Bridge for a better picture. The trail continues upwards, navigating 11 switchbacks, eventually reaching the top of the falls with a 1.2-mile uphill hike.
2. Punch Bowl Falls, Eagle Creek Trail
Punch Bowl Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail is arguably one of the most iconic waterfalls near Portland. It plummets a mere 35 feet into its large namesake feature. However, its power and downright beautiful surroundings attract crowds throughout the year.
The Eagle Creek Trail itself gives Punch Bowl Falls some of its notoriety. This world-class and historic hiking trail extends nearly 13 cliff-hugging miles, where it connects with the Pacific Crest Trail at Wahtum Lake. Punch Bowl Falls is less than two miles up the trail, with moderate elevation gain.
Upon reaching Punch Bowl Falls, take the Lower Punch Bowl Trail to reach the runoff from the waterfall and a possible view with a bit of creek scrambling. Alternatively, the Eagle Creek Trail continues to an impressive view of Punch Bowl Falls from atop a ledge. Take caution and stay behind the wire fence at this viewpoint.
Even the short portion of the Eagle Creek Trail to Punch Bowl Falls isn’t recommended for small children. Several steep ledges line the entire route, sometimes with cable handrails for extra assurance. The route may be slippery during and after any rain. Walk with intention when exploring Eagle Creek, and avoid being one of the many rescues that occur every year.
Expect a changed landscape for those that haven’t visited the Eagle Creek Trail in a while. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire severely impacted much of the valley surrounding the trail. The trail re-opened in 2021 thanks to generous volunteer efforts spearheaded by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. While the landscape is rebounding, expect charred trunks and a thinned overstory.
3. Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls ranks high as one of the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s the first major waterfall encountered when heading east from Vista House on the Historic Columbia River Highway. But unlike Multnomah Falls, 16 miles east, Latourell Falls is not within the designated Waterfall Corridor Permit Zone – so no reservations are required.
Early arrival is still a good idea at this popular waterfall. A few things add to its popularity, including a dramatic scene close to the parking area. It’s only a short hike to see Latourell Falls plunging over 200 feet next to its basalt cliff face strewn with lichen.
For more of a hike, the trail continues upwards and through thick foliage to reach the waterfall known as Upper Latourell Falls. This plunging attraction doesn’t fall quite as far, but within a secluded mountain canyon, it still leaves quite the impression. It’s approximately a 2.5-mile loop to reach Upper Latourell Falls, with over 600 feet of elevation gain.
The Latourell Falls Trailhead is a part of Guy W. Talbot State Park within the gorge. Lovely picnic areas and open grass branch off the parking area of this state park. This shaded space is popular for a break between exploring waterfalls.
4. Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls is a scenic roadside waterfall on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It’s within the designated Waterfall Corridor, where permits are required to visit in the summer. And it’s truly right on the roadside, plunging 176 feet into a wide pool within eyesight of the parking lot. A scenic picnic area is next to the falls, offering a pleasant backdrop to a meal.
Horsetail Falls is also a scenic trailhead. The trail leading to Upper Horsetail Falls, also known as Ponytail Falls, begins right next to the water basin. The trail to Ponytail Falls spans less than a half-mile, passing through a remarkable basalt half tunnel on the way. Steep ledges along the route make the trail not advisable with small children.
The trail leading to Ponytail Falls connects with the more rigorous Oneonta Trail for heftier hiking journeys. This upwards excursion is one of three direct routes to the top of Larch Mountain. It passes by its own set of stunning waterfalls, culminating with Triple Falls.
5. Wahkeena Falls & Fairy Falls
Wahkeena Falls is another popular waterfall right off the Historic Columbia River Highway, within the Waterfall Permit Zone. Wahkeena is less than a mile west of Multnomah Falls, and many visitors try and see both within a single trip. This double-waterfall excursion is possible with a connecter trail next to the historic highway or via an iconic hiking loop.
Wahkeena Falls tumbles down the entire mountainside, giving a great preview of its power at the parking area. However, the most significant falls are 0.2 miles up the paved hiking trail. Here, a historic concrete bridge provides the perfect platform for taking a picture of the two-tiered falls.
The concrete trail continues past the falls and up a series of demanding switchbacks until reaching Lemmons Viewpoint at 0.7 miles. Enjoy a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge at this viewpoint, and either head back down or continue on the Wahkeena Trail.
Continuing from Lemmons Viewpoint, the paved trail turns to dirt and keeps ascending. Hikers soon reach Fairy Falls, which offers a nice mist to cool off. The Wahkeena Trail eventually connects with the Larch Mountain Trail, which hikers can descend to reach Multnomah Falls. This looped trail traverses approximately five miles with 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
6. Trail of Ten Falls, Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls State Park is home to the renowned Trail of Ten Falls National Recreation Trail. This stunning example of nonstop gravity is just east of Salem, approximately a 60-mile drive south of Portland. This short drive makes for easy day trips from Salem, but with one of Oregon’s best campgrounds, Silver Falls also beckons for weekend travel.
South Falls is arguably the crown jewel of the Trail of Ten Falls and is the tallest along the route. Many visitors start their state park adventure at this 177-foot waterfall at the South Falls Day-Use Area. Here, a carved trail navigates behind the waterfall for a spectacular view.
Spend some time exploring the rest of the Trail of Ten Falls. The route is a bit misnamed based on the excess waterfalls along the 7.8-mile route. A few other notable cataracts along the way include Drake Falls, Double Falls, and Middle North Falls.
7. Tunnel Falls, Eagle Creek Trail
Tunnel Falls is another fantastic waterfall that adds to the Eagle Creek Trail’s iconic status. It’s six miles from the start of the trail, making it a much lengthier expedition than visiting Punch Bowl Falls (1.8 miles). But the extra effort is well rewarded for those willing to make the 12-mile round trip, as Tunnel Falls lives up to its name with a route leading through a basalt cliff face.
Tunnel Falls itself plunges over 170 feet next to a sheer rock face. The force is strong enough to drench either tunnel entrance. The route through the rock isn’t long enough to completely lose daylight and is approximately wide enough for two hikers to slide by. Either side of the tunnel offers excellent views of the waterfall.
Despite the lengthy nature of this route, Eagle Creek Trail to Tunnel Falls is an extremely popular day hike. Expect crowds throughout the summer and on the weekend.
Several exposed ledges along the way make the trail not advisable for freely roaming young children.
8. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls offers a relatively easy waterfall hike in the Columbia River Gorge. The trailhead is directly off the Historic Columbia River Highway, with a steep, downhill 0.3-mile trek to the viewpoint. And the two-tier waterfall doesn’t disappoint, dropping 80 feet beneath a historic bridge built in 1914.
Two hiking trails diverge from the trailhead off the Historic Columbia River Highway (near milepost 28). The dirt waterfall trail quickly loses elevation while the paved Overlook Trail keeps a flatter path. The half-mile Overlook Trail is a recommended side adventure, exposing spectacular views of the Columbia River Gorge.
The area surrounding Bridal Veil Falls was once a working lumber mill. Remnants of this era are still on display, though much of this former operation is lost to the dynamic landscape. Picnic tables and restrooms are available at the Bridal Veil Falls trailhead.