It’s no secret that the Portland area is a hiker’s paradise when it comes to dense woodlands and ancient volcanic ridges. But with the Columbia River Gorge located just a few miles east—and with it, the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America—Portland boasts a waterfall hike for nearly every day of the summer. So the next time you’re looking for a level path, an easy distance and a spectacular misty payoff, take a hike on one of these family-friendly trails for a waterfall adventure your kids will love. Read on for all the details.
photo: Bad Kleinkirchheim via flickr
Roundtrip distance: 2.4 miles
The elegant 249-foot cascade of Latourell Falls is one of the most picturesque in the Gorge, with adjacent rocks painted in shades of green lichen. But what you may not know is that the upper falls are concealed in the trees above—falls that hikers can reach on a loop trail that departs from the Historic Columbia River Highway. Find the path to the left of the main viewpoint, climb steadily to the upper falls along Latourell Creek and stay to the left each time the trail forks to avoid several cliff ledges.
Insider Tip: This steady ascent is best suited for experienced young hikers. When you return to the Historic Columbia River Highway, follow the trail across the road to walk beneath the bridge to the base of the lower falls.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 28 for Bridal Veil. Turn right on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Drive 2.8 miles until you see the parking lot on your left.
Roundtrip distance: 0.6 miles
A blend of pavement and gravel, the trail to Bridal Veil Falls is an easy descent to two cascading tiers that plunge nearly 120 feet. Take a rest in the shade beneath the towering trees, cool off in the mist that lingers in the protected cove and bring along a picnic to enjoy near the parking lot—these surrounding fields are known for their gorgeous displays of spring and summer wildflowers.
Insider Tip: This short path is especially suitable for young children.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 28 for Bridal Veil. Turn right on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Drive 0.3 miles until you see the parking lot on your right.
photo: Kristi White via flickr
Roundtrip distance: 2.6 miles (or 0.8 miles to Ponytail Falls only)
There are few more thrilling trails for kids than the short climb to Ponytail Falls, a 0.4-mile ascent that allows hikers to walk behind a 75-foot waterfall. All you need to do is follow Trail #438 from the Horsetail Falls Trailhead and bask in the cool mist that awaits at the top. Families with small children can turn back here; more experienced trailblazers can continue into Oneonta Canyon, catching a glimpse of Middle and Lower Oneonta Falls along the way.
Insider Tip: This trail is wonderful for hikers of all ages, as parents can choose to turn back at Ponytail Falls or continue into Oneonta Canyon.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 28 for Bridal Veil. Follow the Historic Columbia River Highway east for 5.6 miles until you see the parking lot on your left.
Roundtrip distance: 1.4 miles
The moss-draped canyon that surrounds Elowah Falls is one of the most stunning natural settings in the Gorge, and the mist of this 289-foot waterfall is its most invigorating natural shower. The trail to the falls begins with a steady climb, but it quickly heads back downhill in the cool shade of the surrounding trees, making this an ideal excursion for hikers of all experience levels.
Insider Tip: This trail is great for hikers of all ages, but parents should keep a close eye on several steep banks and slick surfaces.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 35 for Dodson. Turn left at the stop sign, and take an immediate right on Frontage Road. Follow the road east for 2.1 miles until you see the John B. Yeon Trailhead parking lot on the right.
photo: Katrina Br*?#*!@nd via flickr
Roundtrip distance: 2.0 miles
There is so much for children and parents to love about the short trail to Wahclella Falls. The path begins near Munra Falls, with a bridge crossing that allows children to dip their little hands in the refreshingly cool water. But the star of the show is the wide canyon of Wahclella Falls, with its three tiers that tumble nearly 120 feet. Be sure to take the lower trail when the path splits after the staircase, as the lower approach to the falls is much more beautiful.
Insider Tip: This is an ideal hike for all ages.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 40 for the Bonneville Dam. Turn right at the stop sign, and make an immediate right into the Wahclella Falls Trailhead parking lot. If the lot is full, go under I-84 to park in the Bonneville Dam visitor lot.
Roundtrip distance: 2.2 miles
A family-oriented experience from beginning to end, the hike to the Pool of the Winds begins with a playground and a picnic area at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead. But the real fun awaits at the unique Pool of the Winds rock formation—a waterfall that is locked inside a series of cliffs. This chamber is named for its unusual wind patterns, but it is the misty, ever-present rainbows that will thrill your kids the most.
Insider Tip: The elevation gain makes this trail most suitable for seasoned young hikers.
Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Cascade Locks and cross the Bridge of the Gods ($2 toll). Turn left on Route 14 and drive for seven miles until you reach Beacon Rock State Park. Turn right to access the campground and the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead. Visitors must pay a $10 day use fee or present a valid Discovery Pass.
What is your favorite waterfall hike? Let us know in the comments below!