Dazzle your kids with an extraordinary hike that goes beyond just a path and foliage. The following trails are perfect for little hikers because they offer gradual climbs, short distances and breathtaking scenery that follow alongside or lead to a stunning waterfall. Read on to discover why you need to explore one of these seven Columbia Gorge trails the next time the family is craving an outdoor adventure.

Latourell Falls

Photo credit: Maura O’Brien

Latourell Falls Trail
2.4 miles roundtrip

You likely already know Latourell Falls for its majestic 249-ft. cascade, visible from the Historic Columbia River Highway. But that waterfall is only half of the story, as the upper falls—hidden in the trees above—are waiting to be explored. This loop trail begins to the left of the Latourell Falls viewpoint, and climbs steadily alongside Latourell Creek until it reaches the spray of the upper falls. And as you follow the west side of the creek back down to the road, stay to the left each time the trail forks—you’ll avoid two steep overlooks that only serve to make parents nervous.

Insider Tip: The steady ascent of this trail makes it most suitable for seasoned young hikers. When you come back down to the Historic Columbia River Highway, follow the trail across the road, which will lead you underneath the highway 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 for 2.8 miles until you see the Latourell Falls parking lot on your left.

Bridal Veil Falls Trail
0.6 miles roundtrip

The partially-paved, partially-graveled trail to Bridal Veil Falls is the shortest on this list, but it offers no less of a stunning payoff. This short descent will lead you to the base of a two-tiered, 120-ft. waterfall that plunges into a scenic cove, protected by large boulders and towering trees. But don’t neglect the other short trail that departs from the parking lot, for it leads to sweeping overlooks of the Columbia River and several picnic areas awash in wildflowers—a perfect place to stop for lunch.

Insider Tip: The short path to Bridal Veil Falls makes it especially suitable for families with young children.

Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east to Exit 28 for Bridal Veil. Turn right on the Historic Columbia River Highway for 0.3 miles until you see the Bridal Veil parking lot on your right.

Ponytail FallsPhoto credit: Maura O’Brien 

Horsetail Falls Loop Trail
2.6 miles roundtrip (0.8 miles roundtrip to Ponytail Falls only)

To experience one of the most unique perspectives of a waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge, try the short ascent to Ponytail Falls by following Trail #438 from the Horsetail Falls Trailhead. In only 0.4 miles, you’ll reach a thrilling lava flow that allows you to walk behind the 75-ft. cascade of Ponytail Falls. And while families with young children might want to turn back at this point to avoid the rocky trail ahead, experienced young hikers can continue into Oneonta Canyon, catching glimpses of Middle and Lower Oneonta Falls along the way. Once you cross the metal bridge that spans Oneonta Creek, turn right on Trail #424 and follow the signs that lead you back to the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Insider Tip: The Horsetail Falls Loop Trail is wonderful for hikers of all ages, as parents can choose to either 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 Horsetail Falls parking lot on your left.

Elowah Falls Photo credit: Maura O’Brien

Elowah Falls Trail
1.4 miles roundtrip

The 289-ft. Elowah Falls might just be the most stunningly-situated waterfall in the entire Columbia River Gorge, and (good news!) it is easily accessed by hikers of all experience levels. The kids will work up a sweat as they make the initial steady climb, but not to worry—this waterfall, which plunges into a beautiful moss-covered canyon, produces a healthy dose of mist to cool everyone off.

Insider Tip: Elowah Falls is easily reached by 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, followed by 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.

Wahclella Falls

Photo credit: Maura O’Brien

Wahclella Falls Trail
2.0 miles roundtrip

There is so much about the Wahclella Falls Trail for families to love. A wide and flat creekside path that eases you into the hike? Check. A bridge that puts you so close to Munra Falls, you can practically touch it? Check. A three-tiered, 120-ft. Wahclella Falls pouring into a wide and gaping canyon? Check. But to get the most out of this short and scenic hike, be sure to take the lower trail when the path splits after the staircase. You’ll hike the upper route on the way back, but the lower approach to Wahclella Falls is much more beautiful.

Insider Tip: This is an ideal hike for all ages, thanks to its gradual ascents and short distances.

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.

Pool of the Winds Trail
2.2 miles roundtrip

Hiking to the Pool of the Winds is a family-friendly experience from start to finish. The Hamilton Mountain Trailhead is equipped with picnic tables and a playground, while the unusual formation known as the Pool of the Winds captivates even the littlest hikers. Unlike the other waterfalls on this list, the Pool of the Winds is a cascade nestled inside the cliffs, forming a chamber that creates unusual wind patterns and—when the light is right—rainbows in the mist.

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 ($1 toll). Turn left on Route 14, and drive for seven miles until you reach Beacon Rock State Park. Turn right to access the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead. Visitors must pay a $10 day use fee or have a valid Discovery Pass.

Lancaster Falls
1.8 miles roundtrip

When visitors pull into the rest area at Starvation Creek State Park, they are only a few steps away from one of the most beautiful picnic areas in the Columbia River Gorge, tucked at the base of Starvation Creek Falls. And those who want to stretch their legs even further will be treated to three more waterfalls along the lower stretches of the Mt. Defiance Trail. Although the path initially traces I-84, it soon leaves the highway noise behind for Cabin Creek Falls, Hole in the Wall Falls, and, after a short ascent, Lancaster Falls.

Insider Tip: This trail is suitable for hikers of all ages, but parents should be especially careful with children when hiking alongside the highway barrier.

Getting There: From Portland, take I-84 east past Cascade Locks to Exit 55 for Starvation Creek State Park. To access the trail, walk back westward toward the exit ramp and take the path alongside it.

What’s your favorite waterfall hike with kids? Let us know in the comments section!

— Maura O’Brien