For the most waterfalls on a moderate hike, this loop can't be beat! It encompasses towering Multnomah Falls, rapids and smaller falls of Multnomah Creek, and the tumbling, gradual descent of Wahkeena Creek. A very popular trail; the best time to go is during the spring when the falls are at their best.
The loop can be completed in either direction, starting at Wahkeena or Multnomah Falls trailheads. Starting at Multnomah Falls will get you past the crowds first. After a steep climb of nearly a mile and 11 switchbacks on a paved trail, the trail splits, with the paved way continuing out to Multnomah Falls viewpoint. Take a look from the top of the falls, and then continue on the loop by following the Larch Mountain Trail. It turns left at the top of the ridge (where the branch to the top of the falls went right) and immediately crosses a bridge to the west bank of Multnomah Creek.
The next 0.8 miles along this trail passes a series of smaller waterfalls. Along the creek, as at other places in the Gorge, you're likely to see water ouzel, bobbing their legs and diving beneath the fast-flowing water. This is a beautiful section of trail.
You will come to a signed intersection with the Wahkeena Trail #420, which turns off to the right, leading west towards the Wahkeena Creek basin. Turn right here and continue uphill out of the Multnomah valley. Just don't forget to look around behind you. The view up Multnomah Creek is wonderful; the narrow valley framed by tall firs covered in moss.
The next section of trail proceeds gradually uphill, through relatively sparse forest and ferny undergrowth, with occasional views of the Columbia River below. At about 0.9 miles, the trail crests at a prominent three-way trail junction with a very visible sign. (This is just after the intersection with the Devil's Rest Trail #420C, which turns off to the left, heading steeply uphill.) From the junction you have two choices -- right or straight -- and either trail will deliver you to the same point near the top of the Wahkeena valley. Going straight is recommended because it is slightly shorter, provides access to Wahkeena spring, and the trail is in better condition.
Follow the trail gradually downhill through the forest for about 0.3 miles, before reaching an intersection with the Angel's Rest Trail #415. From here, the loop continues downhill to the right, following Wahkeena Creek. For a very short side-trip, though, you can first visit Wahkeena spring, just about 0.1 miles further up the Angel's Rest Trail.
Hiking through the Wahkeena valley, you are rewarded with views of the creek splashing over rocks and roots and tumbling over edges, as the trail remains very close to the water. After about half a mile you cross a tributary stream beneath the sparkling little Fairy Falls where there is an old log bench to rest.
Continuing downhill, between the steep sides of the valley, the trail crosses Wahkeena Creek twice, on small but secure bridges. Then the trail peels away to the east (and becomes paved), switchbacking downhill to the base of the Wahkeena Falls. Cross a stone bridge before winding on down to the parking area. From Fairy Falls to the highway is about 1.1 miles.
From the base of Wahkeena Falls, which also offers a fine view up the creek, follow the Return Trail #442 eastward for about half a mile back to the Multnomah Falls parking lot. This section of trail rolls up and down, just above the Scenic Highway, and is certainly the least interesting part of the loop. Do not walk on the busy and narrow road! If some of your party is feeling spent, you can always leave them to gaze at the waterfall while those with fresher legs make the short trek east to get the car.
- Submitted by Douglas Hanes
Multnomah Falls History
Lumber baron and philanthropist Simon Benson donated the land that the falls sit upon and funded the construction of the iconic Benson Bridge in front of Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in Oregon and the Columbia Gorge's most recognizable natural landmark. Benson's generosity later helped citizens work with timber companies in the 1940s and 1950s to secure protection of some of the Gorge's most iconic waterfalls.
Driving DirectionsMultnomah Falls Trailhead: From the west on I-84 take Exit #31/Multnomah Falls. Park in the parking lot and walk under the footbridge to Multnomah Falls Lodge. From the east on I-84, take Exit #35 toward Historic Hwy/Ainsworth State Park. Continue west for 4 miles on the Historic Hwy until you reach the parking area. Alternatively from the east or west, take I-84 to Exit #28/Bridal Veil and drive east on the Historic Columbia River Highway to the Multnomah Falls Lodge parking area.
Lyle Cherry Orchard’s trailhead is located approximately one mile from the Gorge town of Lyle and is home to the “Lyle” sign that sits above the community. Since this preserve was opened to the public the Lyle Cherry Orchard has provided the community with an accessible natural space right in their back yard. The sunny and dry preserve is the perfect hiking spot to visit during the rainier fall days in the western gorge. Visitors from the Gorge and beyond recreate on Lyle Cherry Orchard and in turn support the local economy.
Photo: View of town of Lyle from Lyle Cherry Orchard (Debbie Asakawa)
The property where Lyle Cherry Orchard Preserve lies currently was once grazing land for cattle and as the name suggests the eastern part of the preserve held a cherry orchard. The orchard and its trees were well abandoned by the time Nancy Russell purchased the property piece by piece in the 1990’s and later donated it to Friends in 2009. Nancy purchased the property when it came up for sale because it was within key viewing areas on the Oregon side of the Gorge and would have most likely become subdivided for development.
The land is also home to remnants of Lyle Convict Road, a demonstration road built by Sam Hill to convince Washington legislators to fund a Columbia River Highway. When Washington showed no interest in Sam’s project, he invited the entire Oregon legislature to his Maryhill estate to see his "Good Roads" work and Oregon quickly agreed to build on their side of the river what is today the Historic Columbia River Highway.
The trail at Lyle Cherry Orchard was started in when Friends' founder Nancy Russell purchased the property and has been open to the public and maintained Friends and its land trust ever since. In 2019, Washington Trails Association started work to reroute some parts of the trail and add new trail to explore for the benefit of Gorge residents.
In 2013, the land trust and volunteers removed a dilapidated house and outbuildings on the southwestern end of the property. Countless hours were spent removing building materials, old vehicles, garbage, and debris. In 2015 volunteers removed over 1,700 feet of fencing material on the property to allow for the free movement of wildlife across the landscape. Without the help of Friends volunteers and Gorge community members, projects like this would not be possible.
Photos: Before and after cleanup at Lyle Cherry Orchard (Friends' archive)