The pacific northwest is known for having spectacular hikes and striking landscapes. One of the best places to find cascading waterfalls, panoramic views, and lush forests is along the Columbia River Gorge. The southern border of Washington State and the Northern Border of Oregon State have some of the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
Whether you’re looking for a longer hike to a mountain summit, or an easy hike to the foot of a waterfall, there is something for everyone. Connected by the Bridge of the Gods, hiking on both the Washington and Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge is just a short drive away.
This guide breaks down everything from where the best views in the columbia river gorge can be found along the Historic Columbia River Highway to experience peak wildflower season in the gorge.
Follow along to find the best views in the Columbia River Gorge!
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Best Scenic Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge (Washington & Oregon)
The Columbia River Gorge is a magical area for both Washington and Oregon. Either side of the gorge has spectacular vistas, cascading waterfalls, and beautiful views of the gorge.
Let’s go over the best time to hike there, where the best hikes are, what permits you need, and the details of each hike.
Best Time to Hike in the Columbia River Gorge
The best time to hike in the Columbia River Gorge is dependent on what you’d like to see on your visit. However, since the Columbia River Gorge is a year-round hiking destination, any time of year is a good time to visit.
Here’s what to expect during each time of year:
Spring is a busy time of year in the gorge and it is one of my favorite places to be. Wildflowers are blooming on the higher elevation trails. In early spring you can still expect to experience some snow on the trail, but for the most part, you will experience lush forests and seas of wildflowers.
Summer is a busy time in the gorge as the temperatures rise. Hikers can find shade in the old growth forests on the Oregon Side of the gorge. Expect summer weekends to be busy as sunny days are prevalent.
Mild-temperatures fill the air in fall. The high elevation grasses will be brown and the leaves on the hemlock and maples will turn vibrant colors. It is a great time to hike in the Columbia river gorge.
Many of the trails in Washington will have snow on them at higher elevation, but winter in the gorge is a magical time of year to visit the Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Corridor.
Google Map of Hikes
To make things easier for planning your trip to the Columbia River Gorge, I have created a color coded page with the best scenic hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
This map will show the location of the trail as well as if it is coded as an easy or short hike, waterfall hike, wildflower hike, or longer hike.
Passes and Permits Needed for Hiking in Columbia River Gorge
When hiking in the Columbia River Gorge there will be a couple different required passes including: Discover Pass, Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass, Seasonal Pass, and Timed Entry Pass.
Discover Passes are needed for any trails in Washington State Parks.
Northwest Forest Pass
A Northwest Forest Pass is needed on trails that are on National Forest Land in Washington and Oregon.
America the Beautiful Pass
America the Beautiful Passes grant access to all National Parks and Forests.
At $80 annually, they are more expensive, however if you visit any National Park 3 or more times within a year, the pass will be paid off. You can purchase an America the Beautiful Pass Here.
Dog Mountain requires a specific parking permit during wildflower season.
This pass can be purchased on recreation.gov.
Multnomah Falls requires a timed entry pass to mitigate congestion in the parking lot.
These timed entry tickets can be purchased on recreation.gov.
Let’s talk hikes!
Best Easy Hikes & Short Hikes
One of the best parts about visiting the Columbia River Gorge is that there is no shortage of easy hikes and short hikes.
Whether you’re doing a weekend trip around the gorge or trying to complete as many day hikes as possible, you’re bound to find some great hikes.
Catherine Creek Arch Loop
Length: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 385 ft
Catherine Creek Arch Loop is an easy hike on the Washington Side of the Gorge. It is a loop trail to lead hikers to a rock arch! There is a wheelchair accessible paved path across from the parking lot that has expansive views of the Columbia river gorge.
Length: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 580 ft
Pass: Discover Pass
Beacon Rock Trail is one of my favorite trails in Columbia River Gorge. Located in Beacon Rock State Park this trail leads hikers up a series of switchbacks hugging the sides of an ancient lava tube. While the trail is short, it is steep, but worth it for the gorgeous views of the gorge.
Hood River Mountain Loop
Length: 4.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 967 ft
The Hood River Mountain Loop Trail brings hikers to the summit of Hood River Mountain at 2050 ft above the Columbia River Gorge. This loop trail has fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge from the Oregon Side as well as the surrounding cities like White Salmon, Washington and Hood River, Oregon. The Panoramic views of this loop trail are best seen on a sunny day! While many of the hikes on the Historic Columbia River Highway can be done regardless of the weather, this one is best reserved for a day with clear skies.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the easier hikes in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, let’s take a look at some of the best waterfall hikes in the gorge.
Best Waterfall Hikes in the Gorge
The Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon has some of the most iconic waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest.
Whether you’re visiting during the rainy season when waterfalls are at their most spectacular, or during the winter months, the Waterfall Corridor of the Historic Highway is a bucket list destination. Here are some of the most popular waterfall hikes on the Oregon Side of the Columbia River Gorge.
Length: 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 815 ft
Pass: Timed Entry Permit
Multnomah falls is one of the most popular destinations along the waterfall corridor in Oregon. Just a short walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform, visitors can stand at the base of the falls to view the iconic Multnomah bridge. The hike is a steep ascent to the top of the falls.
After the hike, visitors can go to the ADA compliant gift shop or talk to local park rangers!
Multnomah falls currently has a timed use permit to park in the parking lot that can be booked two weeks prior to visiting. For more information, visit recreation.gov.
Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls
Length: 0.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 331 ft
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass
Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls are part of a short trail near Cascade Locks. Horsetail falls is the first waterfall and can be viewed from the road whereas Ponytail Falls is a short hike from the road. Both are spectacular waterfalls and make a great pit stop along the Waterfall Corridor.
Make sure to wear waterproof boots on this trail as it can get a little wet!
Length: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 310 ft
Wahkeena is one of the easier trails along the Historic Columbia River Highway with minimal elevation gain. Passing Munra Falls and following along Tanner Creek, you will end with a short loop trail with a two tier view of Wahclella Falls.
It is recommended to get there early as the parking lot will fill up on the weekend as this is a popular hike in the Columbia gorge.
Dry Creek Falls
Dry Creek Falls via the Pacific Crest Trail, a shorter trail on the eastern side of the columbia river gorge. Beginning at the parking lot at the base of the bridge of the Gods, hikers will hike through the Mount Hood National Forest to reach the cascading falls. This is a wonderful hike to see fall colors in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area too.
If you have time, one of my favorite breweries, Thunder Island is in Cascade Locks and is worth a stop!
Wahkeena Falls & Fairy Falls
Length: 3.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 950 ft
Wahkeena Falls follows a trail through lush forest on a mostly paved path. There is a small viewing platform at the base of the Wahkeena Falls before the path begins to gain elevation towards Fairy Falls. A series of switchbacks will bring hikers up to Lemmons viewpoint before continuing down the path.
It is important to note that the trail can become slippery especially during the rainy season and has steep drop-offs.
From this trail hikers can even catch glimpses of Multnomah Falls!
Latourell Falls Trail
Length: 2.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 650 ft
The Latourell Falls trail is a short walk around Guy W. Talbot State Park. However, Lower Latourell Falls can be viewed just 0.2 miles into the trail. This two-tiered waterfall has multiple vantage points that can be seen throughout the trail. The first viewpoint is at the base of the falls.
Continue along the loop trail and you will get to the top of the falls of lower Latourell Falls. Half-way through the trail you will reach the viewpoint for Upper Latourell Falls.
Eagle Creek & Punchbowl Falls
Length: 4.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
Eagle Creek to PunchBowl Falls is an iconic hike in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. The meandering trail along basalt cliffs overlooks Eagle Creek which is known for a late season salmon run and is one of the most popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge during the summer Months.
Ending at Punch Bowl Falls named for the bowl-like shape of the falls. It is important to note that cliff jumping and diving is prohibited in upper and lower punchbowl falls. Violators are subject to fines.
In 2017 a fire broke out in Eagle Creek in which 150 hikers needed to be rescued. The forest service is still working on trail maintenance from damage done during the Eagle Creek wildfire. If you think you might be hiking in an area that was affected by the Eagle Creek Fire, check out the fire closure web page on the forest service webpage.
Length: 2.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 700 ft
Elowah Falls has a beautiful waterfall and a great viewpoint of the Columbia river gorge. This short walk but steep trail leads hikers to the base of the Elowah Falls. Carved into the basalt rock, the trail has a metal railing to help keep hikers from slipping off of the steep drop-off of the trail. However, it is recommended that sturdy hiking boots are worn when on the trail.
This brings us to the end of the best Columbia river gorge waterfall hikes section. Let’s look at some of the best early spring and wildflower season hikes in the Columbia River Gorge!
Best Early Spring & Wildflower Season Hikes
Some of my favorite hikes in the Columbia gorge have been during wildflower season. It is such a great place to see magnificent blooms on the best trails in the Pacific Northwest.
Some of the trails in this section use permits only during wildflower season, so it’s important to pay attention to regulations for each of the hikes within this post.
Length: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft
Pass: America the Beautiful/Parking Permit
Dog Mountain is one of the most well-known wildflower hikes in the columbia river gorge. A series of switchbacks brings hikers to panoramic views of the gorge blooming with wildflowers. If possible, early mornings are the best time to hike this trail to avoid massive crowds.
This trail requires parking permits for the parking lot during peak wildflower season. These permits can be purchased on recreation.gov a couple days prior to your hike.
Coyote Wall Loop Trail
Length: 6.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,800 ft
Coyote Wall is open year-round but it is a great spot for wildflower viewing. If you have the opportunity to visit Coyote Wall during wildflower season, it is highly recommended. Otherwise, this loop trail is a fantastic trail to view Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.
Lyle Cherry Orchard
Length: 5.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,213 ft
Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail is a great hike for wildflower viewing. It would be best to visit this trail from March to early May to catch wildflower season in the gorge! The parking lot for this trail is right off of the Lewis and Clark Trail Highway so be on the lookout so you don’t miss it.
Don’t miss the wildflower season in the Columbia River Gorge. You will experience some of the best views Washington and Oregon have to offer.
Longer Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
Some of the best views in the Columbia River Gorge can be found on the longer trails and with good reason. These hikes are a popular destination for hikers seeking panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and the surrounding Cascade Mountains. Let’s look at some of the best longer hikes in the gorge!
Hamilton Mountain & Rodney Falls
Length: 7.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,200 ft
Pass: Discover Pass
Hamilton Mountain has beautiful views of the gorge from the Washington side as well as a spectacular waterfall, Rodney Falls.
Hiking through an old-growth forest, this longer loop hike offers hikers great views of Mount Hood and Mount Rainier on a clear day. Located in Beacon Rock State Park, the parking lot is right across the street from Beacon Rock Trail, another favorite of mine. It is a shorter hike to Rodney Falls so some people will opt just to hike to this classic waterfall in the gorge.
Cape Horn Loop
Length: 6.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft
This loop trail has everything a Columbia River Gorge trial needs for the perfect adventure. Cape Horn Loop has fantastic lookout points of the Columbia River that will eventually lead hikers to a flowing waterfall along basalt rock.
Keep in mind that a section of the trail is closed from February to July for Peregrine Falcon Nesting Season. The Cape Horn Lookout is still accessible, but you will not be able to complete the entire loop.
Silver Star Mountain
Length: 6.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,100 ft
Pass: Discover Pass
Silver Star Mountain is the best hike for surrounding views of the cascade mountains. The out and back trail has spectacular views for most of the hike. If you’re completing the trail in the summer it would be a good idea to pack more water than you think you will need. Even the old-growth forests on this trail are magnificent.
The trail stats in this post are for hiking Silver Star Mountain from the Grouse Vista parking area.
Table Mountain via Pacific Crest Trail
Length: 16.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4,311 ft
If you’re looking for the best views in the Columbia River Gorge, look no further than Table Mountain via the Pacific Crest Trail.
Located on the Washington side of the Bridge of the Gods, this long day hike has panoramic views of the Columbia River Gorge and Cascade Mountains. While the round trip distance of this trail is on the longer side, the gorgeous views will be well worth the effort.
Length: 4.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft
Angel’s Rest has some of the most beautiful views of the gorge from the Oregon side of the gorge. On a clear day hikers can see views of Mount St Helens and Mount Baker from the panoramic views at the top of the trail. If I could make a suggestion, the best way to do this hike is for sunset or sunrise to get epic views of the gorge and to avoid crowds.
There you have it! The best longer hikes in the Columbia River Gorge!
Pack It Up
The Columbia River Gorge is a haven for hikes with panoramic views, beautiful waterfalls, and wildflowers. Whichever day hike you find yourself on in this scenic area will have spectacular views.
Remember that regardless of how easy or challenging a hike is, you should always pack the ten essentials of hiking for a safe and enjoyable trek. If you want to read more about the ten essentials of hiking, you can read my blog post about the essentials here.
Before visiting a new area, it is best practice to check local and up to date weather conditions and closures.
If you have any questions about planning your hiking trip to the Columbia River Gorge, leave a comment on this post and I would be happy to help with planning!
Happy Hiking, Outdoor Bestie!