Travel Update Summer 2020: Most destinations, sites and parks reopened with limitations. Check the official websites and read our crucial ‘BEST TIME TO GO' and ‘AVOIDING THE CROWDS’ tips:
Breathtaking! Multnomah Falls in Oregon is open again and definitely the most stunning waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. However, it's a tourist trap with massive crowds almost year-round. Spring, summer, and fall bring the most crowds. Especially when the weather is pleasant.
Read our helpful season guide below or jump directly to the tips section:
- Where to Stay and Why
- Hikes at Multnomah Falls
- Multnomah Falls Lodge and Visitor Center
- Must-Know Tips
- From Portland to Multnomah Falls
Special Tip: If you're looking to do more than visiting Multnomah Falls in the Portland region, you'll love this Oregon guidebook: Fodor's Travel Oregon - Portland - Wineries - Waterfalls - Mountains. You'll also find sites in there, you probably couldn't have found without a guide. Now: Let's dive into the top tips before visiting Multnomah Falls:
How to Avoid the Crowds
- Avoid weekends and public holidays: Visit mid-week if your schedule allows it. There are even fewer people when the weather is bad, especially during pouring rain: It's a great experience to hike to the top in quality rain gear. The worst time in terms of crowds are the summer months (June, July, August). However, it usually starts to get extremely busy in spring (March, April, May) and it's still crowded in the fall (September, October). Visit during the week if you can!
- Be there early in the morning: The earlier you get there the better your chances of fewer tourists and getting a space to park. Maybe even right before sunrise, which is beautiful. Check times at Sunrise Sunset Troutdale. If you visit on a weekend be there around 7 a.m.! As of 2019 visitors report that it's already crowded around 9 a.m. and still quiet at 7 in the morning.
- Visit in the winter from November until February: It's usually much less busy. But still, try to be there in the morning to ensure a solitude experience. Winter is also beautiful snow covered. Check the winter photos below. Quote from an employee: ' In winter, I have sat in the visitor information office and not had 4 people all day'. However, that was a while ago. As of 2019 winters became a little busier. Still much less than in the warmer months.
Combine 1) + 2) and it's possible to have the place almost for yourself even during high season. Make sure to hike the very top and not just walk to the bridge like most people. Even better: Hike the Multnomah - Wahkeena Loop (see below) to get away from the crowds at any time.
Highlight (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter)
Peak flow is in late winter and spring: Higher water levels increase the flow and intensity. In summer months the waterfalls aren't flowing as much. However, it does not dry up as much as other falls. And while there is less flow in the summer, the falls seem higher in the 'dry' season. Less water does emphasize the height of the falls. In the winter months, on the other hand, you can take amazing photos with a gorgeous waterfall covered in snow and ice. To sum it up: Regarding the waterfall itself, there isn't a bad season or month. Every season offers different but equally stunning photo opportunities.
Stunning waterfalls with a total height of 621 feet (189 m)! It’s the tallest waterfall in Oregon and the second tallest in the United States. It’s gorgeous and easy to reach, making it an extremely popular outdoor attraction in the Pacific Northwest. Located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Multnomah Falls offers something for every visitor, especially for hikers.
Are you planning to do more than visiting Multnomah Falls in the area? For the best tips about sightseeing, recreation or dining in Oregon, the following guide is a must-read. It has many full-color maps, the best restaurant recommendations, itineraries to explore the popular attractions as well as tips for off the beaten path gems. Also, find out about other major sights like Crater Lake National Park or the Oregon Zoo:
Hikes and Walks at Multnomah Falls
There are three hiking options, from a very easy walk to Benson Bridge to the longest Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop Hike.
Benson Bridge Walk (0.2 miles)
After a short walk, you arrive at the bridge, which spans a gap in the canyon on top of the lower tier. Now you're much closer to the upper part of the falls. The perspective is impressive. Tip: If you intend to walk back now, don't. Instead, just cross the bridge and walk a short way farther to the viewpoint at a sharp bend in the trail. You're even closer to the falls now.
Multnomah Falls Mini Hike (2.4 miles round trip):
This is a short but steep hike to the overlook at the top, not just to the bridge. You'll hike up to 600 feet on a trail with eleven numbered switchbacks. Finally, you reach a small round viewing platform with a safety railing alongside the top of the falls. It's a short hike, but due to its steepness also strenuous.
Multnomah Falls - Wahkeena Loop Hike (4.9 miles round trip):
The longest but most rewarding of the three hikes. This fantastic tour begins and ends at Multnomah Falls while taking you past five other waterfalls. Including Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, and more. The preferred route is counter-clockwise: Start at Multnomah Parking Lot, turn right at the visitor center and head to Wahkeena Falls first. You could start at Wahkeena Falls as well, but the parking lot there is so much smaller and equally crowded. Even if you don’t plan to do this hike you can always visit Wahkeena Falls on your way to Multnomah Falls if you can find a parking space. Check out our tips for the scenic drive below, almost at the end of this article. Find more detailed descriptions of this hike: Oregon Hikers | Multnomah - Wahkeena Loop | Oregon Live - Scenic Multnomah - Wahkeena Loop | Multnomah - Wahkeena Clockwise
Must-Know Tips and Facts
- Open: Year-round, 24h
- Fee: None
- Visitor center opening hours: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM, 7 days/week
- Restrooms and restaurant are available
- Pets are allowed but must be on a leash at all times
- No bikes, skates or skateboards
- Stay on the trail at all times
- For the loop hike: Bring a charged cell phone (+ maybe a GPS), and a map
- Park at the larger car park (read more details below)
- Always get the free map from the visitor center! Why? With the map, you'll be able to find other waterfalls nearby which can be reached easily by foot. It shows you exactly where they are.
- Wear sturdy shoes. You probably don't need them for the short walk to Benson Bridge. However, when you walk to the top viewing platform suitable shoes are required.
- Bring rain gear
- Photography: An easy but nice photo can be taken on Benson Bridge. Have someone take a photo of you from the lower area. Especially with less other visitors (see our 'dodging the crowds tips) this is a really cool yet easy photo.
- Links: Oregon Hikers - Multnomah Falls — Official Link: USDA Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls Lodge and Visitor Center
Are you hungry? The lodge is right there and a great place for lunch and breakfast! But there's more. On its two levels many other services are being offered: On the plaza level you'll find the visitor center, a gift shop, a snack bar, and the public restrooms. The second floor is accessible by an elevator or stairs. On this level, you'll find the restaurant as well as a lounge and a bar area. Unfortunately, the falls cannot be seen from within the dining room. However, you can always sit in the atrium with a great view of the waterfall. In the summer you can also view and hear the falls from Patio. While having lunch or dinner we were sitting by a fire burning in a large stone fireplace and saw the trains go by. We really enjoyed that experience. The menu offers a very delicious range of options for your lunch or breakfast: Burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, salads, desserts, and more. They focus on fresh and local ingredients and the portions are huge. Most other visitors loved the food there as well. You can read the reviews here: Multnomah Falls Lodge - TripAdvisor. Reservations for the dining room are not required but we recommend calling them in advance, especially when you visit on a weekend: 503-695-2376 Please note, that the lodge here does not offer overnight accommodations. Check out more details on their official website: Multnomah Falls Lodge
How about the the Visitor Center? Inside the lower level of the lodge you can find the U.S. Forest Service Information Center. It's open seven days a week from 10 .a.m to 5 p.m. Brochures about Multnomah Falls are available in Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian
From Portland to Multnomah Falls
Columbia River Highway Viewpoint
While staying in Portland you have two options to get to Multnomah Falls. First one is using the Columbia River Gorge Express. Number two is driving with your own car or a with a rental car. Our Rental Car Tip: Best service we experienced for Hertz, Alama, Avis, Thrifty, and Enterprise is provided by the popular portal rentalcars.com Even better: You save money because the rates are lower than usual! Don't make the mistake and wait too long, book in advance! And don't book at the counter (airport or city). Bookmark the link if you'd like to compare prices: rentalcars.com
Columbia Gorge Express
If you don't want to drive on your own, you can take the shuttle from Portland. It doesn't run every day and usually not in the winter season. But the fare is really cheap and you can even bring a bike if you like. Check the schedule and the prices here: Columbia River Gorge Express. It starts at Gateway Transit Center in Portland and costs only $5 for a round trip to and from Multnomah Falls. The ride takes about 30 minutes. The downside: It's using the I-84 and you won't get to see the scenic area and viewpoints along Columbia River Highway (see below). However, it's a great way, especially in peak season, to get to Multnomah Fall. It's hassle-free and takes away all the headaches and worries of driving and especially getting a parking spot in case you don't arrive there early.
By Car / Driving
Of course, you can also drive from Portland to Multnomah Falls with your car or a rental car. It's a little more flexible than using the Gorge Express and you can use the fantastic Columbia River Highway. Tip: When driving on your own instead of the Gorge Express it's much easier if you stay in Troutdale instead of central Portland. Why? You save time since it's a little closer to the falls and right at I-84 as well as Columbia River Highway. Also, you can pick up maps at the Troutdale visitor center (at Chamber of Commerce) and get updates about current road conditions, which is very helpful. Check out some really nice accommodation options: The best hotels in Troutdale. Our favorite is the McMenamins Edgefield!
It's busy! Keep in mind that over two million visitors each year may cause busy roads and congestions on I-84 as well as on the popular Columbia River Highway. It's not a big deal though if you go in the off-season. However, nowadays not only peak season is jammed, even during shoulder season it gets crowded, especially on the weekends. Try to go on a weekday if possible. Also, follow our tips from above and start your trip early, at least around 8 a.m. The roads will be definitely less busy and the parking lots won't be congested.
Via I-84 Eastbound
This is the fastest and most direct way from Portland/Troutdale to Multnomah Falls. You just take the I-84 eastbound from Portland and drive for about half an hour. That's also the route your GPS would suggest when punching in Multnomah Falls as a destination. We usually do not recommend this route because the scenic one (see below) can't be beaten. However, if you'd like to save time when driving back, for example, it's a viable option. These are the Google Maps directions, which you can send to your phone: Portland (Pearl District) to Multnomah Falls via I-84 -- Troutdale to Multnomah Falls via I-84. The drive takes about 34 minutes from Portland, and 20 minutes from Troutdale.
Via Columbia River Highway
This is a fantastic drive with truly breathtaking scenery and gorgeous viewpoints to stop at. The Columbia River Highway opened in 1916 and is one of the first designated highways for scenic touring. The easiest way to start this drive is right at Troutdale visitor center. The must-see viewpoints where you'll want to stop are:
- Women's Forum Overlook: This place provides one of the most spectacular views of the Gorge. There is ample parking and even sites for a picnic.
- Crown Point and Vista House: Even more stunning views from another perspective. It provides a viewing deck on the upper level, a museum, gift shop, and restrooms.
- 'Waterfall Corridor': After Vista House, you'll have the chance to view many other gorgeous waterfalls before you arrive at Multnomah Falls. Make sure to stop at LaTourell Falls, Shepperd's Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Wahkeena Falls. Every of these waterfalls offers a very short hike or walk to the base or the top which you shouldn't miss.
Stay tuned! Soon, we'll add a separate article with many more details for this scenic drive along Columbia River Gorge. In the meantime, you can send the Google Maps directions directly to your smartphone: Portland (Pearl District) to Multnomah Falls via Columbia River Highway -- Troutdale Visitor Center to Multnomah Falls via Columbia River Highway. The drive via this historic road from Portland to Multnomah Falls takes about 1 hour and only 36 minutes from Troutdale. Stops at viewpoints not included. We already mentioned it: Start early in the morning as this drive is extremely popular.
Parking at Multnomah Falls
If you're not able to arrive early enough, it's better to use the large parking area at the freeway side instead of the smaller lot at the lodge. This parking lot is just in the middle of the I-84 and holds 186 cars. From this big car park, you can easily walk through a tunnel to the other side: Multnomah Falls Car Park - Visitor Center Walking Directions However, during peak times and on weekends this one gets full quickly as well. We strongly suggest following our tips on how to avoid the crowds at the top of this article. It's a real pain if you arrive at Multnomah Falls and can't get a parking spot. There is a board on the I-84 that will tell you when the parking lot is full, and the gates to the parking area will be closed.
Update/Closures (Eagle Creek Fire)
May 2018: Partly reopened after Eagle Creek Fire! Update July 2018: Benson Bridge is open and accessible again! Update February 2019: The short hiking trail to the very top is open again!
Almost everything is accessible again:
- The front plaza outside the lodge
- Information center
- Gift shop
- Restaurant (open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m)
- Lower viewing platform
- Benson Bridge
- Most hiking trails
- Upper viewing platform (new!!)
January/February 2019: The upper viewing platform as well as many hiking trails re-opened quietly. That means after a long time of closures due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the top viewing platform of Multnomah Falls is accessible again. It gets even better: The fantastic Multnomah-Wahkeena loop (see our description above) is also accessible now. Please note: The official closure website doesn't seem to be up to date: Recreation Conditions Reports (scroll down) . As we wrote: The top platform is definitely accessible via the short hike.