Four Amazing Autumn Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge
There’s something special about the Columbia River Gorge, where crystal clear water cuts through canyons and gushes down the steep cliffs of the Cascade Mountain Range.
The Gorge is stunning in every season, but as autumn covers the Pacific Northwest the 80-mile canyon built over eons by the mighty Columbia manages to become even more beautiful, draped in the oranges and yellows of fall-turning bigleaf maple, cottonwood and Oregon ash.
Autumn is an invitation to come and see the Gorge in different garb, and there’s no better way than to hike one of its myriad canyons. These are four of the best fall hikes in the Gorge. Feel free to find some of your own as well, and the new Oregon Fall Foliage blog can help.
At about 5 miles round-trip and 750 feet of elevation gain, the Horsetail Falls to Triple Falls loop is as close to a perfect day hike as a person can hope for, and the gushing Horsetail Falls at the base of the trail are just the beginning. The lively waters of Ponytail and Triple Falls are an excellent reward for any hiker, but add the lush fall colors of autumn-turning bigleaf maples and you have a truly stunning fall canvas.
The 31-mile Klickitat Trail begins near the tiny town of Lyle, Wash. and follows an old railroad corridor along the Klickitat River to the town of Goldendale. It’s a beautiful, gently-graded walk that begins in at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia rivers and works its way along the Klickitat, a nationally-designated Wild & Scenic River, through carved rock gorges and rolling hills that offer transcendent fall foliage viewing. Walk as far up the trail as you like.
From certain angles, the aptly named Punchbowl Falls along the Eagle Creek Trail don’t look real – it’s like they’ve sprung from the imagination of a starry-eyed landscape painter. The big trees and earned vistas of the 4-mile Eagle Creek hike to Punchbowl Falls alone would be a great autumn prize, but the trail has more to offer than that; the verdant greens of moss and ferns climbing the exposed basalt cliffs the trail is sometimes carved into are simply unbelievable. Meanwhile if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Eagle Creek’s famous fall Chinook salmon run.
Routinely named as Oregon’s most popular hike, the Multnomah Falls Trail is a well developed – i.e. mostly paved - trail with two options: an easy 2.2 mile, 700-foot-elevation walk to the top of the falls or a more difficult 4.6-mile loop that climbs 1,600 feet to Wahkeena Falls. Untracked wilderness this is not, and you will never have the falls to yourself, but the 620-foot falls are a sight to behold, especially when the autumn colors begin to pop. And if you get that soggy fall feeling during the hike, stop by Multnomah Falls Lodge afterwards for some smoked salmon in huckleberry compote or Portobello mushroom stuffed ravioli and a beverage.
By Joe Hansen. Joe is a freelance writer based in Portland.