Although I’ve lived in various places across the United States, most of my life has been spent in Oregon. So it might be surprising that I had never been to one of Oregon’s most popular attractions, Multnomah Falls.
Multnomah Falls is a tall waterfall in The Gorge of Northern Oregon, just off of the I-84. One of the reasons I hadn’t been to Multnomah Falls was because I had only been on I-84 twice. Both times I was merely a passenger on a bus so I didn’t have control over where we stopped, though on my second trip I at least got to see the upper part of Multnomah Falls from the highway.
But this summer, I wasn’t able to get out much. My last overnight camping trip was in June, and I ended up sick the entire time. Other than that, I went on a few short day trips and housesat a little, but for the most part, I was choosing to put in extra hours at work so I would have more money to spend on travel later. Of course, part of that work involved releasing my new book, Uncommon Adventures! Anyway, when I had a rare free summer weekend, I knew I needed to pack in as much adventure I could, and that would mean a visit to a place I’d never been before!
I learned a lot on my visit to Multnomah Falls, and now you can get a look at the inside scoop!
Parking is Limited
As a top Oregonian attraction, the parking lot just can’t be big enough in the tourist season. Several websites said that there is typically no parking between 11 and 4 on most summer weekends, and some visitors recommended getting there by 9:30.
My original plan was to leave on Friday and find an inexpensive Airbnb to stay in somewhere south of Portland. Then I could easily arrive at Multnomah Falls on Saturday morning. But when I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to stay, I decided to save some money and stay in my own home that night. However, Medford is nearly five hours away from Multnomah Falls, so by 4:15am, I was cruising up the freeway! So worth it, though. I arrived at the big parking lot that’s centered in the middle of Highway 84, and got the first spot in the lot.
After hiking to Benson State Recreation Area (more on that later), I saw their parking lot jam-packed, mostly from visitors who were walking to Multnomah Falls from there. And it was a $5 fee to park there! If you can’t park at Multnomah Falls, there are lots of nearby state park sites that you can go to instead, but most of them have a day-use fee. I returned to the free Multnomah Falls parking lot at 1pm to grab my packed lunch, and every space was taken. Signs were posted that both parking lots were full. When I left for the day at 4pm, the parking lot was open again, but still mostly full. My parking space was taken literally as soon as I pulled out!
There are Three Falls Viewpoints
Most people visit Multnomah Falls from the viewpoint at the base. If you look up a picture of Multnomah Falls on the internet, it’s almost guaranteed that the top results are all taken from this viewpoint. But in those pictures, you’ll see the bridge that separates the upper fall from the lower. Getting to the bridge is just an easy, uphill, paved walk, and many people head up there to see the falls up-close. If you’re up for a bit of a longer and more strenuous hike, you can visit the top of the falls. It’s a steep mile with lots of switchbacks, so not as many people were up at this viewpoint.
Unless this is just a quick roadside stop (which it shouldn’t be if you can avoid it) or your physical ability doesn’t allow it, make an effort to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Not everyone has the opportunity to hike up Oregon’s tallest waterfall. I saw lots of retirees and families on this hike, some even carrying toddlers on their backs. So while it is exhausting, it is doable for most people. Once you reach the top, you can relax there for awhile. Take some pictures on the viewing platform, or admire how calm the Multnomah Creek is before it turns into a roaring waterfall. Then you can either head back down the way you came, or continue further on the less-explored part of the trail.
Multnomah Falls Isn’t the Only Waterfall
There are three other waterfalls in this park. You first have to hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, but if you choose to continue up the trail, you’re in for some real treats.
There are three waterfalls upstream that are all relatively close to each other. This is part of an extensive trail system. If you decide to hike beyond the waterfalls, there are lots of mountain trails you can go on. I chose the five-mile loop to Benson State Recreation Area. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost because whenever I came to a fork it the road, there was a signpost saying which trail was which. I also got a free map from the Visitor Center before I headed out, which was where I found out that this large loop trail even existed.
But as the visitor center volunteer told me, I didn’t have to hike the entire loop. I could have hiked to the waterfalls and then turned around. I decided to take it one step at a time. At first, my goal was just to get to the top of Multnomah Falls. Then I decided to check out the other waterfalls. It was there that I decided I might as well go all the way. I was rewarded. The forest was beautiful, and I spotted more waterfalls as I entered Benson State Recreation Area. While this state park has a $5 entry fee if you come by car, entering on foot is free!
The Cookies are HUGE!
I packed a lunch and plenty of other food for the road trip, but you can also eat at Multnomah Falls. There’s a sit-down restaurant and a few snack bars. Snow cones and soft-serve ice cream were two popular choices, but I decided on a cookie for a waterside snack. They were four dollars (which was less than most other snack options), but they were humongous, so it turned out to be a great deal. You could even split this dessert with all your road trip companions. I did this trip solo, though, so I was in for a delicious sugar rush!
You Can’t Stay the Night
Overnight parking isn’t allowed. Despite its name, the Multnomah Falls Lodge has a visitor center, gift shop, restaurant, and bathrooms, but no sleeping quarters. Thankfully, there are lots of nearby state parks where you can stay affordably.
I ended up staying the night at Memaloose State Park. Like many of the other local state parks, it’s situated on the Columbia River with an overlooking view of Washington State. It is a bit further than other campgrounds like Ainsworth, Government Island, or Viento, but I was heading east for the next stop on my trip, so it served as a good midway point. If you can’t find an available campsite from Oregon State Parks, check if there is any availability at the nearby Washington parks.
Overall, It’s a Great Experience
I loved my trip to Multnomah Falls, and I’ll stop there again whenever I pass through the area from now on. Some people stay for less than an hour, while others stay all day. I enjoyed the natural setting for about seven hours, though I could have easily made this stop longer or shorter. But I had been up since the middle of the night, and I still had a bit more driving to do before I reached Memaloose State Park. Besides I wanted to be rested up for the next leg of this road trip? Any guesses where it is? I’ll reveal my next stop later this week, or you can find out the answer by following me on Instagram.
Have you visited any waterfalls before? Which has been your favorite?