Oregon is home to hundreds of waterfalls, making it an absolute paradise for nature lovers. Like me, and I suspect since you’re reading this, like you. I’ve spent a few sweet summers exploring down south and have come up with the ultimate Oregon waterfalls road trip as a result.
A road trip is not just about the destination but also the journey. The appeal of a waterfall road trip lies in the ability to immerse yourself in nature, discovering the magic of Oregon’s waterfalls at your own pace.
Here, I’ll cover both the famous and the best of the hidden waterfalls throughout Oregon.
Ultimate Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
Trail of Ten Falls
Ultimate Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
An Oregon waterfall road trip can encompass some of the most jaw-dropping sites in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s an outline for a memorable journey, focusing on diversity in landscapes and the allure of Oregon’s waterfalls, starting from Portland and looping back.
The ultimate road trip is the longer one, but I’ve included a short and medium one, in case you are limited by time. The routes are designed to be flexible, allowing you to extend your stay at any location.
Starting and Ending Point: Portland, Oregon. Because all good things start with a cup of Portland’s finest coffee.
Short Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
A road trip focusing on the most famous waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge and nearby areas could be done over a weekend (1-3 days). This would include stops at Multnomah Falls, Latourell Falls, and Wahclella Falls, most importantly, with several other ones to choose from as well.
Medium Length Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
This 4-5 day escapade takes you from the Gorge to Tamanawas Falls down south to Abiqua Falls and Silver Falls State Park.
Ultimate Oregon Waterfalls Road Trip
Got 10 days? Prepare to dive deep into Oregon’s watery wonders, including those in the Columbia River Gorge, Silver Falls State Park, Willamette National Forest, and Umpqua National Forest.
This is the “go big or go home” version, perfect for those who like their hikes leisurely and their nature immersive.
Highlighted Waterfalls and Stops
Columbia River Gorge
Distance from Portland: 16 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Hood River, OR
The Columbia River Gorge is a spectacular canyon of the Columbia River, which forms the border between Oregon and Washington.
This gorge stretches over 80 miles (about 130 kilometers) and cuts through the Cascade Range, creating a natural pathway with dramatic cliffs, lush forests, and abundant waterfalls.
1. Multnomah Falls
The most famous and tallest waterfall in Oregon, Multnomah Falls, drops in two significant steps, split into an upper fall of 542 feet and a lower fall of 69 feet, with a total height of 620 feet.
2. Latourell Falls
Close to the western end of the gorge, Latourell Falls plunges 249 feet off a basalt cliff, known for its unique columnar basalt formations, picturesque setting, and easy accessibility.
3. Wahclella Falls
One of my favorites and something of a hidden gem, Wahclella Falls, is a powerful waterfall within a slot canyon, offering a dramatic and intimate experience. This particular waterfall requires a 2-mile out-and-back hike that is gorgeous on its own.
Other possible falls in the area
Bridal Veil Falls – A scenic waterfall with two tiers that drop 118 feet, accessible via a short but scenic hike.
Wahkeena Falls – Meaning “most beautiful” in the Yakama language, Wahkeena Falls cascades down 242 feet in a lovely, meandering way.
Horsetail Falls – Named for its distinctive shape, Horsetail Falls plunges 176 feet and is visible right from the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Oneonta Falls – This is separate from Lower Oneonta Falls, located in Oneonta Gorge, and requires wading through water to view.
Elowah Falls – One of the lesser-known falls in the gorge, Elowah Falls drops 289 feet into a secluded amphitheater of mossy basalt.
Starvation Creek Falls – A 186-foot waterfall easily accessible from Starvation Creek State Park, with no hike required to view.
Triple Falls – True to its name, Triple Falls presents three distinct streams that plunge into Oneonta Gorge, accessible via a hike on the Oneonta Trail.
Silver Falls State Park
Distance from Portland: 54 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Silverton, OR
Known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system, Silver Falls State Park has breathtaking views of several iconic waterfalls, including the stunning South Falls.
With over 24 miles of walking trails, including the 7.8-mile Trail of Ten Falls that passes behind waterfalls, it offers a unique experience, with opportunities for picnicking, camping, and wildlife viewing.
4. Trail of Ten Falls
The “Trail of Ten Falls” is a captivating loop hike in Silver Falls State Park, known for its abundance of natural beauty and, as the name suggests, its ten stunning waterfalls.
This loop spans approximately 7.8 miles (12.5 kilometers) and is considered moderate in difficulty, making it accessible to hikers of various skill levels. I’ve done this hike several times and am certain of doing it several more. It’s just that amazing.
South Falls is one of the most iconic waterfalls within Silver Falls State Park and is a primary attraction for many visitors. Standing at about 177 feet (54 meters) tall, it is a magnificent example of the beauty and power of nature.
The trail offers a spectacular view from the top of the falls before descending a series of steps that lets you experience walking behind the waterfall’s curtain of water. This unforgettable experience highlights the sheer scale and beauty of South Falls.
North Falls is another favorite of mine on the Trail of Ten Falls, with its water plunging 136 feet (41 meters) into a striking, shadowy pool below.
The surrounding area is characterized by its high, amphitheater-like canyon walls, which amplify the sound of the crashing water, creating a powerful auditory experience.
Like South Falls, the trail at North Falls lets you venture behind the waterfall, offering a perspective that few other trails provide.
South Falls and North Falls offer accessible viewing points, ensuring that even those who don’t do the entire loop hike can still enjoy these natural wonders. The park has thoughtfully placed benches and viewing areas strategically for resting with a view.
Umpqua National Forest
Distance from Portland: 229 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Toketee Falls
The Umpqua National Forest, located in southwestern Oregon, USA, is a vast and diverse landscape that spans approximately 983,129 acres (397,991 hectares). This national forest is known for its scenic beauty, including the famous Crater Lake National Park to the northeast.
A significant attraction of Umpqua is its overflowing wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities. In addition to hiking, the forest has facilities for camping, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing, with the chance to see deer, elk, and a variety of bird species.
5. Toketee Falls
Arguably the most famous waterfall in the Umpqua National Forest, Toketee Falls is known for its distinctive basalt column backdrop, over which the North Umpqua River cascades down 113 feet in two stages.
The upper fall drops water into a pool before plunging over the lower fall, creating a breathtaking postcard-perfect scene. The viewing platform, reached by a well-maintained trail, offers an excellent vantage point.
6. Watson Falls
As the third tallest waterfall in Oregon, Watson Falls plunges 293 feet over a moss-covered basalt cliff into a pool below. The fall’s mist nourishes a lush environment, making for a picturesque hike.
The trail to the falls is relatively short but steep, rewarding you with surprisingly up-close views of the falls’ power and beauty.
7. Clearwater Falls
Unlike the dramatic plunges of Toketee and Watson, Clearwater Falls is characterized by its gentle, cascading waters flowing over a mossy bed. Its beauty lies in its serene, fairy-tale-like appearance, making it a peaceful spot that is easily accessible.
Other possible falls in the area
Fall Creek Falls – This multi-tiered waterfall offers a unique experience as you can view the falls from both the bottom and the top.
The hike to Fall Creek Falls is delightful, too, with the trail running alongside the creek, culminating in an impressive view of the falls cascading down the rocky terrain.
Susan Creek Falls – An easy hike suitable for families leads to Susan Creek Falls, which features a charming 50-foot cascade. The area around the falls is scenic, with opportunities for picnicking and exploring further along the trail.
Oregon has countless waterfalls, many off the beaten path, offering secluded beauty and a sense of adventure for those willing to explore beyond the popular tourist spots.
8. Abiqua Falls
Distance from Portland: 52 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Silverton, OR
Location: Near Scotts Mills, in the Santiam State Forest.
This is my favorite waterfall in all of Oregon. It’s stunning in its simplicity and charm. The hike to Abiqua Falls is short but steep and requires a high-clearance vehicle to reach.
9. Moon Falls
Distance from Portland: 153 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Cottage Grove
Location: In the Umpqua National Forest, near Cottage Grove.
The hike to the gorgeous Moon Falls is an easy 1.2-mile round trip.
10. Tamanawas Falls
Distance from Portland: 87 miles
Possible accommodations and dining: Mt Hood area
Location: On the east side of Mount Hood, within the Mt. Hood National Forest.
This lovely hike is a moderate 3.4-mile round trip along a beautiful forested trail. It’s well worth your time if you’re heading east along the Columbia River Gorge.
Other hidden gems
Upper McCord Creek Falls – In the Columbia River Gorge, just past the more frequented Multnomah Falls.
The trail to Upper McCord Creek Falls is a moderate 2.2-mile round trip, offering stunning gorge views along the way.
Henline Falls – In the Opal Creek Wilderness, near the town of Mehama.
The hike is an easy 1.8-mile round trip, leading to a beautiful 125-foot waterfall in a scenic, wooded canyon.
Safety Tips for Hiking and Exploring Waterfalls
A few safety tips are in order because nothing ruins a good day like an unexpected tumble into a creek or getting hopelessly lost.
- Research your hike beforehand.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes with good grip.
- Dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions.
- Venturing off the path can lead to dangerous or fragile areas.
- Stay back from the edge of cliffs and do not climb on or near the falls, as rocks can be slippery and unstable.
- Bring water, snacks, a first-aid kit, a map and compass or GPS device, a flashlight or headlamp, and a whistle for emergencies.
- A waterproof bag can protect your items if you’re near misty waterfalls.
Leave No Trace Principles
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Car Rental Tips for Your Road Trip
Be sure to secure your car rental well in advance, if that’s your plan, to get the best rates and ensure availability, especially during peak travel seasons.
A vehicle with good ground clearance and all-wheel drive is beneficial if you plan to explore more remote areas.
Check your personal car insurance and credit card benefits to see if they cover car rental insurance, which can save you money.
Road Trip Accommodations
Book early, especially during peak seasons, as accommodations near popular destinations can fill up quickly. Explore hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals for a range of experiences and budgets. Camping is also a popular option near many natural areas.
Consider staying in less touristy areas for better deals and a more authentic local experience.
Road Trip Packing Essentials
By planning ahead and leveraging technology, you can enhance your road trip experience, ensuring you make the most of your visit to Oregon’s stunning waterfalls and natural landscapes.
- Layers are essential, as weather can change quickly, especially in the mountains and along the coast.
- Comfortable, sturdy shoes and a backpack for day hikes to waterfalls.
- Paper maps or downloaded maps on your phone, as cell service can be spotty in remote areas.
- First aid kit, flashlight, nutritious food and water, and a basic tool kit.
- Apps like Google Maps or Waze are essential for route planning, but downloading offline maps is recommended.
- Apps like AllTrails or Gaia GPS offer detailed trail maps and user reviews for hiking routes.
- If you plan to camp, apps like ReserveAmerica or Hipcamp can help you find and book campsites.
For Oregon State Park information, you can visit the official Oregon State Parks website. This site provides comprehensive details on park locations, amenities, reservation options, event calendars, and day-use parking permits.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s official page offers insights into state parks, recreational activities, and essential updates on park improvements and projects.
Best Time of Year for a Waterfalls Road Trip
I consider Spring the best time to visit Oregon’s waterfalls. The winter snow is melting, and the rainfall is ample, making the waterfalls particularly full and vibrant.
The surrounding landscapes are also lush and green, and wildflowers are in bloom, adding to the scenic beauty. However, you should be prepared for rain and muddy trails.
Early Summer (June-early July)
Early summer can also be a great time to visit. The water flow is still strong in many falls, and the weather is generally more pleasant, with less rain and warmer temperatures. The trails are usually dry, and the vegetation is still lush.
While the water flow might not be as heavy as in the Spring, the fall colors add a beautiful backdrop to the waterfalls. The weather is cooler, and fewer visitors make this an excellent time to avoid crowds.
How should one plan the trip, including duration and logistics?
A road trip exploring the beauty of Oregon‘s waterfalls can span from a couple of days to over a week, depending on how many falls you wish to visit and how much time you spend at each location. Planning should consider hiking times, drive times between falls, and lodging options.
In Oregon, you can drive close to several waterfalls, including the iconic Multnomah Falls, the picturesque Latourell Falls, and the majestic Salt Creek Falls. These falls offer easy accessibility, with parking and viewing platforms near the base, making them perfect for those who prefer minimal hiking.
The most powerful waterfall in Oregon by volume is Willamette Falls, the largest in the Northwestern United States by volume and the seventeenth widest in the world. However, Salt Creek Falls is also notable for its power, being one of Oregon’s most powerful waterfalls with an average yearly flow of 50,000 gallons per minute over its rocks.
From the towering, misty cascades of Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge to the secluded, serene drops of waterfalls hidden within the Umpqua National Forest, each waterfall has its own character and story.
This diversity reflects not just the geological richness of Oregon but also the dynamic water systems that carve through its landscapes. The waterfalls of Oregon are more than just tourist destinations; they are living, flowing symbols of nature’s power and beauty.
In the end, discovering your favorite waterfall might be the ultimate quest – a personal journey through some of the state’s most picturesque and magical parts. And who knows? Along the way, you might find a little piece of yourself.