Wahclella Falls: Columbia River Gorge Trail Guide

Not only is Wahclella Falls one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, but it’s also one of the most accessible, with a short, gorgeous, family-friendly hike. We put this guide together so you know exactly what to expect on the Wahclella Falls trail. 

Wahclella Falls Columbia River Gorge Oregon

Although it’s not the tallest waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge by a long shot, Wahclella Falls is easily one of the most rewarding. 

In addition to being spectacularly beautiful, the waterfall flows year-round, it’s less than one hour from Portland, and the hike to get there is short and sweet. 

Along the way, you’ll check several items off every adventure enthusiast’s PNW checklist: countless smaller cascades, summer wildflowers, bold fall colors come early October, and lush vegetation literally dripping with moss and ferns. 

As a major bonus, while Wahclella Falls is popular, it’s typically less busy than many other Oregon waterfall hikes in this area

Wahclella Falls Guide

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Wahclella Falls trail stats

  • Location: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, near Cascade Locks
  • Distance: 1.9 miles out and back
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty rating: easy to moderate
  • Timing: about one hour
  • Pets: leashed dogs welcome
  • Permits: Northwest Forest annual pass or National Forest day pass required for parking
  • View the trail notes 

Wahclella Falls trail map

Wahclella Falls hike overview

With 80-something waterfalls on just the Oregon side of the Gorge, it can be a bit overwhelming simply deciding which ones to chase. 

Close to Portland and with an easy-going hike that takes as little as one hour, beautiful Wahclella Falls is a no-brainer. It’s especially perfect for families with young kiddos (and dogs!) and those days when you don’t have much time. 

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

The two-tiered waterfall tumbles into a picture-perfect pool, nestled in a lush grotto-like canyon surrounded by bright green vegetation. This area was majorly scarred by the human-caused 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, which you’ll see on your hike, but it’s still gorgeous.

That “80-something” we mentioned isn’t a typo, by the way—this stretch of the Columbia River Gorge is well-known for having the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America! Multnomah Falls, the tallest, most famous waterfall in Oregon, is just 10 minutes away. 

Oddly, that’s partly why Wahclella Falls doesn’t attract the same crowds. They’re close enough to easily visit both, but Multnomah seems to almost overshadow it. Wahclella is still popular, don’t get us wrong, but nearly as much so. 

Things to know before you go

Hiking the Wahclella Falls trail is (fortunately!) not at all difficult or complicated, but there are still several things to be aware of and take into consideration before your adventure. 

Best time of year for the Wahclella Falls Hike

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

It sounds super cliche, but there’s honestly no ‘bad’ season to hike to Wahclella Falls (or any waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, for that matter!). Because it’s fed by an underground spring, Wahclella Falls flows steadily all year without much variance in volume. 

If we have to pick a ‘best’ time to go, we choose May, June, and/or October. Wildflowers start to pop in early summer, and the canyon is lush and GREEN. 

Then, as fall really sets in, seeing the waterfall against the colorful foliage is just unforgettable. And as a major bonus, salmon also spawn in the stream and at the base of the falls in the later part of autumn. 

Even winter is a great time to hike here, and actually, the waterfall often rages with additional snowmelt!

Regardless of the time of year, there is something unique and extremely important to know about hiking the Wahclella Falls Trail after any sort of weather. 

Due to wildfire damage in the canyon and along the trail, this area is especially susceptible to flash flooding and landslides during heavy rain and for a couple of days after

You’ll see signs about this at the trailhead and again when you enter the wilderness area. It should go without saying, but please heed this advice—it is not a joke. Pay attention to the forecast, and reschedule your hike if heavy rain is or was recently present. 

How long does it take to hike the Wahclella Falls trail?

Factor in 1-1.5 hours to hike the entire Wahclella Falls trail. The hike itself typically takes less than an hour, even if you go at a slow pace, but you’ll also want to spend some time at the waterfall. Plus, there are tons of gorgeous viewpoints along the way to stop and admire! 

How difficult is the Wahclella Falls trail?

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

AllTrails rates the hike to Wahclella Falls as ‘easy,’ but we consider it easy to moderate. 

It’s not difficult in terms of distance or a crazy elevation gain, but the trail is rocky, often slippery, narrow, and quite exposed in some sections. This is an excellent beginner- and family-friendly hike, but these aspects make it slightly more challenging than ‘easy.’ 

The route

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

We broke down the route for hiking the Wahclella Falls trail into parts to give you an idea of what to expect on the route.

Parking for Wahclella Falls

As a popular trailhead with a small parking lot, you may end up having to park in one of two alternate spots

If you don’t snag a space in the main lot, you can park along the street on Star Route or at the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. The hatchery is a bit further, but still adds just 0.4 miles and less than 10 minutes (plus, it has picnic tables and a nice gift shop, and of course, you can feed the fish!). 

Once you get to the main Wahclella Falls parking lot, there are a few porta potties if you need the facilities before hitting the trail. 

Hiking to Wahclella Falls

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

Leaving the lot, you’ll hike along a flat, very wide Forest Service Road right alongside Tanner Creek. At just over a quarter-mile, you’ll pass the dam and the road becomes an actual trail, narrowing and heading gently uphill. 

The trail enters a canyon pretty quickly, crossing the official boundary of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. It’s well-marked with a sign and lots of somber warnings about the aftermath (and associated dangers) of the Eagle Creek Fire. 

Note that because it’s a designated wilderness area, no bicycles or anything motorized, including drones, are permitted.

Immediately after the wilderness sign, you’ll cross a wooden bridge passing Munra Falls, close enough that you can reach out and touch the water. 

After passing countless tiny cascades and navigating a few sets of stairs, the trail splits into a loop at 0.7 miles in. While you can hike either direction and end up right back in this spot, most people recommend going counter-clockwise (right). 

Approaching Wahclella Falls

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

The approach to Wahclella Falls from this direction is spectacular, walking up from below and putting the cascade directly in front of you. Some people say it’s also ‘easier’ because you’re not ascending the trail’s high portion, although the hike is fairly easy overall.

If you take our recommendation and turn right onto the lower loop, you’ll descend slightly into a mossy, fairly narrow canyon, once again hiking alongside Tanner Creek. Soon, cross a bridge over the creek. This section of the trail is many people’s favorite, with endless photo ops.

On the other side of the bridge, the trail follows the creek up the canyon for about 0.4 miles until the falls come into view. 

About 0.2 miles before actually arriving at the waterfall, you’ll walk through a small cave-like structure covered in lush green ferns. You can see the wooden bridge at the base of the falls from the opening, making for one of the best photo ops along the trail

As you come out of the cave, you’ll pass by a ‘logjam’ of several downed trees, a result of both the 2017 fire and the powerful falls pushing them downstream. Cross the final bridge and explore the fairytale-like setting around the base of the falls (carefully—it’s often super slippery!). 

What to expect at Wahclella Falls

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon

From this lower viewpoint, you only get a great view of the lower cascade, plunging about 60 feet into the pool below. There is an upper tier as well, but cliffs obscure the view, so move around to take in different perspectives. 

In the winter months, you may even see a third cascade form above the upper tier of the falls!

To get back to your vehicle, take the trail the opposite direction of how you came in to complete the loop. 

Tips for hiking the Wahclella Falls trail

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon
  • Avoid hiking here 1-2 days after heavy rain. The Eagle Creek Fire completely changed the landscape, and much of it is somewhat unstable when heavy rains come in, increasing the likelihood of flash flooding or even landslides.
  • You need a Northwest Forest Pass ($30) or National Forest day pass ($5). You can sometimes scan a QR code at the trailhead and pay online, but we recommend getting your pass ahead of time in case you don’t have cell service or the code malfunctions.  
  • Be patient when it comes to parking. The small parking lot is often full, but luckily, turnover is pretty high because the hike is so short, so plan to circle several times or park on neighboring Star Route or at the hatchery.
  • Don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle. Because the Gorge is an extremely popular area where people leave their vehicles for extended periods of time, unfortunately break-ins do happen.
  • Bring trekking poles. Even though the Wahclella Falls trail is short, the muddy terrain often gets slick.
  • Pack rain gear and bring something to protect your camera. Between the creek and multiple waterfalls, this trail is WET! 

Where to camp nearby

Unlike many other waterfalls in Oregon, there are no places to camp along the trail to Wahclella Falls.

Eagle Creek Campground is a five-minute drive, with 17 sites, 14 of them reservable and three first-come, first-served. This was actually the very first developed Forest Service campground! It’s unsurprisingly extremely popular, so reserve as early as possible.

About 15 minutes from Wahclella Falls, 13-site Wyeth Campground is another popular option. It’s best for tent camping, as there are no hookups and RV length is limited to under 30 feet.

Being so close to both Portland and Hood River, and with so much forest land in the surrounding areas, experienced campers will also find plenty of dispersed camping nearby. 

What to pack for hiking the Wahclella Falls trail

Wahclella Falls Trail Columbia River Gorge Oregon
  • Navigation: we recommend using Alltrails+ to download the offline trail map
  • Hiking daypack 
  • Water bottles and/or bladder for your Camelbak
  • Bug repellant
  • Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sun glasses
  • Camera/tripod (this one’s our favorite for hiking)
  • Lots of layers (here is a great resource if you’re wondering what to wear hiking)
  • Rain jacket
  • Comfortable hiking boots or shoes
  • Hiking poles (optional)
  • Plenty of snacks: check out our favorite hiking snacks here!

Be sure to download our FREE hiking packing list before your next trip and never leave another essential behind again!

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We want to hear from you!

Have you hiked the Wahclella Falls trail? What was your experience like? Do you have more questions about planning your hike? Comment below and let us know!

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