Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wahkeena-Multnomah Loop

Aahhhh.....Early November.  It's when the lower elevation fall colors kick into high gear.  Time to head to the Gorge for my favorite fall hike - the Wahkeena Trail.

Old stone trail sign

In autumn, the changing leaves within the Columbia River Gorge put icing on what is already an astonishingly beautiful place.  And there's no prettier trail than the Wahkeena.  Starting at the Historic Columbia River Highway, this path switchbacks steeply up the side of the Gorge.  The trail itself is well-constructed - paved for almost the first mile with slopes retained by beautiful stone walls. A burbling stream is never far away, and the plethora of deciduous trees guarantees tons of colorful leaves.  On the way up, hikers pass Wahkeena and Fairy Falls, as well as several smaller unnamed cascades.

Wahkeena Creek

Chuck and I both had Friday off, and this time rain was not in the forecast!  Yahoo!  I had my heart set on a fall color hike, so off to Wahkeena we went.

Wahkeena Falls

The beauty began at the trailhead.  Trees of varying orange and yellow hues surrounded the parking area.  A lovely creek meandered through the lush green, leaf-scattered slope.  My photo session began as soon as I exited the car.  There were lots of great things to photograph!  I think Chuck was a little worried I wouldn't leave the trailhead.  But I did manage to tear myself away and follow him up the path.  More amazing sights awaited!

Chuck searches for coins embedded in the wall

From the trailhead, the paved Wahkeena path climbs steeply.  After a very short distance, Chuck and I reached Wahkeena Falls, a  fan-shaped cascade roaring mightily down the middle of a mossy grotto.  A grand stone bridge crossed the creek below the falls.  I soaked in the views and snapped a few images.  But the dim light of a cloudy day wasn't conducive to photo-taking.  I had to use such a slow shutter speed that most of my shots turned out blurry.  I was wishing I'd brought my tripod.

Chuck found a coin!

From Wahkeena Falls, the path continued its climb, switchbacking up the side of the Gorge.  Although the ascent was taxing, the paved trail and its scenery provided a nice distraction.  Lots of turning leaves added color to the scene.  The trail was lined with elegant stone retaining walls, covered in ferns and a layer of bright green moss.  Someone spent a lot of time and effort to construct such a wonderful trail.

Leaves decorate the path

Chuck told me the builders of the walls embedded some coins and a toy army man into the rock faces along the Wahkeena Trail.  While I was busy taking "Kodak moments," Chuck busied himself scanning the masonry in search of hidden artifacts.

Colorful leaf pile

Chuck managed to find three coins - two nickels and a penny.  But try as he might, the toy army man eluded his search.  Better luck next time!

Mossy old stone wall

After reaching a scenic overlook, with nice views up and down the Columbia River, the paved trail gave way to a nice dirt footpath covered in leaves.  Chuck and continued our upward trek, following a gushing stream.

Fairy Falls

After a mile and a half, we came upon Fairy Falls.  This delicate little waterfall is one of my favorites.

Fairy Falls close-up

Chuck sat down on a nearby wooden bench to have a snack.  I meanwhile prowled around the falls, trying to steady myself and my camera to capture some slow shutter images.  For the umpteenth time, I regretted not bringing my tripod.

Chuck and Bear share a moment

After our refreshment and photography break, Chuck and I resumed our climb.  We passed through another forested area ablaze with golden leaves.

Bright colors line the trail

We reached the junction with the Devil's Rest Trail.  It was decision time.  Should we continue our climb up to Devil's Rest?  Or should we level off and head towards Multnomah Falls?  Multnomah Falls, a very popular attraction, is usually overrun with tourists.  It's normally someplace I avoid.  As we weighed the pros and cons of each trail, I mentioned to Chuck that Multnomah Falls has a nice lodge with a restroom.  Bathrooms with warm running water and flushing toilets?  That sealed the deal - Multnomah Falls, here we come!

Weisendanger Falls

It's been many years since I've hiked the trails above Multnomah Falls.  I found it to be a truly beautiful area.  We approached the famous falls from the very top, following the creek that feeds it downstream.  There were a couple of pretty waterfalls along the way, including lacy Weisendanger Falls.

Cute stone bridge

Just before the top of Multnomah Falls, Chuck and I came upon a cute little stone bridge spanning the creek.  It looked like something you'd see in a Grimm's fairy tale.  Golden leaves covered the trail and the creekside boulders.  I almost expected to see a gnome pop out from under the rocks.  What a magical place.

Top of Multnomah Falls

And then we came upon the side trail that led us to the top of Multnomah Falls.  Chuck and I followed the a path that led us to a fenced viewing platform on the brink of the famous waterfall.  We peered 542 feet down the dropoff to the forest and river.  It was a dizzying view of the lodge and viewing area far below.  Not for the faint of heart!

Gorge view from top of the falls

Looking down from the top of Multnomah Falls, I realized in order to reach the lodge, we'd have to lose all this elevation.  The trail to the parking lot and viewing area winds down a steep slope in a series of 11 switchbacks.  To make matters worse, each switchback is identified with a little sign.  So visitors know how much further they have to climb, or in our case, descend.

LOTS of switchbacks to reach the bottom!

Chuck and I trudged down the trail.  We met lots of red-faced people puffing their way up to the top.  Although the path wasn't nearly as crowded as a typical sunny, summer day, we were definitely not alone.

Photographers on viewing bridge

Multnomah Falls has a stunning stone footbridge that crosses the rocky chasm above the lower cascade.  It's very cool to stand on this bridge and look up at the falls, and then down the watery chute to the splash pool below.  Spray is blowing in the air and everything is a lush green.  Amazing!  After avoiding Multnomah Falls for so long, I was reminded why this place is so popular.

Multnomah Falls -  the grand waterfall of them all

We made our way down to the lower viewing area.  Again, I was really wishing for my tripod.  But I managed to fire off a few decent shots.  There were tons of people milling around the platform, and I had to wait awhile for the area to clear so I could get a waterfall shot void of people.  But it was so worth it.  What an incredibly beautiful waterfall!  And the fall colors provided the perfect accent.

The most spectacular of all the Gorge falls

Chuck and I reached the Multnomah Falls Lodge and our coveted restrooms.  After a brief potty stop, we headed back to our vehicle via a short connector trail paralleling the Historic Highway.

It was a wonderful day to be out with Mother Nature.  The autumn colors put on a show, and the waterfalls ran full and strong.  I completed my annual trek up the Wahkeena Trail, and explored the area above Multnomah Falls.  Even though Multnomah Falls can be crazy with people, it's truly worth visiting.  I'm lucky to live close to such an amazing place!



  1. Oh, WOW!!! so incredible! Beautiful photos of yet another other-wordly gorgeous place :)

  2. Beautiful pictures! I will have to take my kids on this hike next time we are in Oregon.


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