Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Oneonta Trail

Welcome to the 2013 Fall Gorge Waterfall Tour! 

Horsetail Falls splash pool

Yes, although temps are beginning to drop, and the leaves are long gone, I'm still playing catch up from November.  In the beginning of this month, I began my annual Gorge waterfall pilgrimage. 

Fall colors frame Horsetail Falls

The Columbia River Gorge is one of my favorite places to hike. Although it's wonderful in all seasons, fall is by far the best time to visit. The colorful leaves, the rushing waterfalls, and still enough green from the ferns and mosses to provide nice accents. To capture all this incredible beauty, I have a tradition of planning autumn hikes on some of the most scenic Gorge trails.

Beautiful rock wall and plaza

First up on the agenda - the Oneonta Trail.  This relatively short loop gives one the most waterfall bang for your buck.  In a mere 2.5 miles you pass four - count 'em - four lovely cascades.

And lovely leaf-covered stairs

The first grand waterfall is located right off the road.  At 176 feet in height, Horsetail Falls displays its frothy grandeur in full view of the Historic Columbia River Highway.  A paved plaza, with picnic table, impressive mossy maple trees, and a grand stone staircase leading to the splash pool, make this a popular stop for tourists.  But most folks never venture beyond the viewing area.  The Oneonta Trail begins here, the pathway to even more wonderful splashy scenes.

On the trail

From Horsetail Falls the trail switchbacks up the Gorge's steep cliffs.  A short distance later, one arrives at a mossy basalt amphitheatre, home of 80-foot high Ponytail Falls.

Ponytail falls

Ponytail Falls is one of those waterfalls that you can walk behind.  The rock wall around this cascade eroded to form a tunnel-like cave.  A trail leads hikers through this cavern, providing a front-row view of the fall's watery fan.  This is one waterfall vantage that folks don't normally get to see.

The view from behind Ponytail falls

Is there anything cooler than hiking behind a waterfall?

Splash pool below the falls

From Ponytail Falls, the trail climbs a little further and tops out at a clifftop viewpoint.  The entire eastern Gorge and Columbia River is spread out before your eyes.  On a clear day, a fabulous view.

Gorge viewpoint

From this viewpoint, the trail winds down steeply to Oneonta Gorge.  This narrow slot-like canyon is so deep it appears bottomless.  A metal footbridge spans this dizzying chasm.  Above the bridge, Oneonta Falls, all 60 feet of its frothing waters, churns down the steep drop-off.

Lovely bright yellow leaves

Sadly the bright sunlight of high noon made too much contrast, and all my Oneonta Falls and Gorge photos didn't turn out.  So you'll just have to trust me that it was spectacular.

Trail junction

After climbing down to Oneonta Falls, the trail then winds steeply back up to the next junction.  Beyond this junction is the final, best waterfall of them all - Triple Falls.

Creek view above Triple Falls

A mile later, I neared the overlook for Triple Falls.  But upon arriving, I discovered a large group of young kids with their adult leaders taking up most of the overlook's limited space.  Not wanting to try and take photos while dodging a bunch of people, I decided to explore the creek farther upriver and wait for them to leave.

Sturdy log bridge spans the creek above Triple Falls

The creek above Triple Falls is truly beautiful.  Although much of the fall colors were past their prime, the fallen leaves and mossy rocks made up for the lack of foliage.  A well-built log footbridge spans the creek, leading hikers to Multnomah Falls and Larch Mountain.  But the other side of the bridge was as far as I'd planned to go today.  Finding a flat rock, I took a quick lunch break amidst the ferns and moss-draped trees.

Triple Falls

Between photographing the creek and eating lunch, I burned at least a half hour.  Thinking the group must have departed by now, I shouldered my backpack and headed back to the Triple Falls viewpoint.  But as the overlook drew near, I saw that the kids were still there.

Triple Falls - up close and personal

Oh well - I wanted to get some photographs, and kids or no kids, that's exactly what I planned to do.  The man in charge gave me a hearty "hello" and invited me over.  He told the kids to give me some space.  So I set up my tripod and got to work.

Triple Falls is made up of three identical 120-foot water plumes.  The three cascades make the most amazing waterfall and it's one of my Gorge favorites.  The falls are located in a deep canyon.  The overlook is on the opposite side of this canyon.  It's a small area perched on the side of a very steep cliff.  I was a little nervous about all the kids walking around with such a drop off nearby, but the man and his two assistants seemed to have their group under control. 

More fall colors

The man had a backpacking stove out, and was boiling water for hot chocolate.  He kept the kids busy finding small twigs for fuel.  He offered me some cocoa, but having just drank a thermos of  hot tea, I declined.

After a few good shots of Triple Falls, I packed up and bid the man and his kids goodbye.  Then I headed back down the Oneonta Trail.  

Oneonta Tunnel on old Historic Hwy

Usually when I hike this area, I retrace my steps back to the parking lot.  But coming back to the trail junction, I decided to make this journey into a loop, and followed the Oneonta Trail in the opposite direction.  I followed a ridge, with a few nice peek-a-boo views of the Gorge, until finally switchbacking down to the Historic Highway.

A  half mile trek down the highway's shoulder brought me back to Horsetail Falls and my car.  But not before I passed through the old Oneonta Tunnel, now restored for a hiker/biker trail.  Even the old stone fences from the original highway had been preserved, and their moss-covered posts made great photo subjects.

Moss covered stone fence

A great day to be out in the Gorge!  Although I only covered a measly 4.5 miles, I saw four great waterfalls, some majestic river views, and some late fall colors still hanging on.

Stay tuned for more from my Fall Gorge Waterfall Tour - part two is next!

Sharing with:  Sweet Shot Tuesday and Weekly Top Shot.


  1. Linda, I am so glad that you decided to catch up and take some photos. What amazing views! Thank you so much for sharing this beauty!

  2. Loved your hike. You captured the falls beautifully.. not always easy when crowds are near.
    Thanks for taking us along!

  3. Linda you have the right photography skills for capturing the beauty of the scenery.

  4. Linda, this is breathtaking. Especially when you enlarge the images, you can really appreciate all the details. I'm in love with Nr. 14! You really found a great spot to capture the waterfall. And I love the colors, and especially the hard rocks and cold surroundings mixed with the smooth silky water. Just amazing!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  5. Awesome, you make me wish I lived over there

  6. Your pictures are always so magical and enthralling dear Linda. I love how the waterfall gently cascades down and the mystique of the woods resplendent in fall. Love them! You are truly an artist :)

  7. You do live in beautiful country!!! I have to admit though, I'm a sunny Southern California girl at heart and have a hard time with the damp and wet of the Pacific Northwest!!! My sister has lived in Eugene for about 8 years now...and uses her "happy lite" every day to stave off the blues!!! But all that dampness sure makes for beautiful scenery...just exquisite!!!
    And I must say...I'm quite impressed that you hike with your tripod!!!

  8. Awesome shots - I think the triple waterfall is my favorite.

  9. I just can't get over how beautiful this is! I'm going to have to visit someday. The photo of the leaf-covered stairs is out of a magazine! Such a lovely photo. And I like the moss as well. This is my kind of place for sure :)

  10. What a wonderful series of photos. The scenes there are just awesome!

  11. Beautiful photos Linda--my favs were the ones with the old rock work in them...oh and the leaves (miss them already)!

  12. Falls in the fall. Makes sense.

    I wish I was there.

  13. Wow, really some gorgeous falls! And yes, I love walking behind them. The moss covered stone wall is wonderful. Wish it was in my back yard! lol! Thanks for sharing the beauty you enjoyed with us.

  14. Wow! Just stunning, Linda!
    Stunning natural beauty, and outstanding job photographing it.
    Do you carry a tripod with you?

    These photos remind me so much of our time in upstate New York in May. The waterfalls, stone walls & stairs, surroundings.


  15. Linda,
    I am so enjoying the trails with you-I love the way you are capturing the waterfalls-another favorite of mine is the beautiful moss!

  16. Absolutely spectacular Linda ! I so love your hikes .

  17. That's a very impressive 4.5 miles. Love those waterfalls and your photos are fantastic.

  18. Wow! Very beautiful captures. Very nice annual Gorge waterfall pilgrimage! Your waterfall photos are very very beautiful. Do you use some ND filters? Thanks for sharing.

  19. All lovely shots, but especially like the ones taken of the falls. very nice with the shutter speed that you used!

  20. Love seeing the transition of the seasons....lovely♪ Have a wonder filled weekend!

  21. The waterfall captures are fabulous Linda!

  22. Linda, I am dropping by from Weekly top shots. I am so glad that I found your blog. I grew up walking these trails but not had a chance to go back in a long time. Your post brought back so many great memories. Thank you so much for posting.

  23. Oh man I wish I were about 10 years younger so I could hike to these falls, they look stunning. I love the falls on the Oregon Highway that I've been too so I know I would enjoy these too.

  24. Amazingly beautiful shots. You seem to be an expert at waterfalls shots...



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