|Slender cascades stream down this rock face|
After seeing photos on the Portland Hikers Facebook page touting lovely leaf colors peaking along the Wahkeena Trail, I knew the time had come to make my annual trek. So the Sunday following my Silver Falls State Park visit, I recharged my camera for the weekend's second autumn photoshoot. One of the best things about this hike is it's a quick 45-minute drive from my house. Traveling through the Columbia River Gorge this time of year is always a treat. Brilliant oranges and yellows lined the Historic Highway as I approached the trailhead at Wahkeena Falls.
|Train tracks view from the Gorge Trail|
Over the years I've done this loop many times, started at different places, and hiked the trails in both directions. Today, I decided to do the loop clockwise starting at Wahkeena Falls. I began on the Gorge Trail for a short half mile to Multnomah Falls. A quick ramble through colorful woods, I passed by a tall cliff dripping with tiny rivulets, and was treated to scenic glimpses of railroad tracks through the trees.
|Mighty Multnomah Falls|
Multnomah Falls is always a busy place, and today was no exception. Despite the cloudy, gray, damp weather, a good crowd had gathered on the lower viewing platform, and many more clogged the path up to the picturesque Benson Bridge. A top tourist draw - at 611 total feet in height, this lovely cascade is the tallest waterfall in Oregon. (The upper falls is 542 feet high, while the second tier measures a respectable 69 foot drop.)
|Lookin' good with her autumn wardrobe!|
Changing trees surrounding Multnomah Falls makes autumn an especially scenic time to visit (hence the throngs of people...) The waterfall looked fantastic surrounded by colorful orange and yellow leaves just reaching peak color. Although not packing my tripod, I was still able to capture some great images of this gorgeous waterfall. With scenery this stunning it's not difficult.
|Upper falls from above the Benson Bridge|
After photographing from the lower viewpoint, I dodged tourists and trekked to the Benson Bridge for some up close and personal views. Recent heavy rainfall had the falls roaring, and anyone standing on the bridge was instantly doused with spray. Wishing to avoid such a camera-unfriendly situation, I waited until I'd passed the bridge before snapping a couple of upper falls images.
|Gnarly tree branches|
Then my climbing began! Although paved, the trail to the top of Multnomah Falls gained 700 feet in eleven long switchbacks (and to add insult to injury, each switchback was numbered). It didn't take long before I was puffing heavily and shedding clothing layers.
|Beautiful Multnomah Creek|
At the very top of the climb, there's a short path that takes visitors to the very top of the falls. Having seen this sight many times already, I was planning bypass this detour, continuing on the Larch Mtn trail another mile to the Wahkeena Falls junction. But a huge downed tree blocked this trail just beyond the viewpoint turnoff, putting the kibosh on any uphill travel.
I sized up the situation. There wasn't enough room to shimmy under the tree. And climbing over it with my backpack and camera bag strapped on would be dangerously awkward. Was I going to have to cancel my plans and turn around?
After pondering a bit, I decided to shed my baggage, sliding it under the tree to the opposite side. Now unencumbered, I was able to clamber onto the wet, slippery bark and hoist myself over. It wasn't easy, but I made it. And my acrobatics even impressed a man watching from the other side!
That large fallen log definitely kept the crowds down! I traversed the entire trail to Wahkeena junction without seeing more than a handful of people. It was definitely a magical place to have all to myself. Large, gnarled, mossy branches overhung the forest. Thick, multi-hued vegetation lined my path. And a couple more mighty waterfalls churned through nearby Multnomah Creek.
|I just loved all the mossy branches!|
I was having so much fun taking in this spectacular scenery, the Wahkeena Trail junction appeared in no time. Continuing up the Wahkeena Trail, I thought I'd left the best of this autumn finery behind. But the color show wasn't over yet......
|Yellow burst in the woods|
Climbing upwards through more mossy green forest, a huge patch of yellow leaves lit up the woods like a beacon.
|Fabulous yellow leaf colors|
Absolutely stunning! Comparing photos from previous years (I'm realizing I tend to take photos of the same places each visit) this was definitely some of the best leaf color ever.
Nope, photos don't lie. This year's autumn show was incredible.
|Wahkeena Trail was an autumn wonderland|
I traipsed along the trail, clicking away, a huge smile plastered across my face.
|Really brightened up the forest|
The entire Wahkeena trail, from the Multnomah junction to Wahkeena Springs was one huge golden color-fest.
Reaching the trail sign at Wahkeena Springs, I was amused by the graffiti written near the bottom. Although I'm not in favor of defacing anything, I must admit it made me chuckle.
|Old fallen leaves|
Then began the downward march to my car.
|Lovely little Wahkeena Creek|
The trail switchbacked down a steep, muddy path, following charming little Wahkeena Creek. I passed by lovely little Fairy Falls, but there was already a crowd gathered at it's base, so I kept on walking.
I admired the patterns and colors the already-fallen leaves made on the trail.
|Approaching Lemmon viewpoint|
Passing by Lemmon Viewpoint, I took a quick detour to get a good look at the Columbia River. Although it's opposite shore was a lovely patchwork-quilt of colors, the light was at the wrong angle for photographs.
|Ferns and leaf|
From Lemmon Viewpoint, the trail transitioned into an asphalt path. With the improved trail came a sharp increase in the number of hikers. The closer I traveled towards the trailhead, the more people (especially unprepared for hiking) I encountered.
|Bench with a view|
Just before Wahkeena Falls, I came upon this idyllic bench surrounded by a huge swath of colors. A perfect photo op! But it quickly became overtaken by a large family who decided to hang out for awhile. I waited patiently for several minutes before the group finally moved on.
|Wahkeena Falls was a busy place|
Upper Wahkeena Falls is a mere 1/4 mile from the trailhead. Due to it's close proximity the path below is usually packed with people. I tried for a few quick images of this cascade, but a people-free frame was virtually impossible. This shot was the best I could do.
|Wahkeena Falls through the autumn colors|
Crowds or not, it still was a splendid place. Yellow leaves brightened the adjacent forest, with a swirling whitewater creek as it's centerpiece.
|Downstream from Wahkeena Falls|
Covering the final distance to my car, I was immensely pleased. A memory card full of outstanding fall colors and good bit of exercise to boost my mood. And despite threatening clouds, I lucked out with a dry day.
A delightful trek! I was able to fit this adventure into a Sunday afternoon and still be home well before dinner.
Stats: 5.4 miles round trip, 1600 feet elevation gain
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