Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Triple Falls

One of my favorite Columbia River Gorge hikes is the Triple Falls Trail.  I've always felt this trail gave hikers the best "bang for a buck" in regards to the number of waterfalls vs the short distance traveled.  Sadly this entire area was badly burned in the 2017 Eagle Creek wildfire, and the trail to Triple Falls remained closed for many years after.  But happily, the Forest Service finally reopened this trail in the spring of 2022.  Hearing Triple Falls was again open for visitors, I convinced my friends Debbie and Barry to join me for a look-see.

Horsetail Falls

So one fine day in early May had my friends and I driving to the trailhead parking area, at the base of lovely Horsetail Falls.  At 176 feet this stunning cascade shot out of a basalt cliff and spilled over its mossy face into a large splash pool.  After spending an appropriate amount of time taking photos and admiring the gushing waterfall, we headed towards the trailhead, a stone throw's east of Horsetail Falls. 

Tons 'o bleeding heart flowers

But before we could start up the trail my friends and I were stopped cold by a colorful display of wildflowers.  Pink bleeding hearts bloomed profusely near the trailhead sign, accompanied by a huge number of fringecup fronds.


Cameras and cell phones came out and a frenzied photography session ensued!

The trailhead looks so barren and sad after the fire

Floral photos safely tucked into memory cards, it was time to tackle this trail!  From the trailhead sign, the tread wound uphill through a barren area, completely logged of fire-scorched trees.  Remembering how lush and green things used to be pre-fire, it was a sad sight.  

Fairy bells

But burn zones create rich soil for re-establishment of plants, and I was cheered to see the trail ahead lined with wildflowers of all varieties.  

Ponytail Falls

After a half mile of climbing we came upon our first waterfall, charming 80-foot tall Ponytail Falls.

Can you spot Debbie to the left of the falls?

This waterfall was fun to visit because the trail ran right behind it. (Can you spot Debbie to the left of the falls?)

I love waterfalls that you can walk behind

Is there anything more enjoyable than walking behind a waterfall?  Some of my favorite cascades are the ones that you can view from a different perspective.

Debbie and Barry on the trail

After much more photography and general gawking, we took the uphill trail away from Ponytail Falls.  It traversed below some tall cliffs and through talus slopes.  Although also heavily burned in the fire, bushes and wildflowers had grown back in great numbers.

Serviceberry blooms

The amount of green definitely outnumbered the bleak, burned trees.  And that was a good thing.

Fantastic gorge viewpoint

A quarter-mile past Ponytail Falls, my friends and I took a short side path leading hikers to a breathtaking clifftop Gorge panorama.  The Columbia River stretched out for miles in both directions.

Switchbacking down to Oneonta Falls

Beyond the viewpoint, it was back into what was left of the forest, switchbacking down to Oneonta Gorge and waterfall.

Narrow Oneonta Gorge

Oneonta Gorge is deep and narrow between this trail and the Scenic Highway and boasts spectacular scenery.  Before the 2017 fire, it was wildly popular to wade up Oneonta creek from the highway.  Thanks to social media, Oneonta Gorge began to draw hundreds of daily visitors during the summer, and as a result was getting trashed by the masses.  Then the 2017 wildfire severely damaged this area, forcing its closure.  Oneonta Gorge has not yet reopened, and I suspect the Forest Service may keep it shuttered for many more years to come.

Oneonta Falls

A bridge crossed Oneonta Creek and gave nice views of 60-foot high Oneonta Falls.

The trail above Oneonta Falls was mighty bleak

Then it was time to climb once again!  From Oneonta Falls my friends I crawled up the opposite side of its canyon.  The day was beginning to warm up and I started to sweat from the exertion.  

A little color in the burn zone

At a junction with the Oneonta Trail, my friends and I turned northward, towards Triple Falls.  The trail followed the opposite side of Oneonta Gorge and continued to ascend, sometimes steeply.  In many places we were navigating a path perched on the side of steep cliffs.  The creek was a long ways down!  I'd heard that due to numerous landslides, this portion of the trail was especially difficult to reconstruct after the fire.

Sad to see the destruction

The fire's destruction was especially intense here.  Acres of blackened tree trunks covered the slopes above Oneonta Creek.  Vegetation seemed to just recently be reestablishing itself, but I did notice several colorful spots of wildflowers.

Finally - Triple Falls!

It was nearly a mile from the Oneonta trail junction to Triple Falls, but walking uphill through the burn zone if felt much longer.  Having not hiked in this area since 2015, I was trying to remember where exactly the falls were located.  Were they behind this bend?  Nope.  This one?  Nada.

Triple Falls 2022

But finally we rounded a corner, and there was Triple Falls in all it's churning water glory!  Hooray!  The falls can be viewed from an overlook perched precariously on a small cliff jutting over the creek.  There's no guardrail, so visitors must watch their step.  But it gives one a front-row view of this stunning, three-pronged cascade.  Debbie, Barry and I decided it made a great lunch spot.

Triple Falls 2015, before the fire

Although Triple Falls was still as impressive as ever, I was a little sad to see the fire damage above and around it.  The area used to be so lush and green and now it looked brown and bare.  Back home, I dove into my photo archives to find some pre-fire images of the area.  I posted one above so you can see the difference.

Debbie tries out the new footbridge

After eating lunch, Debbie and I headed upstream to check out the new bridge spanning the creek above Triple Falls.

Beautiful creek above the bridge

The churning rapids in the creek here were especially photogenic.

The Triple Falls viewing area, perched high above the creek

Then it was time to retrace our steps back down the trail.  I snapped this photo as we passed by the Triple Falls viewing area.  It really shows just how precarious this viewpoint is.

Eagle-eye Debbie spotted these chocolate lilies

As my friends and I descended the trail, I lagged behind snapping photos.  I came upon Debbie and Barry stopped ahead and Debbie pointed out a nice patch of chocolate lilies that we'd missed on our trip up.  

Spot of color on nearby clifftop

Upon reaching the Oneonta-Horsetail Falls trail junction, my friends and I pondered whether to retrace our steps and return the way we came or take the Oneonta trail directly to the scenic highway.  Since it had been many years since we'd traversed this portion of the Oneonta trail, the decision was made to return that way. 

Almost to the Scenic Highway!

The burn zone wasn't quite as bad along this trail and we quickly descended underneath the tall basalt cliffs to the scenic highway.

Oneonta Gorge tunnel has been rebuilt

A wide path took us to the beginning of Oneonta Gorge, which was tightly fenced off to prevent people from entering.  An old highway tunnel, part of the original scenic highway, had been restored for pedestrians and bike use.  Then the 2017 fire burned out the timber lining in the tunnel and it had to be closed.  But today we were happy to find the tunnel had been rebuilt and was again open for foot traffic.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Past the tunnel our footpath ended, forcing my friends and I to walk along the scenic highway for a short quarter-mile back to Horsetail Falls and our waiting vehicle.

Horsetail Falls, with lovely flowers

A nice outing, it came in just over 5 miles, which was perfect for my still-not-healed-from-plantar-fasciitis foot.  Four lovely cascades, wildflowers, and bit of exercise on this cloudy (but thankfully not rainy!) spring day in the Gorge.


  1. Even burnt, the forest still looks so green with all the smallest plants recovering!

  2. Burned it maybe but the beauty is still there

  3. Una ruta muy interesante, en la que se advierte muy bellas fotografías.
    Me ha encantado tu reportaje.

  4. What a nice trip to all these falls. I've only seen a couple of them. Triple Falls I've never seen and I really liked that one. - Also the Chocolate lilies. It is sad about the fire but the land will eventually come back to life.

  5. What a lovely outing. It is sad that the area was burned but it will heal. Beautiful images!

  6. In 2016, we hiked to Ponytail Falls and return. I too have revisited my photo store and the reality of the damage immedialtely hit me in the face. Nature will heal, but the trees will take a generation or two to grace the slopes again.

  7. Regrowth after fire - I'm glad Nature is regenerating. Bob and I hiked here about 6 years ago. I'm having ankle/heel problems now which might be plantar. I'm trying to rest the foot much as possible.


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