This weeks Throwback Thursday hike took place on 7/2/2012 and holds the distinction of being our first in the Columbia Gorge as well as the first for which we used our “100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington” guidebook by William L. Sullivan.
One of the many reasons that we appreciate his guidebooks so much is the number of options he provides. In addition to the 100 featured hikes each book lists several barrier free options and contain up to 108 additional hikes with much briefer descriptions in the back of the book. To top it off he often provides information on multiple options within a featured hike which is what we followed on this trip.
The hike to Oneonta and Horsetail Falls is listed as a 2.7 mile loop in our 2011 3rd edition of the NW guidebook which would have been too short a loop to warrant our drive to the trailhead but another option was listed at the end of the hike description, a 12.2 mile loop passing more waterfalls including Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s tallest waterfall.
Our hike started at the Horestail Falls Trailhead along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Horestail Falls is literally right there and the trail starts beside it.
The trail climbed for .2 miles to a junction with the Gorge Trail where we turned right promptly arriving at Ponytail Falls.
We followed the Gorge Trail behind the falls, which is always a fun thing to do, and continued to a viewpoint overlooking the cloud covered Columbia River.
The trail then followed the Oneonta Gorge to a footbridge over the creek near Oneonta Falls.
On the far side of the bridge the trail climbed to a junction with the Oneonta Trail. The short 2.7 mile loop described in the guide book turned right here and descended .9 miles to the old highway for a half mile road walk back to the trailhead. The other option had us turn left on the Oneonta Trail and climb up along Oneonta Creek where in just under a mile we came to the aptly named Triple Falls.
We followed the Oneonta Trail along the creek for nearly 3 more miles passing a junction with the Horestail Creek Trail just over a mile from Triple Falls. The forest was wonderfully green surrounding the creek with smaller side creeks all around.
Beyond the junction with the Horestail Creek Trail the Oneonta Trail veered away from the creek and began to climb up to Franklin Ridge. We were headed into the clouds as we climbed past some talus slopes to the next trail junction.
At the junction with the Franklin Ridge Trail we found ourselves in a forest wholly different than the lush green one we’d climbed from.
We turned right onto the Franklin Ridge Trail and began passing through the cold gray forest. It didn’t stay gray forever though and we soon found ourselves on an overgrown trail in a meadow full of purple larkspur.
Near the end of Franklin Ridge the trail descended to a junction with the Larch Mountain Trail, just over two miles from where we had picked up the trail and 3 miles from the Multnomah Lodge.
The hike down the Larch Mountain Trail along Multnomah Creek was gorgeous. Green forests and a series of waterfalls awaited as we made our way down to the top of Multnomah Falls.
As we got closer to the upper viewpoint the number of other hikers grew exponentially. The upper viewpoint was closed off but as we made our way further down toward the lodge the falls came into view.
To finish our loop we would need to take the Gorge Trail which split off from the Larch Mountain Trail .6 miles from the upper viewpoint. That split was before the Larch Mountain Trail reached the Benson Bridge below Multnomah Falls and since we were that close to the bridge and the lodge we decided to check them out before completing the loop.
Crossing the Benson Bridge was a nightmare. A mass of humanity was stopped on the bridge trying to get pictures while others were trying to get across it to go up the trail, we were salmon swimming against the current and by the time we’d made it down to the lodge I was done with people. I took a couple of photos, used the facilities inside the lodge, then we headed back up through the quagmire of bodies to the Gorge Trail.
What the Gorge Trail lacked in scenic creeks and waterfalls it made up for in solitude. We followed it to a junction with the return route of the 2.7 mile loop option where we forked left and followed it down to the old highway. As we followed the highway the number of people began to increase, especially as we neared the Oneonta Gorge. Unfortunately this beautiful canyon was already becoming and now is too popular for it’s own good. It’s possible to wade upstream and so many people do so now that lines form as people wait to clamber over a resident log jam. We skipped the side trip that day and have yet to venture in.
After passing the mouth of the gorge the path passed through a tunnel left over from the early days of the old highway. A bridge later replaced the tunnel but it was reopened for foot traffic.
Our first hike in the Columbia River Gorge had given us a taste of a little of everything the area has to offer. Amazing waterfalls, lush green forests, talus slopes, wildflower meadows, massive crowds at popular spots, and wonderful solitude further up trail. It’s an amazing area in an amazing state. Happy Trails!