The word wahkeena is derived from a Yakama word meaning most beautiful, and the description definitely applies to the Wahkeena Canyon, Wahkeena Creek, and Wahkeena Falls. Wahkeena Falls was the fourth waterfall we visited on our day trip exploring waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, and it provided access to the fifth waterfall on our family adventure, Fairy Falls.
We parked near the picnic areas and restrooms, checked to make sure we had water and some snacks in our backpacks and headed toward the falls. After visiting Latourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls, where we had the trails almost all to ourselves, the Wahkeena Trailhead was far more crowded and parking was more difficult.
Just beside the Columbia River Highway, there are stone walls, a viewpoint of the rushing, tumbling Wahkeena Creek, and two trails to choose from — and that is how we figured out why the trailhead was so crowded. One of the trails is a short .5 mile walk to Multnomah Falls, and because parking there is such a nightmare, as we later realized when we stopped at Multnomah Falls, many families were parking at the Wahkeena Trailhead and hiking in to Multnomah Falls.
We avoided the crowds heading to Multnomah Falls and instead took the other trail across a bridge and up a long switchback to the beautiful, misty, Wahkeena Falls, and up about 10 more switchbacks on the gorgeous, paved trail to Lemmon’s Viewpoint.
Hiking At Wahkeena Falls
The Wahkeena Trailhead starts at small parking area with an informational display kiosk and masonry and stone walls much like those found at the other waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Across the highway is the Wahkeena Creek Picnic Area with flush restrooms, picnic tables and fire pits scattered around a grassy area, and a covered picnic area with a fireplace.
Two trails leave from this area next to the parking lot:
- The trail to the left takes visitors .5 miles to Multnomah Falls.
- The trail to the right, crossing Wahkeena Creek on a small wooden bridge takes visitors .2 miles to the base of Wahkeena Falls and another .7 miles up to Lemmon’s Viewpoint.
We took the trail to the right, climbing one long switchback to a curved stone bridge that crossed Wahkeena Creek at the base of Wahkeena Falls. The bridge is so close to the falls that we all got wet from the mist no matter where we stood and it rained during our hike! It didn’t really matter though because we were already wet from the rain on our Bridal Veil Falls hike, and from standing and exploring right at the base of Latourell Falls. If you have time, be sure you stop here just a bit for some photos. The bridge, with the falls behind it, makes for a stunning photo.
We saw a few groups of visitors turn around at this point, heading back to their vehicles to move on to the next majestic Columbia River Gorge waterfall. But not us! We continued hiking, following the well-maintained, paved trail uphill, traversing about 10 more switchbacks — even in the rain. The trail is steep, climbing 600+ feet in elevation over about a half mile, but it wasn’t too bad. We stopped often to check out the amazing views, take photos of the wildflowers and lush plant life, or grab a drink. There is seriously something new and wondrous to see at every turn, and the stone walls along the path are beautiful all by themselves.
We hiked to Lemmon’s Viewpoint, relaxed for a bit and had a snack, and then continued uphill, following the dirt trail one more mile through a stunning, narrow canyon to Fairy Falls.
Unlike most waterfalls found in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, Wahkeena Falls isn’t a single waterfall plunging down into a pool like Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, or Multnomah Falls. Instead, Wahkeena Creek tumbles down the rocky base of Wahkeena Canyon, creating a tier waterfall that drops 242 feet by way of several small waterfalls, including a horsetail, a cascade, and a plunge.
The hike to Wahkeena Falls is one of the most popular in the Multnomah Falls Scenic Area, and other than Multnomah Falls, was the most crowded waterfall we visited. Maybe that’s because the base of Wahkeena Falls is only a quarter mile from the Wahkeena Trailhead and parking lot on the famous Historic Columbia River Highway.
The most photographed section of Wahkeena Falls is the base of the waterfall that spills over a cliff in a fan shape right next to the Wahkeena Falls Footbridge, a gorgeous, curved, stone bridge. The Wahkeena Falls Footbridge is 46 feet long and 8 feet wide and features a semi-circular barrel arch with a 14-foot opening. The rubble masonry bridge guard walls have concrete caps, continue east and west of the bridge along the trail a bit.
Simon Benson and Wahkeena Falls
Simon Benson, for whom the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls is named, paid for the construction of both the Benson Bridge and the Wahkeena Falls Bridge.
Benson purchased the 400 acre parcel that included Wahkeena Falls, and gifted it to the city of Portland in 1915 for use as a park. The land was then divided between the Oregon State Parks and the Forest Service to become Benson State Park, near Multnomah Falls, and the Wahkeena Falls Recreation Area. In the 1930s, the Forest Service developed the land beside the Columbia River Highway to create a day-use area — the Wahkeena Creek Picnic Area.
Lemmon’s Viewpoint sits about three-quarters of a mile above Wahkeena Falls and offers visitors panoramic views of the Columbia River (only slightly blocked by trees). On clear days, you can see Beacon Rock on the northern bank. The viewpoint is a small, paved lookout area surrounded by a guard rail.
A plaque at the viewpoint reads:
In memory of Keith Lemmons
Firefighter who lost his life fighting fire August 1983. As a native Oregonian, he was proud of the beauty of his state and was dedicated to the protection and preservation of this area for future generations.
The hike from the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead to Wahkeena Falls is about .2 miles and it’s another .7 miles to Lemmon’s Viewpoint, making this out and back hike about 1.8 miles total. If you want to continue hiking, you can follow the dirt trail uphill another .5 mile through the narrow Wahkeena Canyon to Fairy Falls before turning around, making the hike about 2.8 miles total.
Know Before You Go
- The Wahkeena Trailhead is located about 13 miles east of Troutdale, Oregon on the Historic Columbia River Highway in Multnomah County.
- Traveling west from Wahkeena Falls, it is 3 miles to Bridal Veil Falls, 4.5 miles to Shepperd’s Dell Falls, 5.5 miles to Latourell Falls, 8 miles to Vista House at Crown Point, and 9 miles to the Portland Women’s Forum Scenic Viewpoint. Traveling east, it is .5 miles to Multnomah Falls, 2.5 miles to Oneonta Falls, 3.5 miles to Horsetail Falls, and 7.5 miles to Elowah Falls.
- Water from the falls blows onto the trail, which means that you may get wet! Also, the trail near Wahkeena Falls and up to Lemmon’s Point can get icy in the winter. Be very careful and wear good hiking shoes.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be kept on leash.
- Download a Columbia River Highway Waterfall Map, documenting the waterfalls between Corbett and Dodson.
- Download the Historic Columbia River Highway Brochure.