What is the best time to visit Multnomah Falls, Oregon’s number one tourist destination? It depends on you. Are you an avid hiker? The sort who loves a great photo without crowds? Or do you like the option to wade into the water? Or see the salmon spawn?
What’s more of a secret are the other waterfalls that you can discover by taking a tour or biking along the historic Columbia River Highway. Public transportation to the Columbia Gorge is also available. Permits to drive on the highway and visit the waterfall are required in the summer, but this time of year the only barriers to entry are weather and knowing which trails are most accessible and enjoyable given the conditions that week.
I want to see and do everything: Your best time to visit is May through September; the days are very long, your chance for mostly sunny days are good; although May and early June can be just as rainy as March so watch that weather forecast! You can pick one of the excellent long hikes (remember if you are going to do some climbing at Multnomah Falls we don’t suggest going to the top), like the Wahkeena-Multnomah Loop or the Fairy Falls hike or a variation on the Devil’s Rest Out-and-back. The parking lots and trailheads will be crowded, especially mid-June to Labor Day and weekends no matter the month, so either start early (get there before 9 a.m.), take a tour, or take transit to the trailheads.
I want the chance for exciting weather: December through February, the trails are quiet, the parking lots are manageable (except on holidays with nice weather, watch out for New Years Day), and you may get just about anything — so definitely check for weather warnings and road closures before heading out into it. But when you arrive at the waterfalls to see it covered with sprinkles of snow and ice, it’s worth the extra trouble to make sure your car is winter-proof and you’ve brought warm clothing, hats, gloves and boots. (Please dress warmly, you’ll be so thankful!)
Winter weather is a sometimes treat; you can’t really book a trip in advance and know you’ll get something exciting, but what you can guarantee are enormous waterfalls and a lot less people on the trails. Some days the waterfall is louder than the freight train going past right behind you; some cold sunny days ice sparkles so bright it almost blinds you. It’s worth it.
I like less crowds and more time on the trails smelling the wildflowers: Late March through late May, as long as you stay away from beautiful weekends, the last week in March, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. The first wildflowers, violets and trilliums, start blooming in late February through mid-March, depending on the year. By April there are fringe cups, the most delightfully fragrant fairy flowers, everywhere; the wildflowers come like waves, crashing into May with endless variety and fragrance. I’ve been so heady with delight in late May that I’ve almost toppled over; big waterfalls are everywhere, with bonus waterfalls after rainy days, and the days are getting longer and longer.
I’m looking for fall colors and moody weather: from sometime in late October to late November, the bigleaf maples start showing off yellows and golds and then everything else joins them in a riot of the yellow-orange spectrum. This is the time of year we get visitors from Arizona and Florida and Southern California, longing for the kind of weather that requires waterproof boots and warm mugs of tea afterward. Generally the trails are accessible and less busy; generally the waterfalls are starting to gain back some of the summer losses with water quantity; and always you will be amazed by the lushness of mosses and ferns and the overall extravaganza of the changing seasons.
I want to jump in!: If you’re the kind of waterfall chaser who wants to get wet, too, you want afternoons in July and August. Check the weather ahead of time for warm days in June and September, too; but reliably we can expect very warm days that beg for a dip in the base of a waterfall. You can’t get into Multnomah Falls itself, but nearby waterfalls like Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil and the creeks above the waterfall are open for whatever immersion you are willing to go for.
I want to ride my bike: We offer the Columbia Gorge Waterfalls Hike and Bike tour year-round, but the most fun are those “shoulder” times or early weekday mornings during the summer. If you’re on the road before 9:30, usually you’ll have pleasant people no matter what the day is like; but on nice summer days anything after 11:30 a.m. or before late afternoon is going to be a negotiation of grumpy people looking for parking spots. The most glorious times, when you feel like you are flying in the most beautiful rides in the world, are weekdays in April, May, early June, September and early October. It is an extraordinary experience that we can’t recommend enough.