Multnomah Falls is gorgeous this time of year — it’s also almost a secret. 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. We love to hike in the rain for so many reasons and never say no to a rainy excursion. 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.
Weather can be extreme, however, so it’s a good idea to check with the state highway department and weather reports before leaving. Once you leave the Portland area heading east into the gorge, the ice can very quickly accumulate. This is something that can’t easily be assessed by today’s forecast; often conditions on paths and roadways in the Columbia Gorge are very different from those in the immediate Portland area.
Hiking in the gorge is wonderful in the rain and light snow! The waterfalls are full of water; it is an immersive experience in every way. It can be chilly but dressing in layers (we suggest wool or other insulating natural fibers as base layers and good water-resistant outer layers like Showers Pass or oilskin canvas). We also suggest checking up-to-date trail conditions — contacting us can be a great way or following our Instagram to see what the week’s weather looks like — and thinking about whether not hiking poles and ice-gripping boot attachments might make sense. Some weeks in the winter are all about dressing for the rain, while others can mean avoiding snowy trails altogether and hitting the close-to-the-highway highlights like we do on our tours.
The Multnomah-Wahkeena loop is the classic hike to do any time of year that there is not deep snow or intractable ice on the trails. It’s a 5.5 mile or 9 kilometer hike that takes you up some pretty significant elevation gain (over 1600 feet or 500 meters) but pays off with wonders, including six named waterfalls and several other seasonal falls. You’ll need layers that you’ll shed on the way up and need again on the way down. We suggest starting up the Wahkeena side of the loop (the reverse of the Oregon Hikers recommendation), and starting either early (before 9:30 a.m.) or right after lunch if you bring lights and are a fast, competent hiker. Do not start this hike after 1:30 p.m. in the winter unless you know the trail well — you will end up hiking extremely treacherous terrain in the dark.
Bring snacks and bring a water bottle to fill at the Wahkeena Springs, a must-take (and very brief) detour. It’s just magical.
For other hike recommendations near Multnomah Falls, we’re happy to chat about the options — please reach out. There is so much more beyond the big falls!
Join one of our tours: Multnomah Zen Columbia Gorge Hiking Tour, 4 hours, 1.5-3 miles (3-5 km) hiking, $69. Or our Hike and Bike the Columbia Gorge Waterfalls: 4.5 hours, 6 – 14 miles biking and 2.5 miles hiking, $95. If conditions won’t work for our Hike and Bike (a rarity but usually there are a few weeks a year that just aren’t ideal for biking), we’re always happy to make the last-minute switch to the hiking tour.