I was recently offered the chance to experience the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls on an electric bike tour and jumped at the chance. I’ve been to this National Scenic Area--the largest in the U.S.--many times, but have always explored it by car. I really enjoy riding electric bikes, so the opportunity to combine the two ventures sounded perfect.
I was joined by my brother, Erik, his partner, Dan, and my sister, Beth, on this tour. Taylor Marean, founder of Ebike Multnomah Falls, was our guide. We gathered at a parking lot along the Historic Columbia River Highway where Taylor helped us get started with our bikes and gave us an overview of the day. Then we were off to our first waterfall.
About The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area spans 149,000 acres across two states, Washington and Oregon. The gorge is 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep. Its home to the largest concentration of high waterfalls in North America. On the Oregon side alone there are 90 waterfalls. With hundreds of miles of scenic drives and hiking trails, you really could spend a lifetime exploring it.
From Portland, the gorge is about a forty-five minute drive, making it popular with both locals and visitors alike. On weekends this place gets seriously busy, but due to its size, you can always find quiet spots.
Our first stop was at LaTourell Falls. We locked up the bikes and proceeded down a short trail to the base of the falls. I’ve seen more impressive falls, but what made this one stand out is the backdrop of black columnar basalt rock and neon green lichen. Surrounding the falls are massive trees, many covered with emerald colored moss.
We watched the falls for a few minutes and then followed Taylor on a different trail that would return us to the parking lot where our bikes were located. I love hiking through the gorge and admiring how green everything is--such a contrast to the shades of brown we experience in Southern California in summer.
The focus of our time was riding the electric bikes to the waterfalls, but if you enjoy hiking, there are many trails to choose from along the way. Keep in mind, that due to the steepness of the gorge, most of the hikes are moderately to strenuously difficult. A benefit of hiking in the gorge is getting away from the crowds and experiencing waterfalls that can’t be accessed from the main road.
During past visits to the gorge I’d seen the sign for Shepperd’s Dell, assumed it wasn’t a waterfall, and kept on driving. This time Taylor directed us to stop, lock up our bikes, and walk down the short trail to falls I didn’t know existed.
This waterfall isn’t very steep, but instead meanders over mossy rocks and through green ferns and fallen tree branches. What makes it really special is the likelihood you’ll have it to yourself like we did despite visiting on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. And because these falls aren’t steeply angled, it makes a great photo opportunity.
Bridal Veil Falls
Our next stop was Bridal Veil Falls. I had seen these falls before from above, but this time Taylor led us down a trail to the base of the falls. The trail is .3 miles each way and definitely steep, but the payoff is an expansive view of these two level falls surrounded by maple trees with their leaves turning from green to yellow.
At the base there’s a wooden viewing deck perfect for photos, or just for gazing at the water. It’s also possible to climb over some rocks and boulders to access Bridal Veil Creek if you want to get in the water.
Named after the Yakama word for “most beautiful", Wahkeena Falls plunges down a rocky wall covered in thick, green moss. We parked our bikes and then walked up the short path to the viewing point on a stone footbridge. Standing on the bridge we could feel the cold spray of the water. If you’re not feeling like the walk, there’s also an accessible observation spot below the falls.
The granddaddy of all Columbia River Gorge waterfalls is Multnomah, and for good reason. It’s the tallest waterfall in Oregon at 620 feet. And the positioning of the Benson Bridge, a stone footbridge at the midway point of the falls makes for a perfectly proportioned picture splitting the narrow upper falls from the wider lower ones. Bordering the falls are tall maple trees.
Recently, a reservation system was initiated at Multnomah Falls to manage the crowds. Fortunately, Taylor had already made us reservations, so we breezed past the checkpoint to the lower observation deck.
All four of us have been to Multnomah many times, so we didn’t opt to climb the path to the Benson Bridge. But I highly recommend doing this for any first time visitors. Past the bridge you can continue on a 2.2 mile trail to the top of the falls.
Multnomah Falls offers the most services along the highway. You’ll find restrooms, a restaurant, snack bar, espresso bar, and gift shop. If you prefer to bring your own food there are plenty of tables and benches.
Our final stop of the day was Horsetail Falls. We arrived and immediately headed into the water. At the base of these slender falls is a large, shallow pool of water perfect for cooling off. We watched as kids tossed rocks and splashed around. Adults gathered on the boulders surrounding the pool to relax.
After three hours of riding bikes and hiking short trails, we weren’t interested in a hike, but again, there are some trails in this area that I’m told are worth the effort. For a future visit, Taylor recommended the short, .9 mile Horsetail Falls Trail. This steep trail winds behind Upper Horsetail Falls, also known as Ponytail Falls.
Our Final Ride
After exploring six waterfalls it was time to return our bikes to where we started. This gave us the chance to ride--at whatever speed we wanted--for seven miles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. It was the perfect ending to our tour. Along the way we had glimpses of the mighty Columbia River in the distance with the sun just starting to set. Even when the river was hidden, I still enjoyed the scenery of thousands of tall trees lining the road.
Needless to say, I can’t recommend this tour enough, so if you’re ever in the area, be sure to make your reservations.