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Columbia River Gorge Sunday, September 07, 2008

Peter and Alison Ginn hike along the Latourell Falls trail Sept. 2 in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, Ore. Latourell Falls is one of several 200-foot-plus cascades in the area.

Last Tuesday was my parents' last full day in Oregon, and we had saved some of the most scenic sites (sights?) for the end.

We headed east from Portland on I-84 as far as Troutdale, then took the historic Columbia River highway. That route goes up and down along the edge of the gorge, providing spectacular views of the river as well as the numerous waterfalls that plunge hundreds of feet off the cliffs.

The stop at Latourell falls was pretty arbitrary—when I was researching online the night before, it was the first hike I came across that was a reasonable length and had some positive recommendations. After prematurely parking on the side of the road on the west side of the bridge, we discovered a large, empty parking lot on the east side.

You can see the lower part of the falls (about 250 feet) right from the parking lot, but you have to hike in about 1.5 miles to see the shorter (about 100 feet) but prettier upper falls. Definitely worth the walk. We tried to return to the parking lot on the other side of the river, but the trail stayed on top of the cliff and kept heading west (we needed to go northeast) so we backtracked, crossed the river on a fallen log, and headed back to the car the way we had come.

After that Latourell Falls, we continued east and stopped at Bridal Veil Falls. That is one of the most popular falls in the gorge, but I'm not sure why. There is a bit more of a park there, and the falls are decent but didn't really stand out in my mind.

The final waterfall of the morning was Multnomah Falls, undoubtedly the most popular (and most well-developed) site in the area.

Multnomah Falls (left) may be the most-photographed sight in Oregon. Easily visible from I-84, the 620-foot chute is the second-highest year-round waterfall in the United States (after Yosemite Falls). It attracts nearly two million visitors a year.

Multnomah Falls drops 620 feet (189 m) off Larch Mountain in three steps: nine feet, 542 feet, and 69 feet. We hiked up as far as the Benson Bridge between the two larger cascades.

We had planned to have lunch there, but we didn't see any suitable spots to picnic, so we drove to Hood River and ate at a swimming beach that appears to have been developed just this summer. The wind was surprisingly still for the gorge, which was nice, but it meant that there weren't any kite boarders or windsurfers to watch.

After lunch, we drove around the "back" of Mt. Hood as far as Sandy. Instead of heading directly back to Portland (via Gresham), though, we cut cross-country toward Estacada to find a geocache. I'll write more about that in the next post.

[right] Obligatory photo of Mt. Hood (11,249 feet). This is looking roughly north from OR-35, just east of the junction with US-26.