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The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its massive waterfalls and lush scenery. The best part about that is there are lots of short waterfall hikes that are easy for you to enjoy. Whether you’re enjoying a day trip from Portland or staying in Columbia River Gorge, there are more hikes than you can imagine in this beautiful area. We’re here to show you the best Columbia River Gorge hikes for kids, so you can make the most of your visit.
Is Columbia River Gorge Good For Hiking With Kids
Absolutely, YES! Columbia River Gorge hiking with kids is FANTASTIC! We brought our family with us on our most recent visit to the Gorge and they all loved hiking here. Our youngest is 4 years old and he can do all of these hikes on his own, though there are a few of them with more exposure where we made sure to hold his hand for safety. All of these short hikes in Columbia River Gorge are great for kids because even though some of them are steep, they don’t cover long distances, so they’re easier for hiking with kids.
How Busy Does Columbia River Gorge Get?
It can get super busy here since all of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls are really close to Portland and it’s an easy day trip from the city. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Oregon. During July and August, plan on getting out early (before 8 to the most popular trails), and plan to spend a long day exploring waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge as a family.
The 84 back to Portland can get pretty crazy on weekends between 3:30-6pm, so skip the traffic and enjoy the longer days by staying in the Gorge later for more hiking time. As an advantage, most trailheads start to clear out between 6-7pm so that can be a great time to go on more popular waterfall hikes in the summer when the sun is up a little later.
Best Places to Stay Near Columbia River Gorge
If you want to really enjoy being in the gorge and not stuck in traffic, plan on staying as close to the Columbia River Gorge as possible. Here are our top recommendations for where to stay in Columbia River Gorge with kids:
- Columbia Gorge Hotel – Located in Hood RIver, this incredible hotel will give you easy access to hiking Oregon waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge as well as driving the local fruit loop.
- Hood River Inn – Located right on the Riverwalk, this is such a beautiful place to stay. You’ll love waking up to the views of the river each morning, and there are several great restaurants in walking distance.
- Columbia River Inn – This is one of the few hotels located RIGHT IN the Columbia River Gorge. Right at Cascade Locks, you’ll have easy access to all the best Oregon waterfall hikes right out your door!
When Is The Best Time To Hike To Waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge?
For the best waterfalls, plan on hiking in May. The weather can still be pretty wet then, so go prepared with rain gear and waterproof shoes for hiking. If you want the nicest weather, plan on hiking in July, August and September. The crowds will be the smallest in September, especially if you can go midweek. The weekends are the most busy time to hike to waterfalls in Columbia Gorge.
What Should I wear to hike to waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge?
The most important thing to wear while hiking in Columbia River Gorge is good footwear. The trails are often steep, and with all the rain the area gets, they can easily be muddy as well. Check out our recommendations for the best hiking shoes, as well as the best outdoor sandals for hiking.
When you hike to a waterfall in Portland and this Gorge area, also make sure that you always have a rain jacket available since it does rain so much here. We like these packable rain jackets (kids version, adult version), since they’re easy to throw in a backpack so we can always be prepared for hiking in the rain in Oregon. We also recommend taking hydration backpacks or water bottles to make sure that everyone stays hydrated!
How Can I Avoid Crowds at Multnomah Falls?
Multnomah Falls is the most popular and most crowded waterfall in Oregon. It’s absolutely stunning so there’s good reason that it’s so popular (in addition to the dining and other tourist options there). When it’s very crowded, the freeway exit will be closed and there are signs showing its closure from highway 84.
The best time to go to Multnomah Falls is early in the morning or in the evening after 6pm. We went on a Sunday evening at 6:30 and had no problems finding a parking spot. If you arrive and can’t find any parking options, you can always park down the road at Wahkeena Falls and follow the 0.5 mile trail east to Multnomah. Note: HIking along the roadside is prohibited so make sure to use the actual trail.
Short and Easy Waterfall Hikes in Columbia River Gorge
Wahkeena Falls – Best Short Oregon Waterfall
Distance: 0.2 miles
Parking: Wahkenna Falls parking lot
The hike at Wahkeena Falls is short and sweet. This short hike will take you to the bridge at the base of the waterfall and is really quick, but offers amazing views. Most of the trail up to the bridge is paved, though it’s pretty steep, and has one small rocky section, so wheelchairs or strollers are not advised.
From this spot, you can turn around, or continue hiking up to Fairy Falls.
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Parking: Wahkenna Falls parking lot
The hike to Fairy Falls is absolutely STUNNING. Seriously, it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. The trail starts right at the base of Wahkenna Falls and follows that trail until the bridge crossing at the bottom of the falls. At that bridge, continue hiking east on the trail and up a series of switchbacks. Most of the trail up the switchbacks is paved, so although the switchbacks are moderately steep, the smooth trail makes the hike easier.
Once you get to the top of the switchbacks, head right for a spectacular view of the Columbia River at Lemmons Viewpoint. After the viewpoint, backtrack and keep heading south on the trail. Here the trail follows alongside a creek as it goes farther up the canyon. You’ll have a couple of bridges to cross and the trail is stunningly beautiful. There are lots of ferns and cascades which make the trail so pretty, and the second half of the trail is much less steep than the switchbacks at the beginning. Fairy Falls isn’t a massive waterfall, but it is really pretty and the base of it is a great place to take your shoes off and cool your feet down in the water.
Multnomah Falls Hiking Trail
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
Dropping over 600 feet, Multnomah Falls is absolutely stunning. You can view it from highway 84 and it’s seriously amazing. This is also probably the most crowded hike in all of Oregon. With limited parking, crowded trails, and a more touristy feel, this waterfall is nice to look at, but may not be everyone’s favorite, but it’s still worth a stop.
The hike to the top of the falls is 2.2 miles round trip. Truthfully, I think that the views from the bridge or in front of the falls were better, so unless you’re really determined to hike this trail, you may want to hike a less crowded waterfall in Columbia River Gorge.
Distance: 2 Miles Round Trip
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
This is our family favorite for an easy Columbia River Gorge hike with kids. It has much less elevation gain and is an easier hike for kids to do. The trail for this Oregon waterfall hike with kids starts out as an old road for about the first ¼ and then starts a few climbs as it follows the river up the canyon.
There are a few sections in this hike that are pretty exposed with steep drop offs, so talk to your kids about safety before you leave. While the trail was plenty wide for safety on this easy waterfall hike, younger kids should probably hold hands with an adult on the exposed sections as there is no railing.
There is one fork in the trail where the left side keeps climbing up, and the right side goes down to cross a bridge, and you’ll want to take the right trail. Overall, the hike is fairly easy, but we rated this as moderate because of the exposed sections. This is the best Columbia River Gorge Hike for kids.
Note: there is very limited parking at the trailhead for this easy Oregon waterfall hike. Plan on getting there early or coming in the evening.
Distance: 2 mile loop
This is the first significant waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. Latourell Falls is a great hike with kids and is often much less crowded than the other waterfalls nearby. You can check out the falls easily from the base of the waterfall, or you can do a quick 2 mile loop up to the top of the falls and back down. This is one of the best Columbia River Gorge hikes for kids. If you’re looking for easy hikes near Portland, this is a great option.
Bridal Veil Falls Hike
Distance: 0.3 miles to the falls, 1.2 mile overlook loop
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
If you’re looking for a short and easy Columbia River Gorge hike with kids, make sure to check out Bridal Veil Falls. This waterfall is absolutely spectacular and it’s a great waterfall hike for families looking to hike near Hood River Oregon. To get to the waterfall, there is a short (though somewhat steep) trail that’s just 0.3 miles total from the parking lot. If you want a really quick waterfall hike, this is a great option.
If you’re willing to hike a little bit farther, there is a loop that overlooks the falls that you can hike to with kids, and is just over a mile total. This kid friendly Oregon waterfall hike is usually crowded on weekends, but during the week, it’s much more empty. One of the best Hood River hikes!
Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls
Distance: 0.8 miles
Horsetail Falls is the least crowded waterfall in Columbia River Gorge and has quick and easy parking accessible. This Oregon waterfall is right next to the road, so you can easily view it without hiking, but for the best views, you’ll want to hike up the trail to the top of the waterfall. There is a short and steep hike that will take you up to the top of the waterfall and to Ponytail Falls, in just 0.4 miles. This is a really good short waterfall hike with kids, but just keep your pace slow as the trail is steep and has a bit of exposure in places.
If you’re looking for short Oregon waterfall hikes with kids in Columbia River Gorge, these are all fantastic trails. Kids will love these short Oregon waterfall hikes, and they’re all great for kids since they’re all short. Even though some of these family friendly Oregon hikes are steeper, they’re great for kids because they’re shorter.
What else to do in Columbia River Gorge?
If you’re looking for more fun things to do in the area besides hiking Columbia River Gorge, we’re here to help! THe area has so many fun things to do and we spent a week exploring the gorge on our last visit. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Drive The Hood River Fruit Loop
If you’re in Columbia River Gorge in July, August, September, or October, you absolutley MUST drive the Hood River Fruit Loop. Packed with lots of U-Pick farms and fruit stands, it’s a full day experience that the whole family will love. Along the way there are lots of farms and fun places to eat, so make sure you go hungry. Check out our top recommendations for driving the Hood River Oregon Fruit Loop with Kids.
Visit the Cascade Locks
The Columbia River Gorge is a fantastic place for wildlife watching, especially when it comes to fish and birds. A trip to the gorge would not be complete without a stop at the Cascade Locks to tour the visitors center and get an underwater view of the locks. At the Bonneville Dam, you can visit the fish hatchery and see Herman, the 10-foot long sturgeon. The kids will be amazed! At the underwater viewing area you can watch salmon and steelhead journey up the fish ladder – a real learning experience, that’s also very entertaining.
Bike the Columbia River Highway Bike Trail
The Historic Columbia River Highway Bike Trail is an excellent way to experience the breathtaking scenery of the Columbia River Gorge. This multi-use trail offers the opportunity to cycle, walk, or run through some of the Pacific Northwest’s most picturesque landscapes. There are three different sections of the trail, but they are not connected, so make sure you identify where your section starts and ends before you take off.
Explore The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum
On a rainy day or when you need a break from outdoor activities, head to this museum in The Dalles. It offers interactive exhibits about the area’s geology, history, and wildlife. There’s even a Raptor Program where kids can meet birds of prey up close. This is our top recommendation for things to do in Columbia River Gorge on a rainy day.
Go Paddling in Hood River
With the massive COlumbia River right at your side, why not let the kids spend a day on the water? The Columbia River Gorge is famous for its windsurfing and kiteboarding, but any easy alternative is stand up paddleboarding for kids or taking a kids kayak trip. You can rent boats at Hood River WaterPlay – we love that they offer kids sized SUPS and a variety of kayaks for the family.
Take The Kids to Explore Portland
Portland is a fun city with lots of great museums and kid activities. While we don’t think you need to stay for a lng time, a day or two in the city will be fun for the kids. Read our top recommendations for the Best Things To Do With Kids in Portland.
Wachlella Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. The parking lot is small so plan to get there early or come late so you can get sport to park and enjoy the hike!
The easiest hike in COlumbia River Gorge is the Wahkeena Falls trail. It’s only 0.2 miles long and really easy to get to. When it’s rainy, it can get a little bit slick, but otherwise just about anyone can do this short Oregon waterfall hike.
Always keep children within sight and make sure they understand the importance of staying on the trail. If the water is high, keep kids far away from the water and explain the risks of being swept downstream if they fall in. Remember to pack essentials like water, snacks, sunblock, and a first-aid kit.
Some areas permit swimming, but the water can be very cold and currents can be strong. Generally speaking, the waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge are not suitable for swimming with kids.
If you encounter wildlife, keep a safe distance and do not feed or try to touch the animals. Teach children to respect wildlife and their habitat.
Most trails in the Columbia River Gorge are not suitable for strollers due to their natural, uneven terrain. A child carrier backpack would be a better choice for very young children.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum offers educational exhibits about the region’s history and natural environment, a great supplement to the hiking experience. This is a fantastic museum to teach kids all about the natural science of the area.