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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.
Is Columbia River Gorge Good For Hiking With Kids
Absolutely, YES! 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 the Gorge is really close to Portland and it’s an easy day trip from the city. During July and August, plan on getting out early (before 8 to the most popular trails), and plan to spend a long day exploring 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. 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.
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.
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
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 an easy hike 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. 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.
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. The 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 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, check out these other articles we’ve written:
Best Things To Do With Kids in Portland
Hood River Oregon Fruit Loop with Kids
Best Activities in Columbia River Gorge