My Top 10 Waterfall Hikes

Waterfalls will always be my most favorite thing to see while hiking. Luckily we have no shortage in the Pacific Northwest. I had a tough time choosing only ten hikes to include in this list, and there are several waterfalls I didn’t include because there isn’t much of a hike leading up. Let me know if your favorite isn’t on the list!

1. Ramona Falls

My all-time favorite hike in the Pacific Northwest! The River Crossing is a lot of fun, as there is no bridge and you’ll have to cross over fallen logs. There are also great views of Mount Hood. The waterfall itself is much bigger than you imagine and there is a cute bridge in front, perfect for photos! The Ramona Falls Trail is connected to several others in the Mount Hood national Forest, making it perfect for a backpacking trip.

  • 7.25 miles
  • 1,200 feet elevation gain
  • Moderate

2. Hamilton Mountain

Another hike that has everything you could possibly want. About a mile into the Hamilton Mountain Trail, you’ll find Rodney Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall with a bridge zigzagging across. Walk up to the top viewing platform to see the Pool of the Winds and be sure to get a photo looking down at the bridge. Most people turn around after Rodney Falls, but it is worth it to continue to the top of Hamilton Mountain for the views of the Columbia River Gorge and a great workout.

  • 8.75 miles
  • 2,300 feet elevation gain
  • Moderate

3. Little Mashel Falls

Some of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. Most of his trail is on a wide, flat, logging road but don’t let that deter you! There are three falls to see: Upper, Middle, and Lower Mashel Falls. The trail to the Upper Falls is not marked, but if you follow trip reports online it is not difficult to find. The lower two have signs marking the turnoffs. I recommend coming here in January because the river is flowing so much. I couldn’t even get a decent picture of one of the falls because I was getting soaked!

  • 6 miles
  • 770 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

4. Tamawanas Falls

Tamawanas Falls is a great beginner waterfall in the Mount Hood National Forest. It has all the flashiness of a Gorge waterfall without the crowds (although it is getting increasingly crowded as more people realize this). It is a pretty easy hike with a really interesting scenery. The waterfall itself is huge and if the rocks are not too slippery, you can even climb behind it. This is also a great hike to do in the snow if you have spikes for your shoes.

  • 3.8 miles
  • 740 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

5. Alsea Falls and Green Peak Falls

This hike is located near Corvallis, Oregon and has several campsites nearby in the Alsea Falls recreation site. Green Peak Falls is the first waterfall I came across. It has a nice pool for swimming and wading and if you have nonslip shoes you can even climb up to the waterfalls. Alsea Falls is even more spectacular. It is a tiered waterfall with several pools to wade in and it is so pretty it looks like a landscaper installed it in a garden. It is a perfect subject to practice long exposure photography with.

  • 2.8 miles
  • 430 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

6. Falls Creek Falls

I really love to explore the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and I feel like it can be really underrated. Falls Creek Falls is a very large waterfall, easy to hike to, and has a large clearing to sit and eat a snack while watching the waterfall. It is a quick drive to Panther Creek Falls, which isn’t much of a hike, but definitely worth the stop.

  • 3.3 miles
  • 700 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

7. Drift Creek Falls

The two most amazing things about this hike are the suspension bridge and the enormous waterfall. I love bridges, the scarier the better! This one is definitely scary if you are afraid of heights, and it shakes and sways as you walk across. The hike is close to God‘s Thumb and the Lincoln City beaches, so it would be a great addition to a day trip or a beach weekend.

  • 2.8 miles
  • 400 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

8. Dry Creek Falls

This hike is in Cascade Locks and overlaps with a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Unlike some other Gorge hikes, there’s plenty of parking and I haven’t ever seen it crowded. I have done this hike in the snow and in the summer and it is beautiful year round. Like several other waterfalls on this list, there’s a cute bridge in front of the falls and lots of space to sit and relax.

  • 5 miles
  • 850 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

9. Wahclella Falls

This one gets very crowded, so keep in mind that you can park at the dam across the road. Just be mindful of which parking lot you park in, or a federal agent may ask to search your car for firearms!! I really enjoy the views and sounds of the creek along this hike, especially after gaining some elevation. The waterfall is really pretty and a perfect photo opportunity. There are also plenty of pools to wait in and look for salamanders. One of my favorite hikes for a hot summer day!

  • 2.5 miles
  • 400 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

10. Wakheena Falls to Fairy Falls

Please excuse my Christmas leggings, because this is the hike I did on Christmas Day 2019. Start at the Wakheena Falls trailhead, and continue up to the trail 419 junction. Fairy Falls is right before the junction. You can even make this an ~11 mile loop if you want to hike all the way to Multnomah Falls. Be sure to stop at Lemmons Viewpoint on the way down, it’s especially beautiful on a foggy day.

  • 3.6 miles
  • 1,200 feet elevation gain
  • Easy

Honorable Mentions

It’s impossible for me to choose just ten waterfall hikes I love, so I left out a bunch, including waterfalls that don’t require much hiking to see.

  • Silver Falls State Park
  • Pup Creek Falls
  • Starvation Creek Falls (not a hike, but you can continue down the historic highway trail to see several other waterfalls)
  • Siouxion Creek
  • Snoqualmie Falls (not a hike, but you can hike to the base of the falls if you want a different view – it’s more of a hike to get back up!)
  • Umbrella Falls
  • University Falls
  • Tamolitch Falls (sometimes there is a waterfall pouring into Tamolitch Blue Pool – I have not seen it yet but it’s a beautiful hike regardless)
  • Sahalie and Koosah Falls
  • Mosier Falls (great for jumping in the water)
  • Benham Falls
  • Panther Creek Falls (very short walk to see the falls)

Let go and fall, like a little waterfall

Bob Ross

My Top 10 Hikes of 2019

In 2019, I finally hit my goal of 52 hikes in 52 weeks. Obviously that’s not going to happen again in 2020 due to circumstances outside of our control, but we can always reminisce about the good times! And start planning for when we can leave our houses again ~ hopefully sooner rather than later.

1. Tatoosh Ridge

One of the most difficult hikes I have ever done! I originally planned to hike the entire trail, but chose to take a turnoff to Tatoosh Lakes instead. For the majority of the hike, I was in the clouds and fog, so I did not expect to even see Mt. Rainier. However, I gained so much elevation that the majestic Mt. Rainier was waiting for me as I turned the corner. This hike really has everything: wildflowers, butterflies, beargrass, blue alpine lakes, and of course mountain views.

  • 8.86 miles
  • 3,425 feet elevation gain
  • difficult

2. Black Butte Summit

This is not a super long hike, but it sure is a butt-kicker due to the elevation gain in such a short mileage. As you climb the mountain, you’ll see incredible views if you are lucky enough to go on a clear day (not the case for me). At the summit, there is a fire lookout which is still in use and an abandoned cabin/outhouse. There are also panoramic views of several peaks, including Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Three-Fingered Jack. Side note, I saw fresh cougar tracks on the trail, so be careful!

  • 3.88 miles
  • 1,376 feet elevation gain
  • difficult

3. Ramona Falls

When asked what my all-time favorite hike is, I often answer Ramona Falls (even though the true answer is usually “whichever one I did last”). It is not easy, but still accessible to beginners. The trail showcases all the Pacific Northwest has to offer: fantastic views of Mt. Hood, a sometimes treacherous river crossing, and of course the waterfall at the end. The trail can also be connected to several others in the Mt. Hood NF if you want a very long trip (as I accidentally found out when I ended up here instead of my intended target, McNeil Point).

  • 7.26 miles
  • 1,187 feet elevation gain
  • moderate

4. Misery Ridge

Misery Ridge is adequately named. At one point, I even got on all fours and crawled up a set of stairs ~ as a high schooler sprinted by :/ However, the elevation gain is almost all in the first mile of the trail, so there is quick payoff for your hard work, then a leisurely stroll with lovely views. Smith Rock is so uniquely beautiful and Misery Ridge gives great views of the park. One of my highlights was seeing rock climbers summit the Monkey Face rock formation, something I could never do!

  • 4.27 miles
  • 825 feet elevation gain
  • moderate

5. Harry’s Ridge

This is an interesting and deceiving hike. Hiking near Mt. St. Helens has always felt eerie to me due to the gray ash everywhere and lack of trees. It’s like being on the moon. The hike starts at Johnston Ridge Observatory, where you will need to pick up a wristband permit. As you hike, it feels like you aren’t going anywhere because the mountain is literally right in front of you. But you will eventually come to a view of Spirit Lake and some scientific equipment. The lake still has dead trees floating in it from when Mt. St. Helens erupted 40 years ago.

  • 8.32 miles
  • 1,916 feet elevation gain
  • moderate

6. Wasson Peak

One of my life goals is to visit each of the 50 states before I turn 30. In 2019, one of the states I checked off my list was Arizona. I visited the Saguaro National Forest in March and hiked Wasson Peak, the tallest mountain in the Tucson Mountain District. It was quite a difficult hike due to the elevation gain and lack of tree cover. I was amazed at the size of the Saguaro cacti. There is also a common cactus called the cholla (aka the jumping cactus). The bulbs easily detach and stick to your clothing or skin, almost as if they jump onto you. This trail also has remnants of old mines and the chance to see wildlife, such as javelinas, coyotes, deer, lizards, and turtles. Maybe even a tarantula if you are lucky.

  • 7.57 miles
  • 1,754 feet elevation gain
  • difficult

7. Tamawanas Falls

This is one of my favorite waterfall hikes in the northwest. I love the Mt. Hood National Forest, so when I am in the mood for a shorter, easier hike, I’ll head to Tamawanas Falls. It is a great beginner hike with a huge, beautiful waterfall at the end. It is also fun to do in the snow, but please bring spikes and/or trekking poles! I hiked this one in the snow and saw at least 5 people fall.

  • 3.82 miles
  • 741 feet elevation gain
  • easy

8. Neahkahnie Mountain

It took me three tries before I finally saw the famous view of Cannon Beach from the Neahkahnie Mountain summit. The first two tries were so foggy that the summit views were completely cloudy. It was still a fun hike and it felt like I was in the middle of a cloud. The view of the coast is stunning so I would recommend going on a clear day if you can. It is a fairly easy hike, but you will have to climb a pretty vertical rock pile to reach the summit.

  • 2.92 miles
  • 856 feet elevation gain
  • easy

9. Falls Creek Falls

I have been trying to explore more of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest lately. Falls Creek Falls makes a great hike to pair with a quick trip to Panther Creek Falls (which isn’t much of a hike). This is a great hike for beginners because it is fairly easy with awesome payoff at the end, and less crowded than the Gorge waterfalls. There is a lovely place to sit and eat a snack while watching the multi-tiered waterfall.

  • 3.3 miles
  • 692 feet elevation gain
  • easy

10. Trail of Ten Falls

This is the hike I take friends to when they aren’t particularly into hiking – it is easy, there are bathrooms and even a coffee shop, and the waterfalls are spectacular. It is like the Disneyland of waterfalls! The 9-mile loop has several waterfalls you can walk behind. The trail goes up and down, so there are points that get quite strenuous. Most of the falls are in the first half of the hike, so it does get a little tedious as you are walking back to the parking lot ~ especially if you are tired from the more hilly first half.

  • 9.0 miles
  • 1,220 feet elevation gain
  • moderate

Honorable Mentions

It was so difficult to choose only 10 trails out of 52! To see more, follow me on Instagram at @kati_explores. Here are some of my other favorite hikes from 2019:

  • Drift Creek Falls
  • Dry Creek Falls
  • God’s Thumb
  • Hamilton Mountain
  • Lower Macleay Park to Pittock Mansion
  • Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain
  • Trillium Lake (technically snowshoeing, not hiking)
  • Wakheena Falls to Fairy Falls

The deeper the solitude the less the sense of loneliness, and the nearer our friends.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Cape Perpetua

Cape Perpetua has been on my list for a long time (I know I say that about almost every hike…), ever since I learned about it ~3 years ago. It’s just so darn far from Portland: 3.5 hours!

Today I finally got the chance, as I was in Corvallis, OR for the weekend and only had to drive 1.5 hours to Cape Perpetua. I parked at the Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Center and took the Cape Cove Trail under the highway, then took a left turn towards Thor’s Well and Spouting Horn. After checking out those views, I went back to the original intersection and took the right turn, leading towards Devil’s Churn. After seeing Devil’s Churn, I went back the way I came and back to the Visitor’s Center. My entire route was about 2.5 miles and 450 feet in elevation gain.

Thor’s Well is a big hole in the tidepools, most likely started as a sea cave, that appears to drain the ocean. With each wave, water crashes into the walls and sprays the surrounding area. I don’t think I went at the right time, but try to time your visit an hour before high tide so you can see the well fill up and then produce explosive waves.

Right after Thor’s Well is Spouting Horn, an “ocean geyser.” With each wave, water is forced through a hole in the shore and produces what looks like a geyser. This was my favorite attraction of the trip. If you go back past Thor’s Well and follow the trail to Devil’s Churn, you’ll pass beautiful ocean views and coastal forests.

Devil’s Churn

After Devil’s Churn, I headed back to the Visitor’s Center where I parked and realized that I was only a 20 minute drive from the Florence Sea Lion Caves. Again, this is something I’ve wanted to see since I was a little kid.

Sea Lion Caves

The Sea Lion Caves in Florence, Oregon have been privately owned since 1932 and costs $14 admission for adults. It is the largest sea cave in America and has wild Stellar Sea Lions and California Sea Lions that come and go as they please. I am glad that I went, but overall the attraction is probably much better for young children and very overpriced. You’ll take an elevator down to the caves, and there’s pretty much one window that you can look through to see the cave. Including reading every sign and watching a 6-minute documentary, I was in-and-out in about 15 minutes. I just hope the price of admission goes towards sea lion conservation, in which case it is justified.

Quick Facts

  • Views of Thor’s Well, Spouting Horn, and Devil’s Churn
  • Park and start trail at Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Center (NOT day use area and NOT the Cape Perpetua Trailhead that Google maps will take you to)
  • Recreation pass needed
  • ~2.5 miles and 450 feet elevation gain
  • Out-and-back type
  • Access to beaches and tidepools

Pros

  • Accessible for people of varying fitness levels (and dogs)
  • Beautiful views of the ocean
  • Several other trails and campgrounds nearby
  • Close to Florence Sea Lion Caves

Cons

  • Trail is paved and alongside the highway, so it is not as remote and natural as I would like
  • Sea Lion Caves is overpriced and better suited for young children