Waterfall Magic in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13180A, Base Camp


  • Discover and explore the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area
  • Experience dramatic waterfalls at high flow
  • Hike through an abundance of late spring wildflowers


  • Stay at a developed campground
  • Delicious, fresh vegetarian meals
  • Group camping gear


DatesMay 19–25, 2013
StaffRon Franklin

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Trip Overview

Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you have questions, please contact us.

The Trip

Hike for six days on multiple trails in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area with its cascading waterfalls, towering basalt cliffs, late spring wildflowers, and groves of old-growth Douglas fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. Steep canyon walls lend to creation of waterfall magic—the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area has the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America. They come in all sizes and shapes. On the Oregon side, we will sample some of the most famous waterfall hikes. The Washington side provides hikes with tremendous views of the Columbia River and surrounding mountains. Late spring should bring a diversity of wildflowers to view.

The Columbia River has been a transportation route for many peoples as it divides the two states, Washington and Oregon, flowing on its journey to the Pacific Ocean. Geologically, the Gorge was created by volcanic eruptions, which laid down the basalt rock; floods carved out the U-shaped valley and landslides blocked the river channel forming the great Cascades.


Day 1: We'll meet at 3:00 p.m. at the group campground in Beacon Rock State Park on the Washington side of the Gorge. After setting up camp, we'll hike to nearby waterfalls and the Pool of the Winds before our first dinner.

Day 2: We'll hike a spectacular loop trip, beginning at Multnomah Falls, the centerpiece of all the Gorge waterfalls with a 620-foot drop. Our return hike will take us past amazing Wahkeena Falls. (Total distance: 5.4 miles) Afterward, we'll visit the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center in Stevenson, Washington.

Day 3: Today is a more relaxing day, with a climb to the top of Beacon Rock (1.8 miles round-trip) to enjoy a panoramic view of the entire Gorge. See the same view that Lewis and Clark saw when they came through. Walk a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail on the Oregon side to Dry Creek Falls. (5.2 miles round-trip)

Day 4: We'll start early for the hike up the fabulous Eagle Creek Trail on the Oregon side, which has more waterfalls along it than any other Gorge trail. After reaching stunning Tunnel Falls, we return the same way. (12 miles round-trip)

Day 5: We'll hike the five-mile Oneonta-Horsetail Falls loop, including Triple Falls. We'll even be able to walk behind one of these falls. Shorter hikes to Elowah and Wahclella Falls complete the afternoon.

Day 6: Today we'll head upriver for the Dog Mountain Loop (7 miles), with 2,400' of elevation gain. See Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and hillsides bursting with wildflowers.

Day 7: On our last day together, we'll eat breakfast, clean up camp, and be ready to leave by 11 a.m.

As always, trip itinerary may be adjusted due to trail and weather conditions.



Getting There

On May 19th at 3:00 p.m. we will meet at the group campground at Beacon Rocks State Park (on the Washington side), located approximately 45 miles east of Portland, Oregon. The closest airport to fly into is Portland. Rental car sharing and carpooling are strongly recommended. Not only does it share the cost but reduces our carbon footprint -- a future departure bulletin will include detailed driving directions and a roster of participants for arranging transportation. The trip will end Saturday, May 25th at 11a.m.  Please make return flight reservations for the evening of May 25 or later. 

Accommodations and Food

We will be staying in a developed group campground at Beacon Rock State Park in Washington on the quieter side of the Gorge. Amenities include tables, picnic shelter, clean pit toilets, and nearby showers.

All meals are included from dinner on day one to breakfast on day seven. A high-energy, nutritious, non-meat vegetarian diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables is planned. Fish is included on the menu. Please let the leaders know as early as possible if you have any other food restrictions. Trip members will be divided into cook crews to prepare and clean up the meals a couple times during the trip. We plan to have one dinner at our favorite restaurant in Stevenson, which is included in the trip price.

Trip Difficulty

The focus is on beautiful and challenging moderate day hikes. You will only need to carry a daypack with your ten essentials. Hike lengths range up to 12 miles, with up to 2,400' of elevation gain. Any hike is optional, but a program of conditioning will assure you'll be able to do all the hikes. Recommendations for this will be detailed in a future bulletin. You should also be comfortable with camping in a tent for six nights.

As this is late spring and the peak time for waterfall flow and flowers, do come prepared for hiking and camping with rain-ready tents and raingear. Some of the trails have steep drop-offs, but ample width for comfort; if you have difficulty with heights, this trip may not be for you.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be sent to all approved participants, but basically you will need to provide your own personal camping gear. This includes a tent (with full rain fly) that you'll be comfortable in for six nights, sleeping bag (at least 30 degrees) and pad, good raingear, waterproofed and well-broken-in hiking boots, layers of clothing for changing conditions, and hiking poles for rough, steep trails. Group cooking and camping gear will be provided. 



  • U.S. Forest Service Trails of the Columbia River Gorge.


  • Schneider, Russ, Hiking the Columbia River Gorge.



Sierra Club is actively involved in both conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and salaried staff ,and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the club.

We will discuss the challenges that the Columbia River Gorge area has faced through the years. It has been a major transportation route for peoples and cargoes on their way to the Pacific Ocean. Logging, mining, shipping, and roads have all affected the environment. In 1986, dedicated citizens and politicians enabled the area to receive the designation of the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. Still the area faces challenges with a growing population, proposals for development such as the Columbia Gorge casino, wind turbines, and recent concerns about increased numbers of trains transporting coal.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.



A Sierra Club member since 1991, Ron Franklin lives in Tucson, Arizona. Previously, he's lived in Ogden, UT, Monterey, CA, and Washington, DC, for two years each. He also lived for 16 years in Hawaii, where he enjoyed hiking, ocean kayaking, and climbing the two volcano mountains on the Big Island. Ron has also rafted the Grand Canyon; climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State and Mt. Whitney in California -- both above 14,400'; and in 2007 summited Africa's 19,340' Mt Kilimanjaro. His current adventure is to paddle (and portage) the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, some 740 miles over four summers in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Ron looks forward to sharing all these interests and the wonders of the Columbia River Gorge.


Dr. Gail Tooker teaches Science and Environmental Education at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland. She has been active in Sierra Club trips since 2003 and has served as an assistant leader for three. Dr. Tooker received her advanced degrees from the University of Maine at Orono and lived in that state for nearly 20 years before moving to upstate New York in 1996 to work for SUNY.

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