I think it’s safe to say that summer is here. Generally, Oregonians claim that summer starts on July 5, but my intense sock tan and constant sweat stream (I paint a beautiful picture, yes?) tell me that summer came early this year. And that means it’s time to spend lots of time in the Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge is one of many, many magical places in Oregon. Although, I’m not sure we’ve experienced a non-magical place here. But the Gorge is certainly one of the best. It is full of waterfall after waterfall, and the trek to Lower Oneonta Falls is one of the most interesting in the Gorge.
This hike is less a “hike” than a walk up a riverbed. You just follow Oneonta Creek through Oneonta Gorge to the waterfall. But there are a few tricks to this.
The hike starts in some shallow water and gets interrupted by a huge, tricky, slippery log jam. I suffer from a condition I’m calling, “shaky legs,” which means that as soon as I start walking on a narrow surface of any height, my legs forget how to move. But with a little assistance from my fearless husband, I managed to make my way up and down the log jam without falling through any holes. I thought the two dogs hiking with us might struggle a bit, but they managed to conquer the log jam with just a little help from humans (I probably required more assistance than they did).
After the log jam, the real fun begins with a chilling stroll through much deeper water. When we did this hike last September, the water was up to my shoulders (see the hilarious photos of that here), and was SO, SO cold. Surprisingly, this time around, the water was a little shallower (up to my chest), and a bit warmer. I guess that’s the result of the winter-that-wasn’t here in the Northwest.
After the log jam crossing and water fording (does this sound like the Oregon Trail to anyone else?), you’ll see the prize: Lower Oneonta Falls. It’s pretty beautiful, and we had it all to ourselves! Despite Oneonta Gorge photos blowing up my Instagram feed lately, it was mostly empty until we turned around to go back. No matter what time of year you go, I recommend getting there early.
Dana was a little wilder than the rest of us and spent some time hanging out in the deeper water at the base of the falls. I’d like to imagine that could be somewhat refreshing on a really hot day, but let’s be real. That’s always going to be too cold for me.
I’ll share the same tips this time around as I did on our last hike in Oneonta Gorge:
-Wear water shoes with some good grip for climbing over the log jam. (Our Chacos were great.)
-If you bring a camera, make sure some member of your group is tall enough to hold it over their heads to keep it dry.
-Bring towels to dry off afterwards.
-Get there early to avoid the crowds. The parking situation is insane.
To get to Oneonta Gorge, take I-84 east of Portland. Avoid the Multnomah Falls traffic jam by following I-84 to exit 35, and backtracking just a few miles west on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Parking is a free-for-all on the side of the road, but Oneonta Gorge is well-marked. And you can follow the trail of wet, shivering people.