In 1986 the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington was designated America’s first National Scenic Area. Created by a cataclysmic blast of glacial lake water 15,000 years ago, the Columbia river flows through one of the few east-west canyons in the world. Some 77 waterfalls tumble off ridges and sheer walls that soar 2,000 feet above the river. Included in this hydrospectacular bounty is the largest concentration of high waterfalls in North America.
The best way to explore these falls is along a remnant stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway that was carved out of the cliffs in 1916. The two-lane passageway, punctuated by intricate stonework and artful bridges, serves up a series of trailheads between Exits 35 and 28 of I-84. From the trailheads you will find a pleasing array of canine hiking choices ranging from gentle paved pathways at feature falls to steep, day-long backpacking scrambles into the interior of the Gorge.
The centerpiece of the Columbia Gorge waterfall collection is Multnomah Falls, America’s second-highest year-round plunge at 620 feet in two sheer drops. The trails surrounding Multnomah can be linked to form energizing hiking loops to neighboring falls. The five-mile round trip westward leads to 242-foot Wahkeena Falls that squeezes through a basaltic cliff, passes drape-like Fairy Falls and skirts several waterfalls on Multnomah Creek. A short downhill spur leads your dog right to the lip of Multnomah Falls.
To the east a shorter loop tags falls in the Oneonta Gorge chasm, the twisting Horsetail Falls (176 feet) and its picturesque cousin further upstream, Ponytail Falls. After trotting behind this 80-foot cataract down a curving basalt alcove your dog can play in the plunge pool. The plunge pool below Horseshoe Falls is also easy for your dog to walk in and take a swim. As you travel east through the Columbia Gorge the average yearly rainfall drops about an inch a mile and the temperature rises. Just east of the Columbia River Highway at the Bonneville Dam Exit of I-84 is the scenic loop along Tanner Creek to powerful Wahclella Falls. The east side of this mile-long trail travels through cedar glades and stately Douglas firs while the west side of the gorge resembles a western desert.
At the next exit (#41), still traveling east on I-84, you bring your dog to Eagle Creek Trail, the most popular hike in the Columbia Gorge. The footpath in places has been blasted directly into the basalt cliffs as it traces Eagle Creek through impossibly green forests. The resulting surface has been left jagged and rough which will challenge the paw pads of your dog in these short crossings. Although the trail continues further, the destination for most ambitious canine hikers is six miles out at Tunnel Falls where the trail passes behind a shower of falling water. Less determined dog adventurers can content themselves with a two-mile jaunt to Punch Bowl Falls where the waters pound into a bluegreen pool set in a large grotto. This is easy going just about the entire way but sheer drop-offs from the unguarded cliffs make Eagle Creek a trail only for wellbehaved dogs.
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