Hiking Guides / Oregon

The 12 Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge, aka Portland’s Playground, aka the Gorge, aka the Notorious CRG, stretches over 85 miles along the mighty Columbia River and is home to towering waterfalls, world-class windsurfing, and spectacular hiking. With options for newbies and seasoned trekkers alike, we’ll outline the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge for anyone who’s ready to get out there and embrace the outdoorsy Pacific Northwest lifestyle.

I’ll be your guide on this virtual trip through the Gorge, and I’ve got you covered. I’ve been hiking these trails since I was a teen in the mid 90’s and have seen and hiked it all. I’ll give you a local’s look at all the Gorge has to offer. These hikes in the Gorge make an excellent day trip from Portland if you’re looking to get outside and experience the sheer natural beauty surrounding the city.

Interested in hiking around Portland? Make sure to read our guide to the best hikes near Portland for our top picks inside the city and just outside it.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post, like hotel and vacation rental links, are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you we make a little bit of money if you click through and book. That being said, we would absolutely never recommend something to you that we don’t stand behind 100%.

Quick Geography Overview

If you’re already familiar with the area, skip this section. But, for all you true greenhorns, here’s the basic layout: The Columbia River bisects the Gorge and also serves as the border between Oregon and Washington. 

The Gorge sits due east of Portland and you basically just start driving that way and after about 40 minutes you’ll find yourself in a magical wooded wonderland filled with pixie dust and sprites.

We’ll be looking at hikes in the Gorge in both states and how you get there will depend on their location. On the Oregon side the route to the Gorge is the I-84E, and on the Washington side it’s the WA-14E. 

There are two primary ways to get across the river. In Portland you can either cross the I-5 or I-205 bridge. If you don’t do it here, you’ll have to drive 45 miles east before you get another chance on the $2 toll bridge in Cascade Locks, called The Bridge of the Gods (grandiose name, right?). 

What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re hiking on the Washington side, you’ll have to decide where you want to cross.

The 14 is windier and slower, but for hikes around Beacon Rock (like Hamilton or Hardy), I prefer crossing at the 205.

For hikes further along like Dog Mountain, I prefer the Bridge of the Gods. 

On the Oregon side just stick to the 84.

When to Go Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge 

For the most part, all Gorge hiking trails should be accessible year-round. 

That said, during the winter months some of the hikes with summits over 2,000 feet will see snow, and it can be deep and potentially dangerous. I would only recommend tackling those hikes with proper gear (snowshoes or crampons), and with an experienced navigator. I like doing snow hikes myself, but only on trails I’m familiar with and accompanied by people whose navigation skills I trust. 

Other times of year have their advantages and disadvantages. 

Spring will give you gushing waterfalls and wildflowers galore (more on the Washington side), but it will also bring rain and mud. 

Summer gives you those long, warm days and expansive views but it also means packed trailheads and mosquitos. 

Fall brings the vibrant color of changing leaves, surges in water and with it, mud.

Tips for Hiking in the Gorge

Here are some quick tips to know before you head out to the Gorge.

Parking Passes

If you live in the area and you plan on hiking on a somewhat regular basis (one or two hikes a month), I highly recommend buying an annual Northwest Forest Pass ($30) and a Discover Pass ($35). 

I used to get annoyed that Washington had to have its own pass and resent the fact that I had to buy two passes each year, but really the quality of trails out there is totally worth the amount you’ll pay. 

The day parking fee for trailheads that require the Northwest Forest Pass is $5, and for the Discover Pass is $10. Even if you’re not sure you’ll use an annual pass enough, you still may want to get one for convenience. Some trailheads don’t have an easy way to purchase a pass onsite and if you’ve got one in your glove compartment it’s easy-peasy (you can buy the day passes in advance from REI – NW Forest Pass / Discover Pass).

Plus, the Northwest Forest Pass can work for any car, so after you’re done you can gift it to some lucky stranger! The Discover Pass requires a license plate number to be included on it, but it has space for two which still gives you an option of gifting it later on. 

Tips for Newbies

First of all, I’m jealous you get to experience the Gorge trails for the first time. What a treat! I’m still a diehard fan of the Gorge, but it’s kinda like the second cup of coffee – I still really enjoy it, but it’s not quite as good as the first one. 

Here’s what you should know before you head out:

  • It gets busy. Especially on weekends. The parking lots for the more popular hikes will fill up by 9 am, so plan on getting there early, or if you have the late summer sun on your side, show up after 3 or 4 pm. Go mid-week if possible.

  • It’s wet/muddy. It could rain, but even if it hasn’t rained in a couple days, the trails are likely to be muddy so don’t wear your new white Keds. If there’s a chance of rain, stuff your rain jacket in your pack. You don’t want to be without one.

  • Be mindful of traffic. If you’re headed back into town on the 84 around 3:30 – 6 pm, you’ll most likely encounter traffic. Go pee before you leave the trailhead. I speak from experience.

  • Bring water/snacks. I hardly go anywhere without snacks, so this is just good life advice. 

The Best Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge 

Here are the best hike in the Gorge, organized by difficulty level. 

Easy Hikes in the Gorge

These hikes are relatively easy – not too long, and not too much elevation gain – and should be accessible to most people.

Latourell Falls

I have a vivid memory of my friend Brian standing waist-deep in water, holding his soaking wet backpack dripping above his head. We were having lunch on a log bridge on the Latourell Falls trail 25 years ago, and as his orange fell in the water so too did his backpack and before I knew it he was in the water trying to save both. 

I’m sure you’ll stay drier than Brian when you do this hike and you can avoid the lunching log altogether as there are nice spots to snack at along the way that aren’t right above the water.

This is a lovely, easy loop that lets you see both the lower and upper sections of Latourell Falls. You can do the loop either way but I prefer starting off to the left and taking the trail up instead of going down to the base of the falls first. You’ll get great views either way but the loop back takes you under the old highway and when you round a basalt corner you’ll see the falls revealed in a rather striking way. 

Yes it’s busy. Yes, get there early. 

Dry Creek Falls

  • Length: 4.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 725 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Location: Bridge of the Gods Trailhead (Northwest Forest Pass)

Dry Creek Falls is a great option if you want a somewhat easy hike with a decent payoff. The Dry Creek Falls stands at “only” 74 feet, but is just as beautiful as its taller neighbors.

This hike is ideal for families as the length is just far enough to keep kids interested and wear them out, but not too far that they’ll start asking, “When are we gonna get to the waterfall?”

I also like Dry Creek because it contains a little local history with the original water diversion works still visible. This structure used to divert the water and send it down to the town of Cascade Locks back in the 1930’s. This is where it gets its “dry” name from because when it was operational, it took all the water away and dried up the falls.

Thankfully the town no longer needs this water supply and us lucky hikers have one more waterfall hike to add to our bucket list.

Bridal Veil Falls

  • Length: 1.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 205 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Very Easy 
  • Trailhead Location: Bridal Veil Trailhead

One of the easiest hikes in the Gorge, and with an awesome payoff at the end. You’ll see the two-tiered, 120 foot falls as well as get some decent views of the area. Like nearby Dry Creek, Bridal Veil Falls ran dry for decades due to water being diverted for a lumber mill downstream, one of many in the area. You wouldn’t know it today by looking at it with all its gushing power.

After visiting the falls, take the paved loop for some nice views up and down the Gorge. This area also has restrooms and picnic tables for a good lunch spot. The only downside is that that trail keeps pretty close to the 84 so you’ll hear traffic going by when the noise isn’t drowned out by the waterfall.

Moderate Hikes in the Gorge

Here are some options for hikers looking for something a little harder, but not “I’m going to be sore for a week” harder.

Cape Horn

  • Length: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,230 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate  
  • Trailhead Location: Cape Horn Trailhead

The full Cape Horn loop is only open July 16th to January 31st to protect nesting peregrine falcons, but you can still enjoy a significant portion of it during the off season.

As you might assume, this is a great destination for birders, and one time here I saw a bald eagle swoop down and snatch up a snake with its talons and fly away. I don’t think that has anything to do with the falcons except I know they fight with the eagles and it was a ballsy move on the baldie’s part. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife drama in the sky.

This hike is awesome and really should be more popular than it is (it’s still popular, but not as much as some of its neighbors).

It gives you steady climbs and elevation gain mixed with flat sections meandering through meadows and along ridges. It offers several views along the trail and some of the best cliff views of the wild Columbia shoreline I’ve ever seen. Like most Gorge hikes, it’ll be windy, but it’s extra windy here when you get to the last section of the loop paralleling the river. 

Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls loop

You have to do this hike at some point in your PNW adventure life, but it will require some forethought. This is one of the busiest places in the Gorge and may be inaccessible (meaning the parking lot will be full) on the weekends if you get there after around 9 am. But you have options:

  • Your best bet is to go mid-week when it will still be packed, but not as bad. 
  • Instead you can  start at the Wahkeena trailhead which is only slightly less preferable than starting at the iconic Multnomah Falls. You’ll get to see everything no matter which way you go, but sometimes you can find a less crowded trailhead at Wahkeena. 
  • The third option is to take advantage of the Columbia Gorge Express and save yourself the headache of parking all together. You’ll still have to drive (or MAX!) out to Gateway Transit Center, but parking there will be nbd and then you just sit back, relax and let someone else deal with it!

If you’re an experienced hiker doing this loop, you’ll have to take some cleansing breaths before starting out and remind yourself that not everyone is as well versed in trail etiquette as you are.

You’ll likely have to go slower than you’d like and politely ask several times for groups to move to the side so you can pass. But, it will be worth it because Multnomah Falls and the other five major waterfalls you’ll see are incredible. Plus, after about a mile in the crowds start to thin out. 

Angel’s Rest

  • Length: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,475 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Angel’s Rest Trailhead

Good old Angel’s Rest. It’s aptly named. The top truly is one of the best summits in the Gorge due to it’s incredible views and its expansive bluff. Many summits can feel cramped and if it’s busy you can feel rushed to steal your views then make your way back down to let other people in, but not so with Angel’s Rest.

There are a number of great spots to post up and have your celebratory apple and PB&J and savor the sights.

This is a textbook ‘moderate’ hike in my book – just hard enough to give you a decent workout, but won’t kick your butt, and it gives you the quintessential hiking in the Columbia River Gorge experience.

The trail is busy but well maintained, and short enough and close enough to Portland that if you leave early, you can bust it out before noon.

Beacon Rock

  • Length: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 680 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Beacon Rock Trailhead (Discover Pass)

Don’t let Beacon Rock’s short length fool you into thinking it’s easy. Yes, it’s short but the climb to the top will give you a small but mighty workout for the amount of time you spend on the trail.

Beacon Rock is unique among Gorge hikes since it’s so exposed and you’re actually climbing up the face of an 848 foot basalt rock (one of the tallest monoliths in North America) that sits on the edge of the Columbia River.

The trail is over 100 years old, making it one of the earliest established trails in the Gorge and utilises several switchbacks (with guardrails) to take you up to the top. This spot is also quite popular with rock climbers and you’ll often see people up on the wall as you start your hike. 

Hamilton Mountain

  • Length: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100 ft.
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Hamilton Mountain Trailhead (Discover Pass)

It’s hard to beat Hamilton if you’re looking for a longer hike that gives you a workout, but also has a lot to offer in the way of scenery. Hamilton is a steady climb up to the top and there are a number of little viewpoints along the way to keep you interested. 

I prefer to stop and have my rest/snack either at an overlook just before the summit on a rocky crag, or after the summit somewhere on the Hamilton saddle as you’re making your way to the other half of your loop.

The summit is at 2,488 feet, but the area is small, full of brush, and only looks to the east so the views are limited and the seating sparse. You’ll be tired and ready for a break, but keep pushing to the saddle for better views and more spread out seating options.

Hardy Ridge

I’m almost hesitant to put Hardy Ridge on this list because I don’t want the secret to get out. Hardy Ridge is Hamilton Mountain’s next door neighbor and with all the love Hamilton gets you’d think Hardy Ridge was Boo Radely’s house. But it’s actually great! (Just like Boo Radley!)

If Hamilton is too busy I’ll often opt for the far less crowded Hardy Ridge. True, it’s not as spectacular and the first couple miles, while nice, aren’t really Insta worthy. That said, once you get up to the top the views rival (dare I say — beat those of Hamilton). Plus, you can hike over to the Hamilton saddle and see the same incredible viewpoints before heading back to your trail.

So, if you’re looking for a great Gorge hike, and like the idea of sacrificing some of the bells and whistles for more solitude, try Hardy Ridge. Plus, you may meet an old-timer who hikes Hardy Ridge pretty much every day, and he loves talking about hiking. Even if you’ve met him a dozen times he’ll never remember you. 

Coyote Wall

  • Length: 7.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,895 ft.
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Location: Coyote Wall Trailhead

Coyote Wall is one of the furthest out hikes in the Gorge on the Washington side, and it will take you almost an hour and half to get there. There are benefits of putting in the time though. One great thing about this hike is that it gets you out of the dense tree cover that many Columbia River Gorge hikes can have.

The trees and moisture are great for waterfalls and hot summer days, but Coyote Wall is an ideal option for those sunny spring or fall days when you need to soak up some vitamin D and you’d rather not be hiking all day in the shade of evergreens. 

Though the full hike is nearly 8 miles, after about 3 miles you’ll have taken in all the great views and the rest is just icing on the cake, so you can shorten it as you see fit. There is little to no shade cover on this hike so wear sunscreen and bring a hat.

You’ll get spectacular views and it’s also a great spot for wildflowers. It’s also very popular with mountain bikers, so keep your eyes open as they can fly down the trails pretty fast. 

Difficult Hikes in the Gorge

Here are three hikes to tackle if you’re looking for more of a challenge and you’re an experienced hiker in good shape.

Dog Mountain 

  • Length: 7.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,800 ft.
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Hard 
  • Trailhead Location: Dog Mountain Trailhead (Northwest Forest Pass AND additional weekend parking permit in the spring & summer*)

That’s right. I’m putting Dog Mountain in the “difficult” section, and I’m not afraid to do it. This hike is pretty darn hard! Really this hike is somewhere between moderate and hard, but compared to the others in the moderate section, it’s definitely harder. It’s one of the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge and people flock to it. Not all are prepared for the work this hike takes.

*Important to know: Due to popularity, a couple years ago they instituted a weekend permit system from March 31 to July 1. These are only one dollar and you can get them online here. This is in addition to the requirement for the Northwest Forest Pass, and it will be checked and you will get a ticket if you don’t have them. 

Dog Mountain is extremely popular and even if you do have a permit (which doesn’t guarantee a parking spot), I’d suggest getting there as early as possible (like 8 am early) or going mid-week. 

There are a couple ways to do this loop, but I prefer the slightly longer route that heads up Augspurger trail (the slightly shorter route takes the trail to the right of the parking lot). The former route is often less crowded which is a blessing on this trail, but both routes will give you a fantastic hike. 

There are some nice lookouts along the way to the top, notably Puppy Dog Lookout which is good for a break. Once you get to the top, the trees melt away and the meadows open up and if you’re there during wildflower season, you’ll instantly know what all the fuss is about. 

Also worth noting if you take the shorter route, you’ll encounter a cryptic trail junction with signs pointing you toward a “more difficult” and a “less difficult” route. To this day I’m sure I’ve taken each at least a half dozen times and couldn’t tell you the difference. Just pick one and go with it.

Table Mountain

  • Length: 15.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,320 ft.
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Difficulty: Very Hard
  • Trailhead Location: Bonneville Trailhead (Northwest Forest Pass)

Table Mountain is hands down my favorite hike AND it’s one of the toughest hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, made even tougher these last few years when the trailhead was moved a couple miles away due to complaints from neighbors. What was a strenuous 11 mile hike is now an extra-strenuous 15 mile hike, but if you’re up for the challenge (or an awesome overnight), I highly recommend it. 

From Bonneville Trailhead, you’ll amble up to Aldrich Butte (where the old parking used to be). The trail is a modified loop and most guidebooks will tell you to come down Heartbreak Ridge (not just a clever name), but I prefer to go up Heartbreak which then has you ascending a massive talus slope instead of descending it.

Maybe it’s because I like climbing? Maybe it’s because of my weak knees? I’ve seen people take both routes and love it, so either way you go is fine. I’ve done it once descending Heartbreak and it killed my knees and ankles. 

There are a few confusing trail junctions that you’ll want to be aware, so be sure to have a trail description/map handy. The trail is diverse and interesting and will give you views of flowers and mountains and the summit is the BEST in all the Gorge – not for those who are susceptible to vertigo as there are steep drops all around you. 

Worth repeating: This hike is long and hard. Bring more food and water than you think you’ll need.

Larch Mountain 

  • Length: 14.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,010 ft.
  • Trail Type: Out and Back 
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead Location: Multnomah Falls Trailhead

Larch Mountain stands at 4,000 feet and is the second highest peak in the Gorge, though it doesn’t look like much from the ground (the tallest is Mt. Defiance and that’s also a hard hike, but in my opinion it’s boring and will not be recommended here). There are many different ways to get up to the top of Larch that range from a quarter-mile jaunt from the parking lot to this 14 mile out-and-back. 

Though it’s easily accessible by car, I recommend this long hike that starts at Multnomah Falls for its beauty and for the fact that you can feel superior to all the lazybones who drove up to the top.

Since you start at the falls, you’ll have to be mindful of the crowded parking area, but as this hike is an all-day affair, you’ll want to get there early regardless. The elevation gain is significant, but the entire trail is so well graded that it doesn’t feel as hard as it sounds on paper.

You’ll pass by numerous waterfalls, cross muddy creeks (be prepared to get your feet wet), and the view at the top gives you a 360 degree panoramic of the Cascade range, and on a clear day you can see all the way down to Mt. Jefferson and up to Mt. Rainier. 

The Best Waterfall Hikes in the Columbia River Gorge

Many of these are already detailed in full above, but if you’re a waterfall junkie, be sure to add these to your must-see list.

  • Multnomah Falls: The biggest. The best. Try to see it in the winter or spring when there will be the most flow. You can view it right from the main Visitor Center, or hike up a mile to the top.

  • Bridal Veil Falls: An easy stop on your way to other Gorge adventures, and a great pairing with Latourell Falls if you’re looking for easy hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. Bridal Veil is a 1.4 out and back, and then you can pop over to Latourell for the additional 2.5 mile loop.

  • Ponytail Falls: Out and back to these falls is just under a mile and the trail actually goes behind the falls (super cool!). This trail used to lead to Horsetail Falls, but that route has been indefinitely closed due to the 2017 fires (sad face). 

  • Mosier Creek Falls – It’s not the most exciting hike at 3 miles roundtrip, and it’s not the most beautiful waterfall you’ve ever been to, and it is a ways out, but it does happen to be an excellent swimming hole in the summer and that makes it all worth it. Plenty of rocks to jump off of. 

Where to Refuel Post-hike

No doubt you had some snacks to munch on mid-hike, but if you’re searching for something more substantial, there are a number of good options in the area to serve your post-hike hankerings.

On the Washington side my favorites are Walking Man Brewery in Stevenson, and Everybody’s Brewing further east in White Salmon (right across the river from Hood River).

If you’re on the Oregon side, you can’t go wrong with Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks for lawn games and beer, or you may want more traditional diner fare and delicious soft serve ice cream at the East Wind Drive In

Special shoutout to the fried chicken and jojos at the small, unassuming, and slightly out-of-the-way Corbett Country Market.

Other Worthwhile Stops in the Gorge

If you’ve got a little time to kill after (or even before your hike), there are other worthy non-hiking things to do in the Gorge. 

If you opted for a forested waterfall hike, but your heart is ringing out for a view, you can drive up to the Vista House to look out over the river. 

If you’ve got more time on your hands I implore you to visit Bonneville Dam. Both sides have a Visitor Center, but I like the Washington side better. If you’ve only got a half hour pop down to the fish viewing room, but if you can swing it go for a free guided tour. 

The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center is also a really decent and actually kinda fun museum in the area, and unless you happen to hit it up when there’s a school field trip it’s never too busy.


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