The Columbia River Gorge is a mecca for outdoor recreation. With an overwhelming amount of hikes to choose from, the best ones are often overlooked. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Mount Hood National Forest, and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area all have incredible views, countless waterfalls, pristine lakes, and many huggable trees. Most travelers looking for hiking near Portland will stop at the iconic Multnomah Falls for a quick view of the waterfall; however, they have barely even scratched the surface of what lies within the Columbia River Gorge. There are hikes for everyone – fast hikers, leisurely hikers, trail runners, and families with kids. These are our picks for the best hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
Best Short Hike near Hood River:
If you only have a short time to get outside, the Indian Creek Trail is a great option. This 3.1 miles out-and-back is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. It’s a great way to spend more time outside after a half-day of rafting the White Salmon River. Though close to town, the entire trail follows Indian Creek and is full of pristine stillness and nature.
Best Hike for Families:
Wahclella Falls is a short two mile out-and-back trail featuring a stunning river canyon below and an amazing canopy above. The trail ends with Wahclella Falls, a jaw dropping, picture perfect 350-foot waterfall. This is a great hike for families with kids because it’s not too long, but you still feel like you’re deep in the wilderness!
Best for Avid Hikers:
Mount Defiance is a 12.4-mile loop with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. The trail features scenic Gorge views, a magical forest, plenty of wildlife, and a couple of waterfalls, ending with a stunning view of Mount Hood. Be ready for a workout, though; this hike is not for the faint-hearted. The trail is very steep, and the terrain is rough. It can be done in three hours, but for a more relaxed hike give yourself five. Don’t forget to bring plenty of snacks and water!
Best Hike for Trail Runners:
Coyote Wall is an epic hike with a great trail for running. This 7.7 mile loop features stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge, and on a clear day you can see the splendor of Mount Hood. The best part is that this hike is on the Washington side, so it’s often less crowded than many of the popular hikes on the Oregon side.
Best for Mt. Hood Views:
Located on the north side of Mount Hood near Parkdale, OR, is the Cloud Cap Trail. This awesome out-and-back trail in the Mt. Hood National Forest features stunning mountain views, along with fields of wildflowers. The total distance is 10.6 miles with relatively little elevation gain, making it a great first backpacking trip or weekend overnight trip near Portland. This hike is also perfect for those who want a longer day hike!
Best to Avoid Crowds:
Dry Creek Falls is a great hike for those who want to escape the crowds. The trail is only a short trek off the infamous Pacific Crest Trail and gives you the option of continuing further down the PCT. The waterfall itself is a sight to see, falling 74 feet into a trickling creek bed of Herman Creek. The 3.6 miles out-and-back trail on the PCT will give you a feeling of trekking in the woods like a thru-hiker, but in reality, you’re not far from civilization.
Best Waterfall Hike:
No trip to the Columbia River Gorge is complete without a waterfall hike near Portland. Falls Creek Falls Loop is a 4-mile hike that features a stunning double drop waterfall. On hot summer days, one can dance underneath the cascading waterfall to cool off. This awesome hike is on the Washington side in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and is often missed by visitors looking for waterfall hikes in the Columbia River Gorge.
When spending time in the Columbia River Gorge, hiking is a must-do. It’s the perfect activity for anyone on vacation in the Pacific Northwest; you’ll experience the infamous waterfalls, mossy trees, beautiful lakes, and panoramic views that the Oregon and Washington are famous for. Whether you’re for a short hike to do after rafting the White Salmon River, want to get a workout in while you’re on vacation, or just want a casual stroll with the kids, each hike will leave you jaw-dropped and searching for your next adventure in the Columbia River Gorge.