I hit a winter wall last week. It’s interesting: though I lived through a much colder winter last year in Boston, winter in Seattle presents a different challenge. The Boston area was surprisingly sunny even in winter; we never went many days without some serious sunshine. In Seattle, the long dreary grey can really get to you. I was looking for hikes within a ~3 hour radius of Seattle where there would be sun, and I came up completely empty-handed. That’s the middle of winter in the Pacific Northwest for you, apparently!
Faced with the option of hiking in grey/rain/snow or staying inside all weekend, I decided to find a hike that would be a decent grey/rainy day experience. Multnomah Falls is somewhere I’ve been wanting to go since moving to Seattle; it’s an iconic spot. I’d read that the parking lot can get dreadfully packed in spring and summer, so I figured maybe winter was the best time to go so we could avoid the crowding. And I think it’s safe to say I was right! Though the parking lot was fairly full when we arrived on a Saturday, there were still plenty of spaces available. And while there were many people around the base of the falls, once we passed the Benson Bridge, there were far fewer people and the trail was quite pleasant.
Multnomah Falls Trail Review
- Hiked: early February
- Distance from Seattle: 3 hours
- Accessibility: All paved highway!
- Length: 2.4 miles round trip
- Difficulty: 2/10
- Crowds: 5/10
- Trail views: 2/10
- Water features: 7/10
- Overall: 6/10
Getting to Multnomah Falls is super easy. The great news: there are no crazy, pothole-filled mazes to navigate, or any bumpy dirt roads to traverse. It’s perhaps one of the best and worst things about the falls that it’s visible from the highway. Accessibility is fantastic! The bad news: there’s highway noise on the trail, and a whole lot more people.
The parking lot for the falls is literally in the middle of the highway. Driving from Seattle, it will be a left exit off of I-84 East. While there are many spaces in the lot, it can fill up on weekends. We arrived at 10:30 am and there were still several spaces, but it was a cold, grey winter day. Even still, the lot had cars circling and waiting for a space by the time we left around 1:30 pm.
The bottom portion of the trail is nicely paved, beyond Benson Bridge and about halfway up the trail to the top of the falls. I was thinking that someone could even push a stroller up it (though definitely not to the top–there were some bumpy, rocky areas closer to the end of the trail). It’s clear that this area was designed to accommodate large crowds. The signage is excellent, the trail is clear, and the switchbacks are gentle.
We didn’t see much in the way of views on the trail beyond the Bridge. This is probably partly because it was a cloudy/foggy day, and partly because you’re right near the highway. There were also several burned trees and debris off the side of the trail, as wildfires have struck the area in recent years. The trunks of the trees showed the scars of fire.
The last bit of the trail was quite mucky with the recent rainfall, so we were glad to be in our goretex boots. It was pretty to walk along the riverside for a bit as we approached the top of the trail.
Since the hike to Multnomah is so quick and easy, I highly recommend continuing to explore other waterfalls in the area. I actually enjoyed our hike to Weisendanger Falls and Ecola Falls more than the hike to Multnomah!
Getting to Weisendanger and Ecola Falls is a quick hike from the top of Multnomah. As you return from the viewing deck and continue along the trail, you’ll quickly arrive back at the point where, if you turn left, you’ll head back down to the parking lot. If you continue straight, you’ll head towards these falls. It’s a short walk and certainly worth the time.
This trail follows closely alongside the river bed. It’s absolutely gorgeous and peaceful.
There are lovely stone structures along the trail. There were also quite a few downed trees on and around the trail area, so make sure to be careful navigating the area.
I didn’t actually get any photos of Ecola Falls; there’s not great viewing opportunities from the trail, and in fact, the best views you get of the falls are actually at the top. But they were still pretty!
While we had intended to hike to Wahkeena Falls, I realized that it was not possible from the trail we were on. Another example of some insufficient planning on my part! We got to this trail intersection and checked out the map, a bit beyond Ecola Falls, and realized that it was a very long way to Wahkeena Falls.
Since there was nothing else very close to where we were, we turned back and headed down the trail to the car.
Determined to really maximize our time in the area, considering we had driven so many hours, I decided we would stop by Bridal Veil Falls on our way out. I had happened to see a sign for it on our way in and it looked like it was pretty close to the highway. So we headed to the area to check it out.
It turned out to be a super quick walk (5-10 minutes max) from the parking area to the falls. And this was the reward!
I’m glad we took an extra little side trip to visit Bridal Veil Falls before heading back to Seattle. We ended up seeing a total of 4 waterfalls, and my phone clocked in right around 5 miles of hiking, making the drive feel more worth it!
Multnomah Falls Day Trip from Seattle
Here are some top tips from our visit to the Multnomah Falls area!
- Check the weather conditions before setting out on your trip, particularly in the winter. On the drive, we passed through areas where there can be snow. Additionally, the trail beyond Benson Bridge can actually close if the conditions are too icy. The waterfall can even be snowy. So be sure to do your weather research shortly before you plan to go!
- Bring appropriate gear for the weather. I was in a goretex rainjacket and goretex boots, a wool top, and slightly thicker hiking leggings. I was super glad to have the Earth Pak waterproof backpack* to protect my car keys and electronics, because it was drizzly and misty. It is plenty spacious enough to put my camera, tripod, lunch, water, and extra gear I may need like spikes or gloves. I’ve now taken it on 4 rainy day hikes and am really pleased with how easy it is to wipe down after a muddy adventure and how it keeps my stuff totally dry. *If you like my recommendations and choose to purchase any of these items, please consider purchasing from the above links. I can earn a (very small) commission at no charge to you!
- Start early, particularly if you are visiting in peak season, so you can be sure to maximize your day and also nab a parking spot.
- All of these waterfall areas are free to enter. You won’t need to have any passes to park in these areas, or to pay any admissions fees. This can be a really great affordable day trip if you bring a packed lunch, because your only cost will be the gas.
- Be sure to visit Weisendanger and Ecola Falls while you’re at Multnomah. It is a quick addition, and the trail is so pretty.
- Bridal Veil Falls will add about 15-20 minutes of driving to your total drive time, whether you go on your way to Multnomah or on your way home, but I’d recommend stopping. These Falls are located near the Angel’s Rest trail, which also looks amazing (I’m adding it to my list of places to hike!)
After visiting these falls, I’m excited to return and keep exploring the region. Have you visited the Columbia River Gorge? What are your favorite spots?