When Is the Best Time
The Gorge is accessible year-round and can be visited any time. However, the real hike - starting at the big rock and logjam (see review below) - can only be done when the water is low enough and not as freezing as in winter or early spring. This is a unique hike where the river is the trail!
Weather and Water:
Hiking is almost impossible from late fall / early winter until early spring. In the winter and early spring, the water is freezing cold and even a wetsuit might not be enough. In the spring the water is also very high and streams are flowing at their strongest: That means there is a high chance of serious injury and it is indeed life threatening. Some try the hike as early as in May, which is possible. But still, the water is very cold then and will take your breath away. Temperature wise the best months are late June until mid-October.
Avoiding the Crowds:
The entrance is ridiculously crowded with Disney like queues, particularly during the extremely busy summer months. In general it’s very busy from spring until fall on weekends and on public holidays. In the summer you should avoid weekends or be there early, between 7:00 and 7:30 AM. Preferably combine both: Get up early and visit during the week. The best months to avoid crowds are September, after Labor Day (first Monday in September) until mid-October: The summer tourists are gone, the weather is pleasant and the fall foliage is just stunning. But still: Get up early for a much quieter experience.
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Where and Tips
If you see one waterfall in Oregon's Columbia River Valley, make sure it's Lower Oneonta Falls. If you're a travel/outdoors enthusiast, you've likely seen photos of it before, even if you don't realize it. Parking is easy, there's a pull-off parking area right along the access road (easy to find GPS/SatNav).
Wear hiking gear that you can get wet in. Waterproof boots or outdoor water shoes are recommended (if wearing water shoes, make sure they have a good tread on them - which will serve you much better than the inexpensive water shoes used at the beach or a lake!)
A stone staircase leads from the road down into the base of the gorge (not deep; only a couple of meters/6-9 feet). From there, you make your way upstream. It's pretty easy going at first, but then you will come to the big rock and the logjam. This is where the casual tourists are separated from the adventurers. About half of the people who make it this far, won't continue. It's not difficult, but it does take the right gear (again, some kind of boot or shoe with treads!) Climbing up and over the boulder and then the huge trees of the logjam will lead you deeper into the Oneonta Gorge, to the beautiful narrow green-walled glen that is the subject of so many nature photos from this beautiful area of the world. Here's where you will get wet. At first the water level is low, but you will soon come to a section where you either must submerge in the water (up to chest level, so if you're wearing a backpack you will need to carry it over your head!) The water is cold, but hey, it's worth the experience. (Alternately, you can try to hold on to the side of the gorge wall and avoid getting submerged, but honestly, it's part of the fun experience to do it. So just go for it!)
Once past the deep section of water, it will become very shallow again, and then soon you will find yourself at the end of the gorge and Lower Oneonta Falls. Here is another deep pool where you can enjoy a swim. The hike from the road to the waterfall should only take about a half hour, give or take (depending on the time of year, how many people are there, how fast/slow you can go). As mentioned above, I highly recommend coming here on an "off" period where you have a better chance of having the place to yourself. Late spring or early autumn, away from the summer vacation/holiday crowd. Try for a weekday, not the weekend, and of course, early in the morning is the best time.
Reviewed by Jesse Miller-Riley
- Distance: 0.6 miles to gorge / 1.6 miles to bridge (both round trips)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Official: USDA Oneonta Trail
- Getting to the Trailhead: Take I-84 east to exit 35. Then follow Historic Highway 2 miles to the parking area.
Useful Resources / Links:
- Northwest Hiker
- Columbia River Gorge Hikes - HikingGuy.com
- Google Maps Location
Where to Stay (Hotels, Lodges):
- Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn (close to Oneonta): 13 minutes drive only. Excellent for staying the night and getting here early to avoid the crowds. Incredible staff, comfortable rooms, very clean and a perfect location at the Columbia River. Easy access to the hiking trails.
- McMenamins Edgefield (close to Oneonta & Multnomah). Great food and super friendly staff. Drive to Multnomah Falls: 23 minutes / to Oneonta Trailhead: 24 minutes. Perfect for staying the night and then head to Multnomah Falls first thing in the morning. That way you can enjoy Multnomah Falls without the crowds.
Update (Alert) May 2017: As of May 5, the gorge is closed for public due to flash floods conditions. The area is closed to the public until the Forest Service is able to re-assess the stability of the upper part of the slot canyon. Check the official Alerts & Warnings section for updates.
Update (Alert) July 2017: No alerts. The gorge is open and fully accsessible again.
Update (Alert) September 2017: Closed! Until further notice the Gorge Trail is closed due to Eagle Creek Fire. Check the official Alerts - Area Status Oneonta Trail