This PNW Waterfall Looks Like Rivendell


Multnomah Falls is located 48 kilometres east of Portland, Oregon—but it looks straight out of The Lord of the Rings.

With an elegant bridge crossing a mystical waterfall, Multnomah Falls looks like something out of the pages of Narnia or the elven architecture of Rivendell.

But on Earth, you can find it in Oregon.

Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state and the second highest in the US. The water cascades 620 feet (189 metres) in a stunning line, folding over the edges of a cliff and tumbling beneath Benson Bridge. According to a local legend, the waterfall was formed after a chief’s daughter threw herself from the top of the cliff to save her people.

I visited this spectacular site in May. We woke up in Portland to overcast skies at 6:30 a.m. on a Friday, hoping to get ready, leave early and avoid the crowds.

We arrived at a mostly empty parking lot with a partial view of the falls around 8:20 a.m. We followed the pedestrian walkway under the freeway and continued along a paved path to the viewing platform.

The waterfall thundered from above, pouring buckets from an endless spout. Moss-covered rocks and earthy green trees framed the cascade and silver-tinted Benson Bridge. We were lucky to have the viewpoint to ourselves for a few moments. There is a bench for those who want to linger and watch the frothing water drop.

We followed a few stairs and an inclined trail to the footbridge, which was constructed in 1914. Past the bridge, we reached another viewing platform where the waterfalls’ mist soaked us in a refreshing glaze.

Hiking along the asphalt path to the top of the falls, we climbed for about two kilometres, gaining around 240 metres of elevation. Red-flowering currant wildflowers laced the trail, which was wet, muddy and eroded in sections. After climbing up and down 11 switchbacks, my legs were burning, but the views were astounding—not just of the waterfall, but across the freeway to the Columbia River Gorge.

It took us around 40 minutes to reach the top, where we leaned over the vertigo-inducing viewing platform to watch the water tumble down the cliff. It was beautiful and terrifying.

Alison Karlene Hodgins

After a knee-twinging descent, we warmed up in the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restaurant with a view of the narrow cascade. This historic building was built in 1925. It’s a lovely, calming space, built with every type of stone found in the Columbia River Gorge and updated with elevator access to the cozy, warm dining room. As I rested my weary feet, a wood-burning fire transported me to the past, and I wondered if the Pacific Northwest might be in Middle-earth after all.

Alison Karlene Hodgins

Know Before You Go:

  • Parking is free, but it’s limited—consider taking a shuttle
  • The main parking lot is directly off I-84 (Exit 31 on your left). It’s about a 30-minute drive from Portland, Oregon
  • Timed Use Permits are required from May 26 to September 4
  • This is the most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest. Be prepared to share your views with 2+ million annual visitors
  • There is a Visitor Center, restaurant, gift shop, snack bar, coffee kiosk and restrooms with flush toilets

Alison Karlene Hodgins