Popular because of its proximity to Portland and year-round accessibility, Latourell Falls is an easy 2.4 mile loop. Latourell Falls is a 224-foot tall waterfall in the Columbia Gorge surrounded by lush and green forest. The trail offers three unique views of the falls and their surrounding basalt columns.
While there is little elevation gain, the hike does begin with a brief, steep climb to the lower falls; the trail also features exposure to steep drop offs. Dogs are allowed, but they must be kept on a leash. Latourell Falls is year-round, but hikers should use caution in winter when mist is known to create ice patches. The flow of the falls slows considerably in the summer.
Latourell Falls Trail begins at the trailhead off the Historic Columbia River Highway. Start climbing to the trail to the left of lower Latourell Falls. The view of the lower falls features stunning columnar basalt formations covered with lichen. From the viewpoint the trail becomes a wide dirt path, taking two switchbacks through cedars and mossy maple trees. After two more switchbacks there is a side trail that connects to an unsanctioned (and slippery) log bridge that connects with the official trail loop. This risky option saves about a mile off the trip.
The official trail continues to climb and the trail becomes rocky. You’ll pass through part of the Frenchman Springs flow of the Columbia River Basalts and cross four small wooden bridges before reaching the George W. Joseph State Natural Area. Here is where you will see the majestic two-tiered Upper Latourell Falls.
The trail then crosses Latourell Creek at the base of the upper falls and descends along the west side of the creek. The official main trail includes a viewpoint with glimpses of Young Creek Bottomland, Rooster Rock, Cape Horn, and Hamilton Mountain. The descent ends with a short paved section of trail that leads back to the Historic Columbia River Highway.
There is also an alternate route done by parking at the Guy Talbot State Park. There is a 0.25 mile paved path that travels under the Historic Highway to the lower falls. From here there is a set of stairs that will take you up to the highway, where you can cross and follow the to the Upper Falls.
The Upper Latourell and Latourell Falls flow through the Columbia River Basalts. These basalts formed through volcanic eruption over 14 million years ago creating a plateau between the Cascade Range and the Rock Mountains. This is one of 300 individual lava flows covering parts of the states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
Several distinct Native American tribes originally inhabited the Columbia Gorge area, but it is estimated by the mid-1800s Native populations were already greatly decreasing as white settlers brought in new and deadly diseases. These conditions were only made worse as more settlers were driven west because of things such as the Oregon Trail and the Manifest Destiny.
Latourell Falls received its name after a 19th century settler who would become the Rooster Rock Post Office postmaster in 1887. The Latourell family house is now abandoned but still standing near the state park picnic area. In 1929 the land around the lower Latourell Falls was donated by Guy Talbot to become a state park. The Upper Latourell Falls and the surrounding land area was donated to the state in 1934 and 1942 by the Joseph family, who the park was named after (the George W. Joseph State Natural Area).