The Multnomah-Wahkeena Falls Loop features six named waterfalls and several smaller, intermittent falls throughout the hike. The hike includes options for short diversions to Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint, Wahkeena Spring, Lemmons Viewpoint, and The Necktie--a detour not suitable for children or pets. Gaining 1600 feet elevation in 4.9 miles, the hike is moderately difficult, but it can be seen being completed by some brave children. That said, the hike can be at times steep and include highly exposed sections of trail. Highlights besides the numerous waterfalls are excellent viewpoints of the Columbia River and Gorge, lush forests, and firsthand sights of the effects of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.
The trail can start with either the Wahkeena or Multnomah trailheads at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. This historic building provides visitors the opportunity to use bathrooms, fill water bottles, and take advantage of snack vendors and a gift shop.
Because of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, the Forest Service has warned hikers to enter at their own risk. The trail is safe, but please stay on the trail and be aware of potential risks such as loose rocks, falling trees, or debris flow.
The loop can start at either Multnomah Falls or Wahkeena Trailheads, but this description begins on the Multnomah Trail. The trail uses Multnomah Falls Trail, Larch Mountain Trail, Wahkeena Trail, and Trail #442 to create a loop. From the Multnomah Lodge you can look up and see the stone Benson Bridge. Climb the gently sloped paved path to the bridge, built in 1914 by Simon Benson. The bridge features views of both Multnomah Falls and the seasonal, smaller Shady Creek Falls west of Multnomah Falls. Beyond the bridge the trail is a steep climb through 11 switchbacks. Climbing, you will get vistas of the Columbia River and Multnomah Falls. At the top of the trail comes a signed junction, with the option of going right to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint.
Back on the main trail you will pass the old junction with the Perdition Trail, a trail closed after the 1991 Multnomah Falls Fire. Following the Larch Mountain Trail for the next three miles, you’ll pass Lower, Middle, and Upper Dutchman Falls. Next you will come to Wiesendanger Falls. Travel up four more switchbacks to Ecola Falls, where you can also observe the scorched forest growth and blackened trees. Just another quarter mile until the junction with Wahkeena Trail #420, where you should take a right to follow this trail.
After about a mile of gradual uphill through forest and ferns there is a signed three-way trail junction, right after the intersection with the Devil’s Rest Trail #420C. At the three-way junction you can go right or head straight, but taking the straight trail is shorter and has access to Wahkeena Spring. Both trails will take you through the Wahkeena valley and to Fairy Falls. At Fairy Falls you are just 1.1 miles from the highway.
The trail continues downhill, crossing Wahkeena Creek twice over small bridges. The trail will eventually head east and become paved, switchbacking down its way to the base of Wahkeena Falls. Cross the stone bridge and you will be heading for the parking area. At the base of the falls take Trail #442 east for ½ a mile back to the Multnomah Falls parking lot.
The Multnomah Falls area is a popular tourist attraction with rich history. The geological explanation of Multnomah Falls is it was formed 15,000 years ago at the end of a hanging valley by the Missoula Floods. According to Multnomah Tribe legend, the waterfall began after a young woman sacrificed herself to end a plague upon her people; after her death water began to flow off the cliff she had jumped from as a sign from the Great Spirit. Multnomah Falls is also mentioned Lewis and Clark diaries.
By the mid-1800s, white settlers had begun to take over the state of Oregon. In 1884 the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company owned a stop at Multnomah Falls on their railway which connected to Portland. Following the 1915 suggestion of Samuel Lancaster and several fundraising efforts, the United States Forest Service built a trail connecting the base of Multnomah Falls to the top of Larch Mountain. The same year the Benson family donated 1,400 acres of land, which included Wahkeena Falls to the city of Portland. In 1925 the Multnomah Falls Lodge was built, designed by architect A. E. Doyle.
There have been two recent forest fires whose impact can still be seen in the forest: the 1991 Multnomah Falls Fire, and the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.