The Columbia River Gorge comes to life as the fall season arrives, transforming once evergreen forests with rich effervescent hues of red, orange, and gold. It’s no wonder why so many Portlanders love making the quick and beautiful road trip east for hiking during this time of year. As cooler temperatures give relief from dry summers and rain fills rushing waterfalls, fall is undoubtedly the best season to get outdoors and explore in the Gorge. Whether you’re looking for a short hike or a difficult trek, here are five of our favorite hikes to see the fall foliage in the Columbia River Gorge.
1. LATOURELL FALLS
Filled with bright autumn colors in October and November, Latourell Falls, located in Guy W. Talbot State Park is a gorgeous fall hike close to Portland, OR. This moderately easy trail features a spectacular viewpoint for the stunning 249-foot waterfall (ranked Oregon’s fifth tallest) plunging from atop a rocky basalt cliff. Follow along the remainder of the 2.4-mile loop winding through temperate old growth forest where you’ll pass a second (yes there’s two!) double tiered waterfall known as the Upper Latourell Falls.
2. FALLS CREEK FALLS
3.4 miles out-and-back to the falls (Full Loop 6.5 miles)
Possibly our favorite hike of all time, Falls Creek Falls is a lesser known trail and true hidden gem located in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Although a fantastic hike during any season, Falls Creek Falls is extra beautiful in the fall when warm hues of orange and yellow paint the alder and maple leaves with magnificent color, and the cool fall mist carries over the mesmerizing two-tiered thundering waterfall. The hike itself is stunning as you follow along Falls Creek winding through dramatic moss laden firs and cedar that frame the little canyons the creek flows through. The full hike is about 6.5 miles and loops up towards the Upper Falls Creek Falls. However, for a shorter excursion, we recommend opting for the quick 3.4 mile out-and-back trip to the main lower waterfall.
3. COYOTE WALL
Coyote Wall is one of the best underrated hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. This relatively uncrowded hike is moderately difficult, but its system of interconnecting trails makes it easy to create your own adventure whether you want to enjoy a shorter or longer loop. You’ll even find a handful of user-created mountain biking trails. Climbing along the trail you’ll wander past basalt notches and oak-dotted grasslands that lead you to a plateau with stunning views of the Columbia River. On clear days, Mount Hood can be easily seen across the river and this makes for an excellent spot to stop for a picnic or just relax overlooking the fall foliage sprinkled across the Gorge.
4. HAMILTON MOUNTAIN
Brightly colored vine maples and lush green forest light up Hamilton Mountain in the fall. If you’re looking for a trail rich in waterfalls, cliffs, stunning views and are up for a challenge, then this should be your next hike. Hamilton Mountain is located at Beacon Rock State Park and offers a challenging 9.4-mile loop for more serious hikers. The highlight of the trail is when passing two magnificent waterfalls – Rodney and Hardy Falls, before climbing to scenic foliage filled viewpoints lining the cliffs near the 2,438-foot summit.
5. CAPE HORN LOOP
7.2 miles | (Note: Please check trail status due to recent fires)
This trail is bound to be on your bucket list for fall if it isn’t already. Just 45 minutes from Portland on the Washington side of the Columbia River, Cape Horn is a challenging 7.2-mile loop, but its views of the Columbia River Gorge are a worthy reward. Climbing along the path you will see everything from incredible river views, craggy cliffs, streams, and even a waterfall. During the October and November, the viewpoint from Cape Horn peers down through the Gorge with a kaleidoscope of bright fall colors. Remember that this trail is only accessible through January in order to protect nesting peregrine falcons on the basalt cliffs of Cape Horn.