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January 16, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Where and when to find ‘popsicle’ waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge

After reading about winter in Hood River, Ore.,  and my remark about “popsicle” waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, an 80-year-old reader from Kenmore emailed to ask about the winter phenomenon of frozen waterfalls, a sight she said is on her personal “bucket list.”

Multnomah Falls can be an icy cascade in winter, as seen in January 2012. (photo by Brian J. Cantwell / The Seattle Times)

I lived on my boat on the Columbia River for four years and I can tell you that cold spells such as we’ve had this week are the thing to watch for. (Wind would shriek in the rigging, and there was no need to run the fridge, we could just put the milk or beer outside in the cockpit.)

But it’s warming up now and you’ll likely need to watch for another weather window (a well-frosted window).

Several good waterfalls located along the Historic Columbia River Highway (Highway 30) on the Oregon side of the Gorge are viewable with minimal effort. The easiest to see and most visited is Multnomah Falls, which in two tiers is almost as tall as the Space Needle. Lest that part about “shrieking winds” puts you off, there’s also a historic stone lodge here, with restaurant, fireplaces and a Forest Service visitor center. But if you’d rather find a falls to yourself, drive a mile or two in either direction and crowds disappear.

To find out if the falls are frozen, call ahead to the visitor center at 503-695-2372. A call Tuesday afternoon yielded a report of ice and snow around the falls, with lots of photographers in recent days.

Beware: When the falls are frozen, freezing spray often coats trails as well, so come prepared for cold weather and slippery footing (here’s a time and place for your Yaktrax). And if the narrow and winding historic highway is too hazardous, at least Multnomah Falls is reachable from the interstate, which is better-traveled and maintained.

Here’s a link to a map showing the location of waterfalls along Highway 30. (Note that the mileage indicators on this map are driving miles from Multnomah Falls, not how far you have to hike; most of these falls are visible from the road.) The historic road is closed for repairs around Crown Point overlook, but you can still take Exit 28 from I-84 at Bridal Veil and follow the highway west to see Bridal Veil Falls, Shepperds Dell and Latourell Falls, or east past Wahkeena, Multnomah and Horsetail falls. If you feel up for a short walk from Horsetail, follow a trail for an eighth of a mile to one of my favorites, little Ponytail Falls, where the trail goes behind the waterfall.

Here’s a link to a website with more information about the historic highway. Happy waterfall hunting.

Comments | More in Northwest | Topics: columbia river gorge, frozen waterfalls, historic columbia river highway


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