Heading home from a weekend in Portland, my husband and I had a long drive ahead of us. Typically we just barrel through and try to get home as quickly as we can. Why dally?
But Monday we decided to take a different approach and couldn't have been happier with the results.
Instead of heading over Santiam Pass or Mount Hood, we opted to travel through the Columbia River Gorge. The route is a bit longer, but a welcomed change.
The gorge offers some of Oregon's most spectacular scenery. The weather was a bit drizzly as we headed east on Interstate 84, but we didn't mind. Misty clouds clung to the giant rocky crags on either side of the wide Columbia River. This time of year also offered up gorgeous fall colors, mostly bright yellow. The deciduous trees mixed with evergreens, giving the landscape a vibrant speckled appearance.
There are dozens of potential hikes in the gorge, many short enough for our purposes and many offering views of spectacular waterfalls. Multnomah Falls, plummeting 620 feet, is the most famous waterfall in the region, but it is far from the only one worth noting. One guidebook I read pointed out that if some of these lesser-known falls were transported to another part of the country, they would attract millions of visitors. But due to the proximity of Multnomah Falls, they get overlooked.
We opted to check out Wahclella Falls, a few miles east of Multnomah Falls, taking the Bonneville Dam exit. The trail is just a few hundred yards south of the exit, making it a perfect option for those, like us, not wanting to stray too far from the highway.
The trail is an easy loop, less than two miles long. The path followed alongside Tanner Creek as it wound between high canyon walls.
We admired the bubbling creek, the mossy rocks and the vibrant hues of the leaves. The path crossed a wooden bridge where we stared up to see water tumbling down the front of a building-sized boulder. Because of the wet weather, we saw delightful, makeshift mini-waterfalls trickling everywhere. After the bridge, the trail narrowed some and began to rise above the creek. Soon we were walking halfway up the cliff's side, amid gorgeous trees, with a view of the rushing creek below.
The path itself offered plenty to look at: tons of toadstools, a few slugs, a couple of small caves and plenty of gnarled trees.
Beyond the halfway point, the path split and we took the right fork. The trail wound down the hillside, and we crossed a large wooden footbridge. From here, we enjoyed a view of several moss- and grass-covered boulders in the middle of the creek. The water was racing at this point; we liked watching it bash and thrash between the rocks. A sign at the beginning of the hike stated the house-sized boulders came from a landslide in 1973.
The trail continued up the other bank and the views just got better and better around each turn. We could tell from the sound of the water that we were nearing the waterfall. As we came around a boulder, we could spot the falls in the distance. The water gushed out in a powerful force, splashing into a giant pool. We admired the falls from another wooden bridge, leading us back to the other side of the creek. From there, we could see the falls included two steps, one upper spray leading down into the large rush of water below. It was nothing short of beautiful.
We stood and gazed at the falls for a while, enjoying the spray hitting us in the face, before we headed back. The trail looped back to the fork we passed earlier.
In all, we spent a little more than an hour meandering our way along the path. It would have taken less time if we hadn't found so many things worth photographing.
The diversion left us feeling refreshed, alive and much more willing to spend a few more hours in the car. From there, we headed on to The Dalles, where we took state Highway 197 south to its junction with U.S. Highway 97, which brought us back to Bend. Yes, the drive was longer, but the scenery was great. Sometimes, I think, spending the extra time has its benefits.