Wahclella Falls and Old Columbia River Highway Trail
The best short hike in the Columbia River Gorge that doesn’t involve significant elevation gain is the walk along Tanner Creek to Wahclella Falls (requires a $5-per-vehicle day pass or a $30 annual Northwest Forest Pass). After 1 mile of walking, you reach the terminus of the canyon framing the creek. En route the gently hilly pathway shows off this pretty steep-walled arroyo to great advantage, but the destination is better than the journey.
In a scene evocative of a Japanese brush-stroke painting, a waterfall pours down dramatically at the canyon’s end, best seen from a bridge over the creek. While the trail on the other side of the stream is worthwhile, it doesn’t loop all the way back to the parking lot, so you’ll have to retrace your steps.
From I-84 eastbound, reach the trailhead by taking the Bonneville Dam Exit (Exit 40), and make a right at the bottom of the exit ramp into a small parking lot (instead of a left under the highway to Bonneville Dam).
From this same parking lot you can access a resuscitated portion of the Columbia River Highway by heading east. However, with lanes barely wide enough to accommodate a golf cart, you’ll have to leave the car behind. The state decided to repave this section of the old road for hikers and bikers, recreating the arched guardrails, bridges, viaducts, and tunnels between here and Cascades Locks to join the surviving ones. In addition to the ornate stonework, the curving, undulating roadbed blasted out of the mountainside before 1920 offers unsurpassed views.
While the Historic Highway parallels the interstate, its elevated perspective on the river and surrounding architectural artistry are a refreshing change of pace from the modern thoroughfare. The highlight of the route is a reproduction of the Toothrock Viaduct annotated by plaques and heritage markers.
After exiting this section of the highway via a stairway into the parking lot of the Eagle Creek Fish Hatchery, head east a short distance to the second leg of this hiker-biker trail. The Eagle Creek–Cascades Lock section is highlighted by a pretty waterfall at the beginning and a well-rendered tunnel near the end. The distance between Bonneville and Cascade Locks is about four miles.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel