31 Oct Moss and Ferns and Flowers, Eaux My: The Plants of Oregon’s Wahclella Falls
Despite what the song says, you should absolutely go chasing waterfalls when you travel. And during our recent trip to Portland, Oregon, there were over 90 cascades in the Columbia River Gorge to choose from. There’s the famed Multnomah Falls, the state’s tallest at 620 feet and the area’s the most famous. But on the recommendation of locals, we spent the last day of our trip hiking to Wahclella Falls, a trail that’s an easy one mile each way — but one that offers plenty of moss-, lichen-, fern- and wildflower-blanketed inclines, plus opportunities to wade in the brisk and glittering water of Tanner Creek.
It was also the afternoon leading up to autumn equinox. First day of fall? Let’s see a waterfall!
The falls are about 45 minutes outside Portland. Just take I-84 East to exit 40 and follow the signs. Luckily it was Monday when we went, so we were able to find parking in the very small lot. (And even then, I think we got the second-to-last one available.) Be sure to bring $5 for the recreation fee.
The leaves were already changing color, and the weather was perfect. For its ease and family-friendliness, the trail still offers some Lord of the Rings moments, in which horticulture and geology seem to fuse into one outrageously vertical hallucination. Taking our time, the walk to the falls took about two hours: on the way we saw tree trunks covered in emerald tufts of Brachythecium frigidum, we played “guess that aster,” we saw a woman doing yoga above the water, and we took off our sneakers, rolled up our cuffs and tested our balance on a fallen log that extended into the cold, crystal-clear stream.
After a 300-foot elevation gain, we met the falls themselves. Breathtaking in their intensity, they are two-tiered — 48 feet (partially hidden) on top, then 79 feet roaring down into a large pool. One hundred twenty-seven feet in total. Stacked between green-patched basalt cliffs, the cascades take on the shape of a mammoth, tilted, ever-flowing hourglass.
The kind of natural power that you can feel in your bones. In other words, it was hard to capture — but we tried! (And even did a waterfall GIF that you won’t want to miss.) Check out the flora we spotted and the falls we fell for, below…