I have always loved waterfalls, especially while hiking. I must have a destination when I hike. The Pacific Northwest has some incredible waterfalls due to the massive snowpack each year in the mountain ranges. Melting begins in the spring, running into the summer, and creating massive amounts of rushing water. There is something about the crashing sound of a waterfall that awakens your senses. While many Pacific Northwest waterfalls require a hike to reach them, there are quite a few that are easily accessible from your car. The fall and winter water flow may be less, but fall foliage and winter icicles add a different kind of beauty.
When curating this list, it was difficult to decide which ones to include, as there are so many. I reached out to my friend and fellow writer Adam Sawyer, author of Hiking Waterfalls Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Waterfall Hikes, for his three favorite waterfalls in Oregon.
1. Sweet Creek Falls
“The hike along Sweet Creek is wonderful any time of year, but in fall, it’s a stunner. The trail itself is also remarkable. During the course of the outing, you will walk through a narrow gorge along catwalks bolted to canyon walls, ease through a lush old-growth forest, take in a number of smaller cascades, and finally ascend to a delightful viewpoint of Sweet Creek Falls,” said Sawyer. The Sweet Creek Falls Trail complex is located near Mapleton, Oregon. There are four trailheads that give access to 3.5 miles of easy-to-moderate trails with 11 waterfalls at different points along the trail. The Homestead Trailhead will give you access to the main falls and is a 2.2-mile roundtrip. The first part of the Homestead Trailhead is wheelchair accessible and a vault toilet is available.
Pro Tip: Lane County has a Google-Trekked Trail view where you can see what the trail looks like. It is similar to Google Street view.
2. Ramona Falls
Ramona Falls is in the Mount Hood Wilderness with Government Camp, Oregon, being the closest town. According to Sawyer, “Ramona Falls is one of those natural wonders that must be seen in person. Photos, good as they may be, do the sprawling cascade little justice. Accordingly, the 7-mile loop hike that visits it is a rite of passage for any and all Oregon hikers. In addition, the walk beside Ramona Creek looks and feels more like a forested fantasyland than a hiking trail. And if ever there was a place to enjoy a picnic, it is in the large, shaded amphitheater surrounding Ramona Falls.” This is the most strenuous hike on this list. In addition to the 7-mile hike, you must cross the Sandy River by either climbing across logs or fording the river. If doing so, be sure to visit Oregon Hikers’ tips for crossing streams. This is definitely not for the mobility challenged. But if your fitness level allows it, this hike is well worth it.
3. Latourell Falls
“Latourell Falls is one of the most photogenic in Oregon, and one of the true headliners along the famous Waterfall Alley within the Columbia River Gorge. The perfect single plunge is punctuated by an electric patch of yellow lichen near the top and an exposed wall of honeycomb-like columnar basalt. Above the falls, the trail traces a scenic Latourell Creek to another impressive, twisting upper falls,” said Sawyer. You can view the falls from Guy W. Talbot State Park, also known as Latourell State Park. Take a short walk under a historic bridge to see the Lower Latourell Falls. If you prefer a challenging hike, cross over the highway to the Latourell Falls Loop Hike trailhead. It is a 2-mile trail that is very scenic and includes four bridges over Henderson Creek.
Pro Tip: Plan to take the Historic Columbia River Highway for an epic adventure through the Columbia River Gorge. In addition to the famous Waterfall Alley, make sure to stop at the Vista House at Crown Point. You’ll not only experience some of the best views of the gorge, but you are sure to be wowed by the Art Deco grandeur of the Vista House. Plan to do this trip during the week. The area is hugely popular and is very crowded on weekends.
4. The Waterfall At Hug Point State Recreation Site
You will want to visit Hug Point State Recreation Site at low tide to see this rare unnamed coastal waterfall. The Park is not far from Cannon Beach, Oregon. Access to the beach is easy via a short walkway, and once on the beach, the sand is hard-packed and easy to walk on. Amenities include a restroom and a forested picnic area. Once on the beach, head north around the point, which you can access during low tide. The seasonal waterfall is lovely and so unique to see on a beach. There are also some cool caves carved into the sandstone cliffs. This area is so photogenic between the beach, the waterfall, and the bright green, seaweed-covered rocks. Make sure to keep an eye on the tides as it is easy to get stranded.
For more coastal Oregon destinations, see these 5 Charming Small Towns To Visit Along The Oregon Coast.
5. Christine Falls In Mt. Rainier National Park
Mt. Rainier National Park is filled with waterfalls, but one of the prettiest is also the most easily accessible falls in the park. It is located about 4.5 miles east of Longmire and can be viewed from the road year-round. To get the money shot, you will need to walk down the short, steep path to the overlook. There you will see Christine Falls in all her glory framed by the stone Christine Falls bridge. It makes for a stunning photo. The waterfall plunges 60 feet and is incredibly beautiful. The site was developed utilizing natural principles so that the man-made bridge harmonizes with the natural environment. It really adds to the scenery. You can access the falls year-round, but in the winter, the trail to the lower viewpoint is hazardous with ice and snow.
6. Palouse Falls
Located in eastern Washington, Palouse Falls State Park is the most isolated waterfall on this list. When visiting, you need to be prepared for a remote experience. There is no phone service and the staff is not always available. Palouse Falls was named Washington’s state waterfall in 2014 and this natural wonder is one of the last active waterfalls from the Ice Age Floods. The Palouse River drops 200 feet into a bowl and then through a columnar basalt gorge before terminating in the Snake River. It is truly impressive no matter what time of the year you visit. Many visitors like to spend time here and capture the falls in the changing light. The falls are very accessible from three different viewpoints. The easiest viewpoint is reached by a paved interpretive trail with exhibits on the history of the canyon. The Fryxell Overlook is the highest viewpoint and offers views of the falls and the Palouse River Canyon.
Pro Tip: In the summer months, the park experiences extreme heat. Bring plenty of water and your own toilet paper. Parking is limited, so expect wait times. Lyons Ferry State Park is nearby and has a nice area for picnicking and swimming. Its grass lawn and trees are an interesting contrast to the barren area at Palouse Falls.
7. Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls is one of the top scenic attractions in Washington, receiving more than 1.5 million visitors each year. You will find the most amenities at this park compared to the other waterfalls on this list. The two-acre park has upper and lower observation decks, restrooms (currently closed due to COVID-19, but portable toilets are provided), a gift shop, and a trail to the lower falls. Several picnic tables are nestled among the trees. There is free parking and the viewing area is free as well. It is about 200 feet from the parking lot to the viewing area and is wheelchair accessible. In the evening, the falls are illuminated.
There are two parking lots: one for the upper observation deck and one for the lower observation deck. The Snoqualmie Falls Trail is a 1.4-mile roundtrip trail that will take you to the lower falls observation deck. It is very popular, so plan an early start to avoid the crowds.
Pro Tip: For a truly luxurious experience, book a stay at the Salish Lodge and Spa. It overlooks the Snoqualmie River right above the falls. To up your luxury, add the Club 268 — named after the height of the falls — which provides upscale amenities and use of the spa’s soaking pools, saunas, and steam rooms. It also includes exclusive tastings of local Washington wines, a specialty cocktail, and appetizers in the evening. Also, be sure to check out our 5 Quintessential Pacific Northwest Lodges In Washington State.
This is just a glimpse of some of the stunning waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. Whether you like a strenuous hike or just getting out of your car to view these natural wonders, there is something for everyone.