This spring, head out for a hike and get rewarded with an unbelievable, two-tiered waterfall at Wahclella Falls.
I am from Texas and my childhood included exactly zero waterfall experiences. My children, on the other hand, see them so regularly they assume rainforest views are a given. They have a hard time believing that growing up, I couldn’t drive an hour in any direction and find myself at a waterfall. It’s my equivalent of walking a mile uphill both ways to school.
I’ve made up for lost time, however, and spend many of my spring weekends chasing waterfalls. If pressed to choose a favorite, I’ll hem and haw but eventually I always land on Wahclella Falls as the perfect blend of family-friendly and spectacular.
I have an almost unreasonable disdain for waterfalls in view of a parking lot (looking at you Multnomah Falls). Nothing feels serene if I’m standing in view of a Volvo. But my kids will be grumpy if the hike is too arduous. The trail to Wahclella Falls is just the right balance for us — only 1.9 miles from the parking lot to the falls, with an elevation gain of around 700 feet. My height-averse child approves of this hike, though there are a few places where the drop is slightly steep, so it’s still important to keep a close eye on the youngest hikers. With the water bubbling beside you on the walk to the falls, the whole experience is lovely, not just the destination.
Just before you reach the falls, the trail forks. Our first time hiking this trail, we split up at the fork to delight my youngest who brought walkie-talkies. The lower trail is more beautiful, so if you’re not interested in saying, “I see you, over,” ad nauseam out of great love for your child, I recommend taking the lower fork both there and back.
There are always kids splashing in the water near the falls, so wear or bring gear appropriate for puddle stomping.
It’s hard to overstate the beauty of Wahclella Falls. Even after seeing well over a dozen waterfalls in their short lifetimes, my kids are still wowed by this one.
Pro tip: Pack a picnic. I usually climb on a rock to enjoy my snack and the view. Even if it’s crowded, there’s plenty of space to stay a while.
There’s not plenty of parking, though. We typically park on a nearby road and walk down to the trailhead. If you are using the lot, you’ll need a NW Forest Pass or pay $5 to park. There is a portable toilet on site year-round. Dogs are welcome on leash, and our golden retriever navigated the rocks just fine. This is a popular spot, so get there early, but because of the almost two-mile hike, it won’t be nearly as crowded as more easily accessible waterfalls.
The trail is open year-round, but it can be icy and slippery in winter and becomes significantly less family-friendly during those months.
It takes just under an hour and forty-five minutes to drive from Portland to Cascade Locks, and we typically spend about two hours there. This means that if you leave early enough, you’ll have a superlative experience over the span of a morning, and you can be back in time for naptime.
If You Go: From Portland, travel east on Interstate 84 to exit 40, Bonneville Fish Hatchery. Turn right and right again (south) and follow the road to the trailhead.
And check out these 12 family-friendly hikes for even more outdoor adventures!
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