Best Kept Secrets at the Columbia River Gorge

Dissecting Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River Gorge is one of most breathtaking hiking spots in the Pacific Northwest. But unfortunately, the incredible natural beauty of Multnomah Falls, the gorge’s most well-known feature, can sometimes be overshadowed by a massive amount of cars in the parking lot and crowded trail heads.But the Columbia Gorge is huge, and in it exists many lesser-known spots where you can have a quieter time.

One great spot is the Oneonta Gorge. This spot is less popular than other falls because the endpoint is not accessible by trail. To get there, start out at the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead, which doubles as the more popular Horsetail Falls Trailhead. After hiking a little less than a mile, having gone past Ponytail Falls, you’ll come to a bridge that goes over a small gorge. Head to the left of the bridge and scale the bed of the creek (don’t worry, it’s not very steep). After continuing to walk south for a while, you’ll get to a point where you have to walk through water that could be higher than your waist, depending on your height. Because of this, I’d recommend doing this hike on a hot summer day (which is perfect, since the rest of the gorge becomes so popular on nice days). The necessity of fording the river is a deterrent to some, which is a positive if you’re trying to get away from the crowds. Keep walking, climbing, and fording until you get to Oneonta Falls. Upon noticing that you’re probably the only one here, proceed to get naked and crack open a bottle of tequila (but if anyone else shows up, don’t say I was the one who told you this was an okay thing to do).

But if you truly do prefer to take the clothing-optional approach to outdoor recreation, then the Gorge has the perfect hike for you. Rooster Rock State Park, which is along the Gorge but closer to Portland, has its own parking lot, and the trailhead is marked by a Frisbee golf course close to the eastern end of said parking lot. Follow the signs to walk a three-mile loop along the side of America’s oldest nude beach. Or if you’re not really a history buff, you can do the hike in the winter and avoid all the skin.

If you really want to get away from the crowds at the Gorge, why not get 60 miles away and do the five-night Mark O. Hatfield Trail. While you have to begin at the crowded Multnomah Falls Trailhead, this difficult hike will get you extremely far removed from the rest of the Gorge-goers. You’ll pass such spots as Dublin Lake, Eagle Creek, Wahtum Lake, Mount Defiance, and finally end up at Starvation Creek. It’s basically the most all-inclusive hike you can do as far as sight-seeing at the Columbia Gorge is concerned. The trail is not a loop, so you’ll want to plan ahead with two cars.

Next time you’re in the Portland, Oregon area and you want to experience some of the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty, check out these hot spots along the Gorge!