When the summer sun burns bright, melting snow and glaciers on the slopes of Oregon’s tallest peak, trails open up to hikers in search of the few, spectacular waterfalls that grace Mount Hood.
To be honest, Mount Hood is better known for its ski areas, lakes and alpine meadows, as most waterfalls are found just north in the Columbia River Gorge (a veritable waterfall wonderland). But what these plunges lack in number and size, they make up for in their setting on the flanks of a towering Northwest volcano.
While the hikes themselves aren’t particularly challenging, at least when compared to some of the other popular treks on Mount Hood, accessing the waterfalls isn’t always straightforward. There may be some dangerous conditions that require caution, physical fitness or proper seasonal timing.
Extra precautions are also in order during the coronavirus pandemic, including carrying a face mask and hand sanitizer, maintaining six feet of social distance when possible and not hiking with anyone outside your immediate household. It’s also important to come prepared with a plan B or C in case the trailhead is too crowded.
With a little precaution and good timing, Mount Hood’s waterfalls are worthy destinations for day hikes this summer as you explore the slopes of our beloved mountain.
Distance: 3.7 miles, out and back
Amenities: Vault toilets, picnic tables at parking area
The 109-foot waterfall on the eastern flank of Mount Hood is the mountain’s most beautiful plunge. Made of several uneven ribbons of water, Tamanawas Falls is found in a natural stone amphitheater at the end of an easy, 2-mile forested hike.
Its accessibility also makes Tamanawas Falls a popular destination. The trailhead parking lot on the side of Oregon Route 35 accommodates several dozen cars, and it tends to fill up fast on warm days and summer weekends. Show up early in the morning or late in the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy the waterfall in peace and quiet.
Cars at the trailhead must display a valid Northwest Forest Pass, day pass or equivalent interagency pass (available online or at local retailers). To find the Tamanawas Falls trailhead, take Oregon Route 35 south from Hood River and look for the trailhead parking area on the right after 24 miles. Follow signs to the waterfall.
Distance: 7.5 miles, out and back
Amenities: Portable toilets at parking area
With spectacular mountain views, quiet forest trails, a glacier-fed river and a waterfall at the end, the hike to Ramona Falls remains one of the very best day hikes on Mount Hood. The waterfall itself isn’t a classic plunge like most we tend to think of, but is rather more of a tall cascade of spray down the side of a basalt cliff.
Ramona Falls is still a phenomenally beautiful site, especially if you reach it when the sun peeks through the trees, casting rainbows in the spray. Reaching the waterfall, however, requires a potentially dangerous crossing of the Sandy River, which claimed the life of a hiker in 2014. With no bridge over the river, hikers need to cross on fallen logs when the water is low, typically late in the summer. IF THE RIVER IS RUNNING HIGH OR FAST, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CROSS.
Cars at the trailhead must display a valid Northwest Forest Pass, day pass or equivalent interagency pass (available online or at local retailers). To reach the Ramona Falls Trailhead, take U.S. 26 east through Sandy to East Lolo Pass Road. Turn left and follow the road for about four miles, then turn right onto Muddy Fork Road. Follow signs for the Ramona Falls Trailhead. On the trail, follow signs to Ramona Falls.
UMBRELLA FALLS AND SAHALIE FALLS
Distance: 4.1 to 5.5 miles, round trip
Amenities: Vault toilets at parking area
You can get two waterfalls for the price of one on this moderate loop hike on the southeast side of Mount Hood. In addition to views of Umbrella Falls and Sahalie Falls, hikers can enjoy miles of forested trail, several great looks at the volcanic peak, and grassy meadows that in winter are ski runs at Mt. Hood Meadows (complete with a chairlift overhead).
Of the two waterfalls, Umbrella Falls is the standout with easy access and a lovely viewpoint at the halfway point on the loop hike. Sahalie Falls is a little more complicated to see, requiring either a tricky climb down a treacherous side trail or an additional mile of walking, up and back down a paved forest road. Instead, hikers can take a safer route by making the short drive to the Sahalie Falls viewpoint after returning to the Elk Meadows and Sahalie Falls Trailhead, which is less than a mile away.
Cars at the trailhead must display a valid Northwest Forest Pass, day pass or equivalent interagency pass (available online or at local retailers). To reach the Elk Meadows and Sahalie Falls Trailhead, take U.S. 26 east from Portland to Oregon Route 35. After 7.5 miles, turn left following signs to the Elk Meadows Trailhead.
To complete the loop hike, take the Sahalie Falls Trail north, then turn left onto the Umbrella Falls Trail, crossing over the ski runs. At the second junction with the Sahalie Falls Trail, stay straight to reach Umbrella Falls, then return and follow the Sahalie Falls Trail to the paved road. Turn left to get back to the trailhead, or go right to reach a viewpoint of Sahalie Falls in .6 miles.