Looking for an absolutely unique hiking experience you will not forget for a long time? Want to scramble across a log jam, hike up a creek, wade chest deep through running water and swim at the base of a 100 foot waterfall? If all that sounds like your cup of tea then you are going to want to put Oneonta Gorge at the top of your Oregon “to do” list.
The Oneonta Gorge Hike is one of the most popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge area and attracts thousands of visitors each year. What makes this hike so unique is the lack of any real trail and the vertical canyon walls covered in lush vegetation hovering above. The hike is short however it does require some serious scrambling across a log jam and swimming in bone chilling water. If you are unable to climb across a maze of stacked logs, cannot swim or do not do well in cold water this hike is not for you.
The Oneonta Gorge hike begins at the Oneonta Gorge Trailhead located on the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway just east of Multnomah Falls. There is parking located at the trail head on the side of the road and no parking pass is required.
Locating the start of this hike can be tricky if you do not know what you are looking for as it lacks any real signage. From the parking area walk towards the old tunnel and at the bridge look for some metal stairs heading down to the creek below. Yup, that is is it. From here all you do is follow the creek up stream making your own path any way you feel.
After walking up stream for less than five minutes you will reach the infamous log jam. Before tackling the scramble spend a minute or two looking for the easiest route which can usually be found on the left hand side. Be careful! The logs can be slick when wet and if you fall through you can very easily drown.
Once you have navigated the log jam continue wading up stream until the gorge begins to get narrower. At its most narrow point you will start to notice the water gets deeper and deeper. This is where you will get wet. Some people attempt to climb the wall on the right hand side to stay out of the water though this can be difficult especially with large crowds. Your best bet is to take you pack off, hold it above your head and trudge forward. If you are someone who is vertically challenged you may find that you have to swim this short section. It is not difficult and only lasts roughly 15 yards or so until you are back out of the water.
Once you have made it past the deep section you are home free. As you come around the bend you will be greeted with an amazing view of Lower Oneonta Falls which marks the end of your journey. This is a great spot for lunch, photos and if you are up for it swimming. Enjoy the beauty of this unique waterfall and simply follow your footsteps back out of the gorge.
If you are planning on “hiking” Oneonta Gorge here are a few tips that can make your experience more enjoyable:
Oneonta Gorge was first photographed in 1883 by a photographer named Carleton Emmons Watkins from the town of Oneonta, New York and thus the area become known as “Oneonta” Gorge (Pronounced: own-e-on-ta).
The log jam at Oneonta Gorge has not always been there. In fact the trek up the gorge used to be a very easy one until a series of storms in the late 1990’s brought down a significant number of trees from the canyon walls above and formed the log jam that exists today.