If crowds and timed-entry permit systems are keeping you from chasing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, then it might be time to wander north. A series of stunning waterfalls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest awaits those who don’t mind spending a couple of hours in the car to reach them.
- Starting point: Lower, Middle, or Upper Falls trailheads
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 8.6 miles
- Route type: Loop
- Elevation gain: ~1,000 ft
- Trail surface: Dirt
- Wheelchair accessible: No
- Open: Year-round
- Dog friendly: Yes, on leash
- Parking permit: Northwest Forest Pass + Lewis River Recreation Area Ticket
A campground and day-use area near the Lower Falls makes this waterfall the most crowded of the three. The trail connecting the three falls is well maintained with mostly gentle changes in elevation. It passes through old-growth forests and impressive rock formations, includes footbridges with creek access, and is mostly shaded by tree canopy. Be aware that the road to the trailheads is bumpy, winding, and includes unpaved sections.
Why you should try it
Thanks to its distance from Portland and few amenities along the way, the Lewis River Falls Trail provides a quintessential PNW-style adventure without hoards of people — a hard-to-find combination these days. Waterfall vistas, mossy forests, swimming holes, camping opportunities, and a bonus fourth waterfall (Lower Copper Creek Falls) make this a must-do hike.
Print a copy of your parking reservation and be sure to start the trip with a full tank of gas. Avoid the toll at the Bridge of the Gods by taking I-205 to WA-14, or taking I-5 northbound to the Woodland exit. There are no toilets at the Upper or Middle Falls trailheads. Bring your swimming suit on a hot day for a dip at the Middle Falls, pack a cooler with snacks and water, and be prepared to be out of cell service.