EVERYONE LOVES WATERFALLS. They are as integral a part of the Northwest landscape and persona as the region's food and drink. And even though waterfalls are rare in general, there are tons of them here, another badge of honor for one of the country's breadbaskets.
Some waterfalls are more than just pretty places to visit. While the opportunity to prance around in a forested scene straight out of a Kinkade-ian masterpiece is typically inspiration enough to seek one out, sometimes you want more from your experience. Luckily, there are a number of waterfall hikes in the Portland area that dangle alluring carrots of added interest, like "fascinating regional history" or "a chance to commune with a faith-based deity." So for those of you who need a little extra motivation to get your butt outside and next to a beautiful waterfall, here you go:
If you haven't heard of Warren Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, there's a good reason—it's not there anymore. In 1939, the highway department constructed a massive metal weir and tunnel system to divert water from the top of what once was Warren Falls through a massive basalt cliff to where it now spits out as Hole-in-the-Wall Falls. The reason for all of this rather impressive engineering was that Warren Falls was somehow interfering with the newly constructed Historic Highway. Instead of rerouting the road, they rerouted the waterfall.
You can still visit the eerie empty canyon where Warren Falls used to thunder by visiting the Starvation Creek State Park in the Gorge. From the parking area, walk back toward the freeway exit along the shoulder of the road. Eventually the trail dips down into the woods, following a segment of the Historic Highway, passing Cabin Creek Falls before reaching Hole-in-the-Wall Falls. Just east of these man-made falls, you can follow the old creek bed up to the moss-covered basalt wall that was Warren Falls. If you visit during high-water season, you'll occasionally be able to see a trickle of water form a mini-falls as it partially overwhelms the weir that is still in place to this day.
Coopey and Abiqua Falls
This pair of waterfalls shares a handful of traits: They are beautiful, and in the case of Abiqua Falls, arguably one of the most visually striking in the state. They are both located on land owned by god; or at least his representatives at the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist Convent and the Abbey Foundation of Oregon. And because of this fact, both cascades see relatively few visitors.
Coopey Falls, or the upper chunk of it, is not hidden from view. If you've ever been among the throngs of people who hike butt-to-gut up to Angel's Rest on the weekend, you've probably seen it. But in order to get your eyes on the falls in its entirety, you need to visit it from ground level. And in order to do that, you have to visit a nunnery. Located on the grounds of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist Convent, Coopey Falls is a short distance east of the Angel's Rest Trailhead on the Historic Highway. Walk up to the main house, check in, and ask for permission to visit the falls. The sisters are more than accommodating.
Abiqua Falls is a waterfall lover's dream. The nearly perfect 92-foot falls tumbles into a massive arena of columnar basalt, colored red and green by lichen and moss. It's hard to access, there's no maintained trail, and you have to pass through an area that is sometimes used to ride ATVs, drink Coors Light, and shoot at rocks... not that there's anything wrong with that. As stated, getting there can be a task, but the rewards are mighty.
To get there from the town of Scotts Mills, head south on Crooked Finger Road, which turns to gravel after about 9.4 miles. Drive 1.5 more miles and turn right on an unmarked gravel road. Drive straight through a gated area. Stay straight at any junctions for the next 2.5 miles until the road ends at a locked gate. Park here in the small pullout. Walk back along the road about 60 feet and take a right onto a small skid road. Follow this down for another 100 or more feet. Just before entering a clear-cut area, there is an obvious boot path heading down into the trees to the left. If you encounter signage from the Abbey Foundation of Oregon, you're on the right track. The signs simply declare that you are entering private property that is available for recreational use only. The trail is very steep and gets you to the creek in a hurry. Follow the creek upstream about 0.3 miles to the falls.
Adam Sawyer is a freelance writer, photographer, and hiking guide. He recently authored Falcon Guides' Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon. Find him at adamsawyer.com.