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Horsetail Falls Loop Hike

From Portland Hikers Field Guide

Horsetail Falls (Jeff Statt)
Ponytail Falls (Steve Hart)
Trail of switchbacks on the way up to Ponytail Falls (Jeff Statt)

Contents

Hike Description

This is a stunning low elevation loop in the Columbia River Gorge. There are views of three waterfalls and a couple of views of Oneonta Gorge.

The trail begins in one of the most scenic trailheads anywhere, at Horsetail Falls. Plan on a bit of time before or after you hike to view and photograph the falls. Horsetail Falls Trail #438 begins climbing some easily graded switchbacks with beautiful rock walls. You'll pass your first trail junction here, as Gorge Trail #400 heads east. After 5 switchbacks the trail levels out, and heads west for a bit, high above the Gorge below. After 4/10 of a mile, the trail suddenly turns into the small valley containing Ponytail Falls. In literally a few steps, you leave the modern freeway noise and enter a different world. The trail passes behind Ponytail Falls in a cavernous area eroded beneath a lava flow.

The trail continues west maintaining a level path along the bluff. Rockfalls here support moss, ferns and a few large maples. After a bit, a side trail leads to lookouts. If you have children, be careful here. A plaque memorializes a teen that fell nearby to his death.

The main trail continues into Oneonta Canyon. Oneonta Creek is our of sight deep below in Oneonta Gorge. Just past a weeping wall, the trail begins to switchback down to a crossing of Oneonta Creek. There's a view into the upper end of Oneonta Gorge from the second switchback. The trail crosses Oneonta Creek on a metal bridge. Just above the bridge is Middle Oneonta Falls, a 15' drop. Just below the bridge, the creek disappears over the brink of Lower Oneonta Falls into Oneonta Gorge. Beyond the bridge, the trail switchbacks up to a junction with the Oneonta Trail #424. An optional hike extension is detailed here as the Triple Falls Hike.

To complete the loop, turn right and head down Oneonta Trail. This section isn't quite as scenic, although it's not too shabby in it's own right. You'll pass a side trail to some viewpoints on the right and then you'll come to another junction with the #400 trail, this time heading west toward Multnomah Falls. Above the trail junction here, you'll see an old stone wall and in the winter there's a seasonal waterfall off-trail, just above the treeline. Turn right here to stay on the Oneonta Trail and head down to the Historic Highway. Turn right and walk 1/2 mile back to your car. About halfway back, you'll pass Oneonta Gorge Trailhead, a worthy destination for late summer hikes. Just past the trailhead walk across the old highway bridge over Oneonta Creek and through the restored Oneonta Tunnel. Take care beyond the tunnel parking lot as the road is quite narrow. The safest path may be to cross the road and walk between the highway guardrail and the railway fence.

Maps

Fees, Regulations, etc.

Approximate trail map

Nothing required

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge, by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Afoot and Afield Portland/Vancouver, by Douglas Lorain
  • 35 Hiking Trails, Columbia River Gorge, by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Columbia River Gorge, 42 Scenic Hikes, by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge - 1st and 2nd Editions, by Russ Schneider
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon - 3rd Edition, by William L Sullivan

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Contributors

Portland Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.