Tamanawas Falls

Mt Hood National Forest / Hood River / Mt Hood Town, Oregon, USA

About Tamanawas Falls

Hiking Distance: 3.6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2 hours

Date first visited: 2017-08-18
Date last visited: 2017-08-18

Waterfall Latitude: 45.40114
Waterfall Longitude: -121.58934

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Tamanawas Falls was one of the more pleasing waterfalls to see as it featured a classic rectangular shape said to drop 100ft with a width of about 40ft (though I’ve seen a height figure of as much as 150ft tall in the literature). Cold Spring Creek fell freely over a basalt lava cliff as the creek lost contact with it before crashing into the jumble of rocks below and continuing its eventual feeding of the East Fork Hood River. Given the amount of recess behind the falls, it appeared to be in the advanced stages of waterfall formation as the back spray continued to chip away at the softer rock holding up the overhanging cliffs. While there was no official trail to access that recess, I’m sure many hikers would find a way to scramble back there for that behind-the-waterfall experience that seemed to be a pretty common occurrence for many of Oregon’s waterfalls.

In order to access this waterfall, I went on an out-and-back hike that was 3.6 miles round trip according to my GPS logs (though Gregory Plumb’s book and some local trail signage had it at 4 miles round trip). It took me a little under 2 hours to complete this trail, which was pretty well-maintained for almost its entire length as major water crossings were bridged, and there was sufficient signage at the junctions to not get lost. However, there was a major rock slide at about a quarter-mile before the waterfall that was doable when I did the hike in August 2017, but the forest service had plans to rework the trail and finish the rework by Spring of 2018.

Closer look at the rock fall obstacle about a quarter-mile before the Tamanawas Falls
From the spacious pullout, the trail passed by some picnic tables and signs (one interesting sign talked about how log jams and large logs stabilize stream banks and improve fish habitat) before crossing over a sturdy bridge traversing the East Fork Hood River. Apparently, this bridge was re-built as a result of a major flood that washed the previous bridge away in 2007. Beyond the bridge, the trail briefly meandered through forested terrain before it started climbing as it rose high enough to overlook the Hwy 35 as well as some pronounced basalt formations high up on the cliffs above the opposite side of the road. The trail then descended towards a smaller footbridge over Cold Springs Creek at about 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Beyond the bridge, I then went left to follow the trail upstream along Cold Springs Creek (even though it appeared that the trail also went right though it was said that other trail went to the Polallie Trailhead). From here on out, the trail would continue to follow along the northern banks of Cold Springs Creek.

For much of the next mile, the trail continued to skirt very closely to the Cold Springs Creek. In a couple of sections, it looked like Cold Springs Creek could be eating away at parts of the trail in high flow. Along the way, there were some exposed roots and some fairly eroded parts sloping into the creek, but for the most part, the gradual climb was hardly noticeable. At about a half-mile from the footbridge over Cold Springs Creek, I started noticing some attractive intermediate cascades on the creek. In another 0.1 mile, I then saw a small waterfall spilling into a dark pool. Some use trails leading down to it suggested to me that some hikers might have used that pool to dip and cool off.

At about a mile from the footbridge over Cold Springs Creek, I reached a trail junction where a temporary yellow sign pointed me to keep left for the Tamanawas Falls. The path on the right was apparently for the Tamanawas Tie Trail. Immediately after this junction, I then encountered the big rock slide where giant boulders had obscured whatever trail was once there while also moving an old bridge all the way down to Cold Springs Creek down below. At first the scramble seemed pretty straight forward as I looked for relatively flat boulders to stand on, but the further I went, the more jumbled the boulders were and the trickier the scrambling became. Some flags and signs were erected to make a switchback out of the scramble (to minimize the already existent erosion), and then after switching back once more, I made it up to the continuation of the dirt trail.

In the remaining quarter-mile, the trail skirted high above Cold Springs Creek while re-entering the forest before the scenery opened up with Tamanawas Falls making its dramatic plunge up ahead at the head of the canyon. After getting through one more small grove of bush and trees, I was then on the talus slopes peering right at the impressive rectangular waterfall flanked by overhanging cliffs. Although it appeared possible to continue scrambling onto the slippery wet rocks and the mist coming from Tamanawas Falls to get to the amphitheater behind the falls, I was content with my views. Thus, I turned around and headed back the way I came. On the way back, I only encountered a handful of hikers so while this trail was said to be heavily-used, it didn’t seem to quite get the crush that I’d typically see in the Columbia River Gorge (either that or maybe I got an early enough start to even beat the rush on the return hike).


Since I was based in Portland, I’ll describe the driving route from there. Basically, I headed east on the I-84 towards Hood River for about 80 miles (about an hour drive) before taking exit 64 for the Mt Hood Hwy leading to White Salmon and Govt. Camp. Turning right at the off-ramp, I then remained on the Hwy 30 going south for about 24 miles (passing through Mt Hood Town en route) and eventually arriving at the large pullout for the Tamanawas Falls Trailhead, which was right off the right side of the road (west end). It was 5 miles south of the Pollallie Trailhead and a quarter-mile north of the Sherwood Campground (so if you made it out to there, you missed the nearest trailhead). This drive took me about 90 minutes.

For some geographical context, Portland was about 49 miles (over an hour drive) west of Cascade Locks, 75 miles (90 minutes drive) west of Hood River, 80 miles (1.5 hours drive) east of Cannon Beach, 112 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Eugene, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Medford, 173 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Seattle, Washington, 440 miles (7 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho, and 423 miles (6.5 hours drive) north of Redding, California.

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Comprehensive video showing the geology surrounding the falls before panning up and down the falls itself

180 degree sweep from downstream to upstream of the falls on the approach

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Tagged with: hood river, mt hood, mt hood national forest, hood river county, oregon, waterfall, sherwood campground, cold springs creek, east fork hood river

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