Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon
In one of the most popular tourist areas in the entire Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River Gorge, it can be hard to find solitude and peace. But there are still places that remain (relatively) underexplored. One of them is the Dry Creek Falls Trail on the Oregon side of the gorge
Dry Creek Falls Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
First of all, though, I am not claiming that no one hikes the Dry Creek Falls Trail. This is still a pretty popular trail, although much, much less overcrowded than other trails in the Columbia River Gorge—especially those around Multnomah Falls. More on that later.
Located in Cascade Locks, Oregon, the Dry Creek Falls Trail is an easy, fairly flat trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall and back. The total elevation gain is only about 725 feet in 2.2 miles, making this a manageable hike for all fitness levels.
Dry Creek Falls Hike
The hike starts at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, which is at the parking lot just off I-84 in Cascade Locks (when coming from Portland). From the parking area, cross the road that loops up to the iconic Bridge of the Gods, famous from the movie Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, ends her Pacific Crest Trail adventure on this bridge.
As it happens, most of the Dry Creek Falls hike actually follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Fun fact: the trailhead of this hike is the lowest elevation on the entire PCT!
Across the road from the parking area, you will find yourself on that famous and legendary trail, which you will follow underneath the I-84 bridge and onto a gravel road.
You’ll quickly come to a trail-road intersection, where trail signs point to Gorge Trail #400 and the Pacific Crest Trail. Follow the latter, which turns to the left, into the woods. The Dry Creek Falls Trail (aka Pacific Crest Trail) slowly climbs its way up a forested hill, which features beautiful wildflowers in spring and amazing foliage in the fall.
About 1 mile down the PCT, you will hit a gravel power line access road. Turn right on that road, then quickly turning left back into the forest.
After another mile or so, you will come across Dry Creek itself. The PCT continues across the bridge over the creek, but you will turn right and follow the dirt trail for 0.2 miles to the actual falls—the ultimate destination and highlight of this wonderful Columbia River Gorge hike.
Dry Creek Waterfall
Dry Creek Falls drops about 75 feet down into a beautiful natural amphitheatre of basalt rock. Surrounded by moss-covered rocks and lush vegetation, it’s a scene that couldn’t possibly embody Oregon more.
If you’re not looking for a strenuous climb to a viewpoint high above the Columbia River, but rather want a relaxed hike with plenty of Gorge characteristics, this is a fantastic choice.
It is one of my personal favourite waterfall hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, both because of its relative quietness and the sheer picturesqueness of the waterfall.
Spend some time enjoying this scenic single waterfall before retracing your steps 2.2 miles back to the parking area. The entire round-trip is 4.4 miles.
If you’re hungry after your Dry Creek Falls hike, there are plenty of food options in Cascade Locks. Craving an after-hike beer? Check out Thunder Island Brewing Company just down the road, near Cascade Locks Marine Park. The only craft brewery between Portland and Hood River, it has an amazing patio alongside the mighty Columbia River. This is my go-to destination after a hike in the Columbia River Gorge.
A Wealth of Gorgeous Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls
Dry Creek Falls is just one of many amazing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. Rising up thousands of feet above the river, the cliffs and slopes on the Oregon side feature pristine forest scenery lined with dozens of creeks and streams.
Those ribbons of water are fed by snowmelt and rain in the Cascade Mountains, including nearby Mt. Hood, Oregon’s highest mountain.
Dry Creek is one of those numerous creeks that tumble, plunge and cascade down toward the Columbia River. The section between Latourell and Cascade Locks is dotted with waterfalls—dozens of them.
You can access and see all these waterfalls on trails off the Historic Columbia River Highway (or I-84), a phenomenally scenic drive that parallels and snakes its way along the Columbia River.
The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area—the largest national scenic area in the USA—is also home to a number of state parks, campgrounds and picnic areas.
However, since this area is only half an hour east of Portland, it gets extremely busy on weekends, even in winter. Parking lots often fill up completely. So, if you’re planning to hike the Dry Creek Falls Trail, and perhaps some other trails in the Gorge, I strongly recommend doing that on a weekday.
Dry Creek Falls Hike FAQ
How Long is the Dry Creek Falls Trail?
The Dry Creek Falls Trail is 2.2 miles one way, from the trailhead to the falls. The round-trip hike is 4.4 miles.
Where Is the Dry Creek Falls Trailhead?
You can find the trailhead for this hike at the parking area of the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead in Cascade Locks, Oregon. When coming from the direction of Portland, take the first Cascade Locks exit on I-84, which is the Bridge of the Gods exit.
Drive underneath the bridge and immediately turn right toward the bridge. Just before you get to the bridge, you can turn.
Follow signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (south) across the road to the Bridge of the Gods and underneath the I-84 bridge.
How Long Does It Take to Hike to Dry Creek Falls?
Hiking Dry Creek Falls is fairly easy and involves relatively little elevation gain, about 725 feet. Considering it’s only 4.4 miles there and back, this hike doesn’t take that long. Strong hikers will be back in 2 hours. Yet, I suggest giving yourself at least 3 hours to enjoy and take in the beautiful scenery. There’s no need to rush this!
Are Dogs Allowed?
Yes, you can take your four-legged friend with you on this hike, but remember that dogs must be on a leash at all times.
Is There a Fee to Hike the Dry Creek Falls Trail?
Technically, there is no fee to hike the Dry Creek Falls Trail, but you do have to pay a fee to park at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead. That parking fee is $5 per vehicle per day.
Alternatively, you can also use one of the available Recreation Passes as a form of payment. This includes the annual Northwest Forest Pass and the “America the Beautiful” Annual Passes, which can save you money if you’re visiting other parks in the region, too. Display your pass in your vehicle and you’re good to go.
Where Can I Find a Dry Creek Falls Hike Map?
There are few maps that specifically and clearly outline this particular hike. However, I recommend getting the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which is available on Amazon and local bookstores and covers the entire area in great topographic detail.
Is There a Restroom Available?
Yes, there are public restrooms at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead parking area.
What Is the Best Time for a Dry Creek Falls Hike?
The Dry Creek Falls Trail is open throughout the year, but since the main highlight is a waterfall, the optimal time to do this hike is during the wetter months. Particularly spring is a fantastic time for this Columbia River Gorge waterfall hike when rain showers and snowmelt swells the Gorge’s creeks and wildflowers bloom on slopes.
Late-fall, on the other hand, brings gorgeous fall foliage in the woods and, if it’s a wet fall, also plenty of water.
Summer is the driest season and the waterfall, although it never entirely dries up, is much less powerful and impressive then. Winter comes with possible snowfall and icy trail conditions, but with crampons, hiking poles and warm clothes, this trail can be absolutely amazing in winter.
Are There Any Other Things to Do in the Columbia River Gorge?
Oh yes! The Columbia River Gorge is chock-full with attractions. In addition to the numerous beautiful waterfall hikes, simply driving the Historic Columbia River Highway makes for a super-fun day trip. There are a number of scenic viewpoints on the way, most notably the Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint and Crown Point.
Hood River, the meeting point of the lush western Gorge and the dry and arid eastern Gorge, has craft breweries, a charming downtown and some of the world’s best windsurfing.
Continuing further east toward The Dalles, you enter an area characterized by rocky slopes and canyons, arid farmlands and wildflower-covered meadows. This is a less-known and completely different part of the Columbia River Gorge, which, if you have a few days, I really recommend exploring.