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Slideshow: Oneonta Gorge

Get a glimpse of this lush mossy retreat just east of Portland.

If there’s any warning needed for Oneonta Gorge, know this: You will get wet.

That said, it’s the perfect escape from Portland on a hot day. When temperatures spiked toward triple digits over the weekend, Oneonta was the first refuge I sought. Noticeably cooler than the city, this stunning spot features a mossy chasm with 100-foot basalt walls covered by lacy ferns and pockets of moss. At its end is a fairy-tale waterfall that plunges into a swim-perfect pool.

You might question the trip at the sight of the hefty logjam stuffed at the canyon’s mouth — particularly if it’s a hot weekend and there are throngs of people out — and there’s a good chance you’ll come home bruised and scraped and sore. But like so many nature forays, it’s a worthwhile price.

The Gorge itself is narrow and trail-less, forcing you to, at least once, wade through a few feet of snowmelt. A deep channel just before the falls requires a chilly swim or rock-climbing skill. Despite its waterfall finale, I don’t consider it the trip’s ultimate reward. It’s magic to wade through water surrounded by tumbling canyon walls. The passing light is transcendent; ferns and delicate purple flowers bob in the wind. You’ll want to return again and again.

Go There!

From Portland:

  • Take I-84 to Bridal Veil Falls Exit 28 for the Historic Columbia River Highway
  • 2.6 miles past Multnomah Falls, park at Oneonta Bridge

My advice? Know your limits and those of your companions. Bring some patience and a little courage. It’s kid- and water-loving-dog-friendly — to a degree. Travel light, and leave a towel (and possibly a change of clothes) in the car, and bring a good pair of shoes. If you own a dry bag, use it.

The only disappointment to Oneonta, if any, is that you won’t be alone. But there’s a rare sense of community to be found in the shrieking throngs at the logjam. Strangers extend their hands to one another for balance.  Experienced scramblers are quick to offer crossing suggestions. Beneath it all is a giddy kind of laughter. And it’s amazing to witness what people carry. They carry babies, dogs, water bottles, coolers and DSLR cameras.  They come with backpacks and trekking poles and ice cream cones. The hikers are, if anything, among the faithful.

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Slideshow: Oneonta Gorge

Get a glimpse of this lush mossy retreat just east of Portland.