Hiking Oneonta Gorge

Imagine wading through chilly water, with green-covered walls rising above you and cascading water ahead, pouring nearly 70-feet over the side of a basaltic cliff.

Oneonta Gorge

It sounds like something from a fantasy world, but it was actually just a side hike we took on our day-long tour of the Columbia River Gorge.

I saw the Oneonta Gorge waterfall on several lists of must-see places in Oregon/the United States/in the grand scheme of waterfalls. So I convinced Joel to hike through a damn-cold creek to get there. He wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but I like to think after seeing how breathtakingly gorgeous it was, he thought it was worth it.

The hike starts on dry land but quickly places you on a path of stones and logs that traverse over the chilly creek. We went slowly at first, trying to avoid the water on our trek to the giant log jam. Eventually we gave up on this, since we were going to get wet anyway, and just sloshed clumsily through the water as we tried to keep our balance on the slippery rock bed.

We came upon the massive log jam and very carefully maneuvered our way over. Slow and steady wins the race. Later I found a bunch of bruises on my sensitive skin from knocking against logs — a worthy price to pay for the view at the end.

Oneonta Gorge

After passing over the jam, there was no dry land to be seen so we sloshed some more. I saw a few guys who looked very wet and asked them if they made it all the way. When they confirmed they had, I grilled them about water depth. At almost 5’4″, I was a little worried that the notorious deep section would be over my head. But the shortest of the dudes confirmed that it in fact would probably only hit me shoulder height. Freezing cold water up to my shoulders? No biggie. At least it meant I wouldn’t have to swim through!

Oneonta Gorge

Oneonta Gorge

We kept going, eventually running into a girl who wasn’t so keen on wading through chest-deep water. She cautioned that the water level was 5’5″, concerning me until finally we actually hit the deepest section. The icy water barely glazed the tops of my shoulders, and it was only for about 10-15 feet, before we emerged on higher ground, closer to the main prize.

Oneonta Gorge

The waterfall at the end was stunning, sliding down a cliff, feeding the creek we stood in. But the real majesty is in the stunning basaltic walls that rise up from each side of the creek. There was something about it that seemed straight out of a fantasy movie, like Avatar or Fern Gully or some other film representing a magical foreign planet or existence. Even though our feet were numb, we took the time to look up, look around and just soak it all in.

Oneonta Gorge

I’m glad we braved the water and slippery rocks to enjoy the other-worldly existence of this Columbia River Gorge gem. For those prepared, in shape and bold, I highly encourage this side trip into one of nature’s gems (as long as its safe!).

Some tips:

  • The rock bed is super slippery, so go slow! And beware as you get closer to the walls — it rises up and can easily cause you to slip.
  • Wear clothes that will dry quickly. We wore our quick-dry clothes so after a little while in the sun on a 75-degree day, we were mostly dry.
  • Don’t take anything expensive (like cameras) unless you are very careful, have waterproof bags or know what you’re doing. We took one phone (Joel’s half-broken, cracked phone, so it wouldn’t be much of a loss if ruined) and the car keys. Joel slipped at one point and nearly dunked his phone, but everything emerged unscathed. But I damn sure wouldn’t have taken our Canon on this inaugural trip.
  • Stop and take it all in for a few minutes! We climbed on a rock to get out of the cold, cold water and just looked up and around at this amazing place!

Oneonta GorgeFeeling proud after making it to the waterfall!

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