Having spent my childhood in the great plains of the Midwest, my world was flat. Flat cornfields, flat roads, flat everything made distant rolling hills and far off craggy mountaintops all the more majestic. There was something magical and mysterious about them; they were out of reach. To this day, I am still captivated by landscape that is not perfectly horizontal.
Midwesterner or not, the Oneonta Gorge is a delight for thrill seekers of all ages. A tall, narrow ravine only accessible by climbing slippery logjams and plunging chest deep into icy water, this gorge is a riveting experience. And just 40 minutes outside of Portland, it is well worth the drive for those wishing to actively participate in a slice of Oregon magic.
So, how do we get there? It’s actually quite straightforward and for those of you that have been out on the scenic route 30 have probably passed right by it. Just east of Multnomah Falls, there are signs for the Oneonta Gorge Trail. Go ahead and park in that designated area. To follow the trail, there is a bridge leading into a tunnel. But rather than go through the tunnel, you’ll want to take the overgrown stairs just before the bridge in the southwest corner.
This is where our adventure began. These steps led us down to the bottom of the ravine, rather than the marked trail. Initially, the trickle of water is not even ankle-deep and easily avoidable by the wide riverbanks. We walked along the bank until we got to this:
Yep. It’s a huge logjam with dozens of enormous, slick trees. It doesn’t look that treacherous, but trust. It’s taller and wider than it lseems. Climbing across it is somewhat dangerous. I mean, this area is unmaintained and there are no handrails. But we did see small nimble children, fit older folks, and even brave dogs making their way across. Know your own limits. It is NOT safe.
Once we successfully crossed, we understood the reason why so many people do it. Ahead of us was a deep cut in the mountains that looked like they were split apart with a jagged knife. Walking through it, we stared up in amazement. It was otherworldly. We were not be the only ones murmuring, this is awesome. It is awesome. It invokes awe.
As we walked along, we realized our legs were tingling. Looking down, we saw that the earth dipped and the water slowly crept up and was hugging our calves. And the riverbanks had disappeared. The water was so clear we could barely tell. But, not wanting to be wimps, we forged on. (You can’t forge a river though.) Surprisingly, our legs
numbed got used to it quickly.
The water receded just as fast as it rose, and we thought we were out of the danger zone. That wasn’t so bad! But a few steps ahead then the ground sank again. The stones on which we were walking kept dipping lower, and lower and lower beneath the surface of the water. This time, it wasn’t just to our knees. The water was now chest deep. And ice cold. Since we knew there was more ahead, we kept going, the cool water wrapping around our skin like a snake with a deathlike grip. It. Was. Freezing. But after a few minutes of torture, we were released and back on dry land.
Walking a few more paces into the canyon, we came to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Before us was a massive waterfall. We reached the end! After a few obligatory jumping photos, we traversed back out.
That entire adventure took us about 90 minutes. Well worth the drive from Portland to visit this natural treasure.