Written by | Derek Carlson

Hiking to Tamanawas Falls Near Mt. Hood

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Located on the Eastern side of Mt. Hood, Tamanawas Falls doesn’t get nearly the attention that its cousins in the gorge command. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the visit though!

These falls cascade into a gorgeous natural amphitheater and, with a short scramble, you can even walk behind the falls and feel the power of the river as it rushes directly over your head.

Tamanawas Falls Details

Tamanawas Falls is located at the end of off the Tamanawas Falls spur trail. This trail can be accessed from either the Tamanawas Falls trailhead or the Polallie Trailhead which are both located directly off of Highway 35 on the Eastern side of Mt. Hood.

Hike Length

The hike to Tamanawas Falls from the Tamanawas Falls trailhead is approximately 3.4 miles round trip with 580 feet of elevation gain. Taking the route from the Polallie trailhead makes the hike 4.1 miles with 900 feet of elevation gain.

Passes Required

A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at either the Tamanawas Falls trailhead or Polallie trailhead. This pass can be purchased for $35 for an annual pass or you can purchase a $5 day pass.

There is no permit required to hike the trail.

Driving Distance

The trailhead is located approximately 90 minutes from Portland or 140 minutes from Bend. Check the road conditions when coming from Portland as it can be easier to come from the Gorge side rather than take 26 up over Mt. Hood if there is traffic.

Difficulty

Easy/Moderate – there are some short sections of scrambling over rocks and moderate elevation gain along the length of the trail but otherwise it is a fairly easy hike. The scramble behind the falls requires climbing up some slippery, loose terrain and scrambling over slick rocks. I wouldn’t recommend this section without grippy hiking shoes and comfort with climbing over large rocks.

Our Trip to Tamanawas Falls

Sign for the Tamanawas Falls trailhead near Mt Hood

We recently visited the falls on a beautiful June morning after staying the night at the Fivemile Butte Fire Lookout. The lookout is located only 25 minutes from the trailhead so this makes for a great hike before or after staying at the lookout.

We left the lookout at around 9:30am on a mid-June morning and arrived to see the parking lot for the falls approximately 75% full. Luckily, this is a fairly short hike and we noticed a lot of cars coming and going so it may be worth waiting a few minutes for a spot if you show up and the lot is totally full.

The hike to the falls starts off along the East Fork trail which follows both the East Fork River and Highway 35 for the first half mile. The sound of the river mostly drowns out the sounds of cars passing by but you won’t totally forget that there is a road 100 yards to your right.

Alternative Options – You can usually also park at the Polallie Trailhead which is just a couple miles north along Highway 35 if the Tamanawas Trailhead is full. As of June 2023 there is a bridge washed out along that section of the trail so the falls are not reachable from that trailhead unless you take the Elk Meadows trail which adds on a bit more elevation to the hike.

Tamanawas Falls Tie Trail

Bridge over cold springs creek along the tamanawas falls tie trail

After the first half mile along the East Fork Trail you’ll make a left and start heading up towards Mt. Hood along the the Tamanawas Falls Tie Trail. This trail will take you the remaining 1.2 miles up to the base of Tamanawas Falls.

To start off you’ll cross another small log bridge which passes over Cold Spring Creek. From here you’ll closely follow the creek and pass by numerous small waterfalls and pools. These spots make for great opportunities to take photos or relax along the creek.

a small waterfall on cold spring creek on the way to Tamanawas Falls

We convinced our 6-year-old to dunk his head into the water along one of these stops and I joined him. It was refreshing but this water is still shockingly cold this time of year!

This section of trail has a few rocky areas including one where you’re passing through boulders that have fallen from the cliffs above. This requires some very mild scrambling on slick rocks so use caution here. Luckily, once you’re past this section the waterfall is just ahead!

The rockiest section of the Tamanawas Falls tie trail

Arriving at Tamanawas Falls

Right after making it through the rocks you’ll start to hear the falls up ahead. At this point you’ve climbed a good 30 – 40 ft above the creek so you get a great look at the falls from a higher vantage before descending into the full mist of the falls.

a view from the side of Tamanawas Falls

At this point the trail ends and your experience of the falls becomes a choose your own adventure. Most of the people we saw chose to sit on the rocks near where the trail ended to watch the falls and eat a snack.

The spray gets more and more intense as you get closer to the creek so if you want to stay dry then your best bet is to stay higher up on the trail and rocks.

One of the coolest parts of this waterfall is the fact that you can walk behind it!

Me and my 6-year-old chose to do just that.

Walking behind Tamanawas Falls

There is no trail that takes you behind the falls so this short but difficult section is entirely on your own. To start you have to traverse/climb a short section of slippery slope. There is a small stream running through here and the slope is a mixture of sand/mud so take this slowly and watch your footing.

The cave behind Tamanawas Falls

From there you’ll be climbing along large rocks that have fallen from the cliffs above. Because so many people have walked along this section the rocks have be worn smooth so be very careful with your footing.

Luckily the walk is short and soon enough you’ll be entering the cave behind the falls. Watch your head as the roof is pretty low to start but it does open up as you make your way further towards the falls.

Once you’re directly under the falls you can hear the roar of the river above. For me this was an awe inspiring experience as you can really feel the power of the river reverberating through the rocks.

Because of the scramble involved to get here there was only one other person behind the falls so we were able to enjoy it in near solitude for a good 15 minutes before heading back to the trail.

The Hike Out

Hiking back out was relatively painless although the rocky nature of the trail ended up making it feel like we had hiked further than 3.5 miles. A few breaks along the creeks for the kids did wonders though as they were able to dip their hands and heads into the water to cool off.

Back at the trailhead the lot was now totally full and we watched a number of folks waiting for spots. There are some picnic tables and a restroom here so we sat down to enjoy some lunch and a coffee before hopping back in the car for our drive home.

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