The top of Oneonta Falls as it crashes down into the narrow gorge and pool below.

The top of Oneonta Falls as it crashes down into the narrow gorge and pool below.

My friend G had the idea to go for a hike, and I remembered the Oneonta Gorge “trail” that I have been wanting to see since I moved here. It’s the way to the beautiful Oneonta Falls. No trail is possible, since it’s through a narrow creek canyon, so people access the falls by walking in the creek. I was warned ahead of time that the water is cold and the canyon is shaded and can be chilly, so save the trip for a hot day.

Well, we have certainly had some hot days!

We planned the trip on Wednesday, assuming that the weekday would decrease the number of people joining us. The weather overruled that idea: the place was packed. But just imagine how much worse it could be on the weekend.

The recently opened Oneonta Tunnel is a great photo op for adventurous people who want to climb to the top. This old tunnel was built for the original Columbia River Highway around 1920.

The recently opened Oneonta Tunnel is a great photo op for adventurous people who want to climb to the top. This old tunnel was built for the original Columbia River Highway around 1920.

The trailhead is just off the I-84 east of Portland, only 40 minutes from G’s house (and the Blue House where Tara and I used to live). We found parking along the Historic Columbia River Highway, in the shade! It was a short walk past multiple trailheads that leave from the Oneonta Gorge area. There are no signs alerting us to the beginning of the Oneonta Falls trail, but we are clever people and realized that since the trail is the creek, we would just walk into the creek and head upstream.

Also, we could just follow the people.

Dozens of people make their careful way across a log jam and rock in the middle of the creek.

Dozens of people make their careful way across a log jam and rock in the middle of the creek.

The first challenge was to clamber over a large log jam of trees that pile up every spring against an enormous rock in the middle of the creek. In some places there was only one good route, so all the people had to wait behind whomever was in front. When someone had unsteady legs, or was carrying a toddler, it brought movement to a halt. We also had to stop our forward progress for the people who were making their way out and had to use the same route.

Most of the walk was in water ankle deep or calf deep, and the deepest part of all was up to the bottom of our ribcages. Now that was cold! We were walking on the wobbly rocks underwater, while balanced on our tippie toes, trying to keep our tops out of the water. It’s amazing no one fell.

Tara and G wait for me while I gasp at the views and take photos.

Tara and G wait for me while I gasp at the views and take photos.

Creative people built about 15 towering cairns in one section of the creek.

Creative people built about 15 towering cairns in one section of the creek.

We stopped periodically to gaze in awe and admiration at the sheer cliff walls covered in moss and ferns, and topped with trees. The light was incredibly bright at the top of the gorge, and rather dark at the bottom, so I struggled to get decent photos that showed it all. I don’t have the camera skills to pull that off.

At the end, there is an inviting pool at the base of the falls. While Tara and G swam and climbed and jumped into the water, I stood waist-deep in the pool and took photos. The spray was blasting throughout the hollowed out spot, so I did not get very many photos in focus.

When we were all cold and thoroughly delighted, we turned around and headed back out.

Visiting on a weekday did not give us any privacy. Oh well.

Visiting on a weekday did not give us any privacy. Oh well.

Tara and G bravely head deeper into the cold pool.

Tara and G bravely head deeper into the cold pool.

Playing in the water.

Playing in the water.

They decided to try and swim beneath the falls.

They decided to try and swim beneath the falls.

Posing under the falls

Posing under the falls

The views on the way out. We literally had a light at the end of the tunnel.

The views on the way out. We literally had a light at the end of the tunnel.

Tara walks toward the deeper water, beneath trees soaring from the tops of the cliffs.

Tara walks toward the deeper water, beneath trees soaring from the tops of the cliffs.

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