Hiking the Horsetail Falls trail to Oneonta Gorge

Horsetail Falls (I can't choose which angle I like more)Horsetail FallsThis year for my wife’s birthday, we hiked the Horsetail Falls trail to Oneonta Creek. We started late in the day, which  limited our hiking time, but simultaneously provided gorgeous light for late afternoon photography. In fact, the Horsetail Falls Trail, when hiked its full length, passes by Middle Oneonta Falls and Triple Falls. I’m looking forward to returning in late Autumn to shoot Triple Falls accented by yellowing Bigleaf maples.

The trailhead is located fifty feet or so east of Horsetail Falls. This waterfall is adjacent to a parking lot, making it a popular destination for tourists passing though the Columbia River Gorge. After photographing the falls, we were warmly greeted by a steep switchback and a decent elevation gain as we started our hike. The switchback ended at a connecting trail about 2/10 of a mile from Ponytail falls. The trail followed a cliff that offered amazing vistas of the Columbia Gorge 500 feet below. The lush foliage began to transluce as the sun set, casting long shadows and bathing the Gorge in golden light. Here delicate wildflowers clung to their precarious perch overhanging the windswept basalt cliffs.

Our daughter was sitting this hike out, spending time with a babysitter she adores. Gabriel, on the other hand, was very content on this, his first outdoor adventure. He fussed a bit as we neared Ponytail falls, quieting down as Momma fed him. I used this downtime to photograph the wildflowers and river vistas that the elevated trail provided. A lone monument to a 14 year old hiker who perished in 1988 from a fall can be found here. Every year recreation in the Gorge leads to deaths or injuries, so it is important to be well prepared when venturing into the wilderness and to be aware of the potential danger obscured by the alluring natural beauty.

Ponytail Falls is a hidden gem. Erosion created a pocket behind the falls that provides a very unique perspective. The trail curves around the bowl and behind the cascade itself, leading through an echo chamber that makes conversation difficult without a raised voice. The green moss and cold spray make this spot a relaxing refuge on a warm spring day.
The photo seems peaceful but the cascade made plenty of noise

We followed the trail past Ponytail Falls until it started to lead west, high above Oneonta Gorge, a narrow slot canyon that makes for a memorable hike. We paused at the top of Lower Oneonta Falls, though it was completely obscured by the heavy fern canopy. At this point, with the sun setting, we decided to turn back, saving Triple Falls for another day. We ended our day at Pfriem Brewery and sampled their brews while reflecting on the hike.

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