Exactly 5 years ago, for my mother’s 60th birthday, I decided to surprise her with a trip to Portland as she had never been there long enough to really explore what it has to offer. If you love good food, books, and all the unique and wonderful things that can be found in small shops, Portland is the city for you. I made reservations at a BnB and had our whole weekend planned. And then it snowed. And snowed some more. The most snow Portland had seen in years. It shut down their public transportation. All the shops in the city closed up. So we stayed at our little BnB, on the outskirts of Portland, mind you. Not even walkable to anything but a pub. And being 8 ½ months pregnant, I couldn’t even enjoy that to its full potential. So we left Portland that weekend, with her still never having set foot in a single quaint city shop nor did she eat a single Voodoo donut.
Fast forward to her 65th. Another adventure planned. We have an understanding in our family that gifts are not always the best way to celebrate a birthday. We are old enough to buy ourselves all our needs and wants, and no one needs more things that lack a necessary purpose. Our money is hard earned, and it benefits neither of us to squander it on random goods. So we give the gift of time, undivided attention, and good company in the exploration of beautiful places. Is there really a better gift than that? I think not.
Therefore, I planned a trip to an old, restored lodge along a historic scenic byway. Just my mom’s style. We could do a few hikes, go into Portland for a few hours and relax in our little cabin near a waterfall. It was going to be perfect. And then it snowed. And snowed some more. Transportation was dodgy. Businesses were closed. Was this really happening again? Indeed it was. We persevered through the last snow storm and we would persevere through this one as well. We simply changed up our packing list and hit the road in my beloved AWD. Oh my, how I love AWD. We arrived at Bridal Veil lodge about an hour before dark, which was later than we intended. Bridal Veil Falls trailhead was right across the highway, and not knowing what the weather held for the next day, I took advantage of every minute and scrambled out to take a few photos before nightfall. Because the trail was incredibly icy and slick, my mother decided to stay behind in the warm cabin. I’ve never been so thankful for crampons, while I skated down the switchbacks the short ½ mile to the falls.
By the time I reached the base, I had the whole falls to myself. While snow for us is not uncommon, it is rare in this quantity. The amount of ice, the formations, the way the snow melted and refroze, it was like nothing I have ever seen. The trails I am used to seeing in every shade of PNW green were now reflecting the last bit of sun in the purest blankets of white, watery tones of blue and stormy shades of silver. Icicles hung on the fallen logs over the river. Sheets of ice blanketed the rocks under the falls as the mist and spray gathered and froze. The sound even carried differently. Rather than carrying off through the rocks and pines, the sound was gently contained. It was like being in a symphony hall made of soft snow.
After returning to the lodge we went inside the main house for a cup of tea and a fireside cuddle with the resident feline. The lodge is beautifully restored, having first been built as an Auto Camp in the 1920’s, there are still many details left just as they originally were. The window in our cabin was original and is simply extraordinary. It’s the kind of window I wish I could wake up to every morning. Our host was genuine and engaging, and the breakfast was filled with flavorful veggies and perfectly poached eggs. However, with 4 more falls on our itinerary, we had to get back on the road shortly thereafter. Our first stop after breakfast was Wahkeena Falls. The name in Native American means “most beautiful”, and it is very much so. Set back behind the trees, the 242 foot cascade of this fall completely encased in snow was truly breathtaking.
It has 6 drops and although there is no pool at the bottom, the rush of water flowing from the base is just as beautiful as any pool. We refrained from hiking to Multnomah Falls from Wahkeena both in caution of the ice, and as many trailheads are still closed from the damage done by the Eagle Creek fire.
I’ve seen Multnomah several times but never in the snow. It was like seeing an entirely new waterfall. From the snow peaks on the rocks to the icicles draping all the way from the bridge to the frozen pool below, it was an absolute wonderland.
Multnomah is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, at 620 feet. Although it only has 2 drops, they are significant and make this the most iconic falls in Oregon.
After Multnomah, we continued east to Horsetail falls which, surprisingly, may have been my favorite of them all. By simply changing your viewpoint, it seems like you are seeing an entirely different waterfall.
This one was the most breathtaking of the day, in my opinion. The pool below is easily accessible and again, the ice and snow over the rocks and water looked like carefully sculpted art.
At 176 feet, it is smaller than all the others but clearly no less spectacular. There is an additional lower falls called Ponytail but we chose not to venture down on this visit. The last waterfall on our way out was Latourell.
At 249 feet, it is the only fall with one straight drop from the basalt cliff. A bit difficult to photograph just how beautiful it was, the ice over the rocks was so unique due to the splash and mist of the long straight drop. It was almost like icing smoothly coating the rocks below. It was a great waterfall to end our trip with.
I likely would not have planned this trip had I known the snow was coming in such strong force, but I’m so glad we didn’t forego our plans. I’m not sure I’ll ever have another opportunity to see the falls quite like they were this weekend. It made for a memorable birthday for my mom and an unforgettable weekend for us both. I think we’re going to skip Oregon for her 70th, though. Best to not push our luck by tempting fate with a 3rd record breaking snowstorm.
Read the book, plant the flowers, take the trip, and always have the courage to be kind.