Past the paved lower section, Wahkeena Trail is dirt singletrack, interrupted by sections of jagged rock. Combined with frequent slick, wet areas, this makes for a trail that can be tricky at times. While inexperienced hikers can fare well enough in street shoes, the added challenge of running makes trail shoes a recommended piece of equipment. The rock plates and lugs will help in the more challenging segments.
As the most popular nature destination in the Pacific Northwest, the trails can be very crowded, especially in good weather and on weekends. While not as packed as the Multnomah trailhead, the best time to visit Wahkeena is in the early morning, before casual visitors arrive.
If choosing to bring a dog, please heed the posted rules and keep it on a leash. The trails can be crowded and many people will not react well to a loose dog. More importantly, unleashed dogs fall into the river and waterfalls on average of once a month, a sad statistic that is entirely avoidable.
With nearly 1,500 feet of climbing, most packed into a mile, Wahkeena Trail is not an easy route. But runners who push through its challenging grade will be rewarded with one of the Columbia River Gorge's most scenic and satisfying trails, following a creek creating several gorgeous waterfalls.
The trail begins off Highway 30 near a parking area. The initial portion is a moderate climb on paved doubletrack, often crowded. It's only a single switchback to reach the first waterfall, Lower Wahkeena, which is crossed by a scenic stone bridge. Take time to appreciate the view, because the run gets tough fast, beginning a steep grade climb that will last for about a mile. A few benches along the way provide rest opportunities.
Wahkeena soon begins a series of tight switchbacks, climbing along a creek of the same name to the right. The trail and creek take up almost the entirety of the space in this tight canyon. As the hairpins smooth out, look for a short spur to Lemmon's Viewpoint
on the right; the view from here is outstanding.
After Lemmon's, the pavement gives way to wide dirt singletrack, interrupted in some areas by jagged rocks and roots. Step carefully through these sections, especially where it’s made wet by spray from the falls. Upper Wahkeena is a short distance ahead, as the path starts to made wider curves as it ascends. The climb is relentless and tiring.
Shortly before the three-quarter mile point, a number of tight switchbacks climb next to the gorgeous fan-shaped Fairy Falls. Watch your step here, as the ground is perpetually wet, and icy in winter. Vista Point Trail
breaks off to the left, a nice shortcut for runners heading west. Pressing on, the switchbacks widen a bit and the grade eases - marginally. Angel's Rest Trail #415
awaits at the mile point, while Wahkeena's route turns left. Take time to check Wahkeena Springs to the right, the source of the creek, before continuing on.
Enjoy the view of the towering pines as the path finishes out its climb, eventually meeting Vista Point again near the mile and a half point. This flat section is also the trail's quietest, curving around the mountain. The trail is also drier and softer here, but watch for jagged rock segments.
As the trail turns toward the canyon of Multnomah Creek to end, it begins a descent as steep as the climb. Silence gives way to the roar of waterfalls below over the last quarter mile. Look for a signpost marking the end at an intersection with the Larch Mountain Trail; turn left to loop back home.