“Bypass the busy Columbia River Highway on this rocky doubletrack.”
— Brendan Ross
The trails around the Columbia River Gorge are open year round and are free to use. The visitors center at the base of Multnomah Falls
is open seven days a week, 9 to 5. Occasionally weddings and special events use a portion of the Multnomah viewpoint; this has little impact to other visitors.
Parking at the trails around Multnomah Falls
can fill quickly, especially during the warmer months. Arrive early to maximize the chances of finding a close spot.
Unlike the trails leading to Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls, the Return Trail is entirely unpaved. It is also fairly rocky. The slower pace of hiking means most visitors can get by without special shoes, but trail shoes are recommended for runners on this short connector trail.
As the most popular nature destination in the Pacific Northwest, the trails can be very crowded, especially in good weather and on weekends. The best time to visit 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.
Existing primarily as a bypass to the busy Columbia River Highway, the Return Trail allows visitors to make full loops between the Multnomah and Wahkeena canyons. It is also the only way to travel between the two trailheads; pedestrian travel on the highway is prohibited.
The western end of the trail begins at the parking area viewpoint for Wahkeena Falls. Two signs mark the beginning just to the left of the viewing platform. Head up a few stone steps to the narrow dirt doubletrack. Rocks, found in greater numbers than most other area paths, are scattered throughout the Return Trail and make for a bumpy run. While experienced trail users won't have any trouble, newcomers may want to step carefully through parts they find more technical.
The same lush tree and plant life can be found along the Return Trail that is present throughout the area, but the constant noise of traffic on the highway below ruins any sense of solitude. Still, the trail isn't without its merits. Look for a dripping spring to the right near the two-tenths mile point, where the trail crosses one of Benson Lake's sources. A few more follow soon after. Use caution crossing a small scree field in the same area, which can have some tricky footing. There's also an interesting jagged mountain face to see, covered in thick moss. Features that would be highlights in lesser areas can seem more mundane in the verdant beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.
The Return Trail descends and comes to its end shortly after the half mile point. The trailhead on this end can easily be seen at the end of the parking lot.