Gifford Pinchot & Columbia River Gorge – Mountains, Caves & Waterfalls

If you are ever going near to Portland, you should definitely see the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Columbia River Gorge! This area is breathtaking as it has an uncountable number of waterfalls and beautiful views of mountains.

View of the Mount Helens from Gifford Pinchot National Forest, USA
View of the Mount Helens from Gifford Pinchot National Forest

I came across Gifford Pinchot through waterfall images. I saw pictures of many waterfalls in Gifford Pinchot and the nearby Columbia River Gorge. Especially of Oneonta Gorge – these pictures are circulating around the world like photos of the Eiffel Tower. Although we haven’t been to Oneonta Gorge, we enjoyed our time exploring this beautiful area. It’s definitely something for adventurers!

Waterfall hikes at Gifford Pinchot National Forest, USA
Adventures everywhere at Gifford Pinchot

After we traveled through the whole country, slept at many expensive campgrounds and after our good old Station Wagon broke down, we kinda had to cheap out even more.

So we decided to stay at the Gifford Pinchot for free as it is a national forest. Free camping also has an inconvenience. You have to pack up every morning and pitch your tent every night again. However, we spent nearly nothing for three days. If you do the same and are looking for showers: The Eagle Cliff Store and Campground has public showers.

Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a hidden gem in the South of Washington. Totally outshone by the Columbia River Gorge in the South and Mount Rainer National Park in the North. The beauty of this place totally put a spell on me, I could have spent weeks here, but we had a strict schedule in order to catch our flights.

Points of Interest

Ape Cave is a nice little hike into an easily accessible cave. It’s only one corridor, so you can’t get lost. There is no tour needed. So just bring a lamp, or get one of the nostalgic looking lanterns at the office and go explore the cave.

Ape Cave at Gifford Pinchot National Forest can be explored by yourself
Explore a cave on your own

Around this area are more points of interest. You will see the signs everywhere. We just randomly stopped here and there, for example at the “Trail of Two Forests” where you can crawl through a lava tube.

Lava tube to crawl through at Gifford Pinchot
Would you dare?

There are many more places to explore, which are off-the-beaten-path because there aren’t many visitors.

Hiking at Gifford Pinchot

Gifford Pinchot is a paradise for hikers! Just look at this list of hiking trails. I couldn’t count all, but if I had a guess it would be somewhere around 100-200 trails.

There are many waterfall hikes and trails with great views. We hiked Panther Creek Falls Trail and Falls Creek Falls.

Both are short, although the first one is only a few minutes’ walk, but features a stunning waterfall. Unfortunately, I forgot the battery for my camera in the car, so I couldn’t take photos. When I wanted to grab it from the car, a wedding couple came down. They chose the waterfall for the wedding pictures – definitely a gorgeous place for it! The end of the story is that I have no picture of the falls, but a wonderful memory.

Falls Creek Falls Trail is around 3 miles round trip. We kinda spontaneously decided to do the hike and I was extremely happy that we did.

Stunning Falls Creek Falls at Gifford Pinchot National Forest, USA
Falls Creek Falls – Weird name but stunning

There are also hikes into valleys and onto ridges. The Lava Canyon Trail is also a wonderful hike, which goes over a hanging bridge and also features a waterfall.

Waterfalls at Lava Canyon Trail (Gifford Pinchot National Forest, USA)
Waterfalls at Lava Canyon Trail

If you didn’t know yet: One of North America’s longest trails leads through this area – the Pacific Crest Trail. Yes, the one that connects Canada and Mexico by trail. So if you want to get wild like Cheryl Strayed (btw awesome book – you can get it here), this can be either your end point or your starting point.

The Mount Helens and Mount Adams area also offer some climbing possibilities. In this case, you need a special permit.

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is the most fairytale-like place I have seen in my life. The Old Historic Columbia River Highway is an incredibly scenic drive. The 18 miles between the Vista House and the Ainsworth State Park are featuring numerous waterfalls and hiking trails that lead to even more waterfalls. It’s said that the Columbia River Gorge is the largest concentration of waterfalls in the world.

Quick Info & Links

Where: South-Washington and North-Oregon

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Entrance fee: Free, only certain areas require fee

Columbia River Gorge

Camping: free camping in National Forest (dispersed camping) or paid camping

Hotels in Cascade Locks

Signature of Nate the Nomad

Wela ka hao – Live your unbridled life!

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Adventurer, digital nomad, and freedom addict – that’s what Nate the Nomad stands for!

I moved out of my apartment and my belongings are sold. Now I am roaming around with my huge backpack and am searching for the most beautiful places in the world!

A free, unbridled and location-independent life – that’s my dream and goal!

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