About Latourell Falls
Latourell Falls is the closest of the major Columbia River Gorge waterfalls to Portland, and it's also one of the most photogenic. A tall single-plunge waterfall of 224 feet, it spills over the lip of an undercut amphitheater of tall pillars of columnar basalt. An eye-catching splash of chartreuse-colored golden cobblestone lichen (Pleopsidium flavum) adorns the upper amphitheater and contrasts with the dark basalt walls. You can view these lower falls from a point just above the trailhead, but the loop hike here takes you up Latourell Creek to see two-tiered Upper Latourell Falls before winding down to the state park picnic area below the highway. Then you can hike up under the highway bridge to the base of Latourell Falls and admire the plunge and basalt columns from below. Between them, the two waterfalls and Latourell Creek flow over three different flows of the Columbia River Basalts, which backfilled this valley between 15.5 and 14 million years ago. The waterfalls are beautiful in all seasons, but in the summer, the water flow is very low, creating near misty conditions; in the winter, the splash can freeze dangerously across the trail.
The main trail continues beside the creek. Pass another connector to a log crossing of the creek. The trail here is rocky in places, and the undergrowth next to the trail is very thick, blocking most views in the summer. Some large cedars tower overhead as you hike up through a layer of the Frenchman Springs flow of the Columbia River Basalts. The trail crosses four small wooden bridges, passing into a second state park, the George W. Joseph State Natural Area, much of which was gifted by members of the Joseph family to the state in 1934 and 1942. The star attraction of this state property is Upper Latourell Falls. This waterfall is a two tiered drop, first a block fall that's almost hidden and then a plunge into a pool (An older trail once led behind the lower tier of the falls, and there was once even a footbridge that crossed in front of the upper tier!)). This layer of the Priest Rapids member is, at 14 million years, the second-youngest of the Gorge basalt flows. The trail crosses Latourell Creek at the base of the falls and heads back down the west side of the creek.
Gradually descend a salmonberry/sword fern slope under moss-draped big-leaf maples and tall Douglas-firs. Switchback down twice where the creek plunges through a small chute. Admire a cedar "arch" next to the remains of a bench. Then pass the connections with the trails from the other side of the creek, and head up under overhanging vine maples. A spur leads off down to a high and exposed perch at the lip of Latourell Falls' amphitheater. The main trail climbs to another bench at a cable-protected viewpoint. From here, you can get views to the Young Creek bottomland, Rooster Rock, Cape Horn, Hamilton Mountain, and Table Mountain. Irises bloom trailside here in spring. Descend into a mixed forest bowl with thimbleberry and nettles in the understory. Switchback at an arched maple, and wind down to a short paved stretch of trail that reaches the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Across the road, there's a trail that drops down into the picnic area for Guy W. Talbot State Park. Descend some stone steps and, past a big Douglas-fir, make a right to follow the loop trail under the 1914 highway bridge. The bridge is interesting in its own right, with special lightweight construction due to the unstable soils in the area. Hike along a steep slope above Latourell Creek on a trail that needs constant bolstering, and cross the footbridge near the base of Latourell Falls. Take a moment to admire the overhang here, with its array of broken-off columns from 15.5 million-year-old Grande Ronde basalt flows. Then hike up the slope to the parking area and another viewpoint.