Not far from Portland, Multnomah Falls is an area of incredible natural beauty where water pours 620 feet over two cliff faces
With water tumbling 620 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest cascades in Oregon. Just a 30-minute journey from Portland, this beautiful waterfall pours over two basalt tiers into the plunge pools below. They can be seen easily from the Multnomah Creek Bridge, which crosses the falls. The area surrounding the falls has been developed for tourism, including a lodge and footpaths that are largely wheelchair accessible.
Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural attraction in the Pacific Northwest. More than 2 million people visit every single year to see these impressive waterfalls and the incredible nature that surrounds them. The woods are full of Douglas firs, hemlocks and cedars which support almost 200 species of bird and mammal.
Discovery by the Lewis and Clark Expedition
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The Falls were discovered by American citizens on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This set out to explore the west of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase. In 1804, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis set out with 30 men into the wilderness. They took a year to arrive at the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean in Oregon. Their job was to find a route west, map the territory, and document the flora, fauna and geography. It was one of the most important expeditions in American history.
In general, Lewis and Clark had good relations with the Native American tribes that they encountered. It is one of these that the falls are named for. The Multnomah were a Chinook tribe that lived along the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and their islands near what is now Portland and in Washington State. Up to 8,000 people called themselves part of the tribe, but they were devasted by the arrival of diseases brought by Europeans. By 1834, almost none were left alive.
The Legend of Multnomah Falls
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No one knows how the falls and the creek took the name of the tribe. However, there is one legend of the Multnomah people about the falls. The daughter of Chief Multnomah was still celebrating her wedding to an important man in a neighboring tribe when a sickness took over the Columbian River valley. The river had stopped flowing and there was nothing the people could do. The Multnomah’s healer told the chief that the only way to make the Great Spirit happy and stop the plague was to sacrifice his daughter’s life. Chief Multnomah chose his daughter over his people.
When the girl heard what the healer had said, she walked among the people and saw the horrible effects of the disease. Those she loved were dying. In the dead of night and without telling her father, she went to the top of the falls and threw herself into the canyon below. Chief Multnomah searched the Columbia River in despair for her body, and when he found her he prayed to the Great Spirit. As he did so, water began pouring over the cliff and the tribe was saved.