Backpacker Magazine Portland, OR: Rock of Ages 

Trek through a lush wonderland en route to four spectacular waterfalls, countless swimming holes, and postcard-worthy views of the Columbia River Gorge on this 8.8-mile loop.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 28 Aug 2008 6:08:06 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: Oregon (OR)
Distance: 8.8 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 5862 ft
Total Loss: 5862 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 7 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Multnomah Falls
Tags: Cascade Locks, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, Portland, Waterfall Hikes
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

This Columbia Gorge classic wastes no time warming up: You'll catch awe-inspiring views of the majestic Horsetail Falls before leaving the parking lot. From the trailhead, the route heads west along the Gorge Trail before turning left onto Rock of Ages Trail and continuing the nearly 3,000-foot climb to the hike’s apex. Along this stretch, numerous side trails lead to vistas of the Columbia River Gorge.

After half a mile, turn left to take a quick detour to the picturesque Rock of Ages Arch. Less than 500 feet later, escape from the dense rainforest and hit a rocky outcrop on the spiny Devil’s Backbone ridgeline, catching breathtaking panoramas of the Columbia River and its steep, wooded hillsides.

After 2.4 miles, crest the hike’s high point at 3,000 feet and descend on Horsetail Creek Trail. Hike past several stream crossings before reaching postcard views of Triple Falls near mile 7 and the equally dazzling Oneonta Falls half a mile later. Catch your fourth and final waterfall sighting just 0.5 mile from the trailhead at Ponytail Falls. Finish the trip by returning to Waypoint 3 and turning left toward the trailhead.

-Mapped by Trung Q. Le

TO TRAILHEAD: From Portland, follow I-84 E for 33.2 miles to exit 35 (toward Ainsworth State Park). Turn right onto Historic Columbia River Hwy. In 0.2 mile, turn left to stay on Historic Columbia River Hwy. Go 1.2 miles the Horsetail Falls parking area.

Position Format: Datum:

Rock of Ages

Distance: 8.75 mi Points: 738
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 45.590258, -122.068212
From the parking area along historic US 30, take in spectacular views of the 171-foot Horsetail Falls before heading east on the Horsetail Falls Trail (#438).


Location: 45.590288, -122.065562
Hang a right at the Y-junction to switchback up the Gorge Trail (#400).


Location: 45.589297, -122.068641
Turn left at the Y-junction onto Rock of Ages Trail (sometimes called Mystery Trail). The trail can be hard to find; look for the sign that reads: "Trail Not Maintained." The ascent from here is strenuous; the steep trail is composed of loose rock, roots, and soil.


Location: 45.588621, -122.068030
Bear left at the Y-junction to stay on the Rock of Ages Trail. The right-hand fork leads to a glimpse of Ponytail Falls. Note: Better views of the falls await, as you'll pass Ponytail again on the way home.


Location: 45.588373, -122.066206
Bear left at the Y-junction on a 300-foot side trail to reach top-notch views of the Rock of Ages Arch. To continue on, head back to the intersection and turn left on the Rock of Ages Trail.


Location: 45.588140, -122.065358
Bear right at the Y-junction to stay on the Rock of Ages Trail, which continues to climb through dense forest to the Devil's Backbone ridgeline.


Location: 45.587900, -122.064339
Upon reaching the lesser-traveled Devil's Backbone ridgeline, be prepared to encounter windblown trees blocking the rough trail.


Location: 45.587795, -122.063749
Head straight at the 3-way junction to stay on Rock of Ages Trail.


Location: 45.581082, -122.031670
Crest the trail's high point (3,000 feet) and turn right at the Y-junction onto Horsetail Creek Trail (#425). From here, the trail descends for the next several miles.


Location: 45.576569, -122.035114
Cross the East Fork of Horsetail Creek. The stream's cool water makes this section a refreshing rest point on hot days.


Location: 45.573272, -122.036648
Cross the Middle Fork of Horsetail Creek by wading or rock-hopping.


Location: 45.571004, -122.037463
Cross the Horsetail Creek for the last time.


Location: 45.568480, -122.050263
At the Y-junction, bear right onto Oneonta Trail. Descend approximately 20 switchbacks on this well-maintained stretch of trail.


Location: 45.571395, -122.055917
Bear right at the Y-junction to continue on Oneonta Trail. To the left is a short scramble leading to a viewpoint of Oneonta Gorge and Larch Mountain.


Location: 45.566355, -122.061303
Cross Oneonta Creek by either rock-hopping or crossing on a fallen tree about 30 feet upstream.


Location: 45.566595, -122.061474
Bear right at the Y-junction to bypass the Fanela Ridge and stay on Oneonta Trail.


Location: 45.567789, -122.062097
Cross Oneonta Creek on a narrow footbridge.


Location: 45.578139, -122.072439
Capture spectacular views of Triple Falls by crossing Oneonta Creek on Triple Falls Bridge.


Location: 45.579137, -122.072729
Continue straight at the 3-way junction to stay on Oneonta Trail. Optional: Take a quick detour to the right for a fantastic view of Triple Falls. The magnificent Oneonta Falls is just further down the trail.


Location: 45.585993, -122.072793
Bear right at the Y-intersection onto Gorge Trail. At this point, the trail becomes more crowded.


Location: 45.585205, -122.073190
Cross Oneonta Creek on a footbridge. On hot days, you'll see other hikers enjoying the creek's cool, refreshing water further downstream.


Location: 45.589432, -122.073373
Bypass a side trail leading to vistas of the Columbia River Gorge by bearing right on the Gorge Trail. In about 500 feet you'll reach the stunning Ponytail Falls. To return to the trailhead, hike to Waypoint 3 and bear left.

Oneonta Creek

Location: 45.567534, -122.061796

Horsetail Falls

Location: 45.590265, -122.068073

Rock of Ages Trail Junction

Location: 45.590288, -122.065455

Top of Ponytail Falls

Location: 45.588651, -122.069253

Ponytail Falls

Location: 45.588902, -122.069275

Devil's Backbone Ridgeline Ascent

Location: 45.588583, -122.067010

Rock of Ages Arch

Location: 45.587675, -122.066935

Devil's Backbone Outcrop Vantage Point

Location: 45.586678, -122.063294

Devil's Backbone Ridgeline

Location: 45.585152, -122.050424

East Fork of Horsetail Creek

Location: 45.576569, -122.035006

West Fork of Horsetail Creek

Location: 45.571004, -122.037356

Dense Vegetation

Location: 45.566039, -122.060337

Footbridge: Oneonta Creek

Location: 45.567662, -122.061786

Triple Falls

Location: 45.579152, -122.072557


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