The hike out to Dry Creek Falls follows the Pacific Crest Trail, winding through forests of firs and bright green ferns (at least in the spring and early summer) on its way to the base of a 76 foot high waterfall that tumbles off a rocky ledge into the creek below.
It’s not the tallest or most impressive of the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, and it certainly doesn’t get the most fanfare, but we think it’s a great bang-for-your-buck hike with fewer people on the trail than some of the other, more popular Columbia River Gorge hikes.
It’s a good balance of gorgeous scenery, lower trail traffic, and accessibility (in terms of both time of year and difficulty), which is why we find ourselves on this trail about once a year.
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Dry Creek Falls Trail Details
- Length: 4.4 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft.
- Season: Year Round
- Trail Type: Out and Back
- Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
- Trailhead Location: Bridge of the Gods Trailhead
- Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash
- Bathrooms at Trailhead? Yes, flush toilets at Bridge of the Gods (closed in the winter and early spring – they were open in early April when we were there last)
- Pass Required: Northwest Forest Pass OR America the Beautiful Pass
The Route to Dry Creek Falls
This is one of the more simple “route” sections we’ve ever written. You’ll start at the trailhead and head under the freeway to find the Pacific Crest Trail (#2000, but it’s not like there’s another option here).
From there, you follow it essentially the entire way before veering off onto the Dry Creek Falls trail for the last 0.2 mile. If you cross the wooden bridge over Dry Creek you missed the turn!
This is an out and back hike, so after admiring the waterfall, you’ll head back the way you came.
Getting to the Dry Creek Falls Trailhead
The main trailhead for this hike is the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead which, as you might imagine, is right at the beginning of the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks on the Oregon side.
Find it here on Google Maps.
That parking lot has room for 10-12 cars, and is often full on weekends mornings, particularly in the summer.
Fear not! There’s a second parking area for this hike with another 10-12 parking spaces over on Harvey Road, which is where PCT hikers would park. You can find it here.
Keep in mind that you’ll need a Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) to park at either trailhead.
When to Hike to Dry Creek Falls
The thing we like about this hike is that, like many of the hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, it’s accessible year round.
In fact, we’d argue that it’s actually a better hike to do in the winter and spring because the waterfall is raging. We know because we’ve actually only ever done this hike in February, March, and April.
However, the waterfall never runs completely dry, even in August and September, so there’s really no bad time to hike this trail.
Things to Know Before Tackling the Dry Creek Falls Trail
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re planning your hike.
- There are bathrooms at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, but they’re closed in the winter. They were open in early April when we last tackled this hike, for what it’s worth.
- This hike, like most in western Oregon, gets very muddy when it rains. Be prepared with waterproof hiking boots (Alysha loves her Columbia Newton Ridge boots, which are a good affordable option).
- On that same note, you may not know this, but it rains in the winter and spring in the Pacific Northwest. I’m writing this in the early spring, and it essentially rains every day, at least a little bit. Be prepared for wet weather with a good rain jacket (Matt has the Columbia Watertight, which is a good budget option).
- If you’re coming from the Washington side of the Gorge and planning on crossing over at the Bridge of the Gods, you’ll need to pay a toll (usually either $2 or $3, depending on your vehicle). Check to see current tolls before you leave. If you don’t want to pay the toll, cross over 205 further west and take I-84 out to the trailhead.
Permits and Passes for Hiking to Dry Creek Falls
This hike traverses land that is part of a national recreation area operated by the US Forest Service, so you’ll need EITHER a Northwest Forest Pass OR an America the Beautiful Pass (which covers all national parks, monuments, and more).
You have three options here in terms of how to get a pass.
The first option is to acquire one in advance, which is what we do. You can find both the Northwest Forest Pass and the America the Beautiful Pass online at REI (and also in store in Washington and Oregon).
The decision on which one to choose comes down to one basic question: are you planning on visiting more than two national parks in the next 12 months?
If so, the America the Beautiful Pass is your best bet because it pays out after two national park visits.
If not, you’re probably better off with the Northwest Forest Pass. You can get either an annual pass for $30, or you can order day passes for $5 each.
The second option is the envelopes at the trailhead, which cost $5 for a day pass. You will need exact change, and be aware that there have been many times where we have showed up at a trailhead and the envelopes were all gone.
Lucky for you, there’s a newer third option. On the trail signage at the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead, you can scan a QR code and pay online! It also costs $5, and you don’t need to print anything or show anything on your dashboard. Hooray for making it easier to pay fees!
Hiking the Dry Creek Falls Trail: A Complete Trail Guide
Normally, we break our trail guides up into a few different sections of trail to make it more digestible. However, in this case, the trail is both relatively short and also pretty similar from the trailhead to the waterfall, so we’re going to go ahead and put it all into one section.
From the Bridge of the Gods trailhead, head to the bathroom facilities and cross the road (be careful, there’s a corner where cars come around fast!), heading away from the Gorge (south).
There’s a short trail that takes you up the hill, under the freeway, and onto SW Moody Ave. Turn right, and it becomes Harvey Road. After a short walk up the street, you’ll find yourself at the alternate parking area for this hike.
From there, you’ll find the trailhead on the left. The trail begins on the Pacific Crest Trail, which you’ll follow most of the way to Dry Creek Falls.
The trail is a fairly gradual climb all the way through, though the first mile or so is where you’ll gain the most elevation. There aren’t really any sections of this trail that we’d call particularly difficult.
You’ll enter the forest and start to notice that the trees lining the trail have burnt trunks, which is evidence of the Eagle Creek Fire that happened in 2017 and devastated this part of the Gorge.
The forest ecosystem seems to be rebounding well (at least to us, who know basically nothing about forest ecosystems), and trails in this part of the Gorge were closed to hikers until as recently as 2022.
At about a mile or so into the hike, you’ll emerge from the protection of the forest canopy for a second to cross the gravel road (turn right), pass under some power lines, and re-enter the forest a few seconds later.
This last mile of the trail is our favorite because it’s more flat, with a few rolling ups and downs, and because there are some great views of the Gorge through the trees.
At almost exactly two miles into the hike, you’ll find yourself at a trail junction. You’re heading right, leaving the Pacific Crest Trail and hopping onto the Dry Creek Falls trail for the last bit of the hike. The PCT continues straight, crossing a wooden bridge over Dry Creek and continuing east.
Finish the hike with a short climb, paralleling the creek. By now, you’ll have heard the falls for a bit, and the 76 foot waterfall comes into view as you round a slight bend in the trail.
From there, cross over the creek via the structure that was built in the early 20th century (don’t worry, it’s stable, though it can be slippery) for the best view of the falls, we think.
After admiring the falls and grabbing a drink and a snack, head back the way you came, turning left onto the Pacific Crest Trail and following it back to the trailhead.
What to Do, See, Eat, and Drink Post-Hike
After your hike, you’ll find yourself a hop, skip, and a jump away from the small town of Cascade Locks. The main strip in town is basically in the Columbia River, and there are a couple of spots to grab a post-hike meal or beer, depending on what you’re in the mood for.
You’re also only a 20-25 minute drive from Hood River, which has tons of places to eat and drink, including an impressive array of craft breweries (Pfriem, Full Sail, and Double Mountain, to name a few).
If you’ve got a few more miles in your legs, we love the hike to Wahclella Falls, which is just a short drive away from the Dry Creek Falls Trailhead (aka the Bridge of the Gods Trailhead).
Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain (the latter is probably a little bit aggressive for a second hike of the day, but you do you) are two more great hikes that are also nearby, though they’re on the Washington side of the Gorge.
If you’re coming from Portland, on your way out to the Gorge from Portland (or on your way back into Portland), make sure to drive the historic Columbia River Highway and stop at the Vista House and Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint for two of our favorite views of the Gorge.