Interested in visiting the Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Corridor in Oregon during the summer of 2023? This summer, permits will NOT be required to drive the Historic Columbia River Highway between the Bridal Veil / Angels Rest offramp (Exit 28) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). Last summer's timed vehicle access permit pilot program will not return, but timed entry permits for Multnomah Falls I-84 parking lot will remain in place. A flagger will be placed on the Historic Columbia River Highway in front of Multnomah Falls to help decrease congestion.
The Waterfall Corridor has become incredibly popular over the past several years and summertime traffic jams and illegal parking have become commonplace. Last year's pilot program successfully decreased traffic congestion and improved visitor safety in the Waterfall Corridor, but a lack of funding will keep the program from coming back this year. Although the information below is no longer applicable, I'm going to keep this article up for historical reference and in case they change their minds!
Update: September 2022. As of September 6, 2022, the permit system has ended and the waterfall corridor can be visited without restrictions. I'll update this article again when more information becomes available about the summer of 2023.
Update: July 2022 - On a Monday morning In late July, I tested out the Waterfall Corridor permit system and can verify all the information in this article is accurate. Keep reading for a brief overview of my experience. I used the links in this article to book a permit a few days in advance and I found the process to be quick and easy. Entry into the Waterfall Corridor was straightforward. There was no wait at the Exit 28 Permit Check-in station at 9:45AM (permit was for 9:00AM - 10:00AM). I showed the permit checker the confirmation email on my phone and she verified the date/time. After a few minutes of driving into the waterfall area, I immediately noticed a significant reduction in the number vehicles and visitors when compared to previous visits. I had no problems finding a parking spot at Wahkeena Falls, Oneonta Trailhead and Horsetail Falls.
Parking at the Multnomah Falls lot on the Historic Highway was a bit of a challenge for several reasons:
- There are only 54 parking spots in the lot
- The lot was already full at 10:30AM (including an area inside the lot where 4-5 vehicles can wait for spots to open up)
- During peak visitation times, no left turns (when traveling eastbound) are allowed into the parking lot at Multnomah Falls along U.S. 30/the Historic Columbia River Highway.
- When the lot is full, you have to keep driving, since they do not want vehicles stopping on the main road and blocking traffic. There is a parking attendant at the lot who does traffic control to keep things moving.
- Recommendation: if you only want to visit Multnomah Falls, I would recommend getting a Multnomah Falls (I-84) Timed Use Permit. There are more of these permits available each day and the parking lot is much bigger!
Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Corridor Permits - Key Information
- The Waterfall Corridor is a 12 mile stretch of the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon which passes by several amazing waterfalls.
- Areas impacted by the permit system: Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, Multnomah Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls and Ainsworth State Park.
- Areas NOT impacted by the permit system: Portland Women's Forum, Vista House, Crown Point, Latourell Falls, Shepherds Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Angels Rest, all locations east of Ainsworth State Park, the entire Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.
- There are 2 Permit Check-in stations for the Waterfall Corridor - Exit 28 on I-84 (Bridal Veil / Angels Rest Exit) and Exit 35 at Ainsworth State Park
- A timed vehicle access permit will be required for all personal vehicles - cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, RVs, Uber/Lyft vehicles
- Permits are required May 24th to September 5th, 2022 from 9AM to 6PM.
- Permits are not required for bikes, transit buses or tour buses. Transit and tour options include: Columbia Area Transit (CAT), Gray Line Waterfall Trolley and Sasquatch Shuttle.
- Permits will be available online for a small processing/administration fee ($2) and in person for a limited amount of same-day permits (no fee) at the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and Cascade Locks Historical Museum.
- The permit does not guarantee a parking spot, but with fewer cars entering the area, parking should be easier.
- You must arrive during the time window on the permit (within 1 hour of the listed time). If you arrive too late, the permit cannot be used.
- A separate permit is required to visit Multnomah Falls using exit 31 on I-84 from May 24 to mid September 2022. More info about visiting Multnomah Falls is available here.
Impact on Landscape Photography
I honestly don't think this new permit system will have a significant impact on landscape photography in the Waterfall Corridor. The best time photograph the waterfalls is generally early in the morning or late in the evening and a permit is not needed during these times. The light can be quite harsh during the midday hours and many photographers avoid the area during the middle of the day. The new permit system only includes the Waterfall Corridor (for now!), so there are many other areas in the Columbia River Gorge which can be accessed without a permit. Wahclella Falls, Eagle Creek, Herman Creek, Starvation Creek are a few examples of areas which are outside of the Waterfall Corridor. If you do want to photograph the Waterfall Corridor during the middle of the day, you will just need to plan ahead and get a permit. One potential benefit of the permit system is that it should decrease the crowds near the waterfalls and make it easier to create photos without a bunch of people in them!
Questions and Answers about Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Corridor Permits
When are Waterfall Corridor timed vehicle access permits required?
- May 24th to September 5th, 2022 from 9AM to 6PM
How many permits will be sold each day?
- 450 Waterfall Corridor and 785 Multnomah Falls (I-84) permits will be available online each day.
Are permits on sale yet?
- Permits for the Waterfall Corridor and Multnomah Falls will be available starting at 7AM on May 10, 2022
How far in advance can passes be purchased?
- 2 weeks in advance.
How much will permits cost?
- $2 each if purchased online.
- Free if a same day permit is picked up in person at Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and Cascade Locks Historical Museum (limited quantities available).
Do residents and local business owners/workers need a permit?
- No, but separate passes will be issued as needed.
How long is the permit valid?
- You can enter the waterfall area during the time window designated on the pass. After entering, you can stay as long as you like.
I have mixed feelings about the new timed vehicle access permit system for the Waterfall Corridor. I never like seeing more regulation of wild places, but in this instance, the permit system is necessary to decrease traffic congestion and improve safety. It should lead to a more enjoyable experience for visitors who are able to obtain permits. For the past several summers, I have avoided the visiting the Oregon side of the Gorge due to the traffic congestion. Spending 2+ hours in the car to drive from the Vista House to Ainsworth just isn't appealing to me! In my opinion, the potential benefits outweigh the challenges created by the permit system. I fully support the new pilot program, but I hope it's not the first step towards significantly increased regulation in the Gorge. As new information about the permits becomes available, I will update this article.
Updated: February 12, 2023