Postcard: Ramona Falls (no exaggeration required)

A hiker stands on the footbridge at the base of Ramona Falls, Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore. Courtesy photo by Catherine "Cat" Caruso.

Like many Pacific Northwest residents, I didn’t actually grow up here. I often call myself a “northeasterner by upbringing, northwesterner by choice.” While I know firsthand the way one’s hometown maintains a powerful hold on their heart, I also never tire of finding reasons to love my adopted home.

So, when one of my younger brothers came to visit this month, I steered him towards the travel and tourism kiosk located in the baggage claim area at Portland International Airport. As an anime fan, I thought he’d be especially delighted by Travel Oregon’s colorful “Oregon. Only slightly exaggerated” campaign… and he was! But even my heart skipped a beat when I recognized one of the locations in the brochure as Ramona Falls.

I’d hiked there just two weeks earlier.

An image from the “Oregon, Only slightly exaggerated,” ad campaign (Travel Oregon)

It’s as beautiful as what you see in this illustration.

The area around the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which includes the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Hood National Forest, is said to have the largest concentration of waterfalls in the United States.

Oregon’s most-famous waterfall is probably Multnomah Falls. My brother and I made a point to visit it during his trip; a spectacular sight, water plunging hundreds of feet to the pool below. It draws visitors from around the world, daily.

But to me, Ramona Falls is more beautiful.

The view looking up at the top of Ramona Falls. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

Before I go any further, I want to share some words of warning: Ramona Falls is located in a wilderness area.

Never go into a wilderness without the ‘10 Outdoors Essentials!”

Outdoor Eseentials: Be prepared and carry these essential items any time you head out into the outdoors! 1. Appropriate footwear. 2. Printed map. 3. Extra water. 4. Extra food. 5. Extra clothes. 6. Emergency items. 7. First aid kit. 8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. 9. Backpack. 10. Sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.
Outdoor Eseentials: Be prepared and carry these essential items any time you head out into the outdoors! 1. Appropriate footwear. 2. Printed map. 3. Extra water. 4. Extra food. 5. Extra clothes. 6. Emergency items. 7. First aid kit. 8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. 9. Backpack. 10. Sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.

During my hike, I encountered many day hikers who seemed to take the lesson of 2017’s Eagle Creek fire, which occurred in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, to heart. During that fire, more than 100 day use visitors were stranded on the trail, and forced to undertake a long, difficult hike to safety.

But I also saw many people who not well-prepared, carrying only a bottle of water and whatever fit in their pockets.

As you approach the Sandy River, the trail is clearly marked with signs that warn about the dangers of crossing. Pay attention: If you can’t safely secure your child or pet to you and carry them across an improvised footbridge mad from a fallen tree or log without losing your balance, don’t try!

I’m sharing this from my own experience: Many people bring their dogs on this hike; I assumed I’d one of them, and it was a mistake. While I believed my young pup had done enough work on a balance beam to handle a log crossing, I failed to account for how much he likes to swim. While the current was safe – though, still quite strong – against the body of an adult human, it was much too deep and too swift for my Siberian Husky. Intellectually, I’d known the river can be dangerous, emotionally, it left me far more nervous for some of the small children I saw on this trail after I’d jumped into the current myself and fought to haul 65 pounds of wriggling, wet dog to the shore.

Shortly after this photo was taken, he jumped into the river for the second time. He’s cuter than he is bright. He’s also no longer invited on hikes with unimproved water crossings. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

Signs that warn about the dangers of river crossings are posted alongside this trail for a reason: hikers have died here, after flash floods caused by heavy rainfall, in 2004 and 2014.

It’s easy be lulled into a false sense of security when you see others navigate a risky situation successfully; I know, I made the same mistake.

My advice is to read trip reports, check weather listings, and use more caution than you think you need to. Just because nothing seems to have gone wrong for many others, doesn’t mean it can’t.

Still: At the right time of year, when the river crossing is approached with appropriate caution and care, the Ramona Falls loop trail is a beautiful hike.

The 7-to-8 mile loop has a relatively gentle grade, with a cumulative 1000 feet of elevation gain.

The trail culminates with a spectacular view from the base of Ramona Falls, which really do look like something out of a fairy tale; truly, they need no exaggeration.

Children play at the base of the “real” Ramona Falls; Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore., which needs no exaggeration. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

More information:

Ramona Falls trail # 797 – Mt. Hood National Forest:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood/recarea/?recid=53460

The Enchanting Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge – Travel Oregon https://traveloregon.com/only-slightly-exaggerated/the-enchanting-mt-hood-and-columbia-river-gorge/


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso works in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Office of Communications and Community Engagement. When she’s not editing the “Your Northwest Forests” blog, she’s usually shopping for fur-repellent office wear. She considers her outdoorsmanship skills to be “average,” which means there’s a 50 percent chance yours are better – but also, an equal chance that they’re worse.

2 comments

  • Did anyone proof read this or look at it before it was released? A sideways picture, an upside down picture and a few typos… But still a good article although looking at those pictures made me go cross-eyed

  • That is really strange… the rotation on the images seems to be different depending on what browser you view it in (ok on mobile and Chrome, not so good in IE and Microsoft Edge). Thanks for the heads up, we’ll look into it!

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