The Columbia River Gorge is so rich in natural beauty that it is quite difficult to choose your favorites. The Oneonta Gorge is a scenic gorge located in the Columbia River Gorge area in the US state of Oregon. The United States Forest Service has designated it a botanical area because of the unique aquatic and forest plants that grow there. The exposed 25-million-year-old basalt walls (Miocene epoch) are home to a wide variety of ferns, mosses, liverworts, and lichens, many of which grow only in the Columbia River Gorge. Oneonta Gorge has been described as “one of the true dramatic chasms in the state.
There are four main waterfalls on Oneonta Creek as it goes through the gorge. Middle Oneonta Falls can be clearly seen from a trail and is very often mistaken for the upper or lower falls. The lower gorge has been preserved as a natural habitat, so there is no boardwalk or path that runs through it as such. Therefore, Lower Oneonta Falls can only be seen by walking upstream from the outlet of the creek on the historic Columbia River Highway. To get to a vantage point where all the lower falls can be seen, it may be necessary to traverse water that, in some places, can reach your chest, depending on the season and the relative amount of snowmelt. The Upper Falls are approximately 1 mile upstream from the Middle Falls and require climbing a stream or going down a canyon wall to view. The fourth waterfall which is “Triple Falls” can be seen from a vantage point on the upper canyon trails.
The trail has some issues due to some natural and human impacts. In the late 1990s, the stream was partially occluded when three large rocks fell into the stream. Subsequently, a log jam has formed along the road. This has created a hazard for hikers, leading to one death in 2011.
As of July 2020, the trails that provide access to the waterfalls are still closed due to damage from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.
The Oneonta Gorge was first photographed by Carleton Eugene Watkins, a native of Oneonta, New York, who had traveled west in 1851 during the time of the California Gold Rush. Watkins named Oneonta Falls after his hometown.
The Oneonta Gorge tour allows visitors to see four major falls: Middle Oneonta Falls, which can be seen from a nearby path; the Lower Oneonta Falls, which can only be seen going up the stream upstream; Upper Oneonta Falls, which are a mile uphill climbing the mountain walls; and last but not least, the Triple Oneonta Falls, which can be seen from the highest trails on the mountain.