Skip to content

Multnomah’s fall

October 11, 2009
The GTS at Vista House

'Uh, sir, you have to park your moped next to the bike rack.' (Orin O'Neill photos)

This weekend was the last gasp of Indian summer, so I decided to head for Multnomah Falls on the Historic Columbia River Highway. I’d been meaning to make this trip for a while.

Longtime readers may recall Safety Ed’s incident on the ride out to Multnomah Falls during Spring Scoot in 2007. I’d be covering a lot of the same ground, but not at the frenetic pace of a group ride.

The Historic highway begins where Halsey Street ends, but having already seen that part of town, I decided to ride out to the end of Stark Street. The scenery is a bit scuzzier (Stark is south of Burnside), but otherwise not a whole lot different from Outer Halsey.

223rd & Stark

Once past what I suspect is the Urban Growth Boundary, Stark transforms from arrow-straight arterial to twisty 2-lane country road before ending at the Historic Highway. At that point, you turn right and head for the falls. The Sandy River will be on your right for several miles.

The GTS at one of many route markers

The route is very well-marked, with plenty of signs to inform you of your progress.

It was rather windy when I left the house, the weather forecast mentioning 35 mph for the Gorge. Most of the way to Vista House is sheltered by trees and hillsides; I don’t know if the shelter effect was really pronounced, or I’m just getting used to riding in the wind, but the GTS was mostly unfazed.

I didn’t remember seeing the Portland Women’s Forum viewpoint the last time, but when I realized where I was, I had to stop.

Portland Women's Forum viewpoint

You can see why.

The view from Portland Women's Forum viewpoint

The little tan bump on the cliff is Vista House, the landmark building on Crown Point. I imagine most of the picture-postcard views of Vista House were shot from here, or somewhere near here.

Back on the road, and it’s starting to look familiar. It also looks rather unforgiving, especially on the outside edge where screwing up could send you into a short stone wall and over the edge, or just over the edge.

I round a corner, the road slopes downhill. Yeah, right here… that’s where Safety Ed went down. I didn’t know it was him until I saw his GT in the Vista House parking area, its right side mangled. He was only a couple hundred yards from a safe arrival.

The Vista House vista

Take a few steps from where the GTS is parked in the lead picture, and that’s what you see. Pretty amazing, huh?

Vista House

Vista House is pretty amazing, too. It is surely one of the most ornate public restrooms in the world.

Vista House ceiling

It’s also an excellent place to enjoy the view without getting blown back to Portland by the wind.

Which, as it turns out, seemed likely to happen to me and several visitors. The wind had picked up tremendously after I took the above photo; I had to hang on to the railings, and visitors around me were holding on tight to their elderly relatives to keep them from being knocked down, or maybe blown off the stairway. The parasailers down on the Columbia River were probably loving it.

There was brief lull in the howling gale; I ran back to the GTS, got it off the stand and headed up the hill to a small turnout. From there, I turned around and headed back downhill, thinking motion might mitigate the effect of the wind.


As soon as I got next to the building, the GTS was hurled into the opposing lane by a fierce gust. I managed to stop before running into a stone pony wall, but only just. Luckily, no one was coming the opposite way.

Remember, the road runs down the side of a very steep mountain slope, doubling back on itself many times before reaching the Multnomah Falls parking area at river level. Challenging all by itself, nightmarish with winds like this.

Multnomah Falls

Wikimedia Commons

So here’s a picture, one of many in the public domain. Variations of this image appear in just about anything having to do with Oregon, especially tourism. I seriously doubt I could’ve come up with a new take on this, so I headed back to Portland. Multnomah Falls will still be there, so I’ll visit another time. Favicon

  1. October 11, 2009 12:42 pm

    cool. thanks. i need to head up there some day and make a vacation of it all. so beautiful.

  2. October 11, 2009 6:29 pm

    Wow, what a beautiful ride! But yes, better to be safe and be able to fully enjoy the falls at a less windy time.

  3. October 14, 2009 10:09 am

    so why did multnomah fall?

  4. October 14, 2009 12:15 pm

    Malaria, apparently, which wiped out the tribe’s settlement in what is now Clark County, Wash. (Portland’s northern suburbs) in 1830.

    But that’s not why I wrote the headline. I have a hard time writing headlines. Longtime readers will notice an overwhelming majority of post headlines are song titles, or song lyrics. Those come to mind more easily, I guess…

  5. October 16, 2009 10:37 am

    I’ve seen full size bikes blow over up at Crown Point. Can’t imagine trying to keep a scooter under control up there. Yikes!

Comments are closed.