Beautiful Cascades

Multnomah Falls

Historic photo of a very tall and slender waterfall with a bridge over the creek

Photographer unknown. From Olin Wheeler, The Trail of Lewis and Clark, 1804—1904.

During his reconaissance through the Cascades on 30 October 1805, Clark made a passing note of "4 Cascades caused by Small Streams falling from the mountains on the Lard. Side in the vicinity of Beacon Rock." On the same day, Private Whitehouse remarked on "a great number of springs & Spring runs flowing from the Clifts & mountains which lay high & fell from off these Clifts & Mountains upwards of 100 feet into the River."

The following spring, when the Corps of Discovery passed the same point on the ninth of April, Lewis recorded a somewhat fuller description:

we passed several beautifull cascades which fell from a great hight over the stupendious rocks & the most remarkable of these casscades falls about 300 feet perpendicularly over a solid rock into a narrow bottom of the river on the south side. . . . several small streams fall from a much greater hight, and in their decent become a perfect mist which collecting on the rocks below again become visible and decend a second time in the same manner before they reach the base of the rocks.

Thirty years later, The Reverend Samuel Parker was similarly impressed:

The Cascade upon the south side of the river first strikes our view at an elevation of not less than a thousand feet; and by several offsets the water descends in a white foaming sheet at an angle of sixty or eighty degrees, presenting the appearance of a belt laid upon the side of the mountain. In two places the descent is perpenducular, and the lowest probably not less than two hundred feet, and before the stream reaches the bottom, it is dissipated into spray and disappears, until you see it again collecting itself at the foot of the mountain, and after winding its way a short distance, it unites with the Columbia. The whole scene, combining the ruggedness and wildness of nature's most romantic forms, with its most magnificent, filled my mind with admiration both of the work and its Author.1

Elliott Coues, in his footnote to Nicholas Biddle's paraphrase of the expedition's journals, suggested Lewis and Clark could have been referring to any one of five cascades—Multnomah, Bridal Veil, Latourelle, Horsetail, or Oneonta.2 Lewis's description of the most "remarkable" one comes close to the two-tiered Multnomah Falls, about 5.5 miles downriver from Beacon Rock, with a total descent of 611 feet. Bridal Veil Falls flows the year around, dropping 140 feet, 9.5 straight-line miles west of Beacon Rock. Latourelle Falls, at 249 feet, today flows only during the spring and early summer. Forty-five-foot Horsetail Falls are also seasonal. Oneonta Falls, about four miles downriver, drops only forty feet, but flows the year around.

Perhaps the one The Reverend Parker admired was Elowah Falls, which is the nearest to Beacon Rock and can be seen clearly from the north side of the river, two miles to the southeast. It falls 289 feet from the 600-foot level on the mountain.

1. Samuel Parker, Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains . . . in the years 1835, '36, and '37 (Ithaca, New York: The Author, 1838), 143.

3. Elliott Coues, ed., History of the Expedition Under the Command of Lewis and Clark . . . 1893, 4 vols., 1893; Reprint, 3 vols., New York: Dover Publications, 1965), 3:937.