Oneonta Gorge

July 9 2010

0 Feet
1 mile Round Trip
Myself, Kristin
Oneonta Gorge Hiking Photos
Hiker Trail Info

Oneonta Gorge is by far one of my favorite spots to go to cool off on a hot summer day. It is also many other people’s favorite spot as well – get there early and expect to move slow especially on hot weekend days.

Oneonta Gorge is located just 45 minutes East of Portland, Oregon. It is most easily accessed by traveling East on Interstate 84 to exit 35. Exit 35 will put you on the Columbia River Gorge Historic Highway – Travel West for about 3.5 miles (just beyond Horsetail Falls) and there is parking on both sides of the gorge.

In 1996 the Portland Region experienced some of the most severe weather it has ever seen. It all started in January 96’ with a heavy rains. The rain completely saturated the ground causing river levels to rise and ground to loosen. Late in January the region received a heavy snow storm (areas at low elevations even saw lots of snow!) followed by an artic blast. This turned everything to ice for a little over one week. In early February temperatures rose quickly melting the ice layers and then it began to rain. The combination of rising temperatures and large amounts of rain was the catalyst for the flooding and many landslides.

[Video footage shot in downtown Portland during the 1996 flooding – it was pretty cool how the community all came together to sand-bag the flood-threatened areas!]

The Columbia River Gorge winters are serve enough, but with the added severity (wind, snow, ice, rain, quickly rising temps) it was a disaster zone. There were many landslides that occurred in the Western Columbia River Gorge Corridor. The two main slides that are still evident to this very day is the Dodson and Oneonta Gorge slides.

The Dodson Slide is visible just East of exit 35. The evidence is mind-blowing. I once took a geology field trip to this slide zone and was able to see and learn about the extreme force brought through this area. There is a white house located right off the Columbia River Historic Highway (East of exit 35), which sits close to the road. This older couple once lived much closer (South) to the great basalt cliffs prior to the slide. Their old house was picked up by all of the debris – foundation intact and all – and slid down the hillside. Over the years the area around the landslide house has been overgrown with vegetation making it difficult to spot from the road.

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[white house – everyone in the area was evacuated well before the slide occurred]

The Oneonta Gorge slide occurred similar as the Dodson Slide; however, the slide used Oneonta Creek as the catalyst for moving debris down the hillside. Over the years most of the debris has been cleared from the gorge – that is except for the huge log jam. About 100 yards into Oneonta Gorge the gorge walls narrow.  Here sits large boulders and a stack of logs strategically placed like Lincoln Logs by the man upstairs himself.

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[left – North/front side of log jam; right – South/back side of log jam]

This log/boulder jam is one of the things that make this hike so unique. I thoroughly enjoy climbing up and over the jam. However, it also can be extremely dangerous. The logs are weathered with most of the bark (traction) stripped away making it for a slick journey up and over. It scares the hell out of my when I see unattended children crossing this section alone as I’ve seen so many times. As a regular summer hiker through this gorge luckily I have only personally witnessed one person falling. A 7 year old boy was much ahead (or the mother was behind) climbing by himself. He stepped onto an extremely slick surface and lost his footing falling 5-6 feet in between a few logs hitting his head. I was able to get to him fairly quick helping him out of the log crevasse. He was definitely in shock and his mother still no where to be seen. Others who witnessed the boy falling relayed the message to the mother. Once the boy saw his mom he began to cry. Luckily in this case things were not much worse than a few bumps and bruises. As this log jam can be dangerous let it not deter you from enjoying this little gem. It can get crowded at the log jam and some may feel rushed – Just take your time (go at a speed that is comfortable for you) and use common sense – if it doesn’t feel right ITS NOT!

Beyond the log jam enjoy cooling off by walking through the creek for about another .25 mile. There is a series of two deeper sections. The second section is the deepest – about 4 ft (depending on time of year/water levels). For those who are a little more adventurous and have the climbing skills – climbing the basalt sidewalls is definitely doable and makes for good practice for deep sea soloing.

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[Left – 2nd wading section (the deepest); Center – Me at towards end of deep section; Right – Oneonta Falls]

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[Climbing/ jumping into the falls]

The absolute best time to hike Oneonta Gorge is on a hot summer day at 12 noon when the sun is shinning hot into the gorge. When the sun isn’t shinning into the gorge it tends to be a little cooler than most like. Either way its a great time and a great way to cool off.

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