A Local’s Guide to Exploring Horsetail Falls in Oregon (2022)

Horsetail Falls in Oregon is one of more than 90 impressive waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. With no hike required, this waterfall is a popular spot for those on a day trip from Portland.

Marvel at the towering cascade from the picnic area at the base of the falls. Or for the more adventurous, we highly recommend hiking the short but steep 0.4 miles to its upper counterpart, Ponytail Falls (also known as Upper Horsetail Falls).

Queue up our complete guide to Ponytail Falls to find out everything you need to know about visiting both waterfalls.

Horsetail Falls Overview

Nestled into the Columbia River Gorge, 35 miles west of Portland, the spectacular Horsetail Falls plunges a mighty 176ft (54m) over sheer moss-covered basalt. Offering a roadside treat, this magical fall is one of the best waterfalls in Oregon.

Easily viewed from the parking lot, Horsetail Falls is perfect for those of all ages and abilities. Pack some lunch and relax at the picnic area at the base of the falls while listening to the entrancing tumble of the falls.

Horsetail Falls Quick Facts

  • Location: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
  • GPS Coordinates: 45.58963, -122.06871
  • Height: 176ft (54 m)
  • Avg Width: 15ft (4.6m)
  • Seasonality: Horsetail Falls is a perennial waterfall, flowing year round.
  • Viewing Angles: 180° view from the base. Some views from the side and top along the Horsetail Falls Trail.
  • Services: There are no restrooms at Horsetail Falls. Picnic benches are available.

Location of Horsetail Falls in Oregon and How to Get There

Long exposure photo of Horsetail Falls in the winter as seen from the Horsetail Falls Trailhead,
Horsetail Falls in the winter.

Driving to Horsetail Falls, Oregon

Horsetail Falls is located along the “Waterfall Corridor” in the Columbia River Gorge (one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon!) The parking lot is on the Historic Columbia River Highway, 35 miles east of Portland and 30 miles west of Hood River.

From Portland: Take the I-84 E to Bridal Veil Exit 35. (You will overshoot Horsetail Falls, which will be visible from the road, before heading back west. This route is still the best option as it avoids congestion at Multnomah Falls and other waterfalls.)

Take the off-ramp, then turn left onto Historic Columbia River Highway. Continue for 1.5 miles to the parking area on the right.

From Hood River: Take the I-84 W to Ainsworth Exit 35 onto Historic Columbia River Highway. Continue west for 1.6 miles to the parking area on the right.

Directions can be easily found by searching for Horsetail Falls Trailhead in Google Maps! You can also find driving directions to Horsetail Falls from Portland here or from Hood River here.

Hiking to Horsetail Falls, Oregon

Horsetail Falls requires no hike at all and is visible from the parking lot. However, there is a hike available to Ponytail Falls that begins here at the Horsetail Falls Trail.

From here, you can hike 0.4 miles to Ponytail Falls (also called Upper Horsetail Falls), which we highly recommend for anyone that is physically able. It is a short but steep hike that has some debris such as rocks and fallen trees from the 2017 wildfires.

Despite being a slightly smaller drop, it is far more photogenic and the trail takes you behind the falls. Find out everything you need to know about Ponytail Falls here.

You can also continue further along Horsetail Falls Trail #438 and combine it with Oneonta Trail #424 for a 2.5-mile loop trail. In addition to Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls, you will also pass Middle Oneonta Falls and some great views of the gorge.

PHOTOGRAPHING Horsetail Falls

Long exposure photo of Horsetail Falls in Oregon during the summer.
Long exposure photo of Horsetail Falls in the summer.

If you are just planning to photograph Horsetail Falls with your iPhone, the one recommendation I have is to use the Live Mode option. This will allow you to set the photo to a long exposure, creating the soft, dreamlike water.

However, while it is possible to capture some great long exposure waterfall photos with smartphones, we are passionate about photography and use a bit more gear! Below you’ll find the key items of photography to consider and why we recommend them.

  • Camera: I use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo I took with it. However, for beginners you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start getting to grips with manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
  • Lens: The lens I use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. This is the lens I used for all the photos of Horsetail Falls. I also often use the Laowa 15mm F2 for shots that require a wider angle.
  • Tripod: A tripod is essential if you want to create a long exposure waterfall image. When traveling, I use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when I require something more stable, I use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod.
  • Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter (CPL) or Neutral Density (ND) filter are very useful for allowing slower shutter speeds and for cutting glare on the water. The best CPL and ND filters I have found are the Quartzline from Polar Pro.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths: You will want to bring plenty of dry microfiber cloths to clean your lens between shots. There is a lot of spray at Horsetail Falls and your lens wil inevitably get wet!
  • Rain cover: Considering how much rain Columbia River Gorge gets, plus spray from the falls, you may want to consider a rain cover for your camera. Another simpler, and great option, is a colorful umbrella… not only does it provide protection for you and your gear from the rain but can add a pop of color to photos!

Pro Photography Tip:

There will likely be a lot of spray at the base of Horsetail Falls. To help combat this, we recommend that you set your camera up on a tripod and dial in all your settings and composition.

Then, wipe the lens completely clean with a microfiber using your body or umbrella to shield it from further spray. As soon as it’s dry, put the lens cap back on (or use the cloth as a shield) and set a 2-second timer. Last, click the shutter button and remove the lens cap or cloth at the last moment minimizing the time the lens is exposed to the spray.

If you are a beginner wondering how to get that soft water feel, we have written a full guide to long exposure waterfall photography that will be a great help! In it, you will learn everything you need to know regarding filters, settings, equipment, and technique!

Horsetail Falls FAQs

Horsetail Falls in the winter as seen from the parking lot.
Horsetail Falls can be seen from the parking lot.

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions by visitors hoping to visit Horsetail Falls.

Where can I park near Horsetail Falls?

There is a small parking lot at the base of Horsetail Falls in Oregon that is free to park.

Why is it called Horsetail Falls?

The name Horsetail Falls is derived from the shape of the waterfall appearing to resemble that of a horse’s tail.

How long of a hike is Horsetail Falls?

Horsetail Falls is visible from the parking lot. However, Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls) requires a short but steep 0.4 mile hike.

Is Horsetail Falls an easy hike?

No hike is required to see Horsetail Falls. A short but steep 0.4 mile hike along Horsetail Falls Trail takes you to Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls). There is some debris along the hike from wildfires and it is not recommended with young children due to steep drop-offs.

View of Columbia River Gorge from Horsetail Falls Trail Hike
View of Columbia River Gorge from Horsetail Falls Trail.

Can you swim in Horsetail Falls?

During the summer, Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls are popular spots for swimming or wading in the pools below the falls.

What waterfall in Oregon can you walk behind?

It is possible to walk behind Ponytail Falls in Oregon. Additionally, there are four waterfalls in Silver Falls State Park that you can walk behind, including South Falls, Lower South Falls, Middle North Falls, and North Falls.

Can dogs go to Horsetail Falls?

Yes, dogs can visit Horsetail Falls in Oregon. However, they must remain on a leash.

How many waterfalls are in the Columbia River Gorge?

There are more than 90 waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, many of which are located along the aptly named “Waterfall Way”.

Other Waterfalls Nearby

Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls)
Don’t miss Ponytail Falls, just a short hike from Horsetail Falls.

With so many waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge, it is well worth considering hiking or driving to others nearby. Below are some of the most impressive waterfalls nearby, with hiking distances listed from Horsetail Falls:

  • Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls) – 0.4 miles
  • Lower Oneonta Falls – 1.1 miles
  • Middle Oneonta Falls – 1.4 miles
  • Upper Oneonta Falls – 1.5 miles
  • Triple Falls – 1.8 miles
  • Multnomah Falls – 2.7 miles
  • Dutchman Falls – 3.2 miles
  • Wiesendanger Falls – 3.3 miles
  • Ecola Falls – 3.4 miles

Things to see near Horsetail Falls

View of Vista House from Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint along the Columbia River Gorge.
Explore the many scenic vistas along the Columbia River Gorge.

Whether you’re visiting on a day trip from Portland or a longer vacation, you will find plenty of things to do in Columbia River Gorge. The area is a treasure trove of natural beauty and an outdoor lover’s paradise.

You’ll discover a plethora of waterfalls to chase, trails to explore, scenic vistas to admire, as well as plenty of places to stop for a craft beer and bite to eat to relax after your adventures.

Other Oregon & Regional Guides

If your visit to Horsetail Falls and the Columbia River Gorge is part of an extended journey through the Pacific Northwest, you may find some of our other local and photography guides useful:

Oregon Guides

Washington & PNW Guides

Instructional Guides to Photography

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