Local’s Guide to Ponytail Falls in Oregon + Photo Tips (2022)

Everything you need to know about visiting Ponytail Falls in Oregon blog cover image.

Also often referred to as Upper Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls in Oregon is a beautiful waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Requiring a short but steep 0.4-mile hike along Horsetail Falls Trail, a visit to Ponytail Falls guarantees at least two waterfalls! The hike starts at the base of its lower counterpart, Horsetail Falls.

While Ponytail Falls may not be quite as tall as Horsetail Falls, it makes up for its smaller drop with stunning scenery and a more immersive experience. It is one of the few waterfalls in the state that you can walk behind (the others mostly found in Silver Falls State Park), allowing you to take in 360° views of this impressive cascade!

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

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

Ponytail Falls Overview

Approaching Ponytail Falls from Horsetail Falls Trail.

Just 40 minutes from Portland, a visit to Ponytail Falls is the perfect day trip from the city. Start at the base of the towering Horsetail Falls and meander up through the temperate rainforest, with lush ferns and brush covering the ground while moss and lichens adorn rocks and trees.

Continue to follow Horsetail Falls Trail to marvel at Ponytail Falls and walk behind the waterfall, feeling the spray of this spectacular cascade. While the hike is only a short one, it is steep and you may encounter tree branches and other debris on the trail from the 2017 wildfires.

You will notice that the falls are often referred to as Upper Horsetail Falls, including on the trail signage. However, Ponytail Falls seems to be the name that has been used the longest for these falls and the one that locals use.

Ponytail Falls Quick Facts

  • Location: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
  • GPS Coordinates: 45.588578, -122.068425
  • Height: 88ft (27 m)
  • Avg Width: 5ft (1.5m)
  • Seasonality: Ponytail Falls is a perennial waterfall, flowing year round.
  • Viewing Angles: Both sides, base, behind, and front-on.
  • Services: There are no restrooms at Ponytail Falls. Picnic benches are available at the Horsetail Falls Trailhead.

Location of Ponytail Falls in Oregon and How to Get There

Long exposure photo of Ponytail Falls in Oregon.

Driving to Ponytail Falls, Oregon

Ponytail Falls is located 35 miles east of Portland and 30 miles west of Hood River along the “Waterfall Corridor” in the Columbia River Gorge (CRG). The CRG has the highest density of waterfalls in all of North America and is one of the official 7 wonders of Oregon! Use the Horsetail Falls parking lot at the Horsetail Falls Trailhead on the Columbia River Historic Highway.

From Portland: Take the I-84 E to Bridal Veil Exit 35. (You will overshoot the falls, which will be visible from the road, then head back west. However, this route avoids congestion by 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 Ponytail Falls from Portland here or from Hood River here.

Hiking to Ponytail Falls, Oregon

View of Ponytail Falls from Horsetail Falls Trail in the Columbia River Gorge

Quick Overview

  • Start point: Horsetail Falls Trailhead
  • End Point: Ponytail Falls
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 0.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 365ft
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year-round except during extreme weather conditions
  • Family Friendly: Yes but use caution with young children due to steep drop-offs

The trail for Ponytail Falls starts at the base of Horsetail Falls, meaning you get two waterfalls for the price of one! Despite being steep with an elevation gain of 365ft, the 0.8 mile out and back hike to Ponytail Falls is one of the easiest in the Columbia River Gorge.

Along the trail, watch your footing and look out for fallen trees and debris from the Eagle Creek wildfire in 2017. Many of the burned trees and foliage are starting to make a comeback, but the trail is more open than it used to be.

This trail is generally considered family friendly, and we saw plenty of little ones making the hike with parents with ease. However, it is worth noting that the trail is not recommended for young children on the FSDA website due the steep drop-offs. Therefore, use caution if visiting with younger family members.

Hiking Directions

Follow the trail to walk behind Ponytail Falls in Oregon

To reach Ponytail Falls, take the Horsetail Falls Trail #438, located to the east of the base of Horsetail Falls. You will see an information board with a trail map at the start of the trail.

The dirt trail will lead you up easily graded switchbacks through temperate rainforest with beautiful views of the gorge. After 0.2 miles, keep right at the junction with Gorge Trail #400 to follow signs to Upper Horsetail Falls. From here, continue to follow the trail and you will arrive at Ponytail Falls in 0.2 miles.

Behind the falls is a cavernous overhang eroded beneath an ancient lava flow. This allows the trail to pass behind the waterfall, giving you access to a unique vantage point. Be prepared to get a little wet from spray in certain spots depending on which way the wind is blowing!

At this point you can choose to turn back to complete the 0.8 mile Ponytail Falls hike. Alternatively, you can continue onto Oneonta Trail #424 for a 2.5 mile loop trail. If you choose the longer loop hike, you will also pass Middle Oneonta Falls and some sweeping views of the gorge.

PHOTOGRAPHING Ponytail Falls

A girl in a yellow jacket standing in front of Ponytail Falls.

If you are just planning to photograph Ponytail 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 soft, dreamlike water.

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 we use for our photography 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 Ponytail 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, enhancing colors, 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 can be a lot of spray at Ponytail Falls and your lens will inevitably get wet!
  • Rain cover: Considering how much rain the 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!
Equipping our PolarPro Circular Polarizer, an essential for waterfall photography.
Equipping our PolarPro Circular Polarizer, an essential for waterfall photography.

Pro Photography Tip:

While there are many vantage points with little to no spray to contend with, there are certain spots where you’ll likely get at least some spray! 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!

Ponytail Falls FAQs

Long exposure photo of Ponytail Falls in Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

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

Where can I park near Ponytail Falls?

The trail for Ponytail Falls starts at Horsetail Falls where there is a small parking lot that is free to park in.

Why is it called Ponytail Falls?

The waterfalls appearance is thought to resemble that of a horse’s tail. Additionally, it has been suggested, although often in jest, that Ponytail Falls is perhaps “pony” rather than “horse” due to its smaller size in comparison to its Horsetail counterpart!

How long of a hike is Ponytail Falls?

Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail Falls) requires a short but steep 0.8 mile out and back hike.

Is Ponytail Falls an easy hike?

Yes! The hike to Ponytail Falls along the Horsetail Falls Trail is considered one of the easiest waterfall hikes in the Columbia River Gorge. Despite being steep, the short 0.8 mile out and back hike is an easy one.

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

Can you swim in Ponytail Falls?

During the summer, Ponytail Falls and Horsetail 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 Ponytail Falls?

Yes, dogs can visit Ponytail 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

Long exposure photo of Horsetail Falls in Oregon during the summer,
Horsetail Falls marks the start of the hike to Ponytail 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 Ponytail Falls:

  • Horsetail Falls – 0.4 miles
  • Lower Oneonta Falls – 0.7 miles
  • Middle Oneonta Falls – 1 miles
  • Upper Oneonta Falls – 1.1 miles
  • Triple Falls – 1.4 miles
  • Multnomah Falls – 3.1 miles
  • Dutchman Falls – 3.6 miles
  • Wiesendanger Falls – 3.7 miles
  • Ecola Falls – 3.8 miles

Things to see near Ponytail 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.

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

In addition to discovering a plethora of waterfalls to chase, you’ll also find a variety of trails to explore, scenic vistas to admire, and watersports to enjoy. 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 Ponytail 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

Enjoyed this Guide? Pin it! 🙂

Leave a Comment