We haven’t been on any winter hikes in the 3 years we have lived in Oregon so this year we decided to plunge right in. What were we waiting for right? Well we chose one hell of a year to just plunge right in. This year has been by far the worst, or best Winter depending on your perspective. We tried to make the trek out to Tamanawas Falls on a Saturday in early December, but when the weather turned up being in the low teens, snowing and terrible road conditions we decided to postpone our first snow shoe trek. We had rented some MSR Gear snowshoes from REI and we didnt have to take them back till close of business Sunday. So the next day I checked the road & weather conditions and it seemed better than the day before so we went for it. Since we aren’t exacty the type to give up on a new adventure, we were not about to let the weather stop us just yet.
Tamanawas falls is located on the East side of Mt.Hood, we drove up through the gorge and took highway 35 down to this side of the mountain in order to avoid the more congested highway 26 and worse road conditions as well. Its about a hour and a half drive from portland metro area. The highway is pretty snow and ice packed so if you venture here make sure to carry chains or traction tires. There is roadside parking at the trailhead which I found to be quite ample parking for winter at least.
The trail was well groomed and had obviously been used quite a bit the day we went. It is a 3.8 mile out and back trail with only 500ft elevation gain which makes this the perfect first time snow shoeing trail with a gradual incline to the falls. The majority of the trail runs along Cold Spring Creek which you cross by bridge in the beginning and the marshmallow fluff that lined the river made for quite the wintery scene. Side note* getting down the stairs of the bridge is quite the task in snow shoes, you may consider stepping out of them or being very crafty with your dismount.
Approximatley .4 miles into the hike you reach a junction with a wooden sign marker pointing downhill to the falls this trail also gains acess to East fork trail which in turn leads to Elk Meadows trail. You follow the trail towards the falls another 1.5 miles before you reach the frozen icicle falls that is Tamanawas. The falls are approximatley 100 feet high and 40 feet wide how ever with most of the falls frozen it shrinks to make half that wide in the winter time. It is breathtaking standing there in the freezing misty air, soaking in all the negative ions, Beards turning into icicles and hair freezing to your face but who wouldn’t endure that for this quiet beauty.
We found a nice spot to settle in for some silent waterfall viewing and hot apple cider before we headed back through the old growth forest of Douglas fir, mountain hemlock and cedar. As you walk down the trail its impossible to not be mezmerized by the snow cloaked trees and weighted branches, with mini snow showers from branches high above letting the weight fall off them. Breaks of blue sky and sun glimmering through the fog as snow dusting shimmered in the air. This is a really enjoyable day hike through the snow even in very low temps you stay warm as long as you keep moving. It took us a little over an hour to get there and maybe a little less on the way back.
Things to keeping in mind; Winter backcountry adventures can be dangerous if your not prepared for the cold or the wet. Make sure to bring a waterproof layer for time spent near the falls. Make sure you bring adequate layers as you may get hot from moving but cool quickly when stationary. It’s always better to have it and not need it, than not having it and needing it. The MSR Gear snowshoes we rented were great too, I cant wait to buy some lighter aluminum ones. happy snow trails!