For outdoorsy couples living in the Portland area, a date day to Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge is the perfect cheap way to make awesome memories and soak up some fresh air.
Even if you’ve both already been, this area is so phenomenal, it is definitely worth revisiting. Plus, if you are on a tight budget, you can make this nature-focused date day happen with just some gas money and packed lunches. Proof that you don’t have to stay at home to have a cheap date!
Planning Your Date Day to Multnomah Falls & the Gorge
This date day is more for established couples, since you’ll be hanging out from sunrise to sunset. If you aren’t sure you actually like someone, it’s a bit risky to plan an entire day of activities with them, but don’t let us stop you if you want to do this as a first date!
So, first of all, you are going to need to pick a day when you both can get an early start. If possible, a weekday would be ideal to avoid the crowds – especially in summer. But, as long as you get to the Multnomah Falls parking lot early, you should be okay.
You’ll also want to make sure you have good hiking shoes, comfortable outdoor clothes, lots of snacks and water, plus a cooler with a picnic lunch – and maybe even some adult beverages, if you want! Also, some towels or a blanket to sit on for your Gorge-side picnic is a good idea.
For the day of, you’ll want to plan to be at the first destination for sunrise – which is usually around 5:20 a.m. in summer. (But do a quick Google search to check). Be sure to set your alarms early to make it there on time – or ideally about 15 minutes early to be safe.
Not an early riser, no biggie! Feel free to skip the first stop. Just be at the Multnomah Falls Trailhead by 7 a.m. to make sure you find parking!
Sunrise at Crown Point
If you can manage to wake up early enough, watching the sunrise at or near the Vista House in the stunning Crown Point area is a great way to start your day. Maybe bring your coffee or tea to go and enjoy it while watching the sun come up over the Gorge. And since you will be heading out early, it shouldn’t take too long from Portland – about 35 minutes.
Multnomah Falls Hiking
If you live in the Portland area, you’ve probably been to Multnomah Falls. But, if you’ve never explored more of this area, you are missing out on some stunning scenery.
Plus, there’s no fee to park or enter this area. So, it is a totally free and stunningly gorgeous activity. Just be sure to bring along those snacks and water you packed. And have your phone battery full to take lots of photos!
Depending on your fitness level and how sweaty you want to get on this date day, here are some options for hiking. (Note: Always check online for trail closures & other updates first!)
Short Stroll to Benson Bridge
It would be a shame to stop at Multnomah Falls and not at least take the less than a quarter-mile trail up to the iconic Benson Bridge. From here, you can really get an up-close and personal experience with the waterfall.
However, we highly suggest going further! While some may suggest a hike to the Multnomah Falls Upper Viewpoint (at 2.4 miles round-trip), we say if you are going to tough it out through the 11 switchbacks to get there, you may as well see more waterfalls as a reward! Which is why we love the next hiking option so much …
Multnomah-Wahkeena Falls Loop Hike
This hike is our longest suggestion. It is about five miles round-trip and can be completed in either direction. If you head toward Multnomah Falls first, you will have a better experience at this waterfall which will most likely be crowded by the time you’ve finished your hike. HOWEVER, expect 11 brutal switchbacks after viewing the iconic falls.
Going the other way may be a bit easier, since you will be going down instead of up the switchbacks, but then Multnomah Falls will likely be packed when you walk through. Just choose what suits you best!
On the Multnomah-Wahkeena Falls Loop, you’ll pass Mulnomah Falls (duh!), Upper Multnomah Falls, Dutchman Falls, Weisendanger Falls, Ecola Falls, Fairy Falls, and Wahkeena Falls. That’s seven waterfalls! And the winding trail itself is stunning also, with creeks, greenery, and forests.
Best of Both Worlds with No Switchbacks
Okay, so let’s say you loooove waterfalls, but your thighs hate switchbacks. We suggest heading to Multnomah Falls first and hiking up to Benson Bridge to take it all in. Then, go back down and head towards Wahkeena Falls and take the Multnomah-Wahkeena Falls trail until you get to Fairy Falls (one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the loop). This three-mile option, let’s you see multiple waterfalls, enjoy the lush greenery of the trail, and avoid over-working yourself at the start of your date day.
Lunch on The Gorge
After getting a little worn out on your early-morning hike, head to the Hood River Event Site (about 35 minutes away) for the perfect place to relax, eat your picnic, and watch kite and/or windsurfers. This area is world-famous for these kinds of sports and it is amazing to watch as the kites fly up in the air – with people attached!
The grassy area is a great spot to set up the picnic lunch you packed. After you’ve filled up on whatever goodies you brought, be sure to walk out on the sandbar for a closer look at these athletes!
Forgot to pack a lunch? No problem! There are plenty of options in this area. You could swing by the Multnomah Falls Lodge after your hike. Or stop into Cascade Locks to hit up Thunder Island Brewing or Locks Waterfront Grill – both offer views!
Snack & Sip Along the Fruit Loop
While you are in the Hood River area, don’t miss out on the 35-mile Fruit Loop! This awesome drive is filled with farm stands, wineries, breweries, cideries, and u-pick farms. Plus, lots of scenic views! Definitely, plenty of opportunities for romance.
Most produce is available from June to October, but other options like wineries are year-round. Be sure to check the events calendar before you go, to see if there are any fun happenings going on during your visit.
It will take about an hour to drive the entire Fruit Loop, not including any stops. Just plan out which places you want to stop at, or just drive the loop and stop anywhere that looks fun! Be sure to bring cash in case you need it, too.
As you drive between each spot, pump some good music and sing along with each other while you snack on any goodies you pick up along the way! You basically pre-earned the calories with your hike, anyway. 😉
End the Night with Sunset
After a full day of adventurous, relaxing, and delicious activities, be sure not to miss out on bidding a fond farewell to your third wheel friend – the sun! Especially if it was nice enough to shine brightly all day. Just pull over in a safe spot and take a moment to appreciate this awesome date day. Or plan to be at a higher altitude to catch a better glimpse of it setting.
Then, drag yourselves back to Portland – fully exhausted, but filled to the brim with special memories. And we totally won’t judge you if you plan out your next date day to the Gorge on your way home!
Want More Fun in the Columbia River Gorge?
Why not make a return trip to check out another of the many waterfall hikes available. Or plan a full day of beer and/or wine tasting. Also, check for seasonal free or cheap events on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Gorge (like Lavender Daze in July or Harvest Fest in October)! Mt. Hood is also close by and definitely worth its own trip. So many great free or inexpensive activities!
However, if you have some money saved up, consider going whitewater rafting or take a class to learn how to kite or windsurf! Also, keep an eye out for concerts and events at the Gorge Amphitheatre for a unique, scenic experience.
Have you gone to Multnomah Falls or The Gorge? Share your tips!