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This Columbia Gorge classic wastes no time warming up: You’ll catch awe-inspiring views of the majestic Horsetail Falls before leaving the parking lot. From the trailhead, the route heads west along the Gorge Trail before turning left onto Rock of Ages Trail and continuing the nearly 3,000-foot climb to the hike’s apex. Along this stretch, numerous side trails lead to vistas of the Columbia River Gorge.
After half a mile, turn left to take a quick detour to the picturesque Rock of Ages Arch. Less than 500 feet later, escape from the dense rainforest and hit a rocky outcrop on the spiny Devil’s Backbone ridgeline, catching breathtaking panoramas of the Columbia River and its steep, wooded hillsides.
After 2.4 miles, crest the hike’s high point at 3,000 feet and descend on Horsetail Creek Trail. Hike past several stream crossings before reaching postcard views of Triple Falls near mile 7 and the equally dazzling Oneonta Falls half a mile later. Catch your fourth and final waterfall sighting just 0.5 mile from the trailhead at Ponytail Falls. Finish the trip by returning to Waypoint 3 and turning left toward the trailhead.
-Mapped by Trung Q. Le
- Distance: 14.2
Location: 45.5902575, -122.068212
From the parking area along historic US 30, take in spectacular views of the 171-foot Horsetail Falls before heading east on the Horsetail Falls Trail (#438).
Location: 45.5902875, -122.065562
Hang a right at the Y-junction to switchback up the Gorge Trail (#400).
Location: 45.5892965, -122.0686412
Turn left at the Y-junction onto Rock of Ages Trail (sometimes called Mystery Trail). The trail can be hard to find; look for the sign that reads: “Trail Not Maintained.” The ascent from here is strenuous; the steep trail is composed of loose rock, roots, and soil.
Location: 45.5886208, -122.0680296
Bear left at the Y-junction to stay on the Rock of Ages Trail. The right-hand fork leads to a glimpse of Ponytail Falls. Note: Better views of the falls await, as you’ll pass Ponytail again on the way home.
Location: 45.588373, -122.0662057
Bear left at the Y-junction on a 300-foot side trail to reach top-notch views of the Rock of Ages Arch. To continue on, head back to the intersection and turn left on the Rock of Ages Trail.
Location: 45.5881402, -122.0653582
Bear right at the Y-junction to stay on the Rock of Ages Trail, which continues to climb through dense forest to the Devil’s Backbone ridgeline.
Location: 45.5879, -122.0643389
Upon reaching the lesser-traveled Devil’s Backbone ridgeline, be prepared to encounter windblown trees blocking the rough trail.
Location: 45.5877949, -122.0637488
Head straight at the 3-way junction to stay on Rock of Ages Trail.
Location: 45.5810821, -122.0316696
Crest the trail’s high point (3,000 feet) and turn right at the Y-junction onto Horsetail Creek Trail (#425). From here, the trail descends for the next several miles.
Location: 45.576569, -122.0351136
Cross the East Fork of Horsetail Creek. The stream’s cool water makes this section a refreshing rest point on hot days.
Location: 45.5732721, -122.0366478
Cross the Middle Fork of Horsetail Creek by wading or rock-hopping.
Location: 45.571004, -122.0374632
Cross the Horsetail Creek for the last time.
Location: 45.5684804, -122.0502627
At the Y-junction, bear right onto Oneonta Trail. Descend approximately 20 switchbacks on this well-maintained stretch of trail.
Location: 45.5713945, -122.0559168
Bear right at the Y-junction to continue on Oneonta Trail. To the left is a short scramble leading to a viewpoint of Oneonta Gorge and Larch Mountain.
Location: 45.5663548, -122.0613027
Cross Oneonta Creek by either rock-hopping or crossing on a fallen tree about 30 feet upstream.
Location: 45.5665952, -122.0614743
Bear right at the Y-junction to bypass the Fanela Ridge and stay on Oneonta Trail.
Location: 45.5677894, -122.0620966
Cross Oneonta Creek on a narrow footbridge.
Location: 45.5781385, -122.0724392
Capture spectacular views of Triple Falls by crossing Oneonta Creek on Triple Falls Bridge.
Location: 45.5791372, -122.0727289
Continue straight at the 3-way junction to stay on Oneonta Trail. Optional: Take a quick detour to the right for a fantastic view of Triple Falls. The magnificent Oneonta Falls is just further down the trail.
Location: 45.5859929, -122.0727932
Bear right at the Y-intersection onto Gorge Trail. At this point, the trail becomes more crowded.
Location: 45.5852045, -122.0731902
Cross Oneonta Creek on a footbridge. On hot days, you’ll see other hikers enjoying the creek’s cool, refreshing water further downstream.
Location: 45.5894316, -122.0733726
Bypass a side trail leading to vistas of the Columbia River Gorge by bearing right on the Gorge Trail. In about 500 feet you’ll reach the stunning Ponytail Falls. To return to the trailhead, hike to Waypoint 3 and bear left.
Location: 45.5675341, -122.0617962
Location: 45.590265, -122.0680726
Rock of Ages Trail Junction
Location: 45.5902875, -122.0654547
Top of Ponytail Falls
Location: 45.5886508, -122.0692527
Location: 45.5889015, -122.0692749
Devil’s Backbone Ridgeline Ascent
Location: 45.5885832, -122.0670104
Rock of Ages Arch
Location: 45.5876747, -122.0669353
Devil’s Backbone Outcrop Vantage Point
Location: 45.5866776, -122.0632935
Devil’s Backbone Ridgeline
Location: 45.5851519, -122.0504236
East Fork of Horsetail Creek
Location: 45.576569, -122.0350063
West Fork of Horsetail Creek
Location: 45.571004, -122.0373559
Location: 45.5660394, -122.0603371
Footbridge: Oneonta Creek
Location: 45.5676618, -122.0617855
Location: 45.5791523, -122.0725572