Oneonta Gorge – One of the Most Dramatic Chasms in Oregon
Oneonta Gorge lies in the Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon, in the United States. Because of its unique aquatic and woodland plants, the United States Forest Service designated it as a botanical area. Carleton Eugene Watkins, who traveled west during the California Gold Rush in 1851, took the first photograph of Oneonta Gorge. Oneonta Falls was named after Watkins’ hometown.
There are ferns, mosses, hepatics, and lichens growing on exposed basalt walls dating back 25 million years (Miocene epoch). There are 50 species of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees in the Oneonta Gorge, which has been described as ‘one of the most dramatic chasms in New York.’ Nature provides a soothing atmosphere with birds chirping all around.
Oneonta Gorge Creek Bridge is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. The Oneonta Gorge Creek Bridge, built in 1914, is about half a mile downstream of the falls. There are four spans that are 80 feet long and the roadway is 22 feet wide on the bridge.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, this structure is located alongside the Columbia River Highway. Due to a massive fire in Eagle Creek, Oneonta Gorge was originally closed. Currently, most of the area is closed because of fallen debris and logs.
Through the gorge, Oneonta Creek features four major waterfalls. Oneonta Creek was originally crossed by an old Columbia Gorge Highway that bore through a nearby cliff in a tunnel. Located on a cliff to the left of the highway bridge at the mouth of the gorge, the old tunnel entrance can be seen on the left.
Oneonta’s Middle Falls can be seen clearly from a footpath, but many people mistake it for the upper or lower falls. A boardwalk and footpath are not available in the upper gorge (a slot canyon), which has been preserved as a natural habitat. It is only possible to see Lower Oneonta Falls by walking upstream from the creek’s outlet on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Depending on the season and level of snow melt, getting to a vantage point where the entire lower falls are visible may require wading through water that can be shoulder-deep.
About a mile upstream from the middle falls, the upper falls are accessible only by scrambling up a creek or climbing down a canyon wall. From several vantage points on the upper trails in the canyon, visitors can see the fourth waterfall, called Triple Falls. There are exposed bedrock cliff faces along the east and north ends of Oneonta, giving it its nickname “City of the Hills.” The term is derived from a Mohawk phrase meaning “open rocks” or “rocks sticking out.”
As a result of natural and human influences, the trail has issues. A log jam has formed in the midst of the slot canyon as a result of three boulders (the size of “pickup trucks”) tumbling into the stream in the late 1990s. In 2011, a hiker died from this hazard so it is not family-friendly.
Larch Mountain and the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness are accessible from Oneonta Trailhead, which is a convenient place to start a day hike or a rigorous backpacking trail. There are about 8 spaces and a kiosk at the trailhead where you can park.