I didn't expect to get to Multnomah Falls via a special left exit from the highway, nor did I expect to see it from the parking lot, pretty much giving away all its glory for free. Somehow I thought I would have to work for it, at least a little bit, but I actually could have gotten the whole visit done in 5 minutes, minus the drive.
If you take the exit for the Falls, you end up in a giant parking lot in the middle of the highway. There's a path under the road and train tracks, which pops you out right at the gift shop and an even closer parking lot. Walk maybe 50 feet and you're in the money shot zone, dodging other tourists and their cameras. The air is pleasantly damp here, mist falling from both waterfalls, the river rushing by to the left as you gaze upward at the iconic bridge, slack-jawed. It's an impressive sight, and very beautiful.
If you're like me, you start the accidental hiking process here. Up a winding, not-too-steep path to the bridge that traverses the lower falls through a hard fog of spray, then up an innocent looking path into the woods. Eleven switchbacks to the top of the falls seems doable.
It is possible, but it is no joke. The 1.2 mile ascent moves sharply upward and gives little rest through each switchback as it angles ever upward. I came to loathe the sight of another x/11 switchbacks signs, but quickly loved them when I realized that 9 is the last up and that 10 and 11 actually go down toward the top of the falls. Still, peering over the edge at my ant-sized car in the far distance, and all the people who were milling around at the base, was deeply gratifying.
The descent was slow and annoying as the Tinker Toys in my knee constantly rearranged themselves into increasingly uncomfortable configurations. I kept a steady pace, took a lot of breaks, and breathed in the mountains across the water.
Back at my car, it was hard to believe that I'd been all the way at the top. In the end, that's the whole point of pushing to those places; if you never leave the parking lot, you have no idea what you might be missing.