Hiking Ramona Falls with Kids
A do-able Portland day trip, Ramona Falls is an amazing waterfall in the Mt. Hood National Forest with a well-maintained trail. The stellar cherry-on-the-cake ending makes it a good hike for families (I always like rewards). But there are some caveats, and the trail isn’t great for tinies.
Across from the Zigzag ranger station, Lolo Pass Rd. heads north, and 4 miles in, you turn on road 1825 toward the campgrounds and trails. From there, signage leads to the Ramona Falls trailhead, about 8 miles off the main highway 26. The trailhead is spacious, and while the road is single lane and pitted with potholes and the parking lot is gravel, it’s not very primitive. The trail is popular, and weekday summers are the best time to go. The river-side loop can also be warm and sunny — use the longer side loop (even with kids!) to avoid this less attractive and more uncomfortable climb. The longer side is really only .2 miles longer, and winds through far more shade.
The boring leg of the hike
The first mile takes hikers from parking lot to river crossing. It smells like high desert but does wind through a few areas of large volcanic rock and mossy green shade.
The river crossing itself is considered dangerous, and has swept away hikers since the bridge washed out and there are no plans to replace it.
There are many spots to cross the shallow (in August) but fast moving river. Everyone we saw scurried on their butts across a wide, flat tree. Going upstream can provide safer crossings, some say. Others rock hop.
We saw families with 3-4 year-old children and they seemed competent to navigate the crossing with parents’ help.
Soon, you’ll find yourself in a hot, sunny riverbed well-marked by prior hikers with fabulous Mt. Hood views. It can’t be more than .25 miles from here that you’ll find yourself faced with a choice: go left or go straight (straight is labelled for Ramona Falls, left is labelled a shoot of the Pacific Coast Trail, though it no longer is). Both will work. Choose wisely. The Ramona Falls circle can be hiked as a circle, or go back from whichever way you came.
*Small kids? Go left. The right-side of the loop has some steep drop-offs I wouldn’t trust my <7 kids to hike.
The Second Leg (You went straight)
I hate the second leg of this hike. If you are on the sunny, river-side trail, I feel ya. Stop and rest often. Enjoy the sun and the sound of the river. The second leg is high desert, with evergreens, plenty of sun, and dust in your shoes.
It’s not an uphill hike in that there are no switchbacks and the trail is wide and maintained. That said, you’re heading up. Plenty of families are on this hike, and it’s hardly grueling, but it is uphill. A very fit family passed us heading down. They had two kids who looked like twins. Maybe 3ish. Alice wondered how they could possibly not be out of breath.
Occasionally, fellow hikers meander by. One said he was “getting pretty sick of this $#!^” about a mile and a half in.
You’ve been warned.
The Final Leg
Finally, you’ll make it back to the deep dark forest (can you tell we were hot? We did this hike about 12:00-5:00 on one of the warmest days of summer. Try mornings instead).
The deep dark forest leg has a few long drop-off sections where it is awkward to pass other hikers. It’s the kind of trail with a long tumble down to the river, where horses with suicide wishes stumble too close for comfort to the side. small children would get my adrenaline pumping similarly.
Finally, you hear the sound of running water and the glint of glittering droplets through the trees. It’s cool and dark up here, and plenty of people are milling around, savoring the reward for all their hard work. Ropes alert hikers that they should stay on the trail, but every group goes up a short trail to the waterfall as if to say, oh, no, I came all this way.
They wade in the water below. They feel the spray on their faces. No one chastises the others for their poor stewardship. At least that was our experience. 🙂
Go across the footbridge at the base of the waterfall and head back down the mountain. But be warned: these forests are alive with mossy adventure, and we stopped more on this side to play and scream and enjoy than we had on the way up as we struggled with our hatred of the second leg of this hike.
There are waterfalls you can reach out and touch! Simple bridges with a railing over creeks.
Cliffs rising up to your right, with water trickling down them and giant rocks to climb.
Maybe it’s just that it was all downhill, but this shady side of the trail was truly magical, and well worth the effort. If we did it again, we’d ignore the riverside trail entirely.
By the time you pop back out into the sun, you’re almost back at the river crossing, and it’s a flat stroll to the car from there.
Don’t forget to finish your hike with cake.