Officials are hoping a pilot program requiring timed-use vehicle permits will help reduce traffic and improve safety in the popular “waterfall corridor” on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. From May 24 through Sept. 5, the new program will require a timed-use permit for personal vehicles to access federal lands in the waterfall corridor — a 7-mile corridor located between Bridal Veil Falls and Ainsworth State Park — between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., seven days a week.
Multnomah County, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, the Oregon Department of Transportation and the United States Forest Service (USFS) launched the joint project to create a more reliable, safe, predictable and enjoyable experience for all users visiting trailheads, waterfalls and viewpoints.
“Our community raised concerns about congestion in the Gorge,” Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann stated in a news release. “The strain on our ecosystem and infrastructure requires an approach that balances sustainability with recreation and tourism. This pilot represents how multiple governmental agencies can come together to develop a solution for our residents and visitors.”
The permits are intended to spread visits to the popular waterfall corridor throughout the day and the week, with fewer vehicles allowing more space for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Officials say summer days in the Gorge lead to long vehicle backups, which delay emergency response times, decrease safety and cause frustration for visitors. Between 2011 and 2016, visits to National Forest System lands in the Gorge’s waterfall corridor increased 35 percent, with a corresponding increase in traffic.
“This important pilot project would not be possible without all of the managing agencies working together,” said Donna Mickley, forest supervisor for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “We are committed to providing a safe and enjoyable experience at these popular and treasured locations within the Scenic Area.”
The USFS also will reinstate timed-use permits for visitors to Multnomah Falls using the Interstate 84 (Exit 31) parking lot from May 24 through Sept. 5.
Both the waterfall corridor and Multnomah Falls parking lot permits can be reserved online for a $2 transaction fee at Recreation.gov, beginning Tuesday, May 10. The waterfall corridor permits will be released approximately two weeks prior to the visit date. There will be a limited amount of in-person, same-day permits (no fee) at locations such as the Gateway to the Gorge Visitor Center in Troutdale and the Cascade Locks Historical Museum.
Each permit lists a time slot. Visitors should plan to arrive on-time for their time slot at either end of the waterfall corridor at one of two check-in points (just east of the Bridal Veil off-ramp at Exit 28 or near Ainsworth State Park at Exit 35). The time slot does not limit how long visitors can stay in the waterfall corridor once they’ve checked in.
Visitors who are traveling by public transit, bike or shuttle bus do not need a permit to enter the waterfall corridor.
According to the news release, people who don’t want to get a timed-use permit to drive throught the waterfall corridor this summer still have a few options, including:
- Leaving the car behind and taking public transit. Columbia Area Transit offers service from in Portland (Gateway Transit Center), Cascade Locks and Hood River.
- Taking a tour: Sasquatch Shuttle and Gray Line Waterfall Trolley offer shuttle services that allow riders to hop on and hop off along the route.
- Riding a bicycle on the historic highway.
- Modify a trip to arrive before or after the permit time of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Visiting the waterfall corridor before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.
For more information, visit WaterfallCorridorPermits.org.