True canyoneering (sometimes called canyoning) is the sport of traversing through a gorge and its waterfalls using multiple techniques including abseiling (rappelling) bouldering, cliff jumping, hiking and swimming. It’s still a burgeoning sport in the Pacific Northwest, and the equipment necessary is expensive and extensive, but those who are dedicated will find one the greatest canyoneering spots in the country locally at the Columbia River Gorge. The following are known to be good trails for figuring out whether this is the activity for you.
A good trail for dipping your toes in the sport of canyoneering is Oneonta Gorge, a well-traveled trail that navigates over logjams and includes a stretch of trail that requires wading through chest-high water. However, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, so if you want to play around plan on a weekday excursion.
Eagle Creek Gorge
This trail includes dozens of misting waterfalls so be prepared to get wet, even if you don’t plan on jumping in. A longer trail, about 12 miles, this trek covers a wide variety of terrain and will test your threshold for heights in a few ways. But beware, this trail has had some infrastructure problems in the past few years, so be sure to check trail reports before going.
Upper McCord Creek Falls
After only about a one-mile ascent, canyoneers are greeted with a spectacular double waterfall that lends itself to climbing, rappelling and general marveling. The views of the gorge and Mt. Adams make it a short but sweet adventure. You can also extend your trip by returning to the trailhead and then heading up a neighboring trail to Elowah Falls.
Most noted for being the country’s deepest river gorge, this canyon is located on the border of Eastern Washington and Oregon and Western Idaho. Due to its large size, people flock to it for white water rafting, hiking and horseback riding. But, it makes for a great place to learn about canyon terrain and to test out your traversing skills.
A very different type of terrain, Ape Canyon was formed by lava flow on the south side of Mount St. Helens. It now offers adventurers an interesting landscape of tunnels and beautiful views. Follow the Ape Canyon trail for about 11 miles and explore all the unique features of this area.
Other Canyons Worth Exploring
The Columbia River Gorge is arguably the best spot for canyoneering, but there are dozens of other canyons in the Pacific Northwest that offer terrain perfect for adding some variety to your regular hikes.