Some places on this planet are just so magical that they radiate. Exude energy. Exert joy. Never have I heard so much giggling. People who were so happy to be in a place. Such a thrill of feeling part of something special. Everyone was talking to each other. Strangers and friends. Togetherness. Sharing and marveling and offering to take photos and dancing and jumping in the water. Oneonta Falls makes your soul want to dance in your body.

Celebrating the 100 foot Lower Oneonta Falls at the head of the gorge.

The hike is very short. Just over half a mile round trip from the road to the waterfall and back. But it is such a unique experience because there is no hiking trail. The river is the trail.

Looking towards the falls from the second log jam.

You can park on the side of the Historic Columbia River highway, 45 minutes from downtown Portland. Even though I got there fairly early, at 9:30am, all the parking slots were taken. Everyone loves this place. Be aware if you are parking on the mountain side of the road to avoid any area that could have a rock slide – a boulder on your car roof would definitely dampen your day.

The Oneonta Tunnel, now a pedestrian walkway. The Historic Columbia River highway is to the left of this photo.

The historic Oneonta Gorge tunnel has been restored so that you can walk through. There is also parking on the other side of the tunnel if you are coming from the east.

The granite walls, warped by my fisheye lens.

First down a steep set of concrete stairs. Then a two-minute walk alongside the river in the bush. When I researched coming to Oneonta and watched videos of people doing the hike, it looked like the bush was in the middle of nowhere and it was hard to find the river. Not so – the river is right beside you. It is very obvious where to go.

Mind game: the boulders and log jam are your first challenge.

There are two enormous boulders trapping a log jam at the entrance of the gorge. The obstacle looms larger as you approach. People were scrambling up it in lines like hikers going up Mount Everest. In a queue and waiting.

Up and over the log jam.

Hikers advising about Oneonta cautioned about this log jam. That you should be very careful scrambling over. From their descriptions I thought that the logs were unstable. Not so. It was surprising how such a massive structure of disheveled, jumbled logs could be so firmly fixed to each other. Obviously you need to test every log before you crawl over it, but it was surprisingly immovable. It was like an adult playground. A life-sized game of Jenga. The climb over was akin to a slow motion Tai Chi session. Very zen.

Zen and the art of log climbing.

The chasm is about 20 feet wide and 200 feet deep and the almost vertical granite walls are lined with moss. It looks like something straight out of Jurassic Park. The lost world. Except it wasn’t lost. It was very much found.

Enjoying the gorge with all the other hikers.

Shh don’t tell anyone. But it was a little late for that. Every hiker and their sister was out in force, some in swimsuits, most in shorts, only one idiot in flip flops. That would be me. I don’t recommend it, but I was careful on the climb and hindsight is 20-20 vision.

Ridiculously inappropriate footwear.

There are a number of enormous trees that have fallen into this chasm and I looked up to see that the others on the edge were secure.

Looking up the tree trunk.

Needless to say the river is mineral-water clear and refrigerator cold. Wrap your belongings in zip lock bags because you have to wade through the water… twice. First up to your knees.

Photo op at every angle.

Then, just before the falls, right up to your you-know-what. Perhaps that was where all the giggling came from. I was certainly laughing at this point.

The deepest spot that you have to wade through is just before the waterfall.

But it was all worth it. The reward, at the head wall of the valley, is a 100 foot waterfall, and the pool underneath is the most magical swimming hole.

The enchanting Lower Oneonta Falls.

Take a dip in a gorge surrounded by kindred spirits. Friends and new friends. We all couldn’t believe how lucky we were to experience something this unique. (And to record it with a thousand pics and selfies to share with the world).

The magical swimming hole at the base of the falls. I photo-shopped 10 people out of this shot.

Tired, soaked and elated, in the end the log pile was too much for my footwear. I wore the sole off my flip flop. I had to catch it from floating down the river.

But that’s OK, ‘cos the other soul was dancing inside my body.