Hole in the Wall Falls

The Columbia River Gorge is an amazing swath of land and water that dominates the landscape connecting Oregon and Washington. Nearly 80 miles long from the stem to stern you can be at sea level one minute and then be at 4,000 feet the next. Comprised of layer after layer of basalt that flowed from volcanoes that stretched from Canada to the Pacific Ocean. It is nearly indescribably beautiful. Every inch is fantastic and unique and no matter how much time you spend in the Gorge, she will never stop surprising you with something new, something unexpected and something more beautiful than the last.

I discovered the Gorge through a teacher and friend, Terry Toedtemeier. Terry was a Geologist, a photographer and amazing person with an unflinchingly unique view of the world and it’s totally his fault that I’ve spent the better part of 25 years trying to understand it through the lens of my camera. So when I’m presented with an opportunity to go someplace of which I have never been or heard of, I jump at the chance, and this time I landed firmly at the base of Hole in the Wall Falls.

Tucked away in the woods near Starvation Creek, this gem started its life as Warren Creek Falls. It’s a wonderful falls roughly about the size of Wahkeena Falls and unless you went hiking along the Mt. Defiance Trail 413 you probably have neither seen nor heard of it. Since the 50s when I-84 was built and large portions of the Scenic Highway were abandoned or taken over by the freeway the falls has been basically hidden from view and largely unadvertised, which is a shame because it’s a nice falls, but that also means that it’s still kind of a hidden gem.

Hole in the Wall Falls

A big one actually, once you know about it, it’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been there right under our nose for decades. It hasn’t really been advertised much, I mean it’s mentioned in a few spots and a couple of books but always as a side note, never as a destination. Warren Creek is only about a half mile to the west of Starvation Creek along the original route of the Historic Highway. Rising about 100 feet above the trail the falls now drops down along the Mount Defiance trail. There is a really nice log footbridge crossing the creek next to a car sized chunk of basalt. In the 30’s Warren Creek was doing what creeks in the Gorge tend to do, erode everything in their path, the problem in this instance is that the everything was the Historic Highway 30. As you can imagine, a little thing like a creek can’t threaten such a major thoroughfare through the Gorge so it was decided to divert the creek by blasting a hole in the rock-face. At first glance from the base of the falls you’d never notice the nicely squared off hole in the basalt wall, nor would you have noticed the grating a couple hundred feet back up the trail that allows the water to go through this fancy new grating to the diversion tunnel. You can see the new opening from the trail, although you have to give it a good look to see what it actually is and at first I thought it was a corrugated metal roof; but nope, it was something much cooler. OPB did a program about Warren Creek and it’s diversion a few years ago on Oregon Field Guide too.

footbridge over Warren Creek
Footbridge over Warren Creek

This “new” falls is one of the things that I love about the Columbia River Gorge; no matter how many times you’ve ventured into the Gorge it always finds a way to be surprising, to show you something new, revealing another detail about itself. If you’re up for a good hike, you find your way up to the top of the falls and look down into the opening. As long as we’re headed back up the trail too, you might as well as stop and take a peek at the notch where Warren Creek Falls used to flow. Completely dry for nearly the last 100 years the old path is not much more than a mossy, lichen covered immense wall of vertically columned basalt, but now you know what it is; where it is and you can’t unsee it.

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