Plans for Oneonta Gorge Reopening in Motion, No Date in Sight

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Oneonta Falls / Image via / Gary Randall Photography /

Until 2017, the incomparable Oneonta Gorge on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge was accessible to the public and a much-beloved spot to visit during the hot summer months. The Eagle Creek Fire started by illegal fireworks on September 2 of that year changed everything. Since that day, folks have been banned from entry, met with surveillance cameras, a chainlink fence, and hefty fines. The fires rendered the once-verdant cliffsides and cascading waterfalls too unstable to safely allow visitors.

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Oneonta Gorge logjam at Oneonta Creek, Summer 2012. / Image via / The Author / thePDXphotographer

Over four years later while other fire-affected trails in The Gorge have reopened, Oneonta remains closed, but recent talks seek to change that. Hopefully.

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The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire as seen from the Washington side of The Bridge of the Gods. It burned over 50,000 acres. / Image via / The Author / thePDXphotographer
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Before and after. Drone images via / Facebook / Clifford Paguio Photography

When Will Oneonta Gorge Reopen

According to Statesman Journal reporter Zach Urness, if early discussions go well the status of Oneonta Gorge could change in the somewhat near future.

"The primary reason that [Oneonta Gorge is] still closed is public safety, given the danger of falling debris and rocks after the fire weakened the vegetation that held them in place," said Stan Hinatsu, recreation staff officer for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. "But the closure is giving us the opportunity to deal with the issue of how so many people in the creek can impact spawning salmon and other ecological issues."

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Hinatsu went on to say that the two-step process instrumental to the reopening of Oneonta Creek and the Gorge could take up to two years.

"The agency will first meet with wildlife biologists, outdoor groups, and other interested groups on the best path forward. Then, they'll do a NEPA review — a requirement under the National Environmental Policy Act that focuses on any decision's impact to the environment." -Zach Urness

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Oneonta Falls, Summer 2012. / Image via / The Author / thePDXphotographer

I personally remember the Oneonta hike as a devil of an adventure; a humid bushwhack over a massive logjam that rewards with a deep green canyon and private Lower Oneonta Falls as the ending holy grail. You wanted 90°F and above because a portion of the trek requires a chest-deep wade through frigidly-cold mountain runoff that takes your breath away. I'd gladly pay to have the experience once again.

Continuing reopening discussions involve several outcomes, from seasonal opening only to a limited-entry permit similar to ones imposed in the Central Cascades Wilderness Area. The latter option may be most ideal to help preserve the reemerging micro-ecosystem that Oneonta was famous for. Since the onset of social media sharing, the once quiet Gorge was experiencing a glut of visitors, not all of whom were diligent about Leave No Trace practices.

Discussions are expected to take two years, give or take.

Looking for other beautiful areas in the Portland area to hike that are currently open? Hit the link here to check out some amazing waterfalls near Portland.