• Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Intermediate

  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    1.6 Miles

Waterfall

This beautiful, hidden waterfall (20 ft. tall) was discovered in the last decade and is located off of a popular hiking trail in the Columbia River Gorge. 

This newly discovered waterfall has become a favorite for photographers – even so, it has yet to receive an official name. The waterfall is located just 300 feet off the Ruckel Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge, but it can be quite challenging to access. The rewards are well worth the slippery trail, however.

On the trail, you will climb some pretty good grades through beautiful thickets of forests and a few open meadows. After 0.8 miles of hiking, you will arrive at a very large, easily identified clearing, called Indian Pits. Walk about 150 feet through the clearing and you will see trampled ground to your right, heading downhill. Follow this unofficial trail (treaded by outdoor photographers) as you descend rapidly down a steep grade. Be careful, this part of the hike has some slippery, moss-covered rocks!

Once you reach the creek, the falls are just a few hundred feet upstream. If you are hiking at night, be sure to bring a flashlight or headlamp, as the light disappears quickly here, and it is much harder crawling back up the hill to the trail than it is coming down!

Getting there:
Head out of Portland on Interstate 84 East and take exit 41. Park at the lot adjacent to the fish hatchery, and follow the paved path along the highway for a half mile to reach the Ruckle Creek Trailhead.

Key coordinates:
Ruckle Creek Trail #405 Trailhead: 45.645264, -121.918747 

Mossy Grotto Falls: 45.6361536,-121.8870842

Pack List

  • Sturdy hiking shoes or boots
  • Hiking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Rain jacket (esp. in wet winter months)
  • Water and snacks
  • Camera and tripod
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Reviews

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I find the reports interesting that the falls were discovered in 2006. I came across the falls in 1986 while walking up Ruckel Creek. I started at Ruckel Falls, at the Old Scenic Highway Bridge, and slowly walked the creek up the gorge being careful not to disturb the surrounding vegetation. It was a very difficult and dangerous creek walk. I had spent nearly 10 years exploring the Eagle Creek area and alot of time around Ruckel Creek, which was largely unknown by the public in the 70's and 80's. As I walked up Ruckel Creek in 86 I was amazed to come upon one of the most beautiful falls I'd seen in the gorge (now known as Mossy Grotto Falls). I think the experience was magnified by the realization that the falls were virtually untouched by man. I can still remember how spectacular the Falls and Grotto were - and even though I have done hundreds of hikes over the years - Mossy Grotto remains as one of the most spectacular - mainly because of the remoteness of the setting. That said, I am saddened to hear how the area has been damaged by heavy use. I was planning to visit the falls again this summer after 31 years, which is what led me to this site. Hearing the heavy damage reports I will not be making the trip. Having grown up in the Columbia River Gorge I have watched man's ever increasing footprint change this area over the years for the worst. I would strongly discourage anyone from attempting to access the falls by way of walking the creek. Not only was my one trek very dangerous, but it would cause the destruction of yet another pristine natural area. I was 19 and foolish at the time and if I had to do over again (though I thought I was being careful not to destroy the landscape) I know better now than to take the risk and hike off trail which inevitably will destroy the natural landscape.

10 months ago
10 months ago

First of all this isn't an intermediate hike. It's off trail, and is essentially hiking down a muddy cliff, that also has rocks that slide when you climb down. Ideally you should have emergency supplies and be an experienced hiker.

10 months ago
10 months ago

I would agree with the reviews below. This fall is not easy to get too and I wouldn't recommend it for a novice. The last time I hiked here I cut in too early (at the last switchback before heading up the hill) and ended up climbing over three falling logs. I also got some poison oak so make sure to wear long pants. There really isn't a trail to get here so it's pretty much bush waking.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

For anyone considering trying to find this waterfall, know this is an EXTREME adventure and not anywhere close to an intermediate hike, and should only be attempted by those experienced with rugged, dangerous off-trail scrambling. First, the round-trip mileage is the listing is wrong: it is actually 3 miles, not 1.6. The journey to the Indian Pits is certainly nothing more than an intermediate hike. From the fish hatchery, walk the paved Historic Old Columbia River Highway (just open to cyclists and hikers) for .5 miles to the Ruckel Creek trailhead, next to the actual creek. From there, hike .8 miles on a good trail on moderate to steep grades away from and far above the creek. Cross the open area under the power lines, continue through the forest until you emerge at the open area of the Indian Pits - a beautiful area in and of itself. That's where the intermediate part ends. From there, indeed a faint but reasonably obvious "path" leads down through the mossy rocks to the edge of a ridge and from there it is a near-vertical scramble over slippery, slick mud, over roots, through very slippery loose rocks and still a lot of down toward the creek. Do not even attempt this unless you are well prepared, with proper hiking boots, trekking poles (an absolute must) and emergency supplies in case you get stuck. The climb back up to the Indian Pits is just as hard as the descent and is VERY difficult as well. Honestly, while the waterfall is very nice, after having done this adventure I didn't think it was really worth the extreme amount of effort to get there as there are many other, more beautiful and much-easier-to-get-to waterfalls in the Gorge than killing yourself with this one. Again, strongly consider if you are experienced, in-shape, have the proper equipment and really want to undertake this, as search and rescue would be a very long wait, if they could even find you if something bad happened.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Wasn't able to find trail head. Not sure if it was apart of the daily $5 fee from the other park. Need clearer instructions.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

the gps coordinates are wrong!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

@eric Bennett Are you kidding? "Ferns and foliage" have been destroyed and will never be the same? Do you have any idea how quickly those sorts of things regenerate? Ive bushwhacked a trail in January only come back in May and find it completely overgrown. Littering is a different story. That is straight disrespectful. I appreciate your concern for the outdoors. But let's not get the whole "leave no trace" idea twisted. Saint Helen's completely leveled miles of forest. Look at it now.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Hey guys so first off this is way more than 1.6 Miles round trip. It is about 3 each way depending on where you come from and takes a bit of bushwhacking to get to. Anyone looking to find it probably will though, although it is a bit confusing and I got lost several times when I went for the first time. However, the reason I am writing this review is more to just make you aware that this beautiful location has been significantly damaged by photographers and hikers. A lot of the foliage and ferns have been destroyed within the last couple of years. If you look at older photos of this place it is a beautiful, lush scene, It is mostly dirt now sadly enough and I don't know if it will ever look the same. If you come here, please respect it, mind where you step, and LEAVE NO TRACE.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

The directions are really hard to follow, but I did find the right trail and then ended up going down the hill, but couldn't find the falls at the bottom. TONS of downed trees made it really hard to walk. Wouldn't recommend unless you are REALLY looking for a crazy adventure.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Chase Dekker

Wildlife photographer and biologist currently based in my coastal hometown of Monterey, California. Always looking for the next wildlife adventure!

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