The Little Known Tale of a Waterfall's Demise: Restoring Warren Falls

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The Columbia River Gorge is known for many things, but top among them is waterfalls. However, many local hikers have never heard of Warren Falls. That’s because for the most part, it no longer exists.

The demise of Warren Falls is a fascinating but little known tale of modern engineering, its effect on the natural world, and nature’s persistence. Tom Kloster is a Portland-area waterfall enthusiast that is spearheading the effort to restore a cascade in the Columbia River Gorge that went silent three quarters of a century ago. He spoke with RootsRated about the falls and the efforts involved to protect them.

The Columbia River Gorge is well known for waterfalls, including this one, Starvation Creek Falls.
The Columbia River Gorge is well known for waterfalls, including this one, Starvation Creek Falls. McD22

What and where was Warren Falls?

Warren falls was -- and sometimes still is -- the final waterfall on Warren Creek, which is located just west of Starvation Creek State Park near Hood River. It was one of four waterfalls in this area noted in Lewis and Clark's journals (along with nearby Starvation Creek Falls, Cabin Creek Falls, and Lancaster Falls), and the largest of these streams.

What happened to it?

In 1939, the Oregon Highway Division diverted the falls into a tunnel that then emptied onto a flume that carried Warren Creek over the original Columbia River Highway. The project was an attempt to protect highway and railroad bridges from debris that had been washing down Warren Creek, potentially endangering the bridges.

The project was completed over the span of a few months from the fall of 1939 through the winter of 1940, with a budget of less than $13,000 that included blasting the 100-foot bypass tunnel, elevated timber flume and a diversion structure to direct Warren Creek into the tunnel just above Warren Falls.

The original highway was abandoned less than a decade after this elaborate structure was built, and the flume carrying Warren Creek to the Columbia soon fell into disrepair. It was removed by the early 1960s when today's I-84 was completed, and at that time, "Hole-in-the-Wall Falls" was born -- that's the name for the current falls on Warren Creek where it spills from the diversion tunnel.


The eerie cliff wall over which Warren Falls used to cascade.
The eerie cliff wall over which Warren Falls used to cascade. Adam Sawyer

How can people get involved?

First, go visit Warren Falls. It's easy to find: Just follow the trail from the "Warren Falls" sign at the west end of the Starvation Creek wayside past Cabin Creek Falls and to the bridge over Warren Creek, at the base of man-made "Hole-in-the-Wall Falls". From here, look to your left, and you can see the natural channel of Warren Creek emerging from around a rocky bluff. A footpath follows this usually dry channel to Warren Falls.Most of the time, Warren Falls is an eerie, massive basalt cliff face, with a green ribbon of moss and ferns where the falls should be. But after heavy rain, Warren Creek overtops the diversion dam to send some of its water over the natural falls: It's quite a sight to see, and quite rare, too! If you do go there during one of these events, stay clear of the base of the falls, as the diversion dam also sends rocks over the cliff periodically, by design.

To support the "Restore Warren Falls" effort, you can check out the Facebook page for periodic updates and news, and this is a terrific video highlighting Kloster's efforts to restore the falls.

To learn more about the Warren Falls diversion, you can check out this article that describes the construction in-depth.

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