Hard to believe the pretty little horsetail waterfall that tumbles off the top of the steep basaltic cliff has such a dire name: Starvation Creek Falls. When we visited in mid-summer, the vegetation was a vibrant green. But the near tragedy that gave the creek its name didn’t happen in the summer. It took place in the dead of winter just one week before Christmas.
On December 18, 1884, the wind was howling as a blizzard swept through the Columbia Gorge. The Pacific Express, bound for Portland, rounded a curve near the creek and plowed right into a 25-foot-high snowdrift. The train stopped dead in its tracks, stranding 148 holiday passengers and the crew.
As the men started digging out, Conductor Edward Lyons rummaged through the baggage car. He came up with three cases of oysters, two quarters of beef, some mutton, and 75 jackrabbits. Not a lot considering how many mouths they had to feed. The women cooked over coal from the train until it ran out, then over wood gathered from under the snow. A relief party–made up of Gorge residents who either fought their way through the snow on foot or skied in–reached the stranded travelers on Christmas Day. Surely a welcome sight!
What happened to the train and its cargo of weary holiday travelers? It finally steamed into Portland on January 7, 1885 . . . three weeks late. (historical account taken from sign on site)
Though no one actually perished during the storm or in the days that followed, the site became known as Starveout Creek or Starvation Creek as it’s called today.
Starvation Creek Falls is actually a two tier waterfall, though the bottom tier is hidden by a huge boulder when viewed from trail’s end. From the top of the cliff, water plummets down about 140 feet into a pool. The stream then spills over into a smaller waterfall and finally becomes a shallow creek that rushes past a little picnic area on its way down to join the Columbia River.
Starvation Creek Falls is located about 55 miles east of Portland, Oregon, on I-84. (between Cascade Locks and Hood River) From the parking lot of the rest area, a paved walkway runs about a quarter mile to a viewpoint near the base of the falls. The trail follows the creek as it winds through a stand of shade trees, especially nice on a hot summer day.