Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Soggy Columbia River Gorge

Well, better late than never for this trip report. I spent the better part of five days in late April with Phoenix-based photography buddy, Steve Flowers, hiking to and photographing the magnificent waterfalls found mostly on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge near Portland.   Let me tell you, being the desert dweller that I've become, it was a fantastic change of pace to experience the soggy, neon green filled gorge and its thunderous array of waterfalls. Only in Yosemite have I experienced such a congregation of enormous waterfalls in such a compact area...although the gorge definitely has it beat for sheer numbers.

The grandaddy of all the falls in the gorge is Multnomah Falls, which is one of the largest year round waterfalls in the U.S. at 620 ft. In the spring, the pure power of the falls is incredible. Photographing it is very problematic though due to all the spray in the air. Another factor making photography difficult were the crowds. The falls is right along the scenic road that runs along the Oregon side of the gorge and access is just a few steps from the parking lot. This translates into a copious number of visitors milling about the vicinity. Quite frankly, my time spent here was far from the highlight of my trip, despite the beautiful setting. I enjoyed the solitude I found at some of the lesser visited, but still spectacular, falls that required a bit of hiking to see.

Multnomah Falls

And speaking of the hikes...both Steve and I agreed that it was a toss up between the Eagle Creek and Tanner Creek trail systems for our favorite hike. Both were truly spectacular with lush green vegetation and countless seasonal waterfalls raining down from the canyon side walls. Our main destination along Tanner Creek was Wahclella Falls. The thundering 65 ft. waterfall was one of three in the immediate vicinity. With a little scrambling, we were actually able to compose a scene which included all three. I could have hung out at that spot all day, but there was too much more to see so we soaked it all in for a short while before shooting a few other compostions closer to the falls and heading back.

Wahclella Falls Along Tanner Creek
Eagle Creek was equally fantastic over the section that we hiked. Our main destination here was Punchbowl Falls. Here, Eagle Creek explodes through a narrow rock channel before shooting 35 ft. into a bowl shaped amphitheater reminiscent of a punch bowl (hence the name). The vantage point shown below required a shallow wade to see in bone chilling waters. It left me wondering why the hell I didn't pack my canyoneering boots with neoprene socks as I could only stand the frigid water for short periods with the mesh water shoes I was wearing. Next time I'll know!

Punchbowl Falls Along Eagle Creek
While Eagle and Tanner Creek made for our favorite hikes, our single most favorite waterfall was definitely Elowah Falls along McCord Creek. The hike to this waterfall was short and mostly through the forest. But when you turned a corner and the sights and sounds of this magnificent waterfall makes itself known...well it was awe-inspiring to be sure! So much so that we returned to this area on three other occasions because we wanted to make sure we came away with a shot that both conveyed the beauty of the area and wasn't all spotted up from the massive amount of spray (along with rain and/or sleet!) in the air. If at first you don't succeed....

Elowah Falls Along McCord Creek
There were many other drainages that we visited during our five day whirlwind tour of the gorge...too many to bore you with in this writeup. There was one lesser visited creek that kind of stood out though. Not as much for its waterfalls, but for its neon green setting. The forest lining Gorton Creek was definitely the greenest area we saw...and that was saying something! I had a blast wading up and down the creek looking for interesting compositions on the last morning of our trip. But alas, it was time to trade the gorge greens for Sedona reds and head back home for the warmth of the desert!

Gorton Creek
To see more imagery from this trip to "The Gorge", click on the following link...

Waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge


  1. Nice pictures, i love waterfalls images!

  2. What a trip--congatulations on getting some spectacular images!

  3. Thank you both for the comments. This trip served as a nice initial taste for what the Pacific Northwest region has to offer. I can't wait for a return trip!

  4. Sounds like a nice trip. It is amazing being in the middle of all that green. I was out there in May of 2007 and agree with you on the best hikes. You got some great shots!

  5. Love em all...those last 2 in particular! Enjoy the greenery, you're going to be seeing a lot of red for a while.