Columbia River Gorge Trip Report

In October 2004, my wife and I took a weekend trip to Portland and the Columbia River Gorge to do some photography. The trip was actually kind of spontaneous, but it ended up being one of the most productive photo trips I've ever been on. We decided early in the week that we needed to get out of town for the weekend and left Chico on Friday afternoon. The drive through Oregon is stunning, but the rain hit us pretty hard and slowed us down quite a bit. We arrived in Cascade Locks, which is approximately in the middle of the gorge, around 10 o'clock that evening. We crashed that night, and I was praying that the rain would stop but that the clouds would hang around. (I love photography under overcast skies.)

Columbia River Gorge

We slept in a bit and then woke up to very cloudy skies and sporadic rain the next morning. The plan for the day was to see as many of the region's famous waterfalls as we possibly could. We started driving down the Historic Columbia River Highway after we picked up some things from a grocery store for lunch. We stopped first at Horsetail Falls, a spectacular 175 foot horsetail-shaped fall that dropped into a splash pool right next to the highway. Huddled under my poncho in an attempt to keep my camera dry, I made a couple of detail images.

Next, we stopped at Multnomah Falls, probably the most famous waterfall in the area. It is also the most touristy. There is a gift shop, restaurants and large parking lot along with the throngs of people that go along with those things. Still, the 620-foot waterfall is beautiful and worth fighting the crowds to see. I didn't take any pictures here, however.

Just down the road from Multnomah Falls, we stopped at Wahkeena Falls. This waterfall has a big drop at the top, and then it cascades beautifully until just before the road. We hiked up the trail to the base of the falls, where I made a couple of images with my Mamiya RB. The trail is fairly steep, but it is paved most of the way, so it was an easy walk.

We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, but the trail to the waterfall was closed. We drove a bit further to Latourell Falls. This waterfall also required a short hike to get to the base. Latourell is a dramatic free fall around the 250 foot mark in height. I didn't make any images here either, as my lenses just weren't wide enough to capture the entire waterfall. There is some interesting detail in the rocks at the base of the fall that I'd like to explore on a future trip, however.

Our final stop of the day was the Crown Point Vista. We got there just before sunset. There were several other photographers there, and I set up my camera as well. The sunset colors were nearly nonexistant, but the view up the gorge was very beautiful. I made one image that I really like of the gorge. It's a 6x7 slide, so I don't have it scanned yet.

I loved Crown Point so much that I decided to return the next morning for the sunrise. I slept through the first few minutes of my alarm, but I made it to the overlook just before the sun made it over the mountains. As with the night before, the sunrise colors weren't spectacular, but they were subtly beautiful. There was also some mist in the valley below that was quite beautiful. I shot for a while and then drove back by Horsetail Falls for a couple of images with the Mamiya before heading back to the hotel to pick up Crystal.


After we packed, we drove into Portland to explore a bit. Our first stop was the Japanese Garden in Washington Park. It is a formal garden designed by an expert on the subject. It is peaceful, relaxing, and very beautiful. I had a hard time taking pictures here because of my lack of a wide angle lens. (Are you noticing a theme here?) I did manage one good composition of a waterfall.

From the garden, we drove downtown to Powell's bookstore. Powell's is amazing; it takes up an entire city block and is three stories high. They have a very comprehensive photography section. When we had finished exploring, we drove home.

Photo notes and summary

Photographically, the possibilities around the Columbia River Gorge and Portland area are endless. The area is stunningly beautiful. I hope to go back in the next year or two, probably for a one to two week long backpacking trip.

I used both Nikon 35mm and Mamiya RB 67 camera systems on this trip. If you go, I would suggest a range of lenses from wide angle to telephoto. I don't have a wide lens yet, and I missed it severely on this trip. The waterfalls are so big and close to the road that it is nearly impossible to fit entire falls into the frame without one.

Staying in the town of Cascade Locks worked well for us. It is in the center of the Gorge, so everything is easily accessible. It was only a 15 minute drive to the historic highway. While I we didn't go east from town on this trip, the access to those features of the gorge would be easy from Cascade Locks as well.