Spring is just around the corner, and I can’t help but find myself thinking about the endless photographic possibilities that will soon unfold within Oregon and Washington’s Columbia River Gorge. Home to 115 officially named waterfalls—and many more un-named, off trail, and/or ephemeral falls—this 85-mile stretch of river boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in the world. These streams, waterfalls, and rainforests, plus the expansive wildflower blossoms found in the nearby Columbia Hills, combine to make this region a must-see landscape photography destination.
Embrace, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA. Nikon D3x, 16mm, 1.3sec @ f/16, ISO 200.
The Columbia River Gorge boasts an impressive average of 70-90 inches of precipitation each year, and all of that water has to go somewhere. Thanks to gravity and the tall mountains on the south side of the river, this water has carved dozens and dozens of deep valleys, gorges, and streams into the walls of the gorge. Because of historical volcanic activity in the area, these slopes consist of basalt, a very hard rock that is not easily eroded by water. As the area’s hundreds of streams and creeks flow to the Columbia River, they are unable to cut through the basalt, creating tall and spectacular waterfalls along their way.
Mossy Grotto, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, USA. Nikon D800, 14mm, 1sec @ f/13, ISO 200, polarizer.
Thanks to the damp and cool weather of the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage of moisture in the area, making for an impossibly lush and beautiful temperate rainforest ecosystem in the gorge. You can’t beat this setting—each and every stream or waterfall is strikingly gorgeous. With vegetation covering everything in sight, the place truly feels like a scene out of a dream. Spruce and fir trees tower hundreds of feet above, vine maples sprawl across the forest floor, five-foot-tall ferns evoke a prehistoric primordial feeling, and the thick layers of moss and epiphytes covering every possible surface bring about a unique feeling of mystery and magic that I have yet to discover anywhere else. With deciduous plants, trees, and mosses showing their most vibrant greens, streams swollen from rainfall, and wildflowers at their peak, Spring is a great time to visit the gorge.
Fairy Falls, Oregon, USA. Nikon D800, 16mm, 1.6sec @ f/13, ISO 100, polarizer.
The Columbia Hills are worthy of mention, as well. These picturesque meadows (usually) come to life in late April and early May, when some of the most profuse wildflower blossoms in the country put on their fantastic show. Carpets of arrowleaf, balsamroot, lupine, and paintbrush cover the wide-open, rocky, oak-dotted hillsides for miles. But, I don’t want to get off-topic – I will write more about this soon.
Meadow Gold, Rowena Crest, Oregon, USA. Nikon D800, 19mm, manually blended exp. of 1/4 and 1/25 sec @ ISO 100 and 800, f/20, polarizer.
As a destination for landscape photography, the gorge in Spring rivals anywhere else on Earth. With deciduous plants, trees, and mosses showing their most vibrant greens, streams swollen from rainfall, and wildflowers at their peak, Spring is a great time to visit the gorge. Photographing picturesque streams, gigantic and intimate waterfalls alike, lush rainforests, and sprawling fields full of wildflowers and gnarled trees, one could keep busy for days on end in this world-class destination. I know I have.
Would you like to learn more about landscape photography? Would you like to visit the above locations, and many more, with two professional photographers? Consider joining fellow Dreamscapes blogger Joseph Rossbach and I from April 27-May 1, for our Springtime in the Columbia River Gorge workshop!
Editor’s Note: if you’d like to learn more about how to take waterfall shots like those Alex shows here, pick our Advanced Guide to Photographing Waterfalls & Streams, only $9.97 at the Dreamscapes Store.