Home > Vacation > Portland – Day 3: Columbia River Gorge

Portland – Day 3: Columbia River Gorge

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The book I mentioned before, Photographing Oregon, has detailed locations of the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge (the river divides Oregon and Washington). I actually made a Google Map of all the waterfalls before the trip. Alas, the previous day at Washington Park wore me out and I decided to book a tour. I selected a tour that includes Portland with the waterfalls. This was only the second local tour for me, the first in Whistler. This one did not go as expected.

BTW, there are many more photos in the gallery, so you might want to open it in a different window and follow along. I’ve linked the falls to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, which would have been helpful before my trip, at least if I had driven myself. All of these photos are handheld, without image stabilization. That means you won’t see as much blur as if I had taken a tripod on the tour. Finally, all were shot with a Canon 6D and EF 24-70 f2.8; a combination which provided fantastic detail. I am extremely happy with this arrangement.

The biggest issue is this tour needs 2 people: one to drive and one to talk. Our driver was so busy talking non-stop (literally no pause at all.) that we had a couple of close calls and actually did run into a very tall curb. The good thing about this tour was its flexibility, which also its downfall. He tried to get us to as many locations as possible and as a result, we never spent more than a few minutes at each waterfall. I was even more tired than yesterday. At the end of the day, I cancelled my booking for the coastal tour for the next day. The first half of the downtown Portland tour was also not terribly interesting. We spent the first hour driving around and he pointed out restaurants and what he thought of them. We also did the tour backwards; waterfalls in the morning and Portland in the afternoon. This is backwards of what was listed and desired, since the afternoon light is preferred for the gorge. I’d highly suggest renting a car for the day. The Historic Columbia River Highway is very scenic and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Multnomah Falls

Anyway, our first waterfall was the most famous one, Multnomah Falls. As with many sights, this is one that can only truly be appreciated in person. It’s over 600 feet tall. To put that into a modern perspective, think of a 50 story building. We had about 20 minutes to see this. While that’s ok for some of the smaller falls, it doesn’t work at Multnomah because of the hike. It’s about a 2/10 mile hike up to the Benson Bridge with a 150 foot elevation change, which is surprisingly difficult. The iconic photo of falls is the best way to get a handle on it. Look at the size of the people on the bridge in comparison with the full height of the falls.

Multnomah Falls

After hiking up to the bridge, you’ll have a great view of the bottom of the upper falls and the beginning of the lower falls. The photo below is one of my favorites. Waterfalls are typically shot in a portrait format, but this landscape-ish photo gives me the feel that I am actually there at the falls, rather than just looking at a photo.

Multnomah Falls

Our next stop was just down the road (most of the falls are extremely close) was Horsetail Falls. It is very easy to access. Get out of the car and there it is. I must say I enjoyed this falls quite a bit. The rocks at the bottom provide a very nice foreground. As with all the falls, it would be great to come back here and hike the area to get different viewpoints.

Horsetail Falls

Wahkeena Falls was next and I don’t remember much about it. I’ve seen great photos of it, but at this time of the year there were no autumn colors or spring flowers to make it interesting. The water flow was also on the low side. There are several more photos in the gallery of different viewpoints. I think alot more time is needed here to explore. This photo is actually not the ‘proper falls’, but I like it more than the others I have.

Wahkeena Falls

Our third stop was Shepperd’s Dell State Natural Area. This can be a tough one to view since there are only a couple of parking spots. It is difficult to find a good view of the Shepperd’s Dell Falls, too. We walked to the bottom where I took a photo of the lower section of the falls.

Shepperd's Dell Falls

In my opinion, the area itself is the highlight, not the falls. The view from the bridge, the bridge itself, the walk to the falls, etc. Here is a panorama taken from the bridge.

Our final waterfall stop was Latourell Falls, which might be my favorite of the ones we saw. Again, photos don’t do it justice, but people in the photo provide a sense of scale.

Latourell Falls

Latourrel Falls is a straight 250 foot drop from the top. This provides some serious spray no matter how far you are. Since we took the lower trail to the base, I had a difficult time finding a spot where my lens wouldn’t be dotted with water spots. The reason I like this so much is that you feel like you are in a cavern. It is a very secluded feeling.

Latourell Falls

There were not many flowers worth photographing at this time of year, but here is one to break up the waterfall monotony.


Done with waterfalls, we headed back to Portland but not before stopping at Vista House. Vista House must be one of the most elaborate ‘rest areas’ in the US. Finished in 1918, its goal was to provide a scenic rest stop for travelers.

Vista House

Built on Crown Point, 733 feet above the Columbia river, Vista House is a perfect location for viewing the surrounding area, particularly at sunset.

Columbia River Gorge

Drive a little further west and you will be at Portland Women’s Forum Park. It can be argued this location on Chanticleer Point provides an even better view of the gorge than Crown Point; from here you can put Vista House into your sunset photo with a good telephoto lens.

Columbia River Gorge

In a more zoomed in photo, you can see the name Crown Point is aptly given.

That’s all for the morning. This post was pretty long so I split out the afternoon into a separate post.

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