Fall Photography: Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Tour
Even though the temperatures here still feel like summer, the change of the season is in the air with the earlier sunsets, cooler evenings, and pumpkins making their way into store displays. And nothing says autumn like fall foliage. The leaves are already beginning to change into their fall fashions of reds, oranges, and golds. This magical season is fleeting, with winter close on its heels, which gives us a desire to capture the fall colors in pictures. It’s probably the most photogenic season of them all! There are but a precious few weeks of the prime fall foliage season to get out, admire and photograph the wonders of autumn in the Northwest. Known for its breathtaking waterfalls, the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway is one of our most photographed scenic areas. All year round visitors flock here from around the world to see this magnificent Waterfall Corridor which is the most striking with the trees painted in the festive colors of autumn.
A View From Above
You can enter the Columbia River Gorge from either side of the river, and both sides have stunning views of fall color. But the Oregon side in Troutdale is where to be for the best waterfall views, and some you can see right from your car window though many people enjoy getting out for photos or hike.
The Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint along the historic highway will give one of the most stunning vistas of The Gorge, looking east to another spectacular viewpoint, Vista House at Crown Point. These are the two best stops to take it all in from above.
The first waterfall you’ll find on your drive east from Portland on the historic highway is two-tiered, with a lower and upper falls. You can get a fine view of the falls driving across the bridge over LaTourell Creek or hike a short trail that leads to the base of the falls where the lower falls plunges 250 feet over a basalt cliff. A longer loop hike will take you up to the upper falls before winding down to the state park picnic area below the highway.
Shepperds Dell Falls
The next stop along the highway is another two-tiered falls cascading through a narrow canyon down steep cliffs into Youngs Creek and far below to the Columbia River. Roll down your windows and you may hear these falls rushing below the historic bridge as you cross, but to see them you’ll need to park on either side of the highway and follow a short foot path and go down some stairs to the viewpoint at the pool in between the upper and lower falls.
Bridal Veil Falls
Continuing east on the historic highway is an old lumber mill where you’ll find a worthy stop at Bridal Veil State Park Scenic Viewpoint for views of the falls and the Columbia River. The downhill hike is a half mile steep trail leading to a wooden overlook. You’ll want to explore the paved interpretive Overlook Trail for views of dramatic rock formations such as Archer Mountain, Hamilton Mountain, Beacon Rock and Pillars of Hercules which will all be set off by the brilliant color in the surrounding landscape.
From the road and parking area you can get a good view of these 242-foot staircase falls. Just above the parking area is a viewing plaza of the falls partially obscured by mossy big-leaf maples which will be wearing their autumn colors. From there the footbridge leads across Wahkeena Creek then onto a paved path traversing upward to a stone bridge in front of the Wahkeena Falls where you’ll find a bench for resting and taking it all and getting cooled by the spray if the wind is right.
The next stop along the historic highway’s Waterfall Corridor is the most photographed of them all. The historic lodge and plaza at the base of the falls provides accessible viewpoints to gaze up at the majestic 620-foot waterfall as it cascades over 500 feet from its tallest point. On one of our beautiful autumn afternoons it can be tricky to get a photo of the immense height of the falls without accidentally including passersby and people on the iconic Benson Bridge that reaches across the base pool of the upper falls. If you can make the half mile uphill hike, the Benson Bridge is a breath-taking sensory experience as you stand suspended in air in front of the mighty roar and spray.
Oneonta Falls and Horsetail Falls
Though Multnomah Falls is usually where most tourists turn back after their waterfall tour, there’s still more to see a bit further east and perhaps with fewer people. Oneonta Falls and Horsetail Falls are accessible from the road with just a bit of worthwhile hiking. Lower Oneonta Falls plunges 60 feet and further ascent takes you to the Middle and Upper Oneonta Falls. If the weather is warm enough, a hike up the stream of Oneonta Gorge will reveal unique plants and rock formations. From the road you can see Lower Horsetail Falls, named so for the single horsetail formation as the water cascades into a roadside pool. On a windy day you may drive through the spray from the falls over the roadway.