Columbia Gorge, OR
Elowah Falls is one of the many hidden gems in the Columbia River Gorge and is like a candy store for landscape photographers. The cliffs on either side of the falls are flanked with the colorful lime green florescent moss that is found throughout the Columbia Gorge.
This simple waterfall offers numerous compositions and photographic opportunities. The McCord creek under the falls is filled with moss-covered rocks, jagged basalt boulders, fallen trees, and big leaf maples, which makes these falls a delight to photograph any time of the year. The hike to the falls is moderately stressful, but easy to access from I-84, so you will see several tourists and other photographers during your visit. This place is a MUST for photographers visiting the Columbia Gorge.
Elowah Falls is a very special place and receives many visitors each year. I would ask that when you visit here, please do your best to preserve this great location for future visitors and always try to leave it in better shape than when you found it.
Parts of the Historic Columbia River Highway is closed from the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017. ODOT plans to reopen the highway when fire recovery work is complete. A Phased reopening is being worked on. Check the ODOT website for updates. Also Friends of the Columbia Gorge have a listing of hikes in the Columbia Gorge that are open and closed.
Trail Difficulty (3 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). To get to the falls you have to hike a moderately strenuous 0.8-mile hike with a serious elevation gain for the first half. The second half of the hike is downhill, and you walk through a series of switchbacks. Once at the falls, you climb/slide down about 25ft. into the ravine facing in front of the falls.
The hike is not overly difficult if you simply take your time and use caution. Once you see the results of your hike, all the huffing and puffing goes away.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
204 Ft Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to the Elowah Falls trailhead/parking lot.
From Portland, OR, travel east on I-84 for approx. 30 miles and take exit 35 (Ainsworth). Once exiting, continue on the frontage road for 2.2 miles until you see the modest sized parking lot (10-15 cars) on the right for the John B. Yeon State Park. If you miss the parking lot, you will be forced back on to I-84 and you will have to drive for a few miles and do a u-turn. If the parking lot is full, you can park on the side of the frontage road.
The trail to Elowah Falls (starts on the right side of the parking lot) is a well maintained trail that is broken into 2 halves (the first half is uphill and the second half is downhill). The trail is fairly steep and has 2 forks/splits along the way. The first split is just after starting on the trail (sign for Nesmith Point Trail): stay left and continue up the steep trail. At the top of the hill is the halfway point where the trail splits again. Stay left to Elowah Falls. From this point you will be walking downhill the rest of the way.
The trail narrows in some places and after a few hundred yards on the down slope you will find yourself on a series of switchbacks. At the end of the switchbacks, continue on the trail for the next 200yds. and you will be at the falls.
Once at the falls, walk back 20-30yds. and look for a path to hike / slide down to the creek. From here, take your time and find the composition that is right for you.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For the most part, you can shoot Elowah Falls all day long, as the falls are blocked from the sun by a high ridge to the east. However, there are some times during the afternoon when the sun does hit the high parts of the falls. I like to shoot here in the late afternoon / evening, as the wind dies down and the number of tourists is reduced.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
Spring, summer, and fall are all good times to shoot these amazing falls. In the Spring, the water flow is strong and the foliage is green. However, for me, the very best time is late fall, as the underbrush and trees around the falls simply light up. One problem with Fall is sometimes the water flow is weak, which can completely kill the shoot.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The above shot was taken with a 24mm lens. You can use anything from a 16mm to a 35 mm lens, depending on the composition you are looking for.
There are no permits required.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is south to southeast at 152°.
Special Nuances of Shot
When you first arrive at Elowah Falls, you will be captivated by the florescent lime green moss that grows on the upper part of the falls and try to figure out a way to capture the falls from the base. However, the best place to shoot the falls in down in the small ravine facing the falls. Climbing / sliding down into the ravine opens up tons of great possibilities.
This shot is all about the water and the foliage in the ravine. If the water flow is slow, it really limits the photographic opportunities. It the water is strong, you can spend hours here capturing many great compositions.
Special Equipment Needed
You will need a tripod and a neutral density (ND) filter to reduce your shutter speed to ½ second or longer to create the silky water flow. You may also want to bring a polarizer filter to help reduce glare from the water.
Another item to consider are waders/wet shoes, as you will most likely be walking/standing/sitting in water.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Elowah Falls is a GREAT photographic location and fairly easy to get to. Depending on the time of year, you might have to share this same space with several other photographers.
It rains a great deal in this part of the country, so make sure you travel with rain gear. It can get cold in spring and fall, and winters are usually wet and very cold. Make sure you travel with the appropriate cold weather equipment in spring, fall, and winter.
I use Verizon, and there is limited to no cell service at the falls. Cell service is available once you get back to the parking lot.
The closest towns are Cascade Locks, OR (6.5 miles east) and Stevenson, WA (9.5 miles east across into Washington). The closest city is Portland, OR (45 miles west). The Portland metropolitan area has many choices for lodging. Cascade Locks and Stevenson are smaller towns but do have several lodging options.
For camping, I stay at either the Eagle Creek campground (4.2 miles east) or Ainsworth State Park (15 miles west). Eagle Creek campground is very convenient, but small (16 sites), does not have RV hookups, and fills up quickly. Ainsworth State Park is a traditional campground with about 40 RV hookups and tent sites.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Eagle Creek campground (closed due to 2017 Eagle Creek fire)
Ainsworth State Park (closed due to 2017 Eagle Creek fire)
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn
735 Wa Na Pa St, Cascade Locks, OR
1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA
Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge
3200 SW Cascade Ave, Stevenson, WA
Cascade Locks, OR, is a nice little community. My favorite place to eat is the Cascade Locks Ale House. They have GREAT pizza with a good selection of local brews.
Stevenson, WA, is a nice little town with some good places to eat. I have had many a good meal and cold beer at the Big River Grill directly across for the Stevenson Elementary School. It is nice place with good food and friendly folks. Also Joe’s El Rio Mexican Café across the street has very nice people, pretty good Mexican food, and great margaritas.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Cascade Locks Ale House
500 NW Wanapa St, Cascade Locks, OR
515 NW Portage Rd, Cascade Locks, OR
Big River Grills
192 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
El Rio Mexican Cafe
193 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
There is a self-service laundry mat attached to A&J Market in Stevenson, WA.
Eastwind Laundry at 225 2nd St., Stevenson, WA
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closet airport is in Portland, OR. Portland International airport (PDX) services most of the major airlines in the US.
Area Guides and Workshops
If you were looking for a GREAT photography guide for Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington areas) - I can highly recommend Mark Metternich. I have taken workshops with Mark in the past and he has been hosting workshops in the Pacific Northwest for many years.
Mark knows all the VERY best places to take you and just the right time to be there - to help you get the shot. He is a great photographer, an expert at photoshop, an excellent guide/instructor and a super nice guy.
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.