Columbia Gorge, OR
Metlako Falls is the first of two great waterfalls to photograph along the Eagle Creek Trail (Punch Bowl Falls is the other). Combined with the absolute beauty of the gorge and the perfectly placed waterfall, what makes these falls special is that they appear to shooting out of the side of the rock walls like a water facet.
Each day, hundreds of people walk along the Eagle Creek Trail, but few are even aware this fantastic photographic opportunity exists, as the trail down to the viewing area is easily missed. Once you get to the end of the short trail to the viewing area (with metal cables guarding you from the drop-off into the canyon), you are shocked at what you see. Metlako Falls is a must waterfall to photograph while in the Columbia Gorge area.
For those who saw the movie “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, the Eagle Creek trail is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCL) and is only a few miles from the Bridge of the Gods, where Cheryl Strayed ended her journey.
The Eagle Creek was badly damaged in the fire of 2017. A phased reopening of the trail is being worked on. Please check the ODOT website for updates. Also Friends of the Columbia Gorge has a listing of hikes in the Columbia Gorge that are open and closed @ Trail Alerts.
Trail Difficulty - MODERATE TO DIFFICULT
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The hike to Metlako Falls is 1.5 miles from the beginning of the Eagle Creek Trailhead and has an incline of 500 ft. The rocky dirt trial is well marked, but has some difficult parts along the way. The trail runs along a steep canyon above Eagle Creek and in places has a 200ft. drop to the river.
Special Note: There are 2 sections along the trail that are VERY narrow, wet, slick, and dangerous. Both of these sections have metal cables attached to the rock wall for handrails. These areas are not wide enough for oncoming hikers, so caution and patience are needed.
Download KMZ Trail File
Click Here to download the KMZ file for this location.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
295 Ft Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions the Eagle Creek trailhead parking lot.
From Portland, OR, travel east on I-84 for approx. 35 miles and take the exit 41 (Eagle Creek Ln). Once you exit, take a right turn and then a quick left into the parking lot next to the Cascade Hatchery. The parking lot holds about 25 cars.
From the parking lot, walk about 1/2 mile south along a paved one-lane road that goes along the Eagle Creek. There are some picnic tables and limited parking spaces on the walk to the Eagle Creek trail head. If you arrive early enough you can park closer to the trailhead and save yourself the extra ½ mile hike.
Once you have paid ($5 day) and displayed your National Forest Pass, walk to the end of the road and find the Eagle Creek Trailhead (Eagle Creek Trail #440), just to the right of the Forest Service fee area. If you have a GPS, set it at this point.
Hike up the trail for about 1.5 miles and start to carefully look for a small trail (off to the right), which is marked by a small wood sign that reads “Metlako Falls.” The sign is attached to a tree about 8ft above the trail and is very easy to miss. If you hike to Punch Bowl Falls, you have overshot Metlako by about ¼ of a mile.
Once on the trail to Metlako Falls, walk down the short trail for about 75ft. (stay to the left) and you will walk right to the visitor’s viewpoint. The viewpoint area is marked with the metal cable fence guarding the ledge down to the creek. You have now arrived.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For me the best time to shoot Metlako Falls is in the early morning (half an hour or so after sunrise) before the sun crests the ridge to the southeast and blows out the scene. If you arrive very early, there is often a fog bank that sits just above the falls for an hour or so. The fog can add to the photographic opportunity.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
Spring, summer, and fall are all good times to shoot these wonderful falls. However, late fall would be the best very best time to shoot, as the peak fall colors take the scene from great to spectacular.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The above shot was taken with a 33mm lens. Depending on the composition you are looking for, you can use lens of 24-50mm.
A National Forest Pass is required. The day pass is $5.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is south at 153°.
Special Nuances of Shot
The only place you can shoot this location is a small visitors viewing area on the ledge looking down to Eagle Creek. Because this is the only place to take any pictures, it is a pretty straightforward shot.
Special Equipment Needed
You will need a tripod, a polarizer, and a neutral density (ND) filter to reduce your shutter speed to ½ second or longer to create the silky water flow.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Metlako Falls is just off of the Eagle Creek trail, which can be pretty busy at times with hikers. However, because the short trail to Metlako Falls is easy to miss, other hikers and photographers rarely find this location.
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 NO cell service at this location. Cell service is available once you get back to the parking lot.
Metlako Falls is on the Eagle Creek trail. The closest towns are Cascade Locks, OR (3 miles east) and Stevenson, WA (6.5 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 (which is just off of the Eagle Creek trailhead parking lot) or Ainsworth State Park (11 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 (currently closed due to the 2017 Eagle Creek fire)
Ainsworth State Park (currently closed due to the 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.