Columbia Gorge, WA
Spirit Falls - is a thrilling and magical spot hidden in one of the many ravines in the Columbia River Gorge just north of the Washington border. This location is one of the most beautiful and powerful falls I have seen in the Columbia Gorge area.
The falls are very difficult to get to and this locations is not recommended for most people.If you make the hike to the falls, the amazing beauty, serenity, and cool water mist makes the falls a place you will never forget.
Trail Difficulty (4 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 4 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). THE HIKE TO SPIRIT FALLS IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY. If you are not in good shape and don’t have very good balance, do not attempt this hike.
The hike is about ½ mile down a very steep, rocky slope to the base of the falls. From there, the track down to the water level is steep, slick, and dangerous. A fall into the creek would most likely be fatal. Again, this trail is not for everybody and I would not attempt this hike alone.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
184 ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions the Spirit Falls trailhead / parking lot.
The closest town to Sprit Falls is Stevenson, WA (14.3 miles south).
From Stevenson, WA, drive approx. 12 miles east on WA-14 and take a LEFT (north) onto Cook–Underwood Rd. Once you turn on Cook–Underwood Rd., travel 2 miles until you see a pullout/parking area on the right side of the road.
From the pullout/parking area, walk north about 75yds. and look for an opening going down the hill. The trail starts down a very steep rock field of black shale and is very slippery. The hike continues down the ridge into a wooded area near the river and falls. Listen for the sound of the roaring falls as a guide. This trail is difficult and should not to be attempted unless you are in good shape and have very good balance. Once you are at the falls, there are several places to shoot from.
I have seen “no trespassing” signs at this location at certain times of year. If “no trespassing” signs are up, do not hike to this spot.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
The best time to shoot is either on an overcast day or early morning (before the sun hits the falls).
Best Time of Year to Shoot
Spring, summer, and fall are all good times to shoot these wonderful falls. However, fall would be the very best time to shoot, as the peak fall colors takes the scene from great to spectacular.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The shot above was made by stitching together 3 shots vertically with a 24mm lens on a panoramic nodal slider. You can use anything from a 11mm to a 35mm lens, depending on the composition you are looking for.
There are no permits required. However, I have seen “no trespassing” signs at this location at certain times of year. If “no trespassing” signs are up, do not hike to this spot.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is northeast at 39°.
Special Nuances of Shot
To get to this shot, you have to make your way down to the level of the river. To get there you need to hike down along a narrow rock path which is wet, slick,and pretty dangerous.
Once down to the level of the river, you need to find a safe position to set up your tripod and capture your masterpiece. Again, I would never try this location by yourself.
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. The spray from the falls can create problems with water on your camera / lens. Be prepared to shield your camera / lens. Bring some kind of rain sleeve for your camera and lens cloth to wipe down your lens.
The shot above was made by stitching together 3 shots vertically with panoramic tools. If you plan on using this technique, you would need the appropriate equipment.
You may also want use a tilt/shift lens to compensate for the slight keystone effect on the trees while pointing down toward the river.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Spirit Falls is one of the most beautiful places you can visit in the Columbia Gorge. However, do to the difficulty and danger of the hike, you don’t often see many tourists or photographers at Spirit Falls.
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 have Verizon and my cell service worked while parked on the road, but it did not work down at the falls.
The closest town is Stevenson, WA (14.5 miles south and west) and Cascade Locks, OR (18.5 miles west and then across to Oregon).
The closest campsite is Eagle Creek campground (20 miles west in Oregon) or Ainsworth State Park (26 miles west in Oregon). Eagle Creek campground is small (16 sites), does not have RV hookups, and fills up quickly. Ainsworth State Park is a tradition 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
1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA
Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge
3200 SW Cascade Ave, Stevenson, WA
Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn
735 Wa Na Pa St, Cascade Locks, OR
Stevenson, WA, is a nice little town with some excellent 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.
Cascade Locks, OR, is also 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.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Big River Grills
192 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
El Rio Mexican Cafe
193 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
Cascade Locks Ale House
500 NW Wanapa St, Cascade Locks, OR
515 NW Portage Rd, Cascade Locks, OR
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.