Several weeks ago, Tanya and I camped for a few days east of Chinook Pass. There are many Forest Service campgrounds along Highway 410 east of Chinook Pass, and these make a great basecamp for exploring the eastern side of Mount Rainier National Park if you don’t want to (or cannot get into) the campgrounds in the park itself. While there, I drove up to Chinook Pass for sunrise each morning to capture the rising sun on the mountain reflecting in Upper Tipsoo Lake. The first morning was cloudy, the second morning was foggy at the pass (but clear elsewhere), and finally on the third morning, I was able to capture a decent shot (the shot deserves a post of its own, I’ll post it soon).
On that first day, the overcast conditions persisted through the day, but lightened and became partly cloudy later in the day – though there was still no view of Rainier. However, the light overcast day was perfect for another photographic subject – waterfalls. The Visit Rainier website claims there are over 150 waterfalls in the park. The Park Service just says there are “many.” I venture there are several hundred. My go-to guide for Pacific Northwest waterfalls, the Northwest Waterfall Survey, lists 317 waterfalls in Pierce County, and the majority of these are in Mount Rainier National Park.
However, camping and traveling in a place with little to no cell service, calling up the Northwest Waterfall Survey to locate waterfalls to photograph was a non-starter. I needed to do it the old-fashioned way – look at a map. I had my Mount Rainier East Green Trails map, and I noticed a couple of water falls off Highway 123 near the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead. Though I had no idea whether these falls were visible from the trail, nor how photogenic they are, this seemed like a good destination.
The first one I visited was Deer Creek Falls, a short half mile down the trail. The view from the trail looks down onto the falls as is cascades through a small, steep canyon. The view makes the falls look larger than its stated height of 62 feet. It is quite scenic. A wide-angle lens is required to capture the full falls, with your tripod set right on the edge of the canyon cliff looking almost straight down. When you first arrive at the falls, there is a rope “barrier” (easy to step over) to encourage people not to get too close to the cliff edge, but I actually thought the view was better a bit further down the trail, past the end of the barrier.
From Deer Creek Falls, I continued down the trail to its intersection with the Eastside Trail. Heading north on the Eastside Trail, the trail crosses two bridges, one over Deer Creek right before its confluence with Chinook Creek, and the second over Chinook Creek just above the confluence. A small unnamed, unmapped waterfall (maybe it is too small to be considered a true waterfall?) is located on Chinook Creek just upstream from the second bridge. Though small, with a height of 5 to 10 feet, I liked the look of it with a clear green pool below the white water and spent about half an hour here photographing from various angles.
Continuing north, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail splits off westward from the Eastside Trail. There are two more waterfalls a mile or so up the Owyhigh Lakes Trail, but I left those for another day and continued north on the Eastside Trail to find Lower Chinook Creek Falls, which can be viewed about a third of a mile past the trail junction where the trail makes its first switchback up the hill. The view is not very good, with plenty of trees in the way. I looked for a way down to the base of the falls, but decided it was too steep. The Northwest Waterfall Survey does suggest there are two possible routes, but one requires going considerably downstream and then back up to the falls wading in the creek itself, the other requiring a rope. Instead, I found a spot a short distance off the trail where I could get a good shot using my telephoto lens.
I needed to get back to camp soon, so I decided against hunting for waterfalls I hadn’t seen before and go to one last spot that is a proven winner that I have photographed several times before – Silver Falls. I hike back up the hill to the car and drove to the Silver Falls Trailhead, on Highway 123 just south of the Stevens Canyon turnoff and park entry station. It’s about a quarter-mile downhill to the falls. This is an amazing waterfall, big and powerful, on the Ohanapocosh River. Below the falls, the water is funneled into a narrow gorge with a foot bridge over the top. The best views, in my opinion, are from the trail on the east side of the bridge and from the large, flat rocks above the river on the west side in between the aforementioned viewpoint and the falls. The featured shot at the beginning of the blog is from this spot. You can also easily access the area on the west side near the top and above the falls. It you follow the trail north of the falls, there are several spots where you can get down by the river for more beautiful shots. The Ohanapocosh River, with its clear green and blue water, is perhaps the prettiest river in the park.
I’ve lived in Washington a long time and driven by Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park seemingly countless times (okay, perhaps several dozen), but I’ve never taken the short trail to Marymere Falls. Last week I cured this default. I left Tacoma before sunrise (and boy is that early this time of year), hoping to catch the rising sun on the Olympics from the shores of Hood Canal, but the sky was overcast and the sun rose without apparent effect. But overcast skies are great for waterfall photography, so I drove on and reached the Marymere Falls trailhead, reaching the parking lot a little after 7 a.m.
I was the first one there, which is always a plus when photographing popular spots. And this hike is popular, and deservingly so. It travels through moss-covered old growth forest along a pretty creek to a beautiful waterfall. It is short, only 1.5 miles roundtrip, and is flat until the end, where it climbs several hundred feet to the falls.
Though it is an out-and-back trail, end of the trail near the falls has a small loop. As the trail nears the falls, it crosses over Barnes Creek (on a relatively new steel bridge) and then quickly over Falls Creek (on a classic one-person-wide wooden log bridge. From there, the trail climbs uphill and forms a small loop, leading to two viewpoints of the falls, one directly at the base, and one higher up nearly level with the top of the falls. I found the views at the lower level, and part way up from there, to be better for photography than at the upper viewpoint.
I mostly had the falls to myself, only interrupted by two sets of people who came quickly through, and I spent about 20 to 30 minutes photographing (leaving shortly before about a dozen people arrived). I spent another 20 to 30 minutes photographing in the forest on the way out. All in all, it was worth the stop, and I wondered why it took me so long to give it a try.
Between family obligations and work, I haven’t been able to get out and do any photography this month. So instead of showing something new, I’ll show something old. Six years ago on November 24th, I shot the above image of Snoqualmie Falls. This is in total contrast to the present November. This year, we have not had a frost yet at my house in Tacoma. But six years ago, a blast of freezing Arctic air descended on western Washington, first bringing snow, then bitter cold.
That Thanksgiving Day in 2010, I packed up Tanya and our newfie, Carson, and drove up to Snoqualmie Falls to see what it looked like in the deep freeze. It was magnificent. The mist off the cascading water had encased the canyon walls in huge icicles, creating a very unusual, and photogenic, view of the falls.
There are several viewpoints at the falls, but only the one close to the parking lot was open due to the ice. While a nice viewpoint, it looks down on the falls, rather than being more level with the falls, and I do not think it is that great for photography. So I carefully walked around a barrier and carried my tripod down to one of the lower viewpoints to capture this shot. Yes it was icy, but not overly so. Plus, there was no one else around, so I could more easily position my tripod where I wanted. I think this little bit of rule-breaking was worth it. (Not that I would ever suggest any photographer should go into closed areas without permission to make an image!)
I’m very thankful about what that freezing Thanksgiving Day six years ago gave me. And thank you to all my friends and readers of my blog – if you are American, enjoy your Thanksgiving holidays, and if not, just have a great end of November.
I’ve previously posted about the waterfalls along the Lewis River in the South Cascades of Washington. There are literally several hundred waterfalls in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which covers most of the South Cascades. If you enjoy shooting waterfalls, you could easily spend days in the area. However, if you have limited time, beside visiting the Lewis River falls, you might consider the two I feature here, which are easily accessed by very short hikes from paved, forest service roads.
The waterfall featured above is Iron Creek Falls. It is located along Forest Road 25 east of Mount Saint Helens. The trail to the falls is several hundred feet long and drops right down to the creek bed, though you might have to scramble over a few downed trees to get to a good view. This time of year, when the creek flow is relatively low, you can get right out in the creek bed and shoot from directly in front of the falls. Though not particularly high (with a listed drop of 38 feet), I think this small waterfall is quite pretty with its colorful plunge pool.
Langfield Falls (below) is on Big Mosquito Creek northwest of the town of Trout Lake on Forest Road 88 just east of the Big Tire Junction. The trail to the falls is about 500 feet long, dropping to a viewpoint a short distance above the falls. As you can see from the photo below, at this time of year, when the creek flow is low, the waterfall is limited to one side of the cliff. When the creek flow is higher, the falls spread wide over the rock face, totally changing the character of these falls.
When you live in western Washington and are a nature photographer, you better have a a fallback subject to photograph in the rain. Luckily, we have such a subject – waterfalls. The Pacific Northwest is chock full of waterfalls. The most comprehensive list of local waterfalls is the Northwest Waterfall Survey. This site lists more than 2,000 waterfalls in Washington, about 1,250 in Oregon, and around 225 in Idaho.
When I decided to venture forth last Friday, I didn’t need the Northwest Waterfall Survey to pick a place to go. I had just the place in mind – the Lewis River in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The Lewis River drains the south and east sides of Mount Saint Helens. I’d been in the area before, but had only photographed one waterfall previously. Yet, I know of several more. So, I headed out with Greg Vaughn’s book, Photographing Washington, in hand to explore the upper Lewis River valley.
The day was near perfect for waterfall photography – cloudy, with light rain on and off, but not much wind. Cloudy days work well for waterfall photography because of the contrast inherent when viewing white water, particularly when surrounded by dark forest. The rain gives the foliage a nice saturated look. And because, if you like the silky water look (like I do), you need long exposure times, so lack of wind helps.
To reach the Lewis River area, turn east off I5 at Woodland, take Highway 503, and just keep going. The highway, also known as the Lewis River Road, eventually turns south, but Lewis River Road keeps going straight eastward, eventually turning into Forest Road 90. The lower and middle portions of the river are dammed in three spots, forming large reservoirs. Near the end of the third lake, Road 90 turns right. Turn and stay on Road 90 (going straight will put you on Forest Road 25, which travels north away from the Lewis River).
About 5 miles from where Road 90 turns, turn left onto Forest Road 51 (shown as Road 9039 on Google Maps) to go to Curly Creek Falls.The trailhead to Curly Creek Falls is about 1 mile down the road, just uphill from the one-lane bridge over the river. An easy, 0.1-mile trail brings you to the viewpoint. The bottom of the falls is partly obscured by trees at the viewpoint, and a better view might be gained by bushwhacking down the steep hill. I had Nahla with me, so I stayed at the viewpoint.
Curly Creek Falls is one of the most unusual waterfalls in the Northwest – a waterfall with a natural arch over it. Actually, according to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, it has two arches spanning it. When I was there last week, however, the water was high and I could only see the top arch. The water level falls rapidly over the summer, exposing the second arch, and then eventually drying up the waterfall entirely. (According to the Northwest Waterfall Survey, the creek bed has intersected a lava tube, which shallows the entire flow prior to the falls. If that isn’t strange enough, this phenomenon reportedly did not happen prior to 2003.) If you continue down the trail another 0.25 miles past Curly Creek Falls, there is another, though less impressive, waterfall – Miller Creek Falls. The Northwest Waterfall Survey reports the view of Miller Falls is “quite obscured by several trees.” With bigger and better waterfalls waiting, I skipped it and headed back to the car.
Back out to Road 90, continue up valley for another approximately 3.8 miles to Big Creek Falls. This one is a bit tricky to find. There is no sign and the parking area (on the left side of the road) has been blocked off. If you drive over Big Creek, you’ve gone a bit too far. There is room to park on the shoulder near at the driveways to the blocked parking area. A short, now apparently unmaintained trail, leads east out of the former parking area.
The viewpoint described by Northwest Waterfall Survey and in Greg Vaughn’s book is no longer there (well it is partially there; the pad is there, but there are not guard rails and it’s a steep fall off the edge). You can see the falls from here, but the view is mostly obscured by trees. It looks like a nice set of falls, but I didn’t take my camera out of the bag. Further down this trail, about 1/2 a mile, there is another waterfall, Cave Falls. Reportedly, it’s a great waterfall, but only the bottom part is visible, and even that part is obscured by trees. Considering it was raining and I was with the dog, I skipped it and drove down the road.
The next set of falls down the road are easily the most accessible, arguable the most scenic, and probably the easiest to photograph. Lower Lewis River Falls, is the first of four large falls on the Lewis River. Northwest Waterfall Survey ranks Lower Lewis Falls as the 20th best waterfall in the Pacific Northwest. A little over 5 miles from Big Creek brings you to the Lower Lewis Recreation Area. Park at the day-use area (or camp here if you want to do more than a day trip), and the viewpoints of the falls are just a short walk away. There is a viewpoint directly at the top of the falls and several more downstream. For the view of the falls shown above, go to the furthest downstream developed viewpoint. It is also possible to get right down in the riverbed above the falls via a set of stairs, but with the high water I found, the bottom of the stairs was closed. At low flows later in the summer, it is possible to get some interesting shots from above the falls. The falls face west, and according to Greg Vaughn, are shaded in the morning, which makes that a good time for photography (if not there on a cloudy day like I was). With the western exposure, they also may get good light late in the day.
The next set of falls on the Lewis River is Middle Lewis River Falls. It can be reached by hiking 1.7 miles upstream from Lower Lewis Falls (the trail continues on to Upper Lewis River Falls and Taitnapum Falls) on the Lewis River Trail or by driving a mile down the road to the Middle Falls trailhead. From the trailhead, take the trail off the southern side of the parking lot which leads to the Lewis River Trail and turn upstream. The falls are about 1/2 mile from the trailhead. These falls are not as scenic as the Lower Falls, but are worth a quick visit if in the area. Unfortunately, the view from the trail is not the best – you cannot get an entire view of the falls in your frame. Reportedly, the view is better from the rocks in front of the falls, which are easy to reach from the trail. However, when I was there, these rocks were under flowing water, so I settled for the inferior view. Middle Lewis River Falls comes in at 46th on the Northwest Waterfalls Survey top 100 list.
When visiting the Middle Falls, it is also worth a stop to see Copper Creek Falls. Unfortunately, when I was there last Friday, I only had Greg Vaughn’s book with me, which describes a 1/2 mile loop trail to the falls. I didn’t see that trail, so didn’t visit the falls. Northwest Waterfall Survey states that the falls are accessed by a trail from the Middle Falls Trailhead parking lot. This trail leaves the left side of the parking lot and parallels the road and travels several hundred feet to a bridge over the falls. (This goes to show you should do your research before your trips! Had I done so properly, I could have seen these pretty little falls.) I did see Lower Copper Creek Falls, which are very close to Middle Falls. However, to get a good view of these falls, you need to be down at river level, which wasn’t possible when I was there due to high water.
If not hiking from Lower or Middle Falls, the next two falls on the Lewis River are reached by hiking about 1/2 and 3/4 miles from the Quartz Creek Trailhead respectively. That is the way I went. Quartz Creek Trailhead is about 1.7 miles from the Middle Falls Trailhead, just before the road crosses Quartz Creek. Hiking down the trail to the Lewis River, brings you in first to Taitnapum Falls. There is only one viewpoint for these falls, and that view is partially obstructed by trees. Due to steep canyon walls, scrambling for a better view looked extremely hazardous to me. A tall tripod will help take a few of the trees out of your frame.
A short distance further down the trail, you will come to Upper Lewis River Falls. The official viewpoint is down a short spur trail from the Lewis River Trail. This puts you directly above the top of the falls, making it difficult (if not impossible) to capture the entire falls in a single frame. Northwest Waterfalls Survey states the best view is from river level, which is accessed by bushwhacking down along the north side of Alec Creek (which the trail crosses a bit further downstream from the viewpoint). With the high water, I doubted I could get a good view even from there, and it was getting late in the day, so I hiked back to the car to visit one last waterfall for the day. Upper Falls is the tallest falls of the four on the Lewis River at 58 feet. It is similar in form to Lower Lewis Falls, and in fact, comes in on the top 100 list at number 24, only four spots lower than Lower Falls.
My last stop was Twin Falls. To reach this waterfall, travel about 9.5 miles further up the road, turn right on a side road to the Twin Falls Campground (at the time of my visit last week, the campground sign was missing, but the road is obvious if you are watching your mileage). Twin Falls is a double falls (the top one is only partially visible) on Twin Falls Creek that almost falls directly into the Lewis River. The campground is on the shore of the Lewis River directly across from the falls, and good photos can be captured from the shore at the campground. Northwest Waterfalls Survey report contrast can be a problem when photographing the falls, so a cloudy day like I had last week is the perfect time to photograph them.
Depending on how adventurous you are, there are more waterfalls in the area to visit. Northwest Waterfalls Survey lists many, some with easy access, others with impossible access. East of Twin Falls, Big Spring Creek Falls is very pretty and right next to the road. Or if visiting Big Creek Falls, there is a 3/4 mile trail to the viewpoint of the 250-foot tall Hemlock Creek Falls. You could easily spend several days in the area exploring nothing but waterfalls (but take time to look at the forest and flowers as well!).