Inspirational Destinations: Oregon

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Columbia River Gorge, Ruckel Creek Falls and Multnomah Falls. These are some of Oregon’s inspirational hotspots that keep photographers going back time and again. Brian Matiash explains why

The waterfalls, streams and creeks scattered throughout the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Before moving to Portland, I never photographed landscape scenes, focusing exclusively on urban and architectural subjects. When I stood in front of my first waterfall, shortly before moving to Portland, I instantly fell in love with the grandeur and beauty of this particular type of nature.

Best Time To Visit

Tourists typically visit Portland and the Columbia River Gorge, which is a short 30-40 minute drive outside of the city, during the late spring and summer months, when the overcast, grey and rainy skies go away and leave us with an insanely lush and verdant forested landscape. However, while the weather may be agreeable, it also results in throngs of people overcrowding these areas, often making it extremely difficult to get to your intended destination.

I prefer visiting the gorge area during the autumn and winter months, during the week and while it’s raining. Aside from the great reduction in tourists, I find that the overcast skies allow me to really bring out the greens of the lichen and surrounding trees, especially when using a circular polarizer. Another bonus of having overcast skies is that I don’t have to worry about hard shadows or overly bright sunlight as the light is diffused and soft.

Town of Arrival

If you are flying in, you will want to select PDX as your airport. From the airport you can reach the entrance of the Gorge in about 45 minutes by taking I-84 eastbound towards Troutdale.

Favorite Location While Visiting

I am a big fan of Ruckel Creek Falls. It’s not the most famous or largest waterfall in the area but it offers a wonderful variety of subjects to photograph and the trail leading away from the upper falls offers a fabulous hike.

Physical Activity Needed

One of the great things about the waterfalls within the Columbia River Gorge is the variety of effort offered to visitors. Some waterfalls are located within a stone’s throw from the paved parking area. Other waterfalls require a mild-to-moderate hike. Finally, there are waterfalls that take several hours to hike to and require you to be in moderate-to-good shape. Regardless, you need to wear good hiking shoes and pack layers as the air tends to cool off the closer you approach the falls. You also need to pack a few microfiber cloths because your lens will definitely get coated with spray the closer you get.

There is a good number of waterfalls in the area which are fairly accessible and offer paved paths for wheelchair access. With that said, keep in mind that these paths may be at an incline or decline, so some effort will be required. Other waterfalls will require hiking to get to and the distance can range dramatically depending on the destination.

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Area’s Favorite location

The most popular attraction by far is Multnomah Falls. In addition to being celebrated as Oregon’s tallest waterfall, it is also adorned with the very picturesque Benson Footbridge. Multnomah Falls has the largest parking area in the Gorge but if you plan on visiting during the weekend and/or when the weather is nice, prepare for a massive wait to park. You will also be joined by tons of other tourists, so keep in mind that maneuvering with your camera and tripod may be challenging. Still, if you have never seen this waterfall, I highly recommend you carve some time to.

Besides Photography

You can choose to partake in some of Oregon’s famous microbreweries, artisanal coffee roasters and its charming wine region. Additionally, Portland is renowned for its food culture, so I strongly recommend exploring the plethora of fabulous restaurants in the area. I’m a huge fan of Dove Vivi pizza in NE Portland and Bamboo Sushi in SE Portland.

Exciting Discoveries

Ok, this is more of an exciting food discovery than a photo discovery but it’s worth sharing. In all of my years eating hamburgers, I never considered adding peanut butter as a topping. Little did I know what I was missing. If you have time, be sure to swing by Killer Burger and get their Peanut Butter Pickle Bacon burger. Thank me later.

Do Not Miss

One of the most serene memories I have is watching the sunrise over Mt. Hood while standing at the foot of Trillium Lake. That scene has been carved into my mind and anytime I need to calm down, I remember what it was like to be there.

Best Advice

It is no coincidence that Oregon’s State abbreviation, OR, is found in the word ‘Explore.’ While visiting this magical place, keep your mind open and allow yourself to discover new things. Before visiting Oregon for the first time, I never thought I’d be into landscape photography. I had never camped a day in my life. Now, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

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  1. Avatar

    Before you jump in your car be aware that much of the Gorge locations mentioned here burned up in the massive wildfires of late summer of 2017 and are closed to public access, some for several years at best… Oregon is still beautiful and there is an endless supply of places to shoot but don’t come expecting to see what this out of date article describes

  2. Avatar

    Oregon is absolutely beautiful and has some fantastic locations. Unfortunately if you tell the wrong people it can get completely trashed. Oneonta gorge for example. Trash everywhere and fish habitat is completely destroyed. It’s a very delicate balance between sharing and keeping it to your self. Such as this peak I’ve scouted out last week. I’ll definitely be visiting this place multiple times before the Instagramers discover it

  3. Avatar
    James Lorentson on

    This is great advice, and timely for me. My parents are coming into town, and I’ve been thinking about hikes that have maximum bang for your buck in terms of scenery-to-physical strain. The Columbia River Gorge has a plethora of park and walk falls with minimal elevation gain. Thanks, Brian!

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