Olympic National Park and the Columbia River Gorge, Washington and Oregon

The timing of my trips to the Pacific Northwest has always been off.  The Palouse area of eastern Washington and the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge are incredibly photogenic in late spring, but my previous visits to both places were in the fall, when the colors are muted and the rivers and streams are relatively tame.

So this year I resolved to visit the Pacific Northwest in May, including stops at Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park.

I started at Rialto Beach, a part of Olympic National Park I’d never seen.  I wanted to check out the beach’s distinctive sea stacks – towering rock formations that jut up from the coast.  A cold rain fell during my drive through Oregon and into Washington, and I kept my fingers crossed that the sky would clear up enough to create some interesting light for photos.

In the late afternoon I hiked along Rialto Beach to an area of sea stacks called Hole-in-the-Wall.  A tangle of massive fallen trees lined the edge of the rocky shore.  Earlier I’d spotted a sea lion pop up with a fish thrashing in its mouth, and halfway to Hole-in-the-Wall I saw a raccoon run into the surf to grab something with its hands.

Luck was with me.  The sun broke through at just the right time to paint the clouds over the sea stacks with sharp golden light, and I had a great time trying to capture the amazing scene.


Rialto Beach Sunset Portrait


Rialto Beach and La Push


Rialto Beach Sea Stacks Portrait


Rain returned later that evening and fell almost constantly for the next two days.  I drove over to Mount Rainier National Park, but road closures and the bad weather prevented me from catching even a single view of the mountain.  I spent a cold night in Packwood, Washington before driving on to Portland.

Marie was flying in that night to join me in exploring the Columbia River Gorge for a few days, but before picking her up I had time to stop by Multnomah Falls and Elowah Falls.  I’d been to the Columbia River Gorge once before, in November 2015, and it was fun to see how different the falls looked in the spring – so much greener, with a lot more water.


Multnomah Falls in May


Elowah Falls in the Spring


It was great to see Marie, and the next morning we started with a quick drive along scenic Highway 30, stopping at Latourell Falls, Multnomah Falls, and Elowah Falls.


Sunny Morning at Elowah Falls


Marie at Elowah Falls


I was excited to show Marie some of the lesser-known falls I’d visited in 2015.  That afternoon we hiked up Ruckel Creek Trail towards an unnamed, off-trail waterfall photographers usually call Mossy Grotto Falls.  Marie was a good sport about the steep drop from the trail down to the waterfall, and she agreed that it’s a special place.  My feet became numb from wading in the freezing water for different photo perspectives.  We never saw another person the entire time.


Mossy Grotto Falls Square


Mossy Grotto Falls May Landscape


Mossy Grotto Falls May Portrait


Rob and Marie at Mossy Grotto Falls


The next day we crossed the Bridge of the Gods to check out three waterfalls on the Washington side of the gorge:  Spirit Falls, Panther Creek Falls, and Falls Creek Falls.


Sunshine on Spirit Falls


Spirit Falls May Portrait


Base of Panther Creek Falls in May


Falls Creek Falls


On Marie’s last day we headed into Portland.  After brunch at Tasty n Sons we walked around the Japanese Garden in Washington Park.  I was happy to have a chance to get my own shot of the garden’s frequently-photographed Japanese Maple, which was shockingly small in person.


Japanese Maple


Marie, unfortunately, had to fly back to California the next morning.  I’d saved the Oneonta Gorge hike for after she left, given that she wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of wading through a stretch of icy, neck-deep water.  I loved doing the hike in 2015 and I was excited to see Lower Oneonta Falls in the spring, so it was a real gut punch when I found the entrance to the gorge blocked off by a wall of yellow tape and “Area Closed Due to Hazardous Conditions” signs.  It never even crossed my mind that the gorge might be closed.  Apparently high water and flash floods triggered the closing a couple weeks ago, and the authorities still considered the hike too dangerous.  Frustrating!

Still, I couldn’t really complain.  For the most part Marie and I had been lucky – we had great weather and saw some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the entire country.

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