Spring is just around the corner, and I can’t help but catch myself drooling yet again over the endless photographic possibilities that will soon unfold within Oregon and Washington’s Columbia River Gorge. Home to 115 officially named waterfalls – and many more unnamed, off trail, and/or ephemeral falls, this 85-mile stretch of river boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in the world!
The area boasts an impressive average of 70-90 inches of rainfall a year, and some pretty hefty snowmelt to boot. All of that water has to drain somewhere, though. Thanks to gravity, and an average wall height of 1500-3000 feet on the south side of the gorge, that water has cut dozens and dozens of deep valleys, gorges, and streams into the walls of the gorge. Thanks to historical volcanic activity in the area, these slopes consist of basalt, a rock that is not easily eroded by water. As the area’s many streams and creeks try to erode their way into the gorge, they are forced to flow over the basalt they cannot effectively erode, thus creating a enormous quantity of tall and spectacular waterfalls.
Thanks to the damp and cool weather of the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage of moisture in the area, making for an impossibly lush and beautiful temperate rainforest ecosystem in the gorge. You can’t beat that setting – each and every stream or waterfall is strikingly gorgeous. With vegetation covering everything in sight, this place truly feels like a scene out of a dream. Spruce and Fir trees tower hundreds of feet above, vine maples sprawl across the forest floor, five-foot-tall ferns evoke a prehistoric, primordial feeling, and the thick coats of moss and epiphytes covering every possible surface bring about a certain feeling I can’t say I have found anywhere else.
From a photographer’s standpoint, this place is almost as good as they get! Photographing picturesque streams, huge waterfalls, insanely lush greenery, and a host of amazing birds and mammals, one could keep busy for days on end in the gorge, as I know I have.
Information regarding access to the many waterfalls of the gorge is very readily available, by a quick Google search and/or purchase of an area guidebook, such as Waterfall Lover’s Guide: Pacific Northwest, by Gregory A. Plumb, or Day Hiking Columbia River Gorge, by Craig Romano. Most areas in the gorge may be accessed without any visitor fees, but some locations require purchase of a NW Forest Pass to park at the trailheads.