Spirit, Panther Creek Falls and Rowena Crest Viewpoint
The next waterfall on the list for Columbia River Gorge is Spirit Falls, which within the landscape and travel photography community is fairly known since it does get its fair share of exposure on the social media, but it is not that easy to find since it is located on private ground.
To get to the falls you’ll have to cross the Columbia River at the Hood River Bridge, which has a bridge toll of 1 dollar. When you’re on the northern side follow the Lewis and Clark road towards west.
After some research and some tips from another Danish photographer, we did manage to find our way to the waterfall. There’s a good amount of “private property” signs all around the location, so to steer around those you have to follow a small trail out onto a ridge. Following that ridge, almost to the end, the trail continues down a steep hillside. From there just follow the trail. It’s more or less marked and it does make sense when you’re there. You have to go back the same way on your return. The trail is not too long but it is rather steep so be aware of that. Be sure to check out the video above, it shows the way better than text does.
When you have reached, the falls there is a couple of obvious vantage points. There’s an upper point where there’s a risk of having to battle with some branches and there’s a lower point, where you have to follow the river away from the falls and climb down a few rocks and then move towards the falls again.
While we visited this location, there was a large log, which had fallen into the scene. After I’ve returned home I’ve seen a picture with a man sitting on it during winter. Honestly, no photo is worth potential death and that is what awaits you if you fall down that river especially during winter.
In regard to the lens you’ll need at least a 16-35mm, but if you can go wider it can benefit you greatly from the lower perspective.
Panther Creek Falls
From Spirit Falls there’s a 24-mile drive to Panther Creek Falls. Its trailhead is available on google so it’s fairly easy to find. There is even a pretty large parking lot available even though it feels like you’re out in the middle of nowhere deep in the forest. When you’ve parked the car follow the road a bit back from where you came, that is if you came from south and enter the trailhead on your right hand. There might be a sign on the road pointing towards the falls.
There’s a terrace for viewing the upper parts of the falls, but honestly, it’s rather boring and only for tourists. To get down you’ll literally have to climb. When we were there, there was a small rope to help you climb down. Even though you have the rope, you will have to be careful since it can get very slippery.
The upper part of the Panther Creek Falls is a messy scene which is hard to “tame” in a proper composition. The scene is also cramped into a small space so you’ll need an ultra wide angle to frame the waterfall. I can highly recommend to bring at least something as wide as a 14mm. I barely got everything within the frame with my 16mm and I had to go out into the water with one foot while balancing the other on a slippery stone during pouring rain, with water splashing all over the place and had to dug beneath a fallen tree to get anything I found compelling. Safe to say the conditions was not optimal at all.
The lower Panther Creek Falls, on the other hand, is much more photogenic – that is if you can reach the optimal point for photographing the falls, which we could not since it was on the other side of the stream. On the side from where you enter this small location, there’s a huge log laying along the side of the river, which obscured the view. My wellingtons were not good enough to cross the water and we found it unsafe to cross the water barefooted. The amount of water and current seemed too strong and wasn’t worth the risk.
I sadly didn’t get anything special from the lower parts of Panther Creek Falls which are worth showing. The elements were really against us. We were soaked, it rained, we were cold and exhausted, the lenses were fogging and my lens cloths were all wet too and I run out of napkins. I reached that point of enough is enough. My best advice for this location is to bring something by which you can go out into the water with. Some tall wellingtons, waders or bare legs and go on a day with less water in the river. Although Lower Panther Creek Falls were a bit of a disappointment, the trip wasn’t in vain at all. On our way back to Columbia River Gorge, I looked out the window of the car when we crossed a bridge and I got really excited. The scene was a valley, a river, tall trees and moody clouds, which made for a beautiful minimalistic and moody scene and that, is really one of the best parts of a photography journey – all the unplanned photographs.
Rowena Crest Viewpoint
Rowena Crest Viewpoint is located in the Mayer State Park and is the furthest east I will go in this episode. It is another location which is easy to find either by following the Historic Columbia River Highway or Highway 84 to the State Park.
Rowena Crest is a location where the road makes a beautiful bend down the mountain and it is an obvious location for light painting and car trail photography. When we were there during the blue hour, I found my composition and locked my tripod down. I wanted to photograph the car trails, but since no cars came by, I asked Sophie to drive back and forth once. While she was driving, I put my camera into bulb mode, found my ISO and aperture and started exposing using my remote. At that time it was so dark I did not need to worry about overexposing. I took several pictures, which I then blended in Photoshop.
I will not lie. Columbia River Gorge was wet, it was cold and it was tiresome. One would think it’s hard to keep everything dry in a mini-RV, but somehow we managed… The five days we spend in this area was amazing and beautiful! What surprised me the most was how lush and fertile the woods were considered the time of year. There were beautiful green ferns and moss all over the forests. The Columbia River Gorge comes highly recommended from me as a photography experience! I also encourage you to go and explore even further, prepare some of all the other beautiful destinations in this area, and find new perspectives to all these amazing places. After five days in rain and moisty weather living in the back of the car we did feel rather exhausted and at that time we were really looking forward to getting back down south and into the warm desert – little did we know, we had not had our coldest experiences yet!