Photography at Spirit Falls, Columbia River Gorge

Spirit Falls is in the Columbia River Gorge, which is one of my favorite places in the world.  My in laws live near Portland so I get the chance to visit the Columbia River Gorge once a year or so while I am in town.  I have visited many of the popular water falls in the Gorge such as Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and, my personal favorite, Panther Creek Falls.  One waterfall I have not been to yet is Spirit Falls.

Even though, I have not yet visited this amazing waterfall, I wanted to share it with you so I enlisted the help a Pacific Northwest photographer, Raymond Stiehl.  Below is one of his recent images from Spirit Falls.

It helps that Raymond Stiehl is an excellent photographer, but you can tell from just this image what an amazing location this is and why I wanted to share this specific waterfall with you even though I have shared many other waterfalls from the area.

Raymond Says Spirit Falls is one of his favorite places in the Columbia River Gorge, which he says has been nicknamed the Iceland of America due to all the amazing waterfalls in a small geographic area.  While Raymond says it is a tough waterall to reach, he says those that put in the effort will be richly reward with the crystal clear blue waters of the Little Salmon River going over Spirit Falls.

How to get There

Spirit Falls is located on the Little Salmon River on the Washington side of Columbia River Gorge.  It is just a short distance upriver from Drano Lake, which filters into the Columbia River.  For those with GPS, the coordinates are 45°43’34.09″N 121°38’1.69″W.

Wherever you are coming from, you need to get on Washington Highway 14, which runs along the Columbia River.  If you are coming from Oregon, you can cross at the Bridge of the Gods coming from the West, or at the Hood River-White Salmon Bridge coming from the East.

Just to the West of Drano Lake, you will need to exit Highway 14 onto Cook-Underwood Road.  You will follow Cook-Underwood Road for just under 2 miles to reach the trail head.  The trail head is not marked, but you should be able to find the path on the east side of the roads about 100 yards south of mile marker 2.  There is a pull out along a big bend in the road that should make it easier to find.

From there, the hike is only about .8 miles to Spirit Falls.  While the distance is not far, the hike is fairly difficult as it is a very steep hike on an unmaintained and rocky trail.  If there has been any rain, which is likely in the Pacific Northwest, you also need to prepare to get muddy on this trail.  I want to emphasize the need to prepare for how steep this trail actually is as the descriptions I have heard from people is that even with good hiking shoes, experiences hikers have difficulty keeping their feet.  It would be a good idea to bring a hiking pole if you have one, and make sure you are wearing good shoes or boots.  Another caution is that there can be poison oak along the trail so be careful what you are walking through.

Finally, I have read different opinions on the trail being on private property.  Obviously, take caution to avoid going over travel property, but I have seen many explanations that the private land is marked off and easy to avoid while still following a path to Spirit Falls so I wouldn’t be afraid to go.

Great Photo Opportunities

There are some great things about Raymond’s photograph that shed some light on the photo opportunities at Spirit Falls.  The first thing I notice is the light.  This is an important part of shooting waterfalls in the Gorge.  Some waterfalls get almost no light while some are stuck in harsh light all day.  It appears Spirit Falls gets some good direction light that can add great dimension and mood to your photograph.  The second big thing I see is the path of the water.  In this image, it creates a great wandering line leading the eye from the top to the bottom of the image without losing any interest.

There is one important thing of photographic interest that is not evident in this image.  It appears Spirit Falls is a very popular place for kayakers.  I have talked to multiple photographers that have hung out there for a little while and been able to shoot kayakers coming down river and dropping off the falls.  This has cemented my decision to visit Spirit Falls on my next Portland trip because it adds a whole new dimension to shooting waterfalls.  Who wants to join me?

About Raymond Stiehl

Raymond Stiehl is a landscape photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. He states that his passion is “to spend my life traveling the world recording images that inspire others to pursue their own dreams of adventure.”  You can find more of his work on Instagram.


Update with More Pictures

I have now had the pleasure of visiting Spirit Falls and it is even more impressive than I expected. here are some of my images from Spirit Falls:

These next two images are from the same location as Raymond’s shot above. It is an easy spot to find once you hike down to the river.

This next shot is looking downriver from the falls from about the same location as I took the two shots above.

The next shot is from just a little closer to the waterfall.

This next group of shots is all from the closest little ridge where you can view the whole waterfall.

This next shot is at the next little ridge closer to the falls. It is a viewpoint I haven’t seen from anyone else and I like how it shows the downstream view.

This next image is from under the waterfall. It was a bit sketchy to climb down here, but it was fun and worth it.

These last few shots are from the top of the waterfall.

6 thoughts on “Photography at Spirit Falls, Columbia River Gorge

  1. Ray’s got some good stuff. Photographers that sell work want those pieces that look great on walls. Hence why a lot of shots that we all do, look like what other photographers put out… because they are beautiful pieces. Sure it’s fun to get interesting and different angles of things (many of which Ray has) but people want those big landscape pieces to be hung on the walls. It’s mainly about the beautiful conditions that you capture when being out there.

    Jesse (the real Jesse) Brackenbury

  2. Now…onto this phony. I myself, being the real Jesse Brackenbury have actually done some good tough hikes with Ray. Ray is an awesome guy and is determined to push himself to create beautiful pieces. Not sure who you are above to create and make a comment with my name on it, let alone putting down Ray… but you… are doing it wrong.

    Keep doing great work Ray. Lookin forward to meeting up again soon.

    Jesse (yes, the real Jesse) Brackenbury

    1. It has come to my attention people have been posting last comments on here under people’s names. I try not to censor comments other than spam, but those comments have been removed and I will watch more closely for them in the future. Ray is an awesome photographer and we highly appreciate his contribution!

  3. I wonder what would happen if you took a little more time to stop stealing other photographers names and photos to troll. Maybe you might actually take some photos as good as Ray, Austin, or Jesse.

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