Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is one of the more well-known waterfalls to visitors of the Gorge. It is one of the first waterfalls you can reach coming from Portland and is an easy hike along a paved trail. Upper Bridal Veil Falls is the opposite.
Upper Bridal Veil Falls is much less well known. I only learned of it from a friend in the Photog Adventures community that recommended it to me.
It is also one of the hardest to reach waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge due to difficulty of the hike, not distance. My aim here is to help you find the waterfall, adequately warn you of the trail and give you some more ideas for what to expect when shooting the falls.
How to Reach Upper Bridal Veil Falls
As you would expect, Upper Bridal Veil Falls is very near to Bridal Veil Falls; however, you do not reach it from the same parking area. While Bridal Veil Falls is easy to find on Google Maps, Upper Bridal Veil Falls is nowhere to be found on Google Maps as of the time of this article. Therefore, I will provide detailed instructions on how to reach it.
You will want to set your GPS for Angel’s Rest Trailhead. If you are coming from Portland, it is just off Bridal Veil Rd from I-84. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead, but you will want to turn west on the historic highway and then immediately turn left onto Palmer Mill Rd. This quickly turns into a dirt/gravel road and climbs steeply up the mountain side. You will go up the road about a mile to the turn off.
The turnoff is not very noticeable and I missed it my first time up. It is a very small turn out on the right side, big enough for about two cars and is located just after the second little stream that goes under the road and comes out a pipe.
If you cross the creek on a small bridge and reach a house, you have gone too far. There is a parking area across from the house that makes for an easy turnaround point. Don’t be tempted by the trail off this parking spot. It leads about a half mile to nowhere other than a decent view of the creek, which is in the image below.
There is no real trail head at the roadside. You will have to search it out, but at the upper part of the pull-out, there is a small trail that is nothing more than a walking path where the plants have been walked through.
The trail slowly descends until you get into the trees. From there it gets a little hard to follow, but just look for the most worn trail that heads down the cliff. The hike down is STEEP. Do not bring children or dogs on this hike.
I made the mistake of coming here the morning after a day of hard rain. The trail down was a mess of mud and I slid as much as I hiked down the cliff, often saved from tumbling all the way down by angling towards a well-placed tree or grabbing onto a group of ferns just strong enough to slow me down. I didn’t make it to the waterfall without getting a little bruised and bloody.
The hike up was even worse. Despite not being very long, I spent a decent chunk of it on hands and knees pulling myself up through the mud. I am assuming it would be much easier when dry and hope to try it again under better conditions. If you have done Panther Creek Falls or Spirit Falls, it is similar to how that would be in the mud, but without any rope to help.
Photographing Upper Bridal Veil Falls
If you are on the right trail, you will see part of the waterfall pretty early on your descent. Once you make it down to the creek, you can explore around and find your best composition.
From a photographer’s perspective, the quantity of options are kind of disappointing because there are a lot of trees that obstruct your view of the falls. This limits you to only a few compositions closer to the waterfall.
I am curious to see if more compositions would open up with less water flow. From what I have seen in other images, the day of rain before I visited added quite a bit of flow. With less water flowing, you may be able to get further out in the creek to set up more compositions. The water was moving really fast so I couldn’t get out very far except where logs had fallen.
Another potential with less water flow and less wind would be getting closer to the actual waterfall. I don’t think I got closer than a hundred feet to the waterfall. Even at that distance, I was constantly drying my lens and it felt like I was getting rained on as the wind blew water off the waterfall.
There were plenty of additional rocks and shapes that could make an interesting foreground closer to the waterfall so that could open up a lot more possibilities.
The other bummer was there was no dry, flat land for me to launch my drone. I think there could be some really cool landscapes with a drone to get above the trees that were in the way.