The Trek to Spirit Falls in Columbia River Gorge

A lot of our locations on our Columbia River Gorge trip were uncommon spots that were off the beaten trail, and that we only had a rough idea of how to find. In most cases, these spots were off the beaten trail because there was really no way to make an easily-accessible trail to them. To find the spots, we basically had to rely on word-of-mouth instructions from other photographers who had relayed the info to us.

One such spot is a location that has been dubbed “Spirit Falls” by photographers. Ryan had been here before, and described it as a moderate scramble, but a relatively short trail that would take about 10 minutes, tops. His memory served him incorrectly. The trail was incredibly steep and each step was a potential ankle-breaker, with loose large rocks being the essence of the top of the trail, before reaching a wooded area that was equally challenging. The hike down took about 30 minutes, and that was the easy part.

I am a natural smartass, so I was making snarky comments the entire way down, deriding Ryan for leading us to certain death. I wasn’t the only one complaining, either. I’m sure he really “appreciated” all of this, but it was all in good fun. I mean, if you’re going to have to endure a strenuous hike (or get injured in the process), might as well have a few laughs about it.

Ryan was more than vindicated when we reached the bottom of the hike, and the woods opened up to the most beautiful waterfall I saw the entire trip.

I was seriously transfixed by the view in front of me, and Carl’s reaction to finally seeing Paradise Falls immediately came to mind (…because I have to make a Disney connection to everything in my life). It was a totally different type of fall–not nearly as grandiose–but still quite stunning. Fortunately, there were no evil explorers there hunting for monster birds at this waterfall. Unfortunately, there were also no talking dogs nor were there any giant birds. You win some, you lose some.

I am not much of a “waterfall guy” (making my decision to take a trip to Columbia River Gorge a bit questionable), but this was nothing short of jaw-dropping. The fact that it was isolated and probably only seen by a couple of people per day (or less?) made it seem even more special. Like a natural diamond in the rough. Now, I haven’t seen the crazy waterfalls of South America and other amazing places, but to me, “Paradise Falls” would be a pretty apt name for Spirit Falls.

This turned out to be my favorite photo from Spirit Falls, which is sort of odd given that the main waterfalls play a minimal role in this photo. In fact, they are almost an afterthought up in the top corner of the photo. I think that’s what I like about the photo–not only is it a different perspective on a really uncommon waterfall, but it demonstrates how the scene still manages to be beautiful even when the “star” of the landscape is relegated to being a mere background element. At least, that’s how I think and hope this photo “works”…

We were on a relatively tight shooting schedule, as we needed to make it to Mount Hood by sunset, but I just could not stop shooting. (This contrasted with most other waterfalls we found, where I was the first one done.) This was my last shot, and I wasn’t done when I finished it, but I looked around and realized everyone (besides Ryan, who was waiting for me) had already left because we were pushing it in terms of time.

With 20+ pounds of gear on my back, I began running back up the hill we had descended, making it back to the car in about 10 minutes. I guess once I took my mind off how unpleasant the hike was and instead focused on how amazing the sunset might be, the hike became much easier. I was pretty winded when I got to the top, but the quick little workout was probably for the best, and helped me burn off some of the calories from my glorious breakfast at Black Bear Diner (coolest restaurant ever)!

From there, it was on to Trillium Lake Campground, where our incredible adventure continued. We’ll pick up there in the next post…

(Housekeeping note: I haven’t been posting here nearly as regularly as I’d like, in large part because the “free time” I expected to start having more of has been consumed by more (needed) leisure time and other things. I’m going to try getting back into the swing of things with quick-hit posts like this, building into longer posts. Hopefully.)

For this photo, I used my a Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye, plus my MeFoto travel tripod. If you enjoyed this post, please use the sharing buttons above to help spread the word via social media. I greatly appreciate it! 

Your Thoughts…

Have you been to Columbia River Gorge? Have a favorite waterfall there? Any other comments? Share your thoughts on this, questions, or anything else, below!

2 replies
  1. william McIntosh
    william McIntosh says:

    Why isn’t this on flickr yet! Let’s get with the program, Bricker! LOL…I’ve been waiting for your shots and they usually show up there when you post on your blog. Amazing job on this one! I was cursing even louder behind you, but all was forgiven when we arrived at those falls. Wish I had more time to shoot down there, but I knew I would take at least TWICE as long to get back up that thing, and part of me wondered if I was going to make it at all. Easily one of my favorite spots of the trip.

  2. Sandy
    Sandy says:

    What a gorgeous photo – I’m not a hiker so I have to live vicariously through your photos and write-ups. Thanks Tom!


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