Multnomah Falls

Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Co., Oregon
Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
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Multnomah Falls (5/23/2010, 35 mm, f/18, 0.2 sec, ISO-100 hi res photo)
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Description

What to say about Multnomah Falls ...  It's hard to know where to start.

Did it live up to its reputation?  Absolutely, yes.  The waterfall is spectacular.  The views from the base and from the bridge are world class.  I cannot argue that this is the best waterfall in Oregon.

Here is my caveat.  The area is crowded, noisy, and heavily commercialized.  There is easy access from I-84, great for busy tourists, not so much for the nature photographer who doesn't appreciate getting elbowed while trying to take photos.  Yes, I want to have my cake AND eat it too.  Everyone and their dog want to take a selfi or have someone take their photo in front of the famous waterfall.  Great.  Super.  Have at it.  Just leave a little compassion in your heart for the tripod-hefting photographer that takes way too long and too much real estate in the prime viewing area.

However you spin it, Multnomah Falls should be on your short list, or bucket list, or whatever list you have.  

Try to visit early or late (better photos anyway) if possible and definitely hike up to Benson Bridge for a slightly less crowded but still spectacular view.

And of course don't drive by the other great waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge such as Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Elowah Falls, and Wahkeena Falls, all great waterfalls in their own right.

Getting There

I recommend you take the Historic Columbia River Scenic Highway out of Troutdale, Oregon.  This is a great drive with outstanding views.  The highway will also take you right by several other waterfalls in the area (mentioned above).  The most direct route is to take Exit 31 on I-84.

Use the following link to customize your own directions to Multnomah Falls.


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Hike Details

There is just a casual stroll (watch out for cars) from the parking lot to the main viewing area.

For the more adventurous there is a paved walkway up to Benson Bridge (0.5 miles RT) or you can continue on to the top of Multnomah Falls on the same pathway (2.2 miles RT).  I went up to the bridge but no farther because photography past that point is not considered very good.  Keep in mind that the waterfall is 630 feet tall so you will have to climb roughly that vertical distance up and down in the longer hike.

Photo Tips

Not many options.  The classic view is about it.

Due to the height of the falls it is very difficult to even get the entire waterfall in the frame with an 18 mm wide-angle lens, especially when you have to get right up to the railing near the base of the last drop.

This IS Oregon so precipitation is normal.  I had real problems with keeping moisture off my lens and having to tilt your camera upwards just makes it worse.  Be patient and wait for people to get out of the way.

My best shots were stitched together.  I decided that the 18mm focal length would look too distorted so I composed in landscape, took an average meter reading and set the camera in manual mode so the exposure settings wouldn't change, and then panned vertically to get the entire waterfall. It worked quite well.  You must have a tripod to do this properly.

The shot of the upper part of the falls was taken as we were leaving.  I looked back one last time and saw this shot through the trees.  It may be my favorite just because it's not the traditional view.

I always use a polarizer and it was certainly helpful to reduce glare.  With the lush greens of Oregon having a polarizer is a must.

With the relatively low flow and narrow waterfall, a tripod is a must.

My last visit was in August, 2012, and I was disappointed in the color and water flow.  The greens were more yellow/brown and the flow was certainly lower.  I don't know if this is typical.

Last thought - the waterfall stays in the shade a good part of the day, at least in late May, so not too many worries about direct sunlight and high dynamic range.  However, the sky at the top of the waterfall will blow out so try to crop it out.  Fortunately, Oregon is fairly compliant about providing dull, gray days for some fantastic lighting on waterfalls.  Enjoy.

Video

Here you go. 


Browse more videos on the Waterfall Picture Guide Youtube Channel.

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