A hike to Fairy Falls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge to take photographs is an opportunity that many landscape photographers and outdoor enthusiasts make year after year. As the hike to Fairy Falls starts at the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, Wahkeena Falls is a destination of its very own for Oregon photography and for the majority of visitors, Wahkeena is the main attraction and can be literally photographed just a few feet from the parking lot. While Wahkeena Falls is certainly a spectacular waterfall in size and volume, Fairy Falls is the more photogenic of the two with its beautiful fan-shaped appearance, and many visitors decide to hike the short 1 mile up to Fairy Falls.
The hike is a fairly short 2 miles round trip. However, the hike should be considered moderate as it gains steeply 970 feet in just a mile. The hiking trail is well maintained with approximately 3/4 of the trail paved. The last stretch is slightly rocky and steep. The trail is often crowded and it is common to pass visitors every minute or two, especially on the weekends. Once you reach Fairy Falls there is an optional loop hike you can take to reach Multnomah Falls which is 5.4 miles and takes you back to your car. Accounting for many of the hikers on the trail is that you can also reach Larch Mountain, Devil’s Rest, and Angel’s Rest by connecting to various hiking trails intertwined in the area. Therefore, this is a main hiking trail which leads not only to a popular Oregon waterfall, but also leads to many other hikes and photography destinations in the Columbia Gorge area. It is worth noting that Larch Mountain has one of the best views around. At 4,000 feet, it is surrounded by forest with stunning views of Mt. Hood, St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Rainier.
The hike to Fairy Falls starts towards the right of the trailhead (west) and after 0.4 miles you reach the top and main view of Wahkeena Falls. Going further along the hiking trail, and after approximately a dozen switchbacks, you reach a junction where if you turn right you can hike approximately 200 feet to Lemmon’s Viewpoint for a spectacular view of Columbia Gorge, or just turn left at the junction and head up to Fairy Falls. Along the way, the trail parallels Wahkeena Creek with plenty of photography opportunities to capture the meandering waters as they flow down the hillside covered with ferns, and mossy stones and logs. You can scramble just a few feet down to the creek and take pictures when you find spot a prime vantage point to take photos of the landscape.
Fairy Falls is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon as its unique image is quite frequently published online as well as it being noted for its beauty in many guide books and calendars. Fairy Falls is fed by a small branch of Wahkeena Creek and is a rather short fall of 20 feet and just one drop. However, what distinguishes Fairy Falls from others in the area is its spectacular fan shape. Due to its low volume of water this falls creates beautiful whispers of water which, with a slow shutter speed enhanced by a polarizer and neutral density filter, offer the photographer a top spot to take shots. Also what makes this falls a good one to photograph is that you can get close up to the falls without the risk of spray or mist fogging up your lens. It is this easy access that makes Fairy Falls an enjoyable experience.
As usual, early morning and a cloudy or rainy day to photograph is mandatory. At approximately 11:00 AM the sun will rise above the falls and curtail the photo opportunities. However, you can head back down the trail and take many more pictures of Wahkeena Creek as the dense tree cover keeps down the light. This is a highly pleasurable trip as the short yet moderate hike is good exercise, the scenery is spectacular, and the photography opportunities are endless. Fairy Falls is definitely a top Oregon hiking and photography destination.
For more pictures of Fairy Falls and the Columbia River Gorge, visit www.oregonfoto.com.
To Get There:
Wahkeena Trailhead from Portland can be reached by driving east on I-84 and taking the Bridal Veil exit (Exit 28). Follow the Historic Highway 2.4 miles to the Wahkeena Trailhead. There is also a small campground and picnic area at the trailhead with restrooms and picnic tables. There is no fee to visit the Fairy Falls area.