Columbia Gorge, OR
Punch Bowl Falls - is quite possibly the most photographed waterfall in the entire Pacific Northwest. Rarely does a year go by without seeing Punch Bowl Falls featured on a major calendar or showing up on a list of favorite destinations.
There are two classic vantage points to photograph this awesome waterfall: one from above (Upper) and one from below (Lower). The image above is from Lower Punch Bowl Falls.
Special Note: Recently a large tree fell across the creek and has blocked the classic view. This also happened about 10 years ago, but eventually the power of the Eagle Creek flushed it out. Hopefully, this will happen again soon and remove the tree.
Because of the picturesque natural beauty there are many, many tourists and photographers that make the trek to this location. If you want a great shot without competing for space, you need to arrive early in the morning.
Parts of the Historic Columbia River Highway (including the Eagle Creek Trailhead) is closed from the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017. ODOT plans to reopen the highway when fire recovery work is complete. A Phased reopening is being worked on. Check the ODOT website for updates.
Trail Difficulty (3 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The hike to Lower Punch Bowl Falls is approx. 2 miles from the beginning of the Eagle Creek Trailhead with an incline of 500ft. The rocky dirt trail is well marked, but has some difficult parts along the way. The trail runs along a steep canyon above the Eagle Creek and in places has a 200ft. drop to the river.
Special Note: There are 2 sections along the trail that are VERY narrow, wet, slick, and dangerous. Both of these sections have metal cables attached to the rock wall for handrails. These areas are not wide enough for oncoming hikers, so caution and patience are needed.
From the Eagle Creek trail, the ¼ mile hike down to the Lower Punch Bowl Falls (on Eagle Creek) is steep in some places and slick around the wet rocks in the creek.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
44 Ft Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to get driving directions the Eagle Creek trailhead parking lot.
From Portland, OR, travel east on I-84 for approx. 35 miles and take the exit 41 (Eagle Creek Ln). Once you exit, take a right turn and then a quick left into the parking lot next to the Cascade Hatchery. The parking lot holds about 25 cars.
From the parking lot, walk about 1/2 mile south along a paved one-lane road that goes along the Eagle Creek. There are some picnic tables and limited parking spaces on the walk to the Eagle Creek trail head. If you arrive early enough you can park closer to the trailhead and save yourself the extra ½ mile hike.
Once you have paid ($5 day) and displayed your National Forest Pass, walk to the end of the road and find the Eagle Creek Trailhead (Eagle Creek Trail #440), just to the right of the Forest Service fee area. If you have a GPS, set it at this point.
Hike up the trail for about 1.8 miles and start to look for a large opening off to the right of the trail, which is marked by a small wood sign that reads “Lower Punch Bowl Falls.” The sign is attached to a tree about 8ft. above the trail and is easy to miss.
Once you find the large opening on the right and the sign that says “Lower Punch Bowl Falls,” walk down the well-marked path for about 75ft. (stay to the left). You will then walk down a well-marked trail with large wood plank steps down to the riverbed. Note: The walk down the steps and the rocks/boulders on the riverbed can be VERY slick. BE CAREFUL.
Once you are down to the riverbed, keep walking straight for about 60yds. Just around the bend is the magical spot know as Punch Bowl Falls. Depending on the time of year, the river can be from ankle to knee high.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For me the best time to shoot Punch Bowl Falls is in the early morning (an hour or so after sunrise) before the sun reaches over the ridge to the southeast and blows out the scene. If you arrive very early, there is often a mist/fog that sits just above the falls until the sun burns it off. The sun rays on the mist/fog can add to the photographic opportunity.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
Spring, summer, and fall are all good times to shoot these wonderful falls. However, late fall would be the very best time to shoot, as the underbrush and trees around the falls add an extra punch to the scene.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The above shot was taken with a 50mm lens. Depending on the composition you are looking for, you can use a 35-135mm lens.
A National Forest Pass is required. The day pass is $5.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of the shot is south at 160°.
Special Nuances of Shot
There are lots of ways to shoot Punch Bowl Falls: wide angle, standard, or even a compression shot. However, most of the shots will be taken while standing in the creek. The rocks are very slick, and it’s easy to fall or twist an ankle.
Special Equipment Needed
You will need a tripod, a polarizer, and a neutral density (ND) filter to reduce your shutter speed to ½ second or longer to create the silky water flow.
Another item to consider are waders/wet shoes, as you will most likely be walking/sitting in water.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Lower Punch Bowl Falls is a very popular location with tourists and photographers. Unless you arrive very early, you will have to share the location with many other people.
I use Verizon, and there is NO cell service at this location. Cell service is available once you get back to the parking lot.
Punchbowl Falls is on the Eagle Creek trail. The closest towns are Cascade Locks, OR (3 miles east) and Stevenson, WA (6.5 miles east across into Washington). The closest city is Portland, OR (45 miles west). The Portland metropolitan area has many choices for lodging. Cascade Locks and Stevenson are smaller towns but do have several lodging options.
For camping, I stay at either the Eagle Creek campground (which is just off of the Eagle Creek trailhead parking lot) or Ainsworth State Park (11 miles west). Eagle Creek campground is very convenient, but small (16 sites), does not have RV hookups, and fills up quickly. Ainsworth State Park is a traditional campground with about 40 RV hookups and tent sites.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Best Western Plus Columbia River Inn
735 Wa Na Pa St, Cascade Locks, OR
1131 SW Skamania Lodge Way, Stevenson, WA
Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge
3200 SW Cascade Ave, Stevenson, WA
Cascade Locks, OR, is a nice little community. My favorite place to eat is the Cascade Locks Ale House. They have GREAT pizza with a good selection of local brews.
Stevenson, WA, is a nice little town with some good places to eat. I have had many a good meal and cold beer at the Big River Grill directly across for the Stevenson Elementary School. It is nice place with good food and friendly folks. Also Joe’s El Rio Mexican Café across the street has very nice people, pretty good Mexican food, and great margaritas.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Cascade Locks Ale House
500 NW Wanapa St, Cascade Locks, OR
515 NW Portage Rd, Cascade Locks, OR
Big River Grills
192 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
El Rio Mexican Cafe
193 2nd St, Stevenson, WA
There is a self-service laundry mat attached to A&J Market in Stevenson, WA.
Eastwind Laundry at 225 2nd St., Stevenson, WA
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closet airport is in Portland, OR. Portland International airport (PDX) services most of the major airlines in the US.
Area Guides and Workshops
If you were looking for a GREAT photography guide for Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington areas) - I can highly recommend Mark Metternich. I have taken workshops with Mark in the past and he has been hosting workshops in the Pacific Northwest for many years.
Mark knows all the VERY best places to take you and just the right time to be there - to help you get the shot. He is a great photographer, an expert at photoshop, an excellent guide/instructor and a super nice guy.
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.