Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring Photography Ideas Around the Pacific Northwest

The Washington State Capital Building (Legislative Building) and a carpet of daffodils, Olympia, Washington.
 Spring has arrived in the Pacific Northwest, which means it's time to get the camera out for some fresh air!  There are lots of places begging to be visited in the spring months, so I thought I would list some of my favorites.

The State Capital Building (or Legislative Building) is a beautiful place to visit in the spring time, especially if you can catch the cherry blossoms and daffodils in mid to late March, or the tulips in April.  Early morning will provide relative peace and quiet before the masses arrive later in the day.

The University of Washington campus is also an excellent place to catch the cherry blossoms in late March or early April.

The Washington Park Arboretum and Japanese Garden are beautiful in the spring time, particularly from mid-March to early May.  You will want to head to Rhododendron Glen and walk Azalea Way.  Unfortunately for photographers, the Japanese Garden has restricted hours, charges admission, and tripods are not allowed (though monopods are).  Still, I understand it to be a must visit!

A yellow field of daffodils in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 The Skagit Valley is popular in the spring for a reason - fields upon fields of flowers!  The blooms start in late March with the daffodils.  Because they are not nearly as popular as the tulips, this is a relatively quiet time to visit, and the rewards are great.  You might be surprised at how many different varieties of daffodils there actually are.  Definitely dress for wet weather and muddy fields this time of year.  Rubber boots are recommended.  Be sure to check out the bloom map when planning your visit.

Tulips in bloom in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 In early to mid-April, things get crazy around Mount Vernon with the arrival of the tulips, and visitors from around the world.  Weekends in particular can be a mad house.  But if you arrive early in the morning, you can still get a few hours of rewarding photography before the masses arrive.  I recommend arriving before sunrise and photographing the fields.  Again, refer to the bloom map.  By mid-morning, you will want to visit RoozenGaarde and/or Tulip Town before the lines get too long.
Tulips in bloom in the Skagit Valley, Mount Vernon, Washington.
 Sunset is also a fantastic time to photograph the fields.  Admittedly, I've never lasted this long!  By late morning or noon, I am always spent and ready to call it a day.  But one of these days I am going to forgo the early morning and plan a late visit just for this purpose.

Palouse Falls is now our official state waterfall.  Have you been there?  Why not?  It's a beautiful state park on the eastern side of Washington - southeastern, to be exact.

A rainbow forms at the base of Palouse Falls, Palouse Falls State Park, Washington.
April and early May are excellent times to visit this majestic waterfall.  The weather is typically nice more times than not, and the heat of summer has not hit yet.  The cooler days of April are still a bit chilly for rattlesnakes liking, but the warmer days of May can be a different story.

Palouse Falls State Park is a 105 acre park that offers a nice picnic area, overnight tent camping on a first come, first served basis, and of course, the dramatic view of the waterfall itself.  It's a bit off the main road (dirt road access), and not recommended for trailers or RV's.  The park itself is stunning.

On sunny days in the spring, a rainbow forms at the base of the falls in late afternoon.

If you are into waterfalls - and I mean lots of them, there is no better destination than the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area to the south of us.  Just a short distance east of Portland (16 miles) the waterfalls begin.  Be sure and drive the Columbia River Gorge Highway, both for the history and the views!  This highway stretches from Troutdale to Dobson, OR and provides direct access to most of the waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon.
The most popular waterfall in the gorge is Multnomah Falls, because of its picturesque postcard appearance (and it has appeared on many a postcard!).  Unfortunately, the Benson Bridge which famously spans this graceful waterfall was heavily damaged this past winter, and is currently closed for repair work.  This simply means you can't hike the trail to the top.  You can still enjoy the famous view from the bottom!

Also nearby are Latourell Falls, Horsetail Falls, Ponytail Falls, Elowah Falls, McCloud Falls, Triple Falls, Wahclella Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Punch Bowl Falls, Bridal Veil Falls...well, you get the picture!

There are waterfalls for every interest and ability.  Some can be viewed from the parking lot, some require a short walk to a viewing point, and others require a short hike up a trail through beautiful forest.

To get the most out of your visit photography wise, I would plan your visit for a cloudy, overcast day.  This allows for even lightning and one doesn't have to hassle with the contrasting shadows and brightness of sunny days.

The Stonehenge Memorial on May Hill in Washington State.
While you're down there, don't forget to jump over to the Washington side of the gorge and visit Beacon Rock State Park and the Stonehenge Memorial in Mayhill, honoring our war veterans.  It's a full size, astronomically-aligned replica of the original Stonehenge, completed in 1929.

Stonehenge is best photographed under blue skies, hopefully with a cloud or two present to make the sky more interesting.

Smith Rock State Park in Bend, OR might be a little further than some people want to drive, but I can promise you won't be disappointed.

This beautiful park might be most famous amongst rock climbers for its challenging routes on excellent quality rock.  But it really offers something for everyone with its network of hiking trails and supreme views of its giant monoliths.  Keep an eye out for rattlesnakes as they are very common here.  There is no camping here, other than the "parking lot" offered to rock climbers.

A panoramic view of the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon.
 Finally, east of Bend, there is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.  More specifically, the Painted Hills Unit located about 9 miles northwest of Mitchell, OR.  This unit covers 3,132 acres and offers a short boardwalk trail, the main viewpoint trail (where these pictures were taken) and a longer trail to a grand viewpoint overlooking the entire area.

Camping is primitive in this area, though one has the option of camping in the city park in downtown Mitchell, believe it or not!

A panoramic view of the Painted Hills in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon.
 As for photographing the painted hills, the best time is in the evening shortly before sunset.  This is when the colors are at their best.  And if you are lucky enough to have some nice, dark storm clouds off in the distance to the east - even better!

Why spring for this year around attraction?  Because flowers put on a display in early May.

Well, there they are - some of my favorite spring photography destinations in the Pacific Northwest.  I hope you will have the opportunity to visit some, if not all these places in the coming years.

As always, feel free to contact me with specific questions.

If you wish to view more pictures, visit my galleries at

Thanks for looking!

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