Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Discover the East Side of Mount Rainier National Park

The trails off Highway 123 on the east side of Mount Rainier National Park can be the loneliest trails in the park once trails of the high country have become available for hiking.  Who wants to be buried in forest when supreme panoramic views can be had of our state's crown jewel, as well as other peaks well beyond the park in every direction?  But on days when clouds shroud the high country and limit views, the lower Eastside Trail and spur trails can be at their best. 

There are no views of Rainier from these trails.  Instead, these trails offer the visual splendor of vibrant greens and the fresh aromas of western red cedar, western hemlock and Douglas fir to captivate the senses.  And if that is not enough, the rushing streams and thundering waterfalls may send your senses into overload!

Overcast days are the best days to visit this area for photography.   The clouds filter the harsh sunlight, creating nice even lighting.  Add some mist or drizzle to the equation and you will have a lucky treat indeed.  The forests on this side of the mountain are much drier than other areas as they are located east of the Cascade crest.  Often when rain is in the forecast for the park, I have arrived here only to find dry cloudy conditions with the sun trying to pop through.  In fact, many photography ventures have been cut short when the sun won the battle!

To further reward photographers and hikers alike, Deer Creek, Chinook Creek and the Ohanapecosh River offer numerous waterfalls and cascades to enjoy.  Side streams such as Kotsock Creek, Boundary Creek and Olallie Creek provide further opportunities.  These streams all have one thing in common; they are swift moving and can be roaring in spring and early summer.  Care should be taken as a slip and fall into one of these streams could be very dangerous

Photographers can leave their gradual neutral density filters at home, but should consider a polarizing filter absolutely essential equipment - worth returning home for if forgotten!  A polarizer will make the greens and yellows of the forest pop with increased saturation.  It will also take the glare of the water, and slow your shutter speed a couple of stops to further blur waterfalls and cascades to give them that nice ribbon effect.  I personally use a Singh-Ray warming polarizer and have been very pleased with the results I've gotten.  But any polarizer will do the job.

Of course, with these slower shutter speeds also comes the necessity of a sturdy, well anchored tripod.  Anchored?  Yes.  The forest floor can often be soft and even spongy, allowing settling of the tripod legs with the slightest of bumps - including the simple act of releasing the shutter button (use the timer function of your camera or better yet, a remote shutter release).  Hanging a stuff sack filled with heavy items from the center post of your tripod will help anchor it and minimize undesired movement and camera shake.

There are many access points for the these trails along Highway 123, beginning at Cayuse Pass.  Traveling south, just past the tunnel at Deer Creek is the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead.  Further south is the Silver Falls cutoff trail.  All of these offer their own special features and are worth checking out.

More images from Mount Rainier National Park and surrounding wilderness can be viewed in my Mount Rainier Gallery. 

For further photography ideas in the park, be sure to check out my book Mount Rainier, which offers my tips on when and where to photograph in the park and neighboring wildernesses.

And of course, many images from all over the western U.S. and Canada can be found on my website at

Happy shooting!