It was a rare opportunity for my teenage son to agree to join me on a hike so I jumped at the opportunity and chose the relatively short hike to Panther Creek Falls. The drive takes about 1 hour 30 minutes from Portland. We chose to make the drive on HWY 14 to enjoy the slower pace and incredible scenery. We left the busy traffic of Portland behind and headed over the Glen Jackson bridge to HWY 14 past the cities of Camas, Washougal, Skamania, Stevenson and eventually Carson, Washington. When we arrived there were already a few cars in the parking lot, a cleared area which can accommodate probably 20 vehicles. After a small snack and some water, we took our gear (click here for my gear list) and headed to the falls. The trail head is located about 100 yards from the parking lot. From the trail head to the falls is only about 300 yards and is a moderate hike with several easy switchbacks through a beautiful forest. The trail is maintained by the Forest Service. In addition to the maintained trail, a viewing deck was constructed at the end of the trail which can see the main, horsetail portion of the waterfall. Those that wish to see the final, 30-foot (9.1 m) drop need to leave the trail and head to the south about 200 yards to a secondary trail which will take you to the bottom of the falls. The trail is steep however, it has many good foot and hand holds.
I chose to spend the first hour or so of our time at the falls focused on compositions around the creek above the falls. We may not have been on location at the best time of day because of the direct sun overhead however, because of the recent rain, the sun lit the mossy surfaces and highlighted the deep greens and bronze colors in the trees. My first composition was of a small waterfall that was emerging from below a downed tree. The moss and the rocks provided great lines to draw the eye to what I was trying to focus on, the small water fall. I used a ND filter to allow for a bit longer exposure and allowed me to still the water. The second composition (the photo at the top of the blog), I love because of how the light illuminated the golden rock in the foreground and also highlighted the small ripple in the water under the downed log at the top of the image. I used no filters and shot this with my 70-200mm 2.8 Sigma Sport lens.
A Different Perspective
From the perspective of my teenage son, keep reading. In his words,
My dad and I went on a hike recently to Panther Creek Falls. From where we live in the Oregon, it was a very long drive close to an hour and a half. On the drive my dad made me listen to his genre of music which, take it from me, is not that hip. The hike/waterfall is in southwest Washington. Close to the border with Oregon.
Once you are able to get there you would see various cars parked on the side of the road in a "parking lot" sort of formation. That's when the trouble begins. To get down to the trail you would have to go a little way on the road back the way you came, but this time on foot. If you are facing away from the cars and toward the road, the entrance to the trail should be on the right. Once you have entered the little cutout area of bushes you will find yourself clinging to the mountain beside you, for the trail that you are walking on is narrow, but it will eventually become wider. Once you have surpassed the narrow opening you will come to find a short walk down the mountain in a zigzag pattern until you get to an area that is fenced off. This area separates you from a river flowing beside the waterfall, if you go beyond this a few more feet you will see the waterfall.
For me, this experience was a very long one. I went down the entranced and almost fell, followed the zigzag pattern to the fenced off area, and gazed at the river, not to mention it was very loud because of all the flowing water.
My dad quickly wanted to get his photo taking adventures underway. So between where the fence ends and the lookout to the falls begins there is a cut out that you can pass through to get to the river. We did this and he set his tripod up and started taking his photos. While he was doing this I got bored and went back to the car however, because it was early afternoon on a summer day, it was very very hot. After that, I went back to the falls, and I didn't fall on the entrance again.
Once my dad was done photographing the river we moved down the side of the mountain to the foot of the falls. To do this you would have to go up the right side of the mountain until you find a cutout in the trees and start your journey around and down the mountain. More photos were taken at the foot of the waterfall which was even louder than before. The trail to get down to the foot of the waterfall was quite narrow and quite steep, I slipped a fair amount of times. Going back up the side of the mountain was a little better. But exiting was easier. Instead of going on the regular path you can continue going up until you reach the road, then you will follow the road and get back to the car.
The overall experience of the hike was fairly enjoyable. If you like narrow paths and thrilling adventures you would enjoy the hike as well. The path can be a bit muddy at times depending at what time of day you go and the season, but since my dad and I went in the summertime the path was fairly dry. That has its pros and cons when it comes to hiking though. If narrow paths and steep climbs are up your alley, I would recommend this trail.