Springtime in the Pacific Northwest can last a full 4 months! That’s right, 1/4 of the year for a season that doesn’t even exist in some places, and in others (the far north for example) it is a couple weeks of melting snow and ice – it’s called breakup not spring in Alaska. This is the first of a two-part summary of recommended times to visit and photograph the different destinations in this corner of the country.
The two years previous to this one we’ve had very long, cool springs, starting in fits sometime in mid- to late-February and lasting through the July 4th holiday weekend. Clouds, storms, cool weather, sun, hail, snow in the mountains: you know, spring! And well over 4 months of it! But this year it didn’t really start until March and it appears to be over now. We had some very warm weather (for May), then one more spate of cool, wet weather, then May went out and left us with gorgeous dry summer-like weather. It looks like it wants to stay too.
For photography around these parts, you want to time it so that starting in mid-spring you are out as much as humanly possible. That’s because a bunch of things happen one after the other. So here is a brief summary of where to go and when during glorious spring in the Pacific NW.
EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS
East of the Cascade Mountains early flowers bloom beginning in March. The weather and light is often interesting in early spring too. But by mid-April, the flowers really start to peak in the drier eastern parts of Oregon and Washington. This includes the eastern Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic landscape. Perhaps you’ve heard of or seen images from a place called Rowena Crest (I call it Rowena Plateau, ’cause that’s what it really is). Fields of yellow arrow-leaf balsamroot abound!
Also check out the Washington side of the eastern Gorge for great flower displays and sweeping landscapes – places like Catherine Creek and the Columbia Hills. The flower bloom gradually moves west and up (in elevation) through May, with purple lupine and red/orange indian paintbrush joining the party. One of my favorite flowers of the east is the beautiful purple grass widow. It is very early (March) in eastern Oregon but a little later in the Gorge. Another favorite of the dry parts, the showy mariposa lily, blooms rather late, throughout May.
It’s worth trying to hit the dry, eastern parts of the Pacific Northwest (our steppe) sometime in April or May. This includes the popular landscape photo destinations of the Palouse in Washington and the Painted Hills in Oregon. Photographers should try to time a visit with some weather if possible, since clear skies are the rule out there.
I visited the Palouse this year in late May. That was a bit late but really only for the flower-bloom in a few areas (like Kamiak Butte). I had an injury and could not go when I originally wanted to, but it happened to work out perfectly. The weather & light conditions at the end of May were superb. For the Palouse, really anytime in spring through early summer is a good time to visit; any later and those famous rolling green fields lose their sheen.
THE VERDANT FORESTS
Anytime in mid- to late-spring (April or May), during or just after rains, visits to your favorite waterfalls and cascading creeks are very worthwhile. This is because the warmer weather and intermittent sunshine, along with abundant moisture, really amps up the already green forests and fields of the Pacific Northwest. The almost electric green of mosses and ferns, the thundering fullness of the countless waterfalls, all of this results in photographers snapping many many images of a kind of green paradise.
The Columbia River Gorge is the most common destination (and features the most in pictures you’ll see), but really any forested area laced with creeks and rivers will do. The Salmon River Valley near Mount Hood, the Lewis River Valley near Mount St. Helens, the North Santiam and Little North Santiam east of Salem, they’re all good! In mid-spring (April into early May), look out for our signature forest flower, the beautiful trillium.
Stay tuned for the second part on this subject. If you’re interested in any of these images, simply click on them to access purchase options for the high-resolution versions. Then click “add this image to cart”. It won’t be added to your cart right away though; you need to make choices first. Thanks for your interest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.