“Oneonta Falls”, Columbia River Gorge
Oneonta Falls is located within the fantastic, emerald-walled Oneonta Gorge on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. Oneonta Gorge and Falls are on countless lists of the best hikes in Oregon for good reason. It is simply like nowhere else. 200 foot tall vertical walls composed of 25 million year old volcanic basalt are covered with mosses and ferns. At the end of a half mile hike, adventurers are rewarded with 100 foot tall Oneonta Falls, where the hike ends. Oneonta Gorge was first photographed by Carleton Eugene Watkins who traveled west in 1849 during the California Gold Rush. Watkins named the gorge after his hometown of Oneonta, New York.
Oneonta Gorge, the Hike
There is no formalized hiking trail within the basin of Oneonta Creek. The creek is the trail and it is the only way to reach the spectacular
Oneonta Falls. The primary stumbling block for hikers is the dreaded Log Jam, seen to the left.
In the late 1990’s, two large rocks fell into the mouth of the gorge, those rocks partially block the outflow of Oneonta Creek and they cause fallen trees to Jam-up the opening of the gorge. Over the years, the Log jam has grown larger and more dangerous.
The logs are large, they are piled high and they are largely without bark, making them perilously slick when wet, which is often the case in this part of the Columbia River Gorge. Be forewarned, there has been at least one fatality caused by the Log Jam. Use good judgement and don’t bring pets and leave small children out of this adventure.
For the intrepid hiker who conquers the log jam, a gorgeous green slot canyon awaits. Notice the abundance of plant life clinging to the vertical walls of this mystical canyon. The 0.5 mile hike is largely a slosh through the waters of Oneonta Creek. The floor of the creek is almost entirely covered in rounded river rock, so hikers are encouraged to wear secure water shoes. Bare feet are not a good idea. As the slot canyon narrows, the magic begins. At one point, about 100 yards from the waterfall, there is a deep pool. You will get wet here! The water may be frigid, so be prepared. Water levels in the most shallow part of this pool vary seasonally between 3 to 6 feet deep. You must pass this pool to reach the falls. Oneonta Falls and the adjacent have a stunning amphitheater feel but be forewarned, if you do this hike on summer weekends, you will NOT find solitude. In fact, in some summer afternoons, you will find a very pretty mosh-pit at the end of the hike. Enjoy the beauty of this natural wonder but please pack out anything you brought in and please be respectful of the plant life that abounds on the gorge’s vertical walls.
Oneonta Falls photos.
I’ve shot Oneonta Falls photos several times in the pat but have always been stymied in my ongoing quest to honor the natural beauty of Oregon’s special places. I planned extensively in order capture the beautiful fine art print you see at the top of this page. I waited until late enough in the summer that Oneonta Gorge hopefully would not be crowded with hikers and before seasonal freezes browned up the foliage on the vertical walls of this verdant slot canyon. I also doggedly tracked weather patterns in hopes of a relatively windless and preferably windless day. As the landscape photography stars aligned, I made the appropriate arrangements and packed my gear. I knew there had been some heavy rains in the Columbia River Gorge in the previous few days, so the water levels in the canyon could be high. Water temperatures would be cold and I would likely be in the canyon for too long of al time to be wet. I purchased whitewater style dry bags for my gear and packed my chest wader which are usually reserved for fly-fishing. They served me well. As I’ve mentioned, the log jam has grown to be quite formidable over the past several years, so, I took my time. Wearing my felt-soled fishing waders, was beneficial for navigating the slick wet logs in the jam. At the high point of the log jam, I looked down from an especially high and exposed spot. I saw a large slick-sided opening which dropped 30 feet down to fast flowing water with no exit for a human body. I tensed up and re-focused and eventually cleared the dangerous obstacles. I was relieved. The next half mile was a magical,moist slosh through one of
the most wonderful slot canyons in the world. Vertical walls, vibrant greens, and rich brown rivers rocks rounded through millions of years of watery erosion made for a mind-blowing hike. Soon I heard dull roar of Oneonta Falls, like a distant pack of angry lions. The deepest stretch of water crossing is where you can first see the falls. I was excited! I decended into the depths of the pool and quickly retreated like a toddler being overwhelmed by an ocean wave. I twas too deep for my waders. Damnit! If my waders flooded, I wouldn’t drown but knew that hypothermia could be a problem. I concluded that the most shallow part of the stream was on River-left. I tightened up the suspenders on my waders until they reached my chin, balanced my 45 lbs of camera gear on my head, crossed my fingers, an tested fate. Fate was on my side…barely! I kept saying to myself, “not matter what, you won’t drown….” At the deepest point of the crossing, I was bending my elbow above my head and leaning it against the gorge wall, so as to not slip into the depths and flood my waders. My right foot slipped, just lightly, a small surge of water cascaded into my waders and I gasped. Fortunately, I re-gained my footing, the next step was less deep and the worst was past. I completed the crossing without any major related crises! From there it was a magical stroll to the falls. I wanted a level of intimacy and movement to my image, so I found an attractive rocky foreground with flowing water for my foreground.
The landscape photography conditions were favorable. I needed long, windless exposures to combat the deep dark canyon and that is what I got! While the tilts and shifts I needed to utilize with my large format camera were technically demanding, they were not unusual for me. I often find myself in extremely awkward positions for prolonged periods of time while composing and capturing my fine art landscape photographs. This adventure was no exception. To get the flowy intimate foreground I wanted, I set my tripod very low requiring me to kneel in the water when viewing my ground glass and focusing the scene. Because of my trusty waders, I wasn’t cold but my old knees did not appreciate the prolonged time on the hard river rocks. I had Oneonta Falls and its other-worldly gorge all to myself for 60 minutes while I joyfully worked in and enjoyed the beauty of this natural cathedral. I left fulfilled and on the hike out, fortunately, my waders were not filled with the frigid waters of Oneonta Creek! This stunning fine art print of Oneonta Falls is an elegant reminder of any adventure into this amazingly beautiful Gorge.