Oct 162013
vine maple leaves with fall color

Vine maple in autumn, McKenzie River National Recreation Trail.

Autumn just may be the very best time of year for landscape and nature photography in Oregon. Every region of the state boasts locations with vivid fall color. As a bonus, the season for prime color is spread over a period of a couple of months, depending on elevation and region. Vine maples kick in with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows as early as late August in the high Cascade Mountains, while in the Columbia River Gorge the colorful foliage can last into early November. Bigleaf maple, with their large, golden- to lemony-yellow leaves are the predominant species for colorful foliage west of the Cascade crest, and pockets of aspen and cottonwood light up canyons and river sides east of the Cascades. Here are some suggestions for where to go to photograph the season’s wonders:

Multnomah Falls and Multnomah Falls Lodge in Autumn

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River Gorge is a perennial favorite for fall color. Bigleaf maple line the Historic Columbia River Highway and brighten the forest at almost all waterfall sites. Peak color is generally late October through the first week of November.

Portland Japanese Garden with fall color

Portland Japanese Garden.

Just minutes from busy downtown, the Portland Japanese Garden is an oasis of serenity – well, except maybe on fall weekends, when throngs of visitors flock the garden in Washington Park. Nearby Hoyt Arboretum and Forest Park are also great places to find colorful foliage.

Torii Mor Vineyards driveway in the Dundee Hills.

Torii Mor Vineyards driveway in the Dundee Hills.

How about combining fall foliage photography with a little wine tasting? In late October the rows of grape vines turn yellow, and majestic oak and maple trees line the roads in Willamette Valley Wine Country .

Aufderheide Drive in Autumn.

Aufderheide Memorial Drive in Autumn.

The West Cascades Scenic Byway offers a route through the Cascade Mountains traversing north-south between Estacada and Oakridge. The southernmost leg of the route follows Forest Road 19 between the McKenzie River and Westfir. This section is also known as Aufderheide Memorial Drive, after a former USFS Willamette National Forest supervisor. The road passes through a forest of towering old-growth Douglas-fir trees, interspersed with plenty of bigleaf maple and vine maple.

South Falls in Silver Falls State Park

South Falls, Silver Falls State Park

Silver Falls State Park is a favorite of Oregon photographers in both spring and fall. Ten beautiful waterfalls are easily accessed from a loop trail. South Falls is perhaps the most photogenic, with several viewpoints for varied photo compositions. Get there mid- to late-October for the best color.

Ranch buildings and cottonwood trees in eastern Oregon.

Fall ranch scene in eastern Oregon.

Over in eastern Oregon, quaking aspen and cottonwood trees line meadows, canyons and river banks, and high up in the Blue Mountains the needles of the western larch (tamarack) trees, a deciduous conifer, turn yellow and orange. Fall color is best on this side of the state from mid-September to mid-October, depending on elevation.

Looking for places to photograph the season’s splendor a little further north? See my blog post from last year Top 10 Places for Fall Color Photography in Washington.

For more detailed information about locations for shooting fall color in the Pacific Northwest, see my books Photographing Oregon and Photographing Washington.

Where are your favorite places for making photos of the autumn hues?


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  5 Responses to “Fall Color Photography in Oregon”

  1. Gorgeous images and great ideas for color! Thanks!

  2. Beautifully captured fall scenics – it’s tough to create strong compositions of iconic scenes but you always are at the right place at right time, patience! Always helpful tips as well, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Andrea. There are times when I struggle with being patient, but I’ve learned that it is key to getting better photos. While working on my books I discovered that I enjoy sharing the information that will enable other photographers to be in those right places at the right times.

  3. Our monthly publication in Southern Oregon/Northern California includes a Suggested Reading list in each issue. The book: Photographing Oregon was proposed as a possibility for the list. We do have a page focused on fall colors in the October issue. Would you be agreeable to an overview of the book in that publication?
    We would need a high resolution image of the cover emailed to us by September 23rd. We can also include a website url (which can be reached by readers through our website). Also let us know where we would direct readers to purchase the book. If you would like further information, please email us.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Carol Abercrombie
    Young At Heart News

    • Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your interest. I will contact you via email with links and the cover photo.

      You’ve got a very nice publication going there and I would be delighted to be included in it.

      – Greg

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