The Pacific Northwest is a photography paradise. You would be hard-pressed to leave this region without a few great photos, and the possible locations seem to be endless. Snow-capped volcanoes and blustery, rocky beaches are within a 2-3 hour drive of each other, an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the United States. Seattle and Portland each have a distinctly unique and diverse culture, and only 45 minutes from Portland you can explore the National Scenic Area of the Columbia River Gorge. If you are looking for Pacific Northwest photo locations, here are a few I consider to the best.
I spent 4 days traversing Oregon and Washington, driving over 1,700 miles to experience hundreds of photo locations. Pre-planning my trip so I could chase the sun during the morning and evening golden hours, there was hardly a moment to spare. I’m sure you may have a few spots that should be on this list, as it was impossible for me to reach every single stop inland and along the coast. Please drop me a note in the comments if you have some equally-amazing locations to share. These are a few that stood out to me as the best photo locations in the Pacific Northwest.
1) Seattle Skyline from Beacon Hill
Seattle is a bustling and thriving port city, with both natural and man-made beauty. Mt. Rainier sits in the background of most skyline photos that have the iconic Seattle Space Needle, but I like to find unique locations and unique views of a city. The Beacon Hill neighborhood was just the place. Former home to Amazon, this neighborhood boasts sweeping views of the city. You’ll know you are in the right spot when you come across many other professional and hobbyist photographers lined up for the same view.
2) The Cedar Creek Grist Mill
Nestled in a narrow gorge in southern Washington, the Cedar Creek Grist Mill will take you back in time. Most people hurrying along I-5 between Seattle and Portland don’t know this gem is only 15 minutes off the highway. Getting here is half the fun, the pace getting slower with every mile. You can almost feel your stress melting away, and then the magic appears. I could spend hours here, listening to the water running and the birds chirping. Thankfully, there isn’t a great cell signal, because hearing the phone ring would ruin the entire experience. Of all the Pacific Northwest photo locations, this is my absolute favorite.
3) Sunset at Cape Kiwanda
Pacific City, Oregon is a quaint and unassuming beach town on the Oregon coast, and the people are relaxed and unpretentious. The beach at Cape Kiwanda can be congested, especially on the weekends. You can park right on the beach, only feet from the shore. Build a campfire and relax while roasting marshmallows and making S’mores. As the sun begins to set, watch the sky change colors rapidly as the tide washes onto the beach. Before you leave, have a brew at the Pelican Brewery & Restaurant. This town is one of my all-time favorites.
4) Heceta Head Lighthouse
2 hours south of Cape Kiwanda you will find Heceta Head Lighthouse, perched on a cliff overlooking Cape Cove. The light inside the lighthouse began to shine in 1894 and can be seen 21 miles offshore, making it the strongest light on the Oregon coast. I believe the best images can be captured by taking the trailhead right before you reach the lighthouse. Signs will warn you are in bear country, so keep your wits about you. It’s a unique experience to be looking down on a lighthouse, and this view will not disappoint. If you are searching for a list of top Pacific Northwest photo locations, this should be on it.
5) Toketee Falls
3.5 hours inland, Toketee Falls is located in the Umpqua National Forest. One of the most famous waterfalls in Oregon, the Umpqua River has carved a waterfall that has an 85 foot drop. The trail from the parking lot takes you through Douglas-Fir, Western Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Pacific Yew. The trail can be difficult, but the view at the platform is worth it.
6) Wahclella Falls in the Columbia River Gorge
One of the easier hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, this is a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Wahclella Falls is also one of the most unique views in the area, the boulders here are bigger than many houses, and they’re covered in moss and ferns. It almost feels like you have been transported into a movie on a lost island. Climb up the rock-covered hills for a sweeping view of what seems to be a natural amphitheater.
7) Panther Creek Falls
Tucked away in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Panther Creek Falls is a diamond in the rough. 45 minutes north of the main waterfall region of the Columbia River Gorge, you’ll find yourself in Carson, WA. Few people know of this graceful waterfall, where it appears the water is elegantly draping the cliffside like a bridal veil. Parking is easy, and the trail is very short to a viewing platform. This is proof positive that sometimes the best views are off the beaten path.
8) Sunrise at Gig Harbor
Gig Harbor claims to be a gateway to the Olympic Peninsula and is well-known for it’s boutique shops and fine dining restaurants. Netsheds are an interesting architectural product of the fishing industry, and Gig Harbor still has the largest amount of netsheds on the Puget Sound. It’s a quiet and peaceful town, especially before sunrise. Find your spot along the Harbor, and you may even see Mount Rainier in the background on a clear enough day.