USA – OREGON

Having been to Oregon on two separate occasions in both summer and winter, I can say it is a particularly diverse state that has a little bit of everything to offer. The incredible scenery in the state features unique rocky coastlines, lush waterfalls and freshly powdered mountains. I didn’t do as much research as I should have before visiting Oregon, so I hope my experiences (and mistakes) will help if you are planning a trip there, especially in winter!

GETTING AROUND: I rented a Jucy camper van for my winter trip through Oregon and California, which was surprisingly warm for sleeping in sub zero temperatures.  Their prices are fairly reasonable considering how much is included – around $65 USD per day. It has basically everything you could want or need when going camping including a fridge, a bed, winter bedding, a cooktop, all kitchen utensils, a solar shower and a decent amount of storage. They operate in Australia, NZ and the west coast of the USA. If you rent in winter make sure you CHECK whether the van has snow chains – I had to buy some for which Jucy reimbursed me for, as they listed snow chains on their website, but didn’t have any left when I picked up the van. Overall the van was pretty reasonable and I would rent from them again. You can check out Jucy’s outrageously colourful vans here.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor: Scenery along this stretch of the coast is on par with Highway 1, the famous Californian coastal road. The corridor is adjacent to a section of highway at the very southern edge of the state just above the Californian border. The best stretch of road is about 30km long from Brookings to Pistol River. Make sure you leave enough time to stop and get out for photos, especially while the sun sets. The beach rock formations are remarkable and are present along the entire corridor. There was practically no one at the spot where I captured the shot below as the sun was setting, and although it was chilly the cold wasn’t unbearable.

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Sunset at Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

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Sunset at Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

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Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

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Sunset at Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

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Sunset at Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

Crater Lake National Park: I’ve written a lot in this post about Crater Lake because for me this was honestly the most unexpected gem that I had no idea existed until recently. It’s the deepest lake in North America, and because it’s so deep it doesn’t actually freeze in winter, it stays pristine all year long – pretty epic for all the winter photographers out there. Within the lake is a little island called Wizard Island, which you can canoe out to in summer. You won’t be able to reach the lake’s edge in winter due to snow, but the views from the top are more than enough to make it worth seeing. In future I’m hoping to do a backcountry trip over summer around the top of the lake. The road around the lake is closed off in winter and you can only reach the lake through the south entrance (north entrance is closed), but you can still reach the visitor’s centre from the south. One of the benefits of visiting in winter, apart from the views, is that there’s no park entrance fee from October to April.

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Snowstorm in Crater Lake National Park

My original travel plans to Crater Lake actually changed last minute due to weather, so I visited a few days earlier than planned – basically I avoided -17C weather in Yosemite but still managed to find myself in a snowstorm. Accessibility to Crater Lake can be pretty dangerous in winter. There are no open campgrounds in the area and the closest lodging to the lake is at least a 45 minute drive back down the mountain on a narrow, icy road, with 2-3 metre high snow walls on either side. I headed there late afternoon and drove straight up to the lake in hopes to get some star photos but unfortunately it was too overcast. I planned to sleep in my camper van at the top when I got there and do some exploring the following day. I parked near the toilets next to another camper van and slept in the van overnight.

SIDE NOTE: It is illegal to camp overnight, even in a car or a van, in a national park unless you are in a designated camping area. I got a warning from the park ranger – I’m fairly sure he only let me off due to the snowstorm.

I had no idea that there would be a snowstorm that night as my phone had been out of service for a while, so seeing 10 fresh inches of snow the next morning was a bit of a chilly surprise. I went to use the toilets but the snow against the door was so high that it was blocking it, so I spent a few minutes kicking the snow away with my boots. Coincidentally the snow plow driver was driving past and stopped to help with his shovel. He mentioned that the storm would be lasting until the following morning, so I decided to drive back down and find a lodge or cabin to stay in until the next day.

I ended up staying at Union Creek Resort, which was $82 USD for the night. You can book a cabin at the resort here. It was quite cute and cosy and pretty reasonable for the price. It didn’t have a TV but the wifi worked well and it was warm. I attempted back up to the lake the next morning, and luckily I had snow chains for the van because I had absolutely no traction trying to get it out of the parking lot. I spent a good hour struggling to get the chains on, but once they were on I was able to get out of my spot and be on my way. If you are driving anywhere near the mountains in winter, make sure you have chains and know how to put them on!

The weather the following day was beautiful – I popped by the visitor’s centre and decided to rent some snowshoes and did a small 5km round trip trek. The path had been travelled on a few times before me that morning so it was pretty easy to follow the path. The visitor’s centre has maps of snowshoe trails you can do, but if you want to see the map before you go as well as other useful tips you can find the park brochure here. The snowshoe rentals are $15 per pair for a day.

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Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park

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Snowshoe trail, Crater Lake National Park

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View of Union Peak, Crater Lake National Park

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Crater Lake National Park

Columbia River Gorge: A.K.A the place with all the waterfalls. The gorge follows the Oregon-Washington border nearly all the way along to Idaho. There are endless amounts of waterfalls in the area but I only managed to see Multnomah falls. Besides the flood of tourists in summer, if you can visit without the crowds, it’s a photographer’s paradise. It took me a good hour atleast to get the perfect long exposure photo without anyone else in the shot. There are a lot of trails in the area leading to other waterfalls, so if you have a whole day it’s worth parking at Multnomah falls and just exploring the area. Some of the other falls in the area include Fairy Falls, Wahkeena Falls, Wiesendanger Falls.

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Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

PRO-TIP FOR WATERFALL PHOTOS: Have you ever wondered how those glowing, seemingly luminescent waterfall photos are taken? It’s actually really simple as long as you have a tripod and a DSLR camera. All you need to do is set your exposure to a few seconds so that you capture the entire path of the water over those few seconds. Set your exposure to anywhere between 1 and 5 seconds and take a test photo. It will most likely be too bright, so make your aperture higher e.g. if it’s at f5 adjust it to f10, and make your ISO lower e.g. if it’s at 800 adjust it to 200. If it’s still too bright repeat the process and play around with the aperture and ISO until your lighting is just right. Remember – low aperture means more light, but focuses on less, whereas high aperture means less light but gets a broader amount of detail in. High ISO means more light, low ISO means less light.

Cannon Beach: This beach is an awesome spot for photographers and only 1.5 hrs west of Portland. The huge cannon like boulders make for a good foreground as the sun sets behind them. The town at Cannon Beach is a very cute coastal seaside town that I would recommend staying at for a night. I bought myself a new book at the bookstore here, and spent the afternoon on the beach reading it while sipping on my $7 bottle of red and eating fish and chips for the first time in too long (my first time on the beach in over 6 months). I slept in my van in a parking lot in the town but got interrupted by the local police officers telling me I couldn’t stay overnight in my car (despite no signage), so they motioned me to the closest roadside pullout that I could park at. The photo below is one of my rare daytime pictures using my Sigma f2.8 wide angle lens – you can see much clearer in this shot how much of a fisheye effect it has.

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Sunset at Cannon Beach

Portland: I only spent one day here so I don’t have much to contribute about it, but it is a neat city with a pretty hipster vibe. It reminds me a lot of my hometown Adelaide. I visited the international rose test garden which is a good way to spend time if you want a relaxing day.

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International Rose Test Garden, Portland

On the list for my next Oregon visit

Mount Hood National Forest

Oregon Caves National Monument

Umpqua National Forest (including Toketee Falls)

Diamond Lake

Mill Creek Falls and Avenue of the Boulders

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