Category Archives: Photography Basics

Hidden Treasures of the Gifford Pinchot

My article for this month focuses on one of the most accessible but least explored wilderness areas for Seattle folk, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The GP is a sprawling expanse of wilderness in Washington State serrated by a loose maze of poorly marked forest service roads and remote trail heads. The Northern lip of the Forest is shelved just south of Mt. Rainier National Park along the Nisqually River. From there the GP arches due south all the way to the Columbia River.  It is flanked by the goat rocks wilderness and Mt. Adams to the East and Mt. St. Helens to the West.  In total the Gifford Pinchot is a whopping 1,368,330 acres including the 110,300-acre Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I think you will find it a refreshing region to explore if you are looking to avoid the crowds that cling to the trails and trailheads along the I90 corridor.

This is a large wilderness that I will likely be writing about for some time so let’s focus on one area for today, the Cispus River.  The Cispus a fantastic little river cutting down the heart of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  It holds interesting looks each season but we will focus on the deciduous Foliage that line the Cispus banks during Autumn.   From late september into the first week of October the edges of the stream light up with a startling amount color (for a western Washington woodland anyway).   This is mostly the result of a assortment of vine maples smattered along the sides of the stream but the effect is augmented by an crowd of alder and big leaf maples eager to get in on the show.   To go take a peek from the south side of Rainier National Park (at the Ohanapecosh entrance) follow SR 123 south until it junctions with US Highway 12. Take US Highway 12 Southwest through Packwood and continue until you reach Randall.   Take a left onto FS 23 heading due south until you see the Cispus River turnout just prior to the bridge at the Crispus River campground. Park by the bridge, strech your legs out and grab your camera gear. From here a network of trails travel along the northern bank of the river heading east. These riverbank trails provides wonderful views of the broad leaf tree’s on the far shore. Use the moss encrusted stones on the near shore as foreground. The vine maples should be bursting with color so you should be in for a real treat (and likely some great shots to add to your portfolio).

To give yourself the best opportunity at a successful shoot I suggest bringing a polarizer to soften the light refraction off the water, rocks and leaves, a remote firing mechnism to ensure your camera which will likely doing long exposure isn’t jostled when you advance your frame (note: your camera timer can offset this requirement), a graduated 2 or 3 stop neutral denisty filter in case the light above is a bit too bright, a solid tripod, tripod head and a lens somewhere between 12-35mm. For more ideas on equipment visit my recommended gear section. Don’t have gear you say? No problem head over to Seattle and rent what you need from Glaziers Camera.  They are hands down the best camera shop this side of San Fransico with Kenmore Camera coming in a close 2nd if your on the north end of town.  Btw Glaziers rental shop will treat weekend rental (ie Friday to Monday) as a one day fee so you can check out whatever gear you need and see how it works.