Photo Guide to Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent and Sol Duc

This is part of my Photo Location Guide series. To see them all, visit this page.

Lake Crescent is just west of Port Angeles. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the west end and probably another 10 or so to get to the east end. So figure at least a half-hour.

Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Marymere Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

The Lake Crescent Lodge is located on the east end on Barnes Point, a great place for breakfast or lunch after a morning's shoot. A breakfast with a view, if you will.
Barnes Point is also where you'll find the Storm King Ranger Station. This is the starting point for the short hike to Marymere Falls.

The trail takes you underneath Hwy 101 and wanders through the forest, eventually crossing Barnes Creek on a log bridge. From here, it's a short and somewhat steep climb on a well maintained and well used trail to viewpoints of Marymere Falls.
From the lower point you can photograph the entire waterfall with a wide angle lens. I like to pull out the telephoto to photograph abstracted pieces of the falls with longer shutter speeds.

From the upper point you can only really photograph the upper part of the falls. But it's fairly easy to incorporate some branches of deciduous trees as either a framing element or as the main subject with an out of focus waterfall in the background.

This is a popular location so if you come in the middle of the day in the summer, expect plenty of company.

A lesser known but very similar waterfall, Madison Falls, can be found before you even get to Lake Crescent. About 15 minutes from Port Angeles is the Elwha entrance to Olympic National Park. Turn here and follow the Olympic Hot Springs Road about two miles. Just before the park entrance station is the Madison Falls parking lot. The trail to the falls is short and flat. You can photograph from viewpoint at the end of the trail or you can scramble down to the stream and photograph from there.

Like Marymere Falls, you can use wide angle to telephoto lenses here.
And of course, for waterfalls, it's best to photograph them on cloudy or rainy days. Don't forget your polarizer.

Lake Crescent

There are numerous pullouts on the road along Lake Crescent. On a blue-sky day you can find spots where you can use some overhanging maple trees to frame the deep blue lake. In the spring and summer, these leaves can be bright greenish-yellow. And if you find a spot where they can be backlit, well that can look really nice. There are even a couple of nice spots where you can include the curving road in your pictures. Add an RV or a logging truck and you've got yourself a nice storytelling shot.

Adirondack chairs on the shore of Lake Crescent, sunset

Adirondack chairs on the shore of Lake Crescent, sunset

Late afternoon and sunset from the lodge area can be very pleasant. In the summer the sun goes down to the northwest, over the far end of the lake. With any luck you'll get a few clouds to light up and reflect in the lake.

Rental canoes make a great foreground or a great subject all their own. Old Adirondack chairs can serve as rustic foregrounds. After sunset you can use them as silhouettes. Even better if someone is sitting in one. From the dock you can look back to the lit up lodge.

Plus it's only about 20 minutes back to Port Angeles from here, which is a plus after a long summer day photographing.

Pre-dawn on Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, WA

Pre-dawn on Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, WA

One of my favorite pullouts along the lake is near the far west end at Meldrim Point. It's a large pullout next to a small, tree covered peninsula (approximately 5 miles from the earlier turn off to the Lake Crescent Lodge and the Storm King Ranger Station). This is a great place for a moody morning shot on the lake. I keep going back to this spot because I have this fantasy shot in mind with beams of light from a red-tinged sky crossing the lake at sunrise. It hasn't happened yet. But I'll keep trying.

At the far west end of the lake is the Fairholm Store. There's a dock and, usually, colorful rental canoes and rowboats. These make a great foreground.

Sol Duc

Continue on Hwy 101 past Lake Crescent for about two miles to the Sol Duc road. This 14 mile road follows the river to Sol Duc Hotsprings resort, campgrounds, and finally to the Sol Duc trail.

Oak fern and vanilla leaf along the Sol Duc Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Oak fern and vanilla leaf along the Sol Duc Trail, Olympic National Park, WA

Along the way you'll find a few places from which you can photograph the river, including the Salmon Cascades area. Park here and walk back down the road a hundred feet or so for a good view. Follow the trails from the Salmon Cascades parking lot for more views.

The road ends at the Sol Duc trail head. This popular trail is well maintained and makes for a pretty easy walk. There are a few ups and downs but no real appreciable altitude gain. But be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots.

Bridge over Sol Duc trail

Bridge over Sol Duc trail

Follow the trail for about 3/4 mile to Sol Duc Falls. But don't neglect the little stream at about the half-way point. A foot bridge crosses it. This little stream cascades around moss-covered rocks. Take the time to clean up any stray dead branches that might wander into your pictures. Explore above the bridge along the stream too, there's lots to be found.

One of my favorite shots here is to cross the bridge and then just turn around. A vine maple overhangs the bridge and always seems to be glowing with backlighting. It makes a great trail shot.

There are lots of forest shots and small flowers to photograph along this trail too, so keep your eyes open.

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park, WA

Once you reach Sol Duc Falls you'll see all the possibilities. You can photograph from either end of the bridge for different angles. The far end is often difficult because of the mist coming off the falls.

Cross the bridge and turn left for views along the railing. At the end of the railing, just below the very end, you'll see a tree with room next to it for just one photographer. This is a classic spot from which to shoot. Grab your wide angle lens. If you have a shooting partner with you, have him or her go stand in the middle of the bridge. For my workshops I always wear my red fleece jacket for just this purpose.

Usually I recommend, like I did above, that the best conditions for waterfall photography are when it's overcast or rainy. This waterfall has an exception. At certain times, that is.

Rainbow over Sol Duc Falls

Rainbow over Sol Duc Falls

If you're visiting in the summer, between about mid to late-May and mid-July, try getting to the falls on a clear morning by about 7 a.m. so you can get familiar with the location and the have time to get set up.

This needs a clear morning. As the sun starts to reach over the trees to the east, a rainbow will form over the waterfall. This usually starts around 7:30 or so (depending on the date) and will last until after 8 a.m.
It. Is. Spectacular.

By the time eight o'clock rolls around you'll have to start fighting the contrast in the trees near and behind the falls.

I usually try to first shoot sunrise from Meldrim Point and then make my way straight up to Sol Duc Falls. Don't linger on the trail too long (especially at that enticing stream at the half-way mark) or you run the risk of missing the rainbow.

Workshops

Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park, WA

Lake Crescent Lodge, Olympic National Park, WA

This trip to Lake Crescent for sunrise and then on to Sol Duc Falls is always a favorite with my workshop groups. I suspect this is really because we always go to the Lake Crescent Lodge for breakfast afterward. Just a guess.

Every year I lead a photo workshop to Olympic National Park. It's one of my very favorite workshop locations, and not just because it's such a short drive home for me afterwards. If you're interested in joining me for one of my Olympic workshops (or any others, for that matter), visit my workshops website at workshops.barbeephoto.com.

More information

For more details on all these areas and more, see my book "The Photographer's Guide to Puget Sound and Northwest Washington."

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2 responses to “Photo Guide to Olympic National Park – Lake Crescent and Sol Duc

  1. Hi Rod,

    Hey, I wanted to thank you for all the detailed information you supplied through your website! I’m a full pro landscape/fine art photographer but I happen to live on the “other side”.. Connecticut to be exact. The sheer distance in miles makes it a necessity to research to no end to make the most of my time.

    It’s amazing, so many photographers are envious of me living in New England yet I prefer to travel as often a possible to photograph the American West. I’ve been able to assist photographers from the left coast that traveled east to shoot in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Acadia N.P. I’m thrilled to be able to take advantage of your photo guides.

    I just booked reservations for my May ’17 photo sessions in Olympic. Thanks to your experience within the peninsula I was better able to determine the best time to visit the coastal region and rain forest. It looks like Washington State will become pretty familiar territory for me over the next few years!

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