The Palouse region, spanning across Washington and Idaho, boasts of an awe-inspiring landscape that has captivated the hearts of photographers for several decades. It's a perfect amalgamation of rolling hills, vast fields of golden wheat, and a diverse range of subjects that cater to the artistic eye of photographers at all levels.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into the Palouse's natural beauty and explore why it should be on every photographer's bucket list.

During May and June, the hillsides come alive with a plethora of greens and yellows, courtesy of the crops planted earlier in the year. As summer sets in, the landscape transforms into a warm blend of gold and brown, with freshly plowed fields and harvested wheat adorning the vista. In winter, the hills are blanketed with snow, making them appear like giant white marshmallows, calling for a warm cup of cocoa. The Palouse's year-round diversity of color makes it an unsurprising choice for photographers seeking to capture the perfect shot, making it one of the most widely photographed locations in the Pacific Northwest.

It's no surprise that the Palouse has been designated as one of the Seven Wonders of Washington State. Its unparalleled natural beauty, diverse topography, and unique subject matter make it an exceptional destination for photographers.

The Palouse area in Washington state is considered the Tuscany of America.
Fill your home with fine art prints from The Palouse. Palouse Light. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

How The Palouse Was Formed

Approximately 15,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, an ice dam towering over 2000 feet blocked the Columbia and Clark Fork Rivers. This blockade led to the formation of Glacial Lake Missoula, which was even larger than the combined size of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. As more water filled up behind the dam, the pressure on the water at the bottom of the dam increased, causing the temperature to drop below freezing point. Eventually, cracks began to form, and water rushed through, creating heat that further widened the cracks. This process repeated itself until the dam broke, unleashing a catastrophic flood that engulfed Washington and Oregon.

There is some controversy surrounding the number of times this event happened. While some scientists claim that it occurred up to 40 times, others suggest only once. Regardless, the Palouse region owes its existence to these floods. Today, we can be grateful that they no longer occur as some researchers estimate that the maximum flow of these floods reached 386 million cubic feet per second.

Over thousands of years, glacial movement during the last ice age eroded the bedrock, leaving behind fine dust and silt. For the next 10,000 years, as the ice receded, the wind carried the dust and silt, creating the distinctive loess hills of the Palouse. These hills are incredibly fertile, making the area ideal for farming. Wheat, barley, lentils, and chickpeas are some of the crops grown in the region, making the Palouse one of the richest farmlands in the country.

Additionally, the Palouse region is home to numerous wineries. If you are traveling with a significant other who is not interested in photography, you can drop them off at a winery while you go and capture stunning shots of the landscape. This way, you won't feel pressured to rush your photography sessions, and your partner can enjoy their time as well.

The Palouse is one of the seven wonders of Washington State.

Driving Hwy 23 on the way to the Palouse, I came around a corner and this barn stood out. I had to photograph it. Not all photographs have to be at sunrise or sunset. The red barn, green grass, blue sky, and white clouds make a perfect middle of the day photograph in the Palouse. Limited edition of 100 prints available.

Why Is It Called The Palouse?

The origin of the name Palouse remains a mystery, but the most popular theory suggests that it was derived from the French-Canadian fur traders who altered the name of the Palus Indian tribe. They used the word "Pelouse" which translates to "short and thick grass" in English. Over time, the word "Pelouse" evolved into "Palouse." Nevertheless, the actual origin of the name remains uncertain. Regardless of its etymology, the Palouse region is a vast area encompassing parts of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. Once you set foot in the Palouse, the meaning of "short and thick grass" or grasslands becomes apparent. The landscape is filled with rolling fields of green and yellow, which extend as far as the eye can see. However, the view can be obstructed by the tall hills, and the roads are often located at the bottom of these hills.

The Right Light

The Palouse is a photographer's paradise, thanks to its exceptional lighting conditions. The area is renowned for its warm, diffused light, which creates remarkable contrasts and highlights. The best time to capture the stunning Palouse landscape is during the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky. At this time, the light produces long shadows and rich, vibrant colors, adding depth and character to every shot. If you're a photographer seeking the ideal lighting conditions, it's best to visit the Palouse in spring or fall when the weather is mild, and the days are longer. It's also one of the few places that photography in the middle of the day works as well. The contrast between the blue skies and green or yellow fields makes for nice images.

Abundant Subject Matter

Beyond its breathtaking landscapes and remarkable lighting, the Palouse presents an abundance of photographic opportunities. Photographers can capture a range of subject matter, from picturesque barns and windmills to abandoned homesteads and undulating hills. The diversity of subjects ensures that there's something for everyone, whether you're an amateur or a professional photographer. Additionally, for those interested in wildlife photography, the Palouse is home to various animals, including deer, coyotes, and birds of prey.

Photographer's Community

The Palouse boasts a vibrant community of photographers who share a passion for the region. Many of these individuals have been frequenting the area for years, cultivating relationships with local farmers and landowners along the way. This tight-knit community presents a wonderful opportunity for photographers to connect, collaborate, and learn from each other's experiences. By joining this community, photographers can expand their networks and gain valuable insights into the region's photographic possibilities.

When is the best time to visit the Palouse in Washington State.

While most people go to the Palouse in the late spring, late summer offers amazing yellow and brown colors. This occurs right before the harvest of the fields. The gold light washes across the golden fields just before the sun sets causing shadows to dance across the landscape. The view from Steptoe butte is one of those locations where clear skies are the best. The light dances across the fields creating contrast between the light and dark. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

Planning Your Trip

Planning a trip to The Palouse can be a bit overwhelming, given the size of the region and the number of locations to choose from. To get the most out of your trip, we recommend the following steps:

  • Research the area and decide which locations you would like to visit.
  • Contact local farmers and landowners to ask for permission to shoot on their property.
  • Plan your trip around the best light, taking into account the time of year and the weather conditions.
  • Pack appropriately for the conditions, including comfortable footwear and clothing for hiking and exploring.
  • Consider joining a photography tour or workshop to maximize your time and get the most out of your experience.

Where To Photograph In The Palouse

The Palouse offers many great spots for photography, especially during sunrise and sunset when the light is at its best. Steptoe Butte is a popular location for its panoramic view of the hills and contrasting colors. However, photographers can find interesting subject matter throughout the region, such as old barns, windmills, lone trees, and even wildlife. It's best to explore the area by driving the roads and discovering new locations. But it's important to be cautious and aware of the weather and road conditions, especially when it's raining or when driving on gravel roads that can turn into wet clay and cause vehicles to get stuck or slide off the road.

Why photographing the Palouse is a must for all landscape photographers.

A lone silver barn in the Palouse region of Washington State during the golden hour. This panoramic photograph was taken from Steptoe Butte as the gold light washes across the rolling hills of southeast Washington State in early summer. Limited edition of 100 prints available.


For photographers, the Palouse is a truly stunning area in the United States. Often referred to as the Tuscany of the U.S., it offers a beautiful landscape that is a photographer's playground. The rolling loess hills covered in wheat, canola, chickpeas, and unplanted brown dirt make for stunning photographs. The colors of the hills during sunrises and sunsets create a beautiful contrast, while the green fields against the blue sky in the middle of the day are also a sight to behold. The old barns in the area make for perfect subjects for fine art photography. If you ever have the opportunity, take a drive through the roads of southeast Washington in the late spring or early summer to witness the beauty of the Palouse for yourself. For inspiration, check out my premium fine art Palouse Gallery, and you'll be inspired to make the trip. For inspiration, check out my premium fine art Palouse Gallery and you will be inspired to make the trip.

Rolling hills of the Palouse are great photography subjects.

The glow of sunrise in the Palouse, Washington while standing on Steptoe Butte. The sunlight cast a warm glow as it rises across the fields with 4 silos and a lone tree. The warm light, the darker shadows all combine to create the contrast of light and dark in the Tuscany of Washington. Limited edition of 100 prints available.

the sun creating a starburst against a tree in the Palouse next to Steptoe butte.

Just as the sun rises in the Palouse and sends golden light across the landscape, the sun creates a starburst with the tree. The glow of the morning light washes across the fields of the Palouse in Eastern Washington. I packed up my gear to head to a different location before the sun came up but figured I should stay and see what the light does. One of the best decisions I have made or an image. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

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