Images provided by Goodrows Adventures.
Welcome to the scenic wonders of the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge.
Nestled in the heart of nature, this picturesque trail offers breathtaking views of creeks & steep cliffs, captivating waterfalls, and a chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the great outdoors.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a nature enthusiast seeking shorter day hikes or longer multi-day trips, this informative blog post will provide the essential guidelines to make the most of your experience along the Eagle Creek Trail.
History of the Eagle Creek Trail
The Eagle Creek Trail weaves through the rugged landscapes of the Columbia River Gorge, a place with a rich history spanning thousands of years. This incredible trail has served as a vital lifeline, witnessed Native American communities, industrial endeavors, and now stands as a cherished natural gem.
Long before European settlers arrived, the region was inhabited by Indigenous peoples, primarily the Chinook, Multnomah, and Wasco tribes. These Native American communities thrived along the Columbia River, utilizing its resources and establishing trade routes through the gorge. They respected and revered the land’s natural beauty, understanding its significance and intertwining their cultures with its offerings.
In the late 18th century, the arrival of European explorers and traders brought significant changes to the area. During their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1805-1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition encountered the Columbia River Gorge and the compelling Eagle Creek. This encounter marked the first known documentation of the region by Westerners who highlighted its natural splendor.
During the 19th century, the Oregon Trail brought pioneers and settlers seeking new opportunities in the West. The Eagle Creek area became a vital thoroughfare, connecting the Columbia River and the fertile lands further inland. This trail (although not formally established) provided a route for those seeking a new life and the potential for wealth in the burgeoning Oregon Territory.
As the 19th century progressed, industrial development took hold in the gorge. Timber and hydroelectric industries became dominant forces In the late 1800s and early 1900s. Logging operations sprung up, harvesting the lush forests that blanketed the landscape. The Eagle Creek Trail then served as a conduit for transporting timber and connecting the surrounding communities to booming industries.
However, the exploitation of the gorge’s resources raised conservation concerns among concerned citizens. In response to mounting pressure, the federal government established the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in 1986, aiming to preserve and protect this unique landscape. The Eagle Creek Trail became an integral part of the conservation effort, allowing visitors to experience the area’s pristine beauty while ensuring its long-term sustainability.
Today, the Eagle Creek Trail is a testament to the harmonious coexistence of natural wonders and human history. Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts traverse its picturesque path, marveling at the cascading waterfalls, lush forests, and dramatic sheer cliffs. The trail provides a window into the region’s past and reminds the ongoing need to appreciate, protect, and conserve our natural treasures for future generations.
Key Facts About Eagle Creek Trail
Size: Columbia River Gorge, which encompasses the Eagle Creek Trail, is approximately 292,500 acres (118,383 hectares).
Number of visitors: The Columbia River Gorge area, including Eagle Creek Trail, receives around 3-4 million visitors annually.
Established on: The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which encompasses the Eagle Creek Trail, was established by the U.S. Congress in 1986.
Lowest point: Trailhead near Bonneville Dam at about 50 feet (15 meters) above sea level.
Highest point: Wahtum Lake at around 3,900 feet (1,189 meters) above sea level.
The Eagle Creek Trail spans about 25.8 miles (41 kilometers), with an elevation gain of around 4,829 feet (1,472 m). The trailhead is located just off Interstate 84 and is easily accessible for day-trip visitors. For those looking for a longer trek, there are options to continue onto the extended portion of the trail that leads up to Wahtum Lake.
One of the most memorable aspects of the Eagle Creek Trail is the waterfalls. Within the first couple miles, hikers will encounter the famous Punchbowl Falls, a large pool of crystal-clear water surrounded by moss-covered rocks. Visitors will also pass by other beautiful waterfalls like the Tunnel Falls and Loowit Falls as they continue down the trail.
In addition to the waterfalls, hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Columbia River Gorge. On clear days, visitors can see Mount Hood and Mount Adams in the distance. The trail is also home to diverse flora and fauna, with opportunities to spot native plants and animals such as Western Red Cedars and Black Bear.
The Eagle Creek Trail is well-marked and well-maintained, with several trail bridges and switchbacks to aid the ascent. However, it is crucial to note that some sections of the trail have steep drop-offs, and hikers should exercise caution. As a popular trail, hikers should also prepare to encounter crowds on weekends and during peak season.
Trail Difficulty and Safety Precautions:
The Eagle Creek Trail offers a captivating hiking experience through the mesmerizing landscapes of the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest. While it boasts breathtaking scenery and remarkable waterfalls, hikers should be aware of the trail’s varying difficulty levels and the potential challenges that they might encounter.
The Trail presents a moderate to challenging hiking experience, varying in difficulty as it traverses through diverse terrain. Hikers should come prepared with appropriate footwear, sufficient water, and snacks. In addition, hikers should also be cautious in steeper sections, on rocky terrain, and when crossing over streams.
The adventure begins at the Eagle Creek Trailhead, where hikers should display a valid Northwest Forest Pass or purchase a day pass. From there, the trail gradually ascends, initially passing through dense forests of old-growth trees, where moss-laden branches create an enchanting atmosphere. This section is relatively moderate, allowing hikers to ease into the journey.
Continuing along the trail, hikers will reach the Punch Bowl Falls Overlook, a popular stopping point. Here, the trek becomes slightly steeper and rockier, demanding more effort. While the path remains well-maintained, you must watch your footing and be cautious of potential loose rocks or exposed areas.
As the trail progresses into the heart of the Columbia Gorge, it enters the East Fork Eagle Creek area, characterized by the pristine beauty of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. This section presents some moderate challenges, with occasional steep inclines and narrow passages along the edge of Eagle Creek Canyon. Hikers should be cautious and mindful of their surroundings, especially where the trail crosses rocky terrain or scree slopes.
One of the highlights of the Eagle Creek Trail is the iconic Tunnel Falls, a majestic waterfall where the trail leads through a tunnel carved into the basalt cliffs. This section may involve climbing over some downed trees or navigating narrow spaces, requiring agility and balance.
Beyond Tunnel Falls, the trail continues to showcase the awe-inspiring beauty of the region. Hikers will encounter other major waterfalls, such as Twister Falls and Metlako Falls, each offering their unique charm. The trail meanders alongside Eagle Creek, offering picturesque views of the rushing waters and occasional opportunities to cross small streams throughout the journey.
In some areas, designated spaces are available for hikers to rest, take in the scenery, and have a picnic. These spots are enjoyable, allowing hikers to recharge before continuing their trek.
Hikers must follow directions and signage along the trail and stay on the designated path to avoid straying into restricted or dangerous areas. Also, while dogs are allowed on the Eagle Creek Trail, they must be kept on a leash at all times to preserve the natural habitat and ensure the safety of other hikers.
Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike and Weather
The Eagle Creek Trail offers an unforgettable day hiking experience throughout the year. From the gushing waterfalls to the fascinating viewpoints, each season brings its own charm, unique atmosphere, and challenges.
Spring in Eagle Creek is characterized by cool temperatures and increasing rainfall. Daytime temperatures can range from 50°F to 70°F degrees Fahrenheit (10°C to 21°C), with occasional cooler or warmer days. Rainfall is also common during this time of the year.
As spring unfolds, the Eagle Creek Trail undergoes a bright transformation. During this season, hikers can witness the rejuvenation of nature as wildflowers bloom and the surrounding forest awakens from its winter slumber.
Another highlight along the trail is the awe-inspiring Punchbowl Falls, where the water cascades down into the creek bed below. The cool, misty air from the falls provides a refreshing respite on warmer days. But, hikers should prepare for potentially muddy sections of the trail, especially in low-lying areas or near creek crossings.
Summers are generally dry and warm. Daytime temperatures range from 70°F to 90°F (21°C to 32°C). However, temperatures occasionally exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), especially during heat waves.
Hikers can expect longer daylight hours and a dryer trail, but it’s necessary to carry sufficient water and protect oneself from the sun. The dense canopy of the old-growth forest provides respite from the heat, offering a shaded hiking environment.
Summer attracts hundreds of hikers who prefer to visit the majestic High Bridge, offering breathtaking views of the deep canyon and basalt cliffs. The round trip from the trailhead to the stunning Wahtum Lake and back also showcases the trail’s diverse beauty.
The Fish Hatchery and the East Rim are also other popular destinations among visitors in summer.
Fall brings cooler temperatures and changing colors to the Columbia River Gorge. Daytime temperatures range from 50°F to 70°F (10°C to 21°C) in September and gradually decrease throughout the season.
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures begin to cool, the Eagle Creek Trail becomes adorned with the vibrant colors of autumn. The Pacific Northwest’s fall foliage adds a magical touch to the trail’s already stunning landscape. Also, hikers will be treated to breathtaking views and the occasional sighting of massive boulders while hiking through scree slopes and along Wy’east Creek.
Metlako Falls, with its impressive drop and surrounding autumnal hues, is another sight not to miss in fall. Two streams intersecting near Big John create a tranquil spot, perfect for appreciating nature’s beauty. But be prepared for potential rainfall and slippery trails in some sections.
Winters in the Columbia River Gorge are relatively mild but can be wet and occasionally snowy. Daytime temperatures range from 40°F to 50°F (4°C to 10°C, with colder temperatures at higher elevations. Rainfall is frequent, and snowfall can occur, especially in January and February.
The Eagle Creek Trail transforms into a serene and peaceful wonderland in winter. While the trail may be less frequented, you need the appropriate gear to ensure safe passage due to potential icy or snowy conditions. Here is a day hiking checklist for more recommendations.
The hike along Eagle Creek in winter also offers a unique perspective, with icy formations adorning the creek’s edges. The self-issued trail passes remain necessary, allowing hikers to enjoy the tranquility of the trail while being mindful of the pristine surroundings. Dogs are allowed on the tracks but must be on a leash, and you should also check local regulations for any seasonal restrictions.
See the weather forecast before starting your journey.
You need the right gear to ensure comfort, safety, and enjoyment when preparing to hike on the captivating Eagle Creek Trail. Always remember specific challenges along the trail, such as steep sections, cable handrails, and heights above the creek.
Here’s a list of recommended gear to consider when embarking on your adventure through the stunning landscapes of the Hatfield Wilderness and the famous Eagle Creek Trail:
- Hiking Boots: Invest in a sturdy pair of hiking boots that provide ankle support and have good tread. Additionally, proper footwear is crucial for stability and comfort on uneven, rocky, and muddy trails.
- Daypack: Carry a well-fitted daypack to store essential items like water, snacks, extra layers of clothing, a first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a map of the area. It’s always essential to stay hydrated and nourished during your hike.
- Hat and Sunglasses: Protect yourself from the sun’s rays by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. These will shield your face and eyes from direct sunlight, especially on hot days when shade may be limited.
- Layered Clothing: Dress in layers to adapt to changing weather conditions along the trail. The temperature can vary depending on the time of day and the elevation. Be prepared for cooler temperatures in shaded areas or higher elevations.
- Rain Gear: Given the Pacific Northwest’s reputation for rainfall, it’s wise to carry a waterproof jacket or poncho and pack a lightweight, compact umbrella to stay dry during unexpected showers.
- Trail Permits: Check if you need any wilderness permits or recreational passes for your hike. Some sections of the Eagle Creek Trail, especially those within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, may have specific permit regulations. Obtain the free permit from the appropriate land management agencies or self-issue them if required.
- Navigation Tools: Bring a detailed map or guidebook of the trail to help you navigate and stay on the designated path. Familiarize yourself with key landmarks, such as Tunnel Falls, the Punchbowl Falls area, High Bridge, and the Bonneville Dam exit. You can also check out our guide on navigating trails to understand what is required.
- Trekking Poles: Consider using trekking poles to provide stability and reduce strain on your joints, particularly during steep sections or when crossing the creek on slippery rocks.
- Dog Gear (if applicable): Pack a leash, waste bags, and a collapsible water bowl if you want to bring your furry companion along. Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be kept on a leash and under control at all times.
Leave No Trace Principles:
When hiking the Eagle Creek Trail, it’s necessary to be aware of your surroundings and take necessary safety precautions.
The trail passes through diverse terrain, from steep sections with cable handrails to water crossings over slippery rocks. There are also wildlife encounters to be mindful of, such as bears, cougars, and rattlesnakes. It’s also essential to check the river conditions or weather warnings before beginning your hike.
Here are some guidelines for safe and responsible hiking in the area:
Wildlife Encounters: Be aware of your surroundings and watch for wild animals while hiking. If you encounter a bear or other large animal along the trail, stay calm and do not approach it. Give the animal plenty of space and retreat in the opposite direction if necessary. It is also essential to keep dogs on a leash at all times, as they may unintentionally provoke an unwelcome reaction from wild animals.
Water Safety: The Eagle Creek Trail passes over several streams and rivers, so hikers should be aware of water safety measures before crossing them. Be mindful of slippery rocks and swift currents that can pose a risk for inexperienced hikers. Wear wading boots or sandals with a sturdy sole to provide traction on wet surfaces. It’s also wise to bring a rope and carabiner to help you cross without slipping or falling into deeper river sections.
Wilderness Etiquette & Leave No Trace Principles: Always practice ethical hiking etiquette when exploring the Eagle Creek Trail. Stick to designated trails and avoid shortcuts that could damage fragile vegetation. Dispose of garbage properly by carrying out the trash or disposing it at designated stations along the route. Respect wildlife and other hikers by keeping noise to a minimum, avoiding loud music, and refraining from feeding or disturbing animals. Finally, Leave No Trace by reversing your steps at crossings and leaving the area as you found it.
Where to Stay: Camping and Overnight Stays
Camping is a fantastic option for those seeking to extend their adventure and immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of Eagle Creek Trail. Here’s a guide to camping options, permits, and nearby amenities to enhance your experience:
Eagle Creek Campground:
Located near the trailhead, Eagle Creek Campground offers a picturesque camping spot with easy access to the trail. The campground provides a serene setting nestled among towering trees and is an excellent base for exploring the nearby wilderness. But note that the 2017 Eagle Creek fire affected the campground, and its reopening status should be verified with the Forest Service.
For a more immersive camping experience, wilderness camping is available within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness along the Eagle Creek Trail. However, you must have a free self-issued wilderness permit for overnight stays. These permits can be obtained at the trailhead, allowing you to camp at designated sites along the trail.
Tenas Camp and Wy’east Camp:
Tenas Camp and Wy’east Camp are popular designated camping areas along the trail. Tenas Camp is approximately 5.5 miles (8.8 km) from the trailhead, while Wy’east Camp is around 9.5 miles (15 km) away. These campsites provide a peaceful atmosphere surrounded by nature’s beauty, with Tenas Camp offering a stunning view of Tunnel Falls.
Camping Restrictions and Considerations:
- Remember that fire restrictions apply depending on current camping conditions and regulations. So, check with the Forest Service for any fire-related restrictions and bans.
- Practice Leave No Trace principles, ensuring you leave your campsite and the surrounding area clean and undisturbed.
- Be mindful of the fragile ecosystems and wildlife in the area. Store food correctly and respect the natural habitat.
Nearby Amenities and Accommodations:
For those seeking additional amenities or accommodations, Cascade Locks serves as a nearby gateway to the Eagle Creek Trail. The town offers various lodging options, including hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast establishments. This allows hikers and campers to rest and recharge before or after their adventure.
Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options
It’s essential to plan your journey and transportation options early to embark on your adventure along the stunning Eagle Creek Trail.
Here’s a guide on how to get to the trail and explore its wonders:
The closest airports to Eagle Creek Trail are Portland International Airport (PDX) and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). PDX is the more convenient option, located approximately 43 miles (69 km) west of the trailhead. SEA is farther away, situated 188 miles (303 km) to the north.
From Portland International Airport (PDX):
- Rent a Car: Renting a car from the airport is a popular choice, offering flexibility and convenience. From PDX, take I-205 S to I-84 E. Follow I-84 E for about 36 miles (58 km), then Exit 41 for Eagle Creek. Merge onto the Columbia River Highway, and the trailhead parking area will be on your right.
- Public Transportation: Take the MAX light rail from the airport to downtown Portland. From there, transfer to a Greyhound bus or other public transportation to Cascade Locks. Once there, you can arrange for local or a shuttle service to the trailhead.
From Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA):
- Rent a Car: Renting a car is the most convenient option from SEA. Take I-5 S to I-205 S, then follow the signs for I-84 E towards Portland. Continue on I-84 E for approximately 182 miles (292 km) until Exit 41 for Eagle Creek. Take the exit, merge onto Historic Columbia River Highway, and the trailhead parking area will be on your right. But you need a valid recreation pass for parking. Usually $5/vehicle/day.
- Public Transportation: Take the Link Light Rail to downtown Seattle from SEAe, then take an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus to Portland. Once in Portland, follow the directions mentioned above from PDX to reach the trailhead.
Getting Around Eagle Creek Trail:
Once you arrive at the Eagle Creek Trail parking area, you can begin your hike into the park. The trail enters the scenic wilderness area, passing through picturesque sections like the West Forks and Wahtum Lake, ultimately leading to the famous
High Bridge and Beyond.
You need a free self-issued permit at the trailhead for day hiking within the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Also, you must follow the regulations and guidelines set by the Forest Service.
While hiking along the trail, pay attention to signage and follow directions carefully, especially when crossing creeks or encountering areas with steep drops. If hiking with small children, its necessary to ensure they are closely supervised, particularly around potentially hazardous areas.
To fully explore the trail, hike in a round-trip manner, and turn to your desired point of return. Plan your hike according to your fitness level, the time available, and the landmarks you wish to visit, such as the iconic Punchbowl Falls.
Remember to carry any necessary passes, such as the Northwest Forest Pass, if required for parking or access to specific areas within the park.
For more pictures and impressions from the trail Goodrows Adventures provided us with a picture gallery you can look through below:
The Eagle Creek Trail is a must-visit destination for any hiker or outdoor enthusiast. With its stunning waterfalls, breathtaking views, and accessibility for various skill levels, it is no wonder why it is a popular destination year-round. Whether you are a day-tripper or a thru-hiker, the Eagle Creek Trail offers something for everyone.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your hiking boots and head to the Columbia River Gorge for an unforgettable adventure.
Check out our National Park Guides section for more exciting destinations like this.