The Eagle Creek Trail is easily one of the most popular hikes in the Columbia River Gorge and maybe in all of Oregon. Its close proximity, just a 45 minute drive from Portland, makes it easy to access and draws in tourists and locals alike. The hike is perhaps best known for its extreme cliff exposure and the many, many waterfalls that can easily be seen from the trail. It is typically completed in an out and back format and varies in length and difficulty based on how much time the visitor wants to spend on the trail.
While popular, the Eagle Creek trail is no walk in the park. Bring adequate hiking shoes or boots that have been well broken in and used before. Blisters are not uncommon on this hike, even at the shorter distances, due to the rough nature of the trail. If you enjoy swimming and it is warm enough, you may also want to pack a swimsuit as Punchbowl falls offers a chilly but amazing swimming hole. As the hike can take longer than anticipated, be sure to pack plenty of water and food. Also, the trail follows Eagle Creek through a deep canyon and temperatures can drop very quickly so on the more mild days be sure to bring extra layers. Lastly, do no forget your camera! This is one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Oregon.
What not to Bring
Do NOT bring young children or hyperactive dogs on this hike. There are areas of cliffs with high exposure that can be incredibly dangerous. People have died hiking this trail by simply not paying attention. If you have a dog and want to bring the dog along it may be a good idea to use a harness and leave very early in the morning when there are fewer people on the trail.
The Eagle Creek Trail head is located off of Highway 84 about 40 miles East of Portland and is only accessible from Exit 41 heading east on Highway 84. Coming from Portland, take Highway 84 East and right after you go through a tunnel you will take Exit 41. Stay right the entire way following the creek and you will soon find yourself at the trail head. Coming from Hood River, you will have to take exit 40 at Bonneville Dam and then double back heading East Bound and take exit 41 following the directions above. When parking, note that there is a $5.00 day use fee that must be paid at the trail head and placed visibly on your vehicles dash.
It is important to note just how popular this trail can be. During peak spring and summer months, parking will fill up and get so bad that you can end up hiking an extra half mile or so just to get to the trail head. Our suggestion is to arrive EARLY before 8:00am. Not only will you be sure to secure a parking spot, but you will have most of the trail to yourself making it safer and more enjoyable. During the busy season, Tunnel Falls can be incredibly dangerous due to the high number of people hanging out on the small trail carved into the cliff. Again, this can be avoided by arriving before most people are out of bed.
The Eagle Creek Trail can be done in varying distances as it is a basic out and back hike, and you can turn around at any point. Typical hikes, h0wever, usually have a destination with one of the many attractions along the trail.
An excellent short 3.8 mile round trip hike is to upper and lower Punchbowl Falls. The hike will be short but still provides some amazing views and lots to see along the way. Start out hiking and you will slowly rise up from the creek bed along the edge of the cliff where at various locations there will be a cable to hold onto. After about a mile and a half or so, you will come to an area where you can veer off for a short side trek to view Metlako Falls. This is definitely worth it, and the cut off is short and won’t take you too far off the main trail. Next you will be working your way toward Punchbowl Falls, also referred to as Upper Punchbowl Falls, which is a 36 foot waterfall that majestically dumps into what looks like a large bowl carved into the canyon. Hiking to the foot of the waterfall is impossible, however, for those brave enough to endure the cold water, you can swim up to the base of it and hang out in the “punch bowl”. Just below Punchbowl Falls is what is referred to as Lower Punchbowl Falls, a much smaller 15 foot waterfall that hikers like to jump off of into the cool water below. Both falls are great for photos, though it can be hard to see Upper Punchbowl Falls when the water is high. Tip: for a better viewpoint, head back up to the trail and hike about 400 yards up stream until you get to a spot looking down on Punchbowl Falls. This is a great area for photos or a snack.
If you keep going beyond Punchbowl Falls you will start working your way toward High Bridge. The trail will begin to rise up again from the creek and soon you will be elevated nearly 150 feet up on the edge of the cliffs navigating a very narrow trail. Feel free to use the hand rail cables bolted into the edge of the cliff and keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. This is where the trail can get tricky if you brought a dog or children. Soon, you will come to High Bridge, a bridge that crosses a narrow chasm of the creek and looks down nearly 200 feet to the water. This is a great spot for photos and can be challenging for those who are afraid of heights.
Tunnel Falls is probably the most popular destination on the Eagle Creek Trail even though it is a strenuous 12 mile round trip hike. Tunnel Falls is roughly 175 feet high and as the name states, has a tunnel that was carved behind the waterfall where the trail passes. This, again, is another great point for photos however the area around Tunnel Falls tends to get very crowded and can be dangerous as the trail is very narrow and sits high above the creek bottom. A fall here would be deadly. Most people hike to Tunnel Falls and turn back however they miss one last waterfall just around the bend. Keep hiking about two minutes past tunnel falls until you come to Twister Falls. Twister Falls is a two tiered, 200 foot waterfall. Just past Twister Falls is a great spot to sit and have a snack before you head back down the trail.
Other Helpful Links
Due to its popularity there is no shortage of information on the Eagle Creek Hike. If you are looking for more on the hike please explore the links below as they offer highly detailed write-ups on the hike.
- Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls, Northwest Hiker, includes photos of what to expect along the way
- Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls – Portland Hikers