The signature trailhead for the Columbia River Gorge is the Eagle Creek Trail. This trail is famous for its lush forest scenery and a hiking path that takes you through a waterfall. Yes, through a waterfall! Many trails offer views of the falls but nothing quite like this. Walking through what is known as “Tunnel Falls” gives you the exciting sounds of rushing water, the breathtaking views from the elevation gain, and the elemental feel that Oregon has to offer.
Speaking of the elements, be sure to check the trail conditions before planning this hike. The trail is located in an area where icy weather is very possible, and, as a polar opposite, forest fires. You can see the trail conditions in the link below:
Eagle Creek Pass Weather Conditions
This trail is at risk of natural storms, high amounts of ice buildup, and forest fires, so it’s best to check the closures notifications as well. You may check the trail closure announcements here:
National Park Service Notice of Trail Closures and Conditions: Eagle Creek
Hiking the Eagle Creek trail can be a very short trip of just 4.2 miles if you’re only doing the quick version of the hike. If you are wanting a quick, but moderate-difficulty day hike, this is your place to go. However, many people travel to Oregon to see the Columbia River Gorge because the the trip can be extended to a multi-day backpacking hike of 26.6 miles.
This is what brings me here. I currently live in the Midwest, so I wouldn’t be itching to travel to a hike that’s not worth the time. Believe me when I say, if you’re into thru-hiking and want a good training area, or if you simply want a trail that’s not packed with people, and it also offers the capability to setup camp in the wilderness, then Eagle Creek will not let you down.
How To Get There
If you’ve read my other post about planning a backpacking trip, then you’d know I highly suggest booking an Airbnb or hotel stay within 3 hours from your destination. In the morning it’ll be much easier to drive that final bit if you’ve travelled by car. Backpacking can be one of those things that make for less sleep depending on what type of environment you end up dealing with when you’re spending the night with Mother Nature. So, personally, I like to start off on the right foot *queue applause for corny joke*.
If you travel by plane. Portland is where you’ll be flying into anyhow, so I still offer the same perspective. Sometimes, my suggestion would change based on driving or flying, but, this is not one of those times.
For example: if driving to the Rocky Mountains, my wife and I found a nice little cabin in Stratton and also the city of Castle Rock was quite beautiful. If flying, then Denver is the place to stay.
I don’t get any commission for this, I just want my readers to know that there are options out there. I’ve stayed in some Airbnbs that were really nice, and I’ve stayed in some that were very sketchy. So, if you don’t mind spending a little extra, sometimes a nice hotel is a better pick in my personal opinion. Here’s a quick glance at what the prices look like per night in Portland, OR on Airbnb:
Once you’ve planned your stay, you can get to Eagle Creek via Uber, Lyft, Shuttle, or driving. There is a parking fee if you park at the trailhead. There is also an Eagle Creek campsite that you can utilize for a fee. If you have the National Park Pass, then it’s free to enter the campsite, but you’ll still need to pay your parking fee per car. Do not attempt to park along the roadside or you will be towed.
How To Complete The Hike
You’ve got options:
It’s 4 miles to Punchbowl Falls
It’s 6.5 miles to High Bridge
It’s 12 miles to Tunnel Falls
It’s 26.6 miles to Wahtum Lake
The thing about The Columbia River Gorge is that waterfalls are concentrated in this area. There is a five mile stretch that contains 13 waterfalls. The highest waterfall available will be Twister Falls and it rises to 140 feet. So, if you’re looking for amazing waterfalls to hike to, this is one of the places to be!
Completing this hike will require a couple of days so be prepared to setup camp. Wilderness campsites are not pre-plotted here, so if you hike past the 12 mile mark you’ll likely be able to find an area to yourself. There are crowds at the trailhead if you go during “busy hours” but as you hike further out they start to thin out until you find yourself only running into other hikers every now and then. Wilderness camping truly requires you to be prepared so if you need additional information on this you can read my blog post about planning your first backpacking trip.
Reminder: ice crystals form easily in the humidity out here. If the temperatures are expected to drop below freezing while you’re out on the trail, be prepared for it!
For safety, there are cables to hold onto on the high-drop off areas. It’s rainy and muddy in the Pacific Northwest, so watch your step! Trekking poles may get in the way of hanging onto the cable system when needed. A hiking pole may be more trail-friendly in this particular setting.
There are six campsites throughout the trail. You can find the main one here, along with links to the additional, smaller campgrounds available.
Side note: this is an out and back trail.
What Gear To Take
I am very fond of traveling light. That includes when I’m backpacking. I don’t just travel light, I travel ultralight. It’s really the best way to backpack and hike. You can conserve energy, make it much further between rest areas, and need for less water.
I have a guide on ultralight equipment. Click here to read the post.
Eagle Creek Park Maps
Lastly, I want to post a couple of trail maps for you. These maps are just of the public park areas but are useful when you’re in the tourist-area.
Before closing out this post I want to mention the AllTrails app has the capability to download routes before going. This allows you to pull up your location and see where you need to go to get back to the trail if you become lost, even without cell phone reception.
If you’re looking for a beautiful escape into the wild, Eagle Creek can definitely offer you an amazing experience.
Hopefully, this blog article has helped you with getting more info on Eagle Creek to better plan your stay and help you to have an enjoyable hiking experience.