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Eagle Creek Trail Guide

Eagle Creek Trail Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Eagle Creek Trail
  • How to Hike to Punchbowl Falls, Tunnel Falls, and Wahtum Lake
  • Parking Permits for Eagle Creek Trail
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)4.2 miles (6.8 km)
Other Options 6.4 to High Bridge, 12 to Tunnel Falls, 26.3 to Wahtum Lake
Hike Time2 Hours - 2 Days (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)525 feet (160m)
Highest Elevation3,725 feet (1135m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Mt. Hood National Forest
Park Phone503-668-1700
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You can’t go wrong with a hike on the Eagle Creek Trail, considered the signature trail of the Columbia River Gorge. Right from the start, the Eagle Creek Trail offers dramatic views of waterfalls, a raging mountain stream, dense PNW forest, and towering basalt cliffs. Most hikers enjoy the short 4.2-mile roundtrip hike to Punchbowl Falls, but I highly recommend going farther if you have the fitness. You can even make it an overnight backpacking trip, ideally hiking to the end of the Eagle Creek Trail at Wahtum Lake, high in the mountains. Whatever option you choose, you can’t go wrong here.

DestinationRoundtrip DistanceClimbingFeatures
Punchbowl Falls4.2 miles525 ftWaterfalls – Cliffs
High Bridge6.4 miles800 ftDramatic River Gorge
Tunnel Falls12 miles1600 ftTunnel Behind Falls
Wahtum Lake26.6 miles3700 ftAlpine Lake – Uphill Trail

Where is the Eagle Creek Trail?

The Eagle Creek Trailhead is about a 45 minute drive east of downtown Portland on Interstate 84. Once you exit the highway, drive the short ways up Eagle Creek Loop, past the salmon hatchery, to find the trailhead parking. Use this trailhead address:
Eagle Creek Trailhead, NE Eagle Creek Loop, Cascade Locks, OR 97014

Beating the Crowds

Before you even think about going to the Eagle Creek Trail, know that you’ll have to contend with crowds. Even back in 1919, when the trail was built, it had about 150,000 visitors a year. Today, it’s many more, mainly limited by the lack of parking (more on that in a sec). The best time to visit without a crowd is to arrive at sunrise. In the late afternoon, parking tends to open up as well. And obviously, weekdays are better than weekends, although the lots do fill up on weekdays too. So if you show up at 9 am on a Saturday, don’t expect to do the hike.

Parking for the Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail 12
There’s a  parking lot right at the trailhead that has space for about 20 cars, and this fills up quickly. Any time that I’ve shown up at sunrise, I’ve been able to park in this lot without a problem.

Farther down from the trailhead, there is a parking area along the road, with space for about 10 cars. The last option for parking is at Eagle Creek Day Use Area, by the salmon hatchery, right at the turn off for Eagle Creek Loop road. That lot has about 30 parking spaces. This lot also has bathrooms (in fact, the bathroom is named “Big John”).

Park along the side of the road at your own risk, illegally parked cars are towed.

You need a parking pass here. You can self-pay at the trail board, use a Northwest Forest Pass, or simply display a (worth every penny) National Parks pass.

Another option is to stay at the historic Eagle Creek Campground, which is by the hatchery. If you stay at the campground you can park your car there while you hike.

Lastly, don’t leave any valuables in your car. As is the case with many trailheads, there are occasional break-ins. The Forest Service recommends parking in the larger parking lot by the hatchery if you are camping overnight. I just leave my glove box open and show potential thieves that I don’t have anything good to take.

And if you visit in the fall, keep your eyes open for coho and chinook salmon spawning in Eagle Creek.

Gear For the Hike

Eagle Creek Trail 4
Prepare to get wet. Even if it’s not raining out, the basalt cliffs along the trail can have cascading runoff from streams above. I generally bring a light rain shell.

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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Garmin inReach Mini
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI | Backcountry
My Review & Guide

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon | Backcountry

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon | Black Diamond
Z-Poles: MacPac | REI | Amazon | Black Diamond

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated November 2021.

My November 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Eagle Creek Trail Camping

Eagle Creek Trail 11
Here are some tent sites along the Eagle Creek Trail at 7.5 Mile Campsite, which is my favorite spot to camp, along with Wahtum Lake.

Before the 2017 fire here (more later), camping was more plentiful. Today there are a limited amount of primitive campsites along the trail, and they fill up quickly given the popularity of Eagle Creek. Your best bet for an overnight camping trip is to hike up to Wahtum Lake, which has multiple tent sites. Also note that no camping is permitted before the first campsite, Tenas Camp. And campfires are not permitted, even though you’ll find fire rings at some sites.

Here are the campsites, in order from the trailhead:

Eagle Creek Maps

Click Here To View

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Elevation Profile

Eagle Creek Trail Elevation Profile
The beginning of the hike is a gentle climb up along the creek, with many flat and rolling sections. The real climbing doesn’t start until you pass Twister Falls later on in the hike, on the way to Wahtum Lake. And even though the hike is uphill, the gradients usually no more than 5%, making it pleasant to hike uphill.

Landmarks on the Hike

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Trailhead0110
First Cables0.7260
Lower Punchbowl Trail1.8500
Punchbowl Viewpoint2.1500
High Bridge3.3570
4.5 Mile Bridge4.1700
Tunnel Falls61040
Twister Falls6.21120
Start of Climb / Eagle Tanner7.51580
Indian Springs Junction9.52320
Wahtum Lake13.33725

3D Map

Eagle Creek Trail 3d Map
In the first half of the hike, the Eagle Creek Trail follows the creek, crossing over and back once. If you continue up to Wahtum Lake, you’ll double back and climb up the side of the canyon to the lake.

Trail Conditions

Eagle Creek Trail 7
There are several signs along the way, mainly on the beginning (and most popular) sections of the trail.
Eagle Creek Trail 8
There is the occasional downed tree or washout. Generally the culprits in the first few miles are quickly cleared. In areas heavily affected by the 2017 fire, there are more downed trees. Miles 7-12, which go through a large burn area and don’t get a ton of traffic, can be particularly challenging.
Eagle Creek Trail 20
The cables sections can be scary for some hikers. In several sections the trail has been blasted out of the basalt cliffside. The path can be rocky and often wet, but is generally always 4 feet wide. Use the cable handholds, walk with care, and take your time. While they can be intimidating, it’s nothing as scary or challenging as the cables on Half Dome. That said, it’s not a good experience for small children or dogs.
Eagle Creek Trail 6
I’ll point out the major named waterfalls, but keep your eyes open for the dozens of unnamed falls along the route, especially in wet weather. As you hike it will seem like every twist and turn has more waterfalls to offer.

Hike Brief

Eagle Creek Fire
The Eagle Creek Trail is where the devastating Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 started when a teenager threw a smoke bomb off the side of the cliff from the trail, about 1.5 miles into the hike. Photo Curtis Gregory Perry

Eagle Creek Trail Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls

Eagle Creek Trail 13
Check out the trail board for any notices before you start.
Eagle Creek Trail 14
And then start the trail, which is right next to the trail board.
Eagle Creek Trail 15
At the start there’s a sign with mileages to the popular destinations.
Eagle Creek Trail 1
You’ll be hiking above Eagle Creek, which is down to your right. Right from the start, the hike is beautiful.
Eagle Creek Trail 16
Cross the bridge, one of several on the trail.
Eagle Creek Trail 17
When it’s wet out, you’ll have little waterfalls like this to cross through.
Eagle Creek Trail 18
At about 0.7 miles in, you encounter your first cables section. The trail was blasted out of the volcanic basalt rock cliffs, which are 20 million years old.
Eagle Creek Trail 21
At about 1.3 miles in you’ll have a nice viewpoint up the gorge formed by the creek, with Metlako Falls in the distance.
Eagle Creek Trail 22
And then as you get closer, you’ll be able to see the 82 foot Metlako Falls across the creek. It’s named after the Native People’s goddess of salmon; this is the limit of how far salmon can spawn up Eagle Creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 23
Shortly after that you’ll cross the concrete steps over Sorenson Creek. If you look up and to your left, you can see the 100 foot Sorenson Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 24
At about 1.8 miles you’ll reach the wide junction with the Lower Punchbowl Falls Trail. It’s only 0.25 miles down, so lets check it out.
Eagle Creek Trail 25
There’s a steep little downhill.
Eagle Creek Trail 27
And then you reach the creek. In this picture, the creek is impassable. But when the water is lower, you can scramble up the creek and boulders to get views of Lower Punchbowl Falls.

Let’s head back up to the last junction.

Eagle Creek Trail 29
Continue a few minutes down the Eagle Creek Trail to another wide clearing. The trail continues left, and the Punchbowl Falls viewpoint is on the right.
Eagle Creek Trail 30
And then you’ll reach the iconic 35-foot Punchbowl Falls. It’s called punchbowl because of the circular “punchbowl” shape that the water carved out of the rock. Don’t be tempted to cross the fence here or jump in the water, the ground is loose and it’s the busiest rescue spot on the entire trail.

Punchbowl Falls to Tunnel Falls

Eagle Creek Trail 31
Continue past Punchbowl Falls and over the Tish Creek Bridge, which was lowered here by a helicopter.
Eagle Creek Trail 32
The trail becomes much mellower as you leave the crowds at Punchbowl Falls behind.
Eagle Creek Trail 33
And then you cross over the Fern Creek Bridge, also lowered here by a helicopter.
Eagle Creek Trail 34
Pass through the moss-covered scree field.
Eagle Creek Trail 35
Then you’ll navigate the third cables section.
Eagle Creek Trail 36
Below in the gorge you can see massive boulders that tumbled into the creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 37
And then you’ll get views of 90 foot Loowit Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 38
And then another cable section, this time about 120 feet above the creek below.
Eagle Creek Trail 39
And then at 3.3 miles you’ll reach High Bridge and cross over Eagle Creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 40
If you look down, Eagle Creek is 120 feet below as it flows through this gorge. This is the narrowest and fastest section of Eagle Creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 42
Now you’re hiking on the right side of Eagle Creek. You’ll pass the roaring 50 foot Skoonichuk Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 43
And then you’ll reach the much lower 4.5 mile bridge and cross back over to the trail, which you can see blasted out of the cliffs across the creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 44
From the bridge you can see Tenas Falls upstream.
Eagle Creek Trail 45
Now you’re hiking through some of the area badly damaged by the fire.
Eagle Creek Trail 46
But shortly cross back into an area of healthy trees.
Eagle Creek Trail 47
You’ll pass Wy’East (the Native name for Mt Hood) Camp, which is closed.
Eagle Creek Trail 48
And then you’ll enter the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. The area is named after the former governor and US senator from Oregon.
Eagle Creek Trail 49
To your left is the 140-foot Wy’East Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 50
There are some more stream crossings.
Eagle Creek Trail 51
And then back to the familiar cliffside paths.
Eagle Creek Trail 52
You’ll round a dramatic cliffside rock formation.
Eagle Creek Trail 53
And then see Grand Union Falls below, named for the union of the East and West Forks of Eagle Creek, which join together a short ways before the falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 54
The trail gets rocky.
Eagle Creek Trail 55
And then turns left, where you’ll see the 175-foot Tunnel Falls ahead.
Eagle Creek Trail 56
As you approach, you’ll pass through the famous tunnel behind the falls.

If you’ve hiked to Tunnel Falls, I highly recommend doing the short section up to Twister Falls before you turn around, it’s worth it.

Tunnel Falls to Wahtum Lake

Eagle Creek Trail 57
Just past Tunnel Falls, you’ll see the 150 tall Twister Falls, the last major waterfall on Eagle Creek.
Eagle Creek Trail 58
Hike along one last dramatic cable section.
Eagle Creek Trail 59
And then you’ll be right above Twister Falls. The two streams  from each side have also led to this being called Crossover or Bowtie Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 60
Looking down the 150 foot drop from here is impressive.
Eagle Creek Trail 61
To head further, continue along the creekside path.
Eagle Creek Trail 62
Continue upstream and pass 7 Mile Falls.
Eagle Creek Trail 63
Then you’ll see some of the tent sites for 7.5 Mile Camp below.
Eagle Creek Trail 64
And the trail gets more primitive, climbing up and away from the banks of Eagle Creek. It’s about 2300 feet of climbing from here to Wahtum Lake.
Eagle Creek Trail 65
Make the hard left to double-back uphill at the junction of the Eagle Tanner Trail.
Eagle Creek Trail 66
Now you have a long climb through an area hit hard by the 2017 fire.
Eagle Creek Trail 67
As you get higher up you’ll start to catch glimpses of the higher slopes.
Eagle Creek Trail 68
At about 9.5 miles in you’ll pass the junction of the Indian Springs Trail to your right. Go straight.
Eagle Creek Trail 69
This next section is often the victim of blowdowns as it continues through the burn area. The pointy peak is Chinidere Mountain (pronounced “SHIN-uh-deer”).
Eagle Creek Trail 70
Soon you’ll leave the burn area behind and enter a healthy forest of firs.
Eagle Creek Trail 71
If you are camping, there are some nice spots below the trail (I’ve marked them in the GPX file).
Eagle Creek Trail 72
Continue over some stream and talus crossings.
Eagle Creek Trail 73
The trail continues to climb, this time through some older-growth forest.
Eagle Creek Trail 74
And then you’ll reach the junction at Wahtum Lake. There are tent sites immediately to the left, or you can explore around the lake.
Eagle Creek Trail 75
If you make that last left, you’ll be able to see the lake right away.
Eagle Creek Trail 76
And that’s the Eagle Creek Trail! From here, just head back the way you came.

This guide last updated on November 17, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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