Eagle Creek Trail Guide
|In This Guide|
|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 Time||2 Hours - 2 Days (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||525 feet (160m)|
|Highest Elevation||3,725 feet (1135m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Mt. Hood National Forest|
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.
|Punchbowl Falls||4.2 miles||525 ft||Waterfalls – Cliffs|
|High Bridge||6.4 miles||800 ft||Dramatic River Gorge|
|Tunnel Falls||12 miles||1600 ft||Tunnel Behind Falls|
|Wahtum Lake||26.6 miles||3700 ft||Alpine 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
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
- As you would expect in the Pacific Northwest, it can get very wet here. There are stream crossings, water runoffs, and mud. It’s a safe bet to wear shoes that you’re comfortable getting wet in. The trail surfaces, which are sometimes raw rock blasted out of the cliff, can be slippery. I recommend good trail runners.
- If you use trekking poles, I’d recommend just using one. On the various cables sections you will be able to hold the cable with one hand, and a trekking pole with another. The trail is very gentle in terms of slope; I leave my poles in the car here.
- In the winter, the trail can be snowy and icy, in which case I don’t recommend doing it (and the Forest Service may also close it if that’s the case). There are sheer cliff walls that you do not want to slip off of (more later). And the upper part of the Eagle Creek Trail, past 7.5 mile camp toward Wahtum Lake, is generally snow-covered and often impassable during the winter.
- GPS can be inaccurate when you are hiking along the cliff faces. Luckily the trail is easy to follow without any tricky navigation.
- There are a lot of side creeks feeding into Eagle Creek. It’s usually easy to access water to refill your bottles. Just make sure you use a water filter before you drink anything from here.
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
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 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.
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
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:
- Tenas Camp – 3.8 miles
This site is very overgrown, and the tent sites you can find are sloped and not great. I wouldn’t recommend camping here.
- Wy’East – 4.7 miles
This site is currently closed for restoration.
- Blue Grouse Camp – 5.3 miles
This site has been damaged by the fire, and is a bit overgrown. It has about 2-3 tent sites, as well as good water access.
- 7.5 Mile Camp – 7 miles (yea)
You’ll first spot some tent sites between the creek and the trail with good water access (my favorites), and then as you continue up into the woods, there are some spots along the trail and a few side trails down toward the creek with tent sites. Overall there are about 10-12 tent sites here.
- Unnamed / Indian Springs Creek – 11 miles
There are some great tent sites between the trail and the (informally named) Indian Springs Creek, on the upper slopes off the trail. There’s good water access and you are far away from any crowds. I put the waypoint in the map and GPX file.
- Wahtum Lake – 13.3 miles
There are a few dozen nice sites in the vicinity of the lake, with most of them set back from the lake. The PCT circles the lake and there are spots along the PCT as well.
Eagle Creek Maps
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.
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.
Landmarks on the Hike
|Lower Punchbowl Trail||1.8||500|
|4.5 Mile Bridge||4.1||700|
|Start of Climb / Eagle Tanner||7.5||1580|
|Indian Springs Junction||9.5||2320|
- The trail was closed for several years after the 2017 fire, and you can still see the damage from the fire as you hike the trail today, although the first 7 miles of the trail (where most of the attractions are) still have the same feel as they did before. Much has been documented about the fire, and I recommend watching an excellent short documentary that tells the story of 150 hikers stuck on the trail when the fire started. You can dive deeper into this fire and wildfires in general in an REI podcast series on the subject.
- The park you’ll hike through has been here for over 100 years. In fact, when the Columbia River Gorge Park was established in 1915, it was the first time the Forest Service had dedicated an area to purely recreational use. Shortly after its establishment, the Eagle Creek Campground was built, and then the Eagle Creek Trail was completed in 1919
- And don’t forget Eagle Creek’s namesake, the bald eagle. In the 1960s the bald eagle was threatened with extinction, and was one of the impetuses for creating the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 2007 the bald eagle was no longer endangered, and today they visit the Columbia River Gorge in the winter to nest.
Eagle Creek Trail Hike Directions
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Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls
Let’s head back up to the last junction.
Punchbowl Falls to Tunnel 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
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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