Photo by Matt Reeder

Eagle Creek

  • Region: Columbia Gorge
  • Length: 14 miles
  • Min Elev: 300 ft
  • Max Elev: 3900 ft
  • Season: All Year

Scenery: 4.8

Difficulty: 2.1

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From Portland, Drive East on I-84 to the Eagle Creek exit, number 41. Turn South and follow the road a short distance to the trailhead. From the east, drive to the Bonneville Dam exit, and re-enter the freeway eastbound, taking the Eagle Creek exit.

Trail Description

In most American cities these days, a 40-minute drive from downtown will place you smack-dab in the center of some beautiful suburban sprawl. But for Portland, a city surrounded with a remarkable amount of natural wonders, 40 minutes delivers you to the spectacular Eagle Creek Trail. This accessibility does come with a price, mainly, the population of a small suburb crammed onto a single trail. During the spring and summer months, little can be done to avoid the crowds. Even during weekdays the parking lots can be jammed full of cars. If you really want to get away from the people but still experience this trail, try it in winter when most people are afraid of getting rained on. Not only is the trail lonelier, but also the many, many waterfalls are running at full power and a great deal of seasonal waterfalls leap into the canyon.

The first few miles are relatively easy. The trail slowly works its way up the eastern wall of the canyon, giving views of the creek far below. The first major water is Metlako Falls, located two miles from the busy trailhead. A short side trip leads to a viewpoint of this impressive waterfall, although its true power and form is mostly hidden from the hiker by the canyon (One of the advantages of hiking this trail during the winter months is that many of the trees which block views of these waterfalls do not have leaves). Shortly after Metlako, the Creek takes another plunge, Punchbowl Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Oregon (and probably the world). A half-mile trail leads down to the valley-bottom for an eye-level view of these falls.

The trail continues through the valley bottom, with many waterfalls along the way. Soon, the creek is forced through a narrow slot canyon, while the trail is impressively routed high on the cliff above. Note, that this portion of the trail is not for the faint of heart, and hikers with children should exercise extreme caution or turn back. A cable is provided along this section for the hiker to hold on too, which definitely doesn't take away from the feeling of danger! At the end of this impressive ravine, the trail crosses to the western side of the creek where several nice campsites are located (although the chances of these campsites being open for the summer months are extremely thin).

The trail soon crosses back to the eastern bank of Eagle Creek, and shortly comes to the junction with trail 434, which takes off up the canyon wall. For those looking for a long, strenuous loop trip, take this trail up to the summit of Benson Plateau, and then take trail 405 back down to the Eagle Creek Trailhead. For those continuing on, some of the best scenery of the trail is on the way. Directly past the trail junction, an impressive waterfall on a side-creek pops into view, giving a taste of the scenes to come. Shortly after this waterfall, three more impressive waterfalls come into view, the most spectacular being Tunnel Falls where you can actually walk behind the thundering wall of water. While I don't necessarily agree with the practice of blasting tunnels behind waterfalls, I do have to admit that it is pretty damn cool to be so close to so much power. The trail around Tunnel Falls is once again blasted into a sheer cliff, so extreme caution needs to be exercised. Because of the spray of the falls, the trail is permanently wet, and therefore quite slick (a cable is once again provided for the hiker, and really should be used) After turning the corner from Tunnel Falls, yet another waterfall cuts through the rock of eagle creek. Most of this waterfall remains hidden between rock walls, but the hiker can definitely feel the presence of these falls since the trail is routed directly adjacent to its self-created chasm. Beyond these falls, the river calms down slightly, but the scenery is still great.

Another large waterfall can be found another half mile up the trail, but the remaining portion of the trail to Wahtum Lake remains more of a nice, quiet forest walk. For those seeking solitude, the final miles to the lake may be the best section of the trail, as most people turn around at Tunnel Falls. Wahtum Lake is nice little lake, surrounded by forested ridges, but because a nice road gives access to the lake I wouldn't go in expecting a true wilderness experience.


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ALERT: Car Vandals @ Eagle Creek Trailhead!

Note, if you plan an overnight(s) starting at Eagle Creek, park in the lot where the campground host is at beside the fish hatchery. There have been issues with vandals smashing windows at night in the lot closer to the trailhead. I came out at the Eagle Creek trailhead from a day hike the other weekend and counted 3 cars with broken windows. If there are no spots in the lot beside the camp-ground hosts, I would highly consider paying for a camp site in the camp ground and park there. Nothing like a set of scum bags to ruin your weekend!


Very nice trail...excellent views and scenery; probably not the best hike if you have a fear of heights as some of the passes are extremely high with no gaurd rail-just a cable on the wall...

lots of water along the way so bring a filter or purrification drops...unfortunately no fires permitted until you get to the Eagle-Tanner jct.

...the last 3-4 miles of the trail before you reach Indian Spring is is under many patches of snow, so if you get caught overnight make sure you have adequate gear and a emergency bivy sack and fire making material (lighter and dry tinder and a solid knife) as most of the wood is wet...

bring a poncho also as even when it's not raining, much of the trail is either under the forest canopy or through heavy wet foilage...

7.5 miles to Tunnel falls and 15.4 to Indian Spring from the hatchery/trailhead at hwy 84 (exit 41)

The Eagle Creek Trail is spectacular all year. Try mid-November, when the lower part of the creek may be choked with spawning coho and the stench of rotting fish. Also, in the rare years when the Gorge gets iced up, spectacular giant icicles form on the cliffsides. A jaunt at one of these times is dangerous - bring helmet and crampons and take great care!

Even in the dead of summer the trail clears out past the bridge. Past the tunnel falls you wont see many besides backpackers. Its a somewhat tough day to do the 7 miles in, 7 miles out, but worth it.

It isn't hard to discover why this is one of the most popular hikes in Oregon. It is stunning! Unfortunately it is also pretty crowded. I recommend checking it out in the winter. Sure, it's going to be chilly and wet but, as the photos of the Tunnel Falls show, this hike is always wet. It's usually fairly chilly too as the canyon walls block so much sun.

I read that this hike may just have the most to offer, in terms of scenery, among gorge hikes. I also read that it is one of the busiest trials, especially this time of year. So we hit the trail head at 7am hoping to beat the weekend crowd. We only saw 2 other groups on the way to criss-cross falls (not including campers), so we had the trail for the most part to ourselves. However, on the way back (especially the last 4 miles) I lost count at 160 people we passed!

The morning was very nice...the trail was cool and damp with moisture on much of the vegetation. There was a light smokey fog that lingered in areas and the early sun lit up the forest walls high above.

It was a very pleasant hike...the waterfalls were plentiful and captivating. The high cliff walls where the trail was carved out were interesting to walk times the exposure was so great it could make the toughest hiker nervous. As I said, we hiked the 7 miles to criss-cross falls passing through Tunnels Falls along the way. We stopped and had a nice picnic lunch (more like a few handfuls of nuts and a powerbar) just up stream from cross-cross - we saw a deer walk through which made us smile. We made it back to the car at about 12:30.

A great hike, but one we would not do again in the summer months.


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