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Backpacker Magazine – May 2013

Rip & Go: Eagle Creek Loop, Columbia River Gorge, OR

Spot waterfalls and wildflowers on a rainforest loop into one of the gorge's wildest canyons.

by: Eli Boschetto

Do it There’s no shortage of hiking options in the Columbia River Gorge, but with waterfall-lined canyons gushing during the spring snowmelt, this three-day, 22-mile loop is a go-to May hike. Head out from the Eagle Creek trailhead (1) on Trail 440 and wind above the churning waters of Eagle Creek—sometimes 25 feet wide. Beginning in April, monkeyflower, Columbia wind flower, and star-shaped coast manroot decorate the trailsides with blossoms. At mile 1.4 (2), veer right on a signed, 200-foot spur to check out Metlako Falls, a 100-foot horsetail. On the main trail, continue .5 mile to Lower Punch Bowl Falls (3) for a creekside view of the 12-foot-tall curtain of water. Lounge on rock slabs and take a midhike dip in the pool above the falls. In .2 mile, look out for 36-foot-tall, plunging Upper Punch Bowl Falls—named for its resemblance to a giant ladle dipped into a bowl—to your right. Continue upcanyon and catch a glimpse of 60-foot Loowit Falls (4) spilling over the canyon’s west wall 1.2 miles farther. Next, cross a wooden bridge over a narrow, 120-foot-deep slot above Eagle Creek. Bypass often-overcrowded Tenas Camp at 3.7 miles (5) and continue your gradual ascent past more cascades (now to the left of the trail). Post up at Blue Grouse Camp (6), beyond the Trail 434 junction at 5.2 miles. Pick one of four campsites, each big enough for multiple tents, on the flat wooded area near the creek (no fires allowed).

Next morning, continue .6 mile on the trail to thundering, 160-foot Tunnel Falls
(7). Here, follow the trail into the misty canyon. Stay close to the cliffs and use cables to navigate over slippery rock as you pass behind the falls through a 20-foot-long basalt tunnel. The trail curls around a rock amphitheater overlooking Twister Falls, where Eagle Creek splashes through two cracks in the canyon wall, corkscrewing and spilling into the basin 200 feet below. In 1.3 miles, continue straight onto Trail 433 and pass over Eagle Creek via a bridge by fording the 30-foot-wide waters (continue upstream to find a shallow crossing), beginning a 2,000-foot climb over 3.5 miles through old-growth cedar. Cross a saddle north of Thrush Pond at 11.5 miles (8) and hike around the west side of 4,500-foot Tanner Butte, following Trail 401. At 15.4 miles, turn right at the fork and descend .2 mile to Dublin Lake (9) to cast a line and make camp amid lush greenery. Next day, continue north on Trail 401 past the unmaintained Wauna Point Trail (10) at 17.9 miles and exit the wilderness at the Tanner Butte trailhead (11) at 19.7 miles. Descend east 2.5 miles on the service road back to the parking lot.

Massive lava outpourings inundated eastern Oregon 10 to 17 million years ago, forming the basalt cliffs that line Eagle Creek. Look for different rock layers indicating individual lava flows.

Get there From Portland, take I-84 east into the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Take exit 41 to the fish hatchery, turning right to the Eagle Creek trailhead. Gear up REI, 4105 NW Johnson St., Portland, OR; (503) 221-1938; Contact (541) 308-1700; Season May through November; falls gush more late-spring and early-summer, but crowds dwindle later into the fall. Fees Grab a free wilderness permit at the trailhead; parking passes cost $5/day. Trip data



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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Dec 05, 2013

I've done this trail and it is absolutely worth your time. While certainly not a difficult trek the number of waterfalls is the payoff. I went during the height of summer expecting to have to fight for a spot to set up camp but managed to find a pretty great spot. A doe and her fawn hung out with me for a time. It's a great hike, enjoy!!


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