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The 13.1-mile (one way) trek up Columbia River Gorge on the Eagle Creek Trail is iconic–and popular–for a reason: You can’t get this anywhere else. You’ll spend half the time in thick, mossy rainforest and half on vertiginous ledges blasted straight out of the wall of the gorge, this trail is one of the most-visited in the region, but the experience is well worth the crowds. You just can’t dream this kind of landscape up.
Start at the Eagle Creek Trailhead, following a wide and well-marked trail above Eagle Creek. Pass into a grotto festooned with maidenhair ferns, then head into the basalt cliffs of the Columbia River Gorge on the first real section of ledge. Cable handrails provide a handhold for less secure hikers. (This section of trail can be quite narrow, so be cautious when passing other visitors.) The first major waterfalls come after a second cliffside trail section: 82-foot Metlako Falls at mile 1.3 and 100-foot Sorenson Falls at mile 1.6. Metlako Falls is on Eagle Creek, while Sorenson Falls drops from the east rim of the gorge. The next big viewpoint is the Lower Punchbowl Falls overlook at mile 1.8, where a 35-foot cascade drops into a mossy “bowl” in the rock. From there head to a series of bridges, passing scree slopes where pikas often chirp from the rocks, then head into another cliffside section.
Reach the first campsite, Tenas Camp, at mile 3.7, after passing 50-foot Skoonichuck Falls. From there, head to another bridge over Eagle Creek (passing a nice swimming hole for hot days, with a cobbled beach to dry out on). The next set of campsites, at mile 4.6, come after a thicket of willows; keep an eye out for tiger lilies on either side of the trail. Another cliffside section followed by scree slopes drops you into the amphitheater of 175-foot Tunnel Falls. The trail passes through the namesake tunnel behind the cascade, where yellow arnica flowers cling to the walls; this is where most day hikers turn around. Continue another 1.5 miles to more possible tent spots at Seven and a Half Mile Camp.
Past Seven and a Half Mile Camp, the climbing begins. Heading up the ridge dividing the east and west forks of Eagle Creek, the trail gains 2,300 feet of elevation over the next 5.6 miles, topping out where Wahtum Lake sits in a forested cirque.
Gear for Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail
This trail winds through classic Pacific Northwest rainforest, so come prepared for rain. A good rain shell (and depending on the forecast, rainpants and gaiters, too) is necessary even for dayhikes. Even in summer the temps in the gorge can be cool, so add in a good insulating layer. If you’re going overnight, make sure you have a good rain fly for your tent, and weigh the likelihood of tracking water inside against the weight and space benefits of a down sleeping bag. There’s plenty of water along the route, so pack in a good filter to save pack weight.
A recreation pass is required for parking at the trailhead ($5 per vehicle per day or $30 for an annual pass), and wilderness permits are required for entry to the Mark O Hatfield Wilderness, entered at mile tk. The wilderness permits are free and self-issued at the boundary.