Eagle Creek Trail
Hikes up a spectacular side canyon of the Columbia River Gorge are the highlight of this popular recreational area. The Eagle Creek Trail 440 (requires a $5-per-vehicle day pass or a $30 annual Northwest Forest Pass), constructed in 1915, was an engineering feat. Volunteers blasted ledges for trails along vertical cliffs, spanned a deep chasm with a suspension bridge, and burrowed a 120-foot tunnel behind a waterfall. If you have time for only one day-hike in the Gorge, this should be it.
The classic day-hike into Eagle Creek leads up along the face of a cliff to a viewpoint over Metlano Falls. Part of the trail then drops back to a streamside near Punchbowl Falls, a good spot to break for lunch and to splash in pools of cool water. Casual day-hikers can return at this point; the hike is an easy 4.5-mile round-trip stroll.
More ambitious hikers can continue along to High Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning a deep crevice, and Tunnel Falls, so named because of the 120-foot tunnel blasted into the rock behind the waterfall. Work your way through the tunnel for great views up and down Eagle Creek’s canyon. The round-trip hike from the trailhead to High Bridge is 6.5 miles; to Tunnel Falls and back it is a strenuous 12 miles.
Be warned that the Eagle Creek Trail is very popular. Try to avoid summer weekends when the trail is thronged with hikers. Some sections of the trail inch along vertical cliffs with cable handrails drilled into the cliff-side for safety. This isn’t a good trail for unsupervised children or unleashed pets.
Wildflowers spring up in April and linger on into August at the higher elevations. Many species are alpine plants left over from a previous glacial period that have adapted because of the shade and moisture on the south side of the Gorge. Almost two dozen varieties of fern, trillium, beargrass, yellow arnica, penstemon, monkeyflower, and devil’s club are among the more common species.
As a prelude to hiking Eagle Creek or one of several other trails in the area, you might want to wander an informative interpretive loop of less than 1 mile. Just cross the footbridge on the approach road to the Eagle Creek Trailhead over to the other side of the river. After crossing the bridge, follow the markers that describe the region’s mixed-conifer forest at various elevations.
At trail’s end, you might want to take on the steep 2-mile trail to Wauna Point. While this trail isn’t as visually arresting as other area jaunts, the view of the Columbia River and Gorge at the summit makes the effort worthwhile.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel