Eagle Creek

Option 1

  • Level: Easy to Punchbowl Falls (Beginner Level: Doable)
  • Length: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation: 400 ft. gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Open: all year

Option 2

  • Level: Easy to High Bridge (Beginner Level: Challenging)
  • Length: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation: 840 ft. gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Open: all year

Option 3

  • Level: Difficult to Tunnel Falls / Twister Falls
  • Length: 12 / 12.5 miles
  • Elevation: 1,640 ft. gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Open: all year

Further Details

  • Permit: Northwest Forest Pass, or $5-$10 (can’t remember!)
  • Drive time from Portland: 45min
  • Google map: “Eagle Creek Trailhead”
  • Features: Columbia River Gorge, WATERFALLS, camping, backpacking, treachery, cool tunnel, swimming holes

EagleCreekTunnelFallsTunnel Falls

I needed an ass kicking, something that would feel like repentance. I wanted to put some distance between me and the mess in my head. I’ve been doing a bunch of 5-6 mile trails and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I needed more. I decided to go big and finally do the 12 miles to Tunnel Falls at Eagle Creek. Actually, I did 12.5 miles as I decided to carry on to Twister Falls, aka Crossover Falls aka Crisscross Falls aka Bowtie Falls aka Eagle Creek Falls, and then back. Most of the hardest trails I’ve done top out at 7-9 miles, so taking on over 12 miles felt daunting and exciting. Something in me told me I could do it. Besides, I like to regularly get myself reacquainted with the terror of those tiny cliffside stretches. I’m still afraid of heights, but trails like this have helped me so much with it.


Metlako Falls -> Loowit Falls -> Lower Punchbowl Falls

I’ve been to Eagle Creek many times, always stopping at Punchbowl Falls or High Bridge. Every time I see Punchbowl Falls, I remember the first time I was there about two-and-a-half years ago. It was my turnaround point and I was so out of breath climbing back out on that side trail. It feels amazingly good to truly be able to see how much work I’ve put into this. It’s hard to believe that after High Bridge the trail only gets more beautiful. And that first view of Tunnel Falls… What the actual fuck?! How does that even exist and, wait, I actually get to walk behind it?! It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen and done on a trail. The crazy thing is that I wasn’t even tired when it was over. I felt great! Maybe it was the constant barrage of incredible waterfalls and views that kept my adrenaline up, but I distinctly felt like I could walk forever. I love that, but it also makes choosing trails harder. You can only do so much in a day when you have work and everyday shit to tend to. This needs to be the year I start backpacking because it’s getting harder to come home some days. I didn’t get the ass kicking I came for, but I walked away with plenty.

Punchbowl Falls in February 2015


More pictures of Tunnel Falls

There are many ways to enjoy this incredible trail. No matter how far you go, there are loads of waterfalls. I’ve read there are dozens. Some you can only partially see and some only at a distance. The gentle, short inclines and declines make it great for beginners and those who don’t like a steep climb.


Some things to keep in mind if you attempt this trail: 1) aside from the roadside stops in the western part of the Columbia River Gorge, this is probably the most popular spot. If you go on a weekend be prepared to to contend with the herds. I went on a weekday winter morning and saw maybe a dozen people all day. 2) Many parts of this trail consist of skinny cliffside paths with a thick cable railing to hold onto. It is no joke for a person afraid of heights! 3) Wear good, thick soled shoes. Much of the trail is blasted rock and I imagine thinner soles would get pretty strained after so many miles of walking on sharp-edged rocks. 4) Even if it isn’t raining, this is a super wet trail with a lot of cliffside run-off you will repeatedly walk under as well as tiny streams to cross. A rain jacket is a good idea as well as a change of shoes for when you’re done. A couple of other things as of the date of this posting that will probably be fixed soon: 1) The Tosh Creek Bridge just after Punchbowl Falls is down, but the creek is super easy to ford. 2) There’s a huge Doug Fir downed just after the talus slope before High Bridge. You can likely squeeze under it, but take caution if you decide to climb over it. I did it both ways and squeezing under is a less scary choice, if you are able to.

From the trailhead:

The trail begins with a slow climb above the creek. After 0.8 mile you’ll become acquainted with the first of several cable-railed, cliffside paths. At the 1.5 mile mark, you’ll pass a short side trail to a view point of stunning Metlako Falls. After another 0.3 mile there’s a side trail down to Punchbowl Falls. This was unsigned last time I was there, so if you see the falls from above, you’ll know you passed it. Definitely take the trail down into the gorge. The water is a little too high to skip across rocks to get a good look (unless you bring sandals and don’t mind stepping in freezing water), but it’s a beautiful scene. The climb out is steep, but so worth it. This is a good turnaround point for a shorter, 4.2-mile trail. Otherwise, continue on, taking care while crossing Tosh Creek (as I mentioned above). After a mile or so, you’ll pass Loowit Falls in the distance and shortly after that you’ll reach High Bridge across a gorgeous, super high up slot-canyon. This is the turnaround point for the 6.6 mile trail. If you’re feeling too juiced to turn around now, continue on another 0.4 mile past a campground and even more waterfalls. At the 4.5 mile mark you’ll cross *ahem* Four and a Half Mile Bridge (go right). A mile and some change later, you’ll reach Tunnel Falls. After losing your mind for at least five minutes, you can either turn around here for a cool 12-mile trail, or continue on just a teeny bit further on what they call the Vertigo Mile to nearby Twister Falls. This is a fabulous spot to take a break, have lunch and return the way you came.

EagleCreekHighBridgeThe view down from High Bridge


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