5 Things You Need to Know About the Ever-Popular Eagle Creek Trail

Pierce Martin
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Eagle Creek is one of the most popular hikes in Oregon, with several Columbia River Gorge viewpoints and waterfalls to enjoy along the way, as well as manageable elevation gain and well-maintained trails.

Much of the appeal is in the trail’s versatility. Casual hikers can turn back at Punchbowl Falls, hike to Tunnel Falls for a brisk day hike, or continue all the way to Wahtum Lake for a multi-day backpacking trip. The relatively low-key elevation gain is another attraction. Hikers who turn around at Tunnel Falls only gain about 1,600 feet over six miles.

For those reasons—and so many more—Eagle Creek should be at the top of every hiker’s bucket list this summer. But, beyond the obvious highlights, what makes it such an appealing destination and rewarding hike? Here are five tips and insights to help make the most of a day or weekend trip along Eagle Creek.

1. First and foremost: Clean out your car

Owing to the trail’s popularity, break-ins are unfortunately all too common in the Eagle Creek parking lots. Hikers should clear their car of valuables before hitting the trail and are advised to park in the lot closest to Interstate 84 (near the fish hatchery, where there are more people).

2. Spend the night at Seven and a Half Mile Camp

Punchbowl Falls is one of many highlights for hikers and backpackers along the Eagle Creek Trail.
Punchbowl Falls is one of many highlights for hikers and backpackers along the Eagle Creek Trail.

Seven and a Half Mile Camp is the last place to pitch a tent before the Eagle Creek Trail starts gaining substantial elevation en route to Wahtum Lake. A handful of sites are just off the trail, and a few side trails head toward Eagle Creek (where there are additional campsites). While there are other campsites along the way, Seven and a Half Mile Camp is among the most popular, due in part to its proximity to Eagle Creek; the river is accessible after a difficult scramble from the sites.

Avoid some confusion by keeping an eye out for the camp at the seven-mile marker. The Eagle Creek Trailhead used to be a half-mile north, so Seven and a Half Mile Camp is actually about seven miles from the current trailhead.

Because the hike is so popular, the sites tend to fill up early on weekends.

3. Keep an eye out for waterfalls

Tunnel Falls is one of the sweeter stops along the Eagle Creek Trail
Tunnel Falls is one of the sweeter stops along the Eagle Creek Trail Donaleen

Tourists flock to Punchbowl Falls, and heartier hikers typically turn around at Tunnel Falls (named for the tunnel that goes behind the 175-foot waterfall). But Metlako Falls, Loowit Falls, Twister Falls, and Skooknichuck Falls are among the 20 or so waterfalls visible from (or just off) the Eagle Creek Trail. All of them are worth a snap or two of the shutter.

4. There’s something for everyone

Hikers can enjoy Punchbowl Falls from an overlook above the falls or from along Eagle Creek.
Hikers can enjoy Punchbowl Falls from an overlook above the falls or from along Eagle Creek. Byron Hetrick

The Eagle Creek Trail is littered with viewpoints and waterfalls that make excellent turnaround points, making it accessible to hikers of all skill (and energy) levels.

Casual hikers can turn back at Punchbowl Falls (a mere two miles in); take in views of Eagle Creek from 120 feet up at High Bridge (just more than three miles in); set up camp for an easy overnight trip at Four and a Half Mile Bridge; hike six miles to Tunnel Falls for a brisk day hike; or continue all the way to Wahtum Lake (about 27 miles out) for a multi-day backpacking trip.

5. Wahtum Lake is a long trip, but it’s worth the hike

Hiking through the Oregon forest from the Wahtum Lake Trailhead
Hiking through the Oregon forest from the Wahtum Lake Trailhead Pierce Martin

The Eagle Creek Trail eventually connects with Wahtum Lake (its headwaters) after about 27 miles and gains more than 5,000 feet along the way, making it a challenge for novice backpackers. Backpackers are rewarded with views of Mount Hood amid a serene, lush forest. Campsites around Wahtum Lake are limited on the shore but are otherwise plentiful in the vicinity.

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