Well I think so - The Eagle Creek Trail is far off from it's former glory after a 2017 forest fire but it's still one of my favorite trails ever hiked.
About The Hike
Eagle Creek Trail is located in the Columbia River Gorge area of Oregon near Bridge of the Gods and Cascade Locks. The trail follows Eagle Creek upstream starting off as level with the creek near the parking area and slowly ascending over two hundred feet above the creek.
The trail is well built and hugs the rocky cliffs that it is built into for several miles of this hike with the gorge and Eagle Creek below. The creek is filled with amazing waterfalls that cascade down the sides of the gorge and through the gorge.
Some of these falls have names, like Punchbowl Falls, others are a majestic mystery.
The trail stretches all the way to Wahtum Lake (13.3 miles from trailhead) which is where the trail would then connect to other trails like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which travels to Cascade Locks NOBO and Mt. Hood in the SOBO direction.
The most popular destination for the Eagle Creek Trail is Tunnel Falls. Tunnel Falls is a twelve mile round trip day hike (or overnight) and receives plenty of traffic. On the way to Tunnel Falls you get the sights of Punchbowl Falls at two miles in and High Bridge at 3.3 miles in.
Important to note that if you plan on camping along the trail you must do so after High Bridge. I doubt you could actually find a camp spot before High Bridge due to the narrow canyon trail.
Eagle Creek and Tunnel Falls Trail:
Distance: 11.3 Miles
Type: Out & Back
Ascent: 1778 feet
Eagle Creek Fire
This area and much more of the Columbia River Gorge was lit ablaze in September 2017 when a 15-year-old boy lit a firecracker during a ban and threw it down into the Eagle Creek Gorge.
The fire went on to burn 50,000 acres over three months before being completely contained. One report found that on May 29th, 2018 - over 8 months since the ignition - the fire was still smoldering in some areas.
This fire was so significant because of the popular area of impact of the Columbia River Gorge. The close proximity to Portland and incredible waterfalls and forest scenery makes this the most popular place for visitors of natural sites in all of Oregon.
As of May 2019, many of the trails in the area remained closed to the public. Forest fires cause heavy damage to trails including fallen trees, unstable trees, flash floods, and landslides.
During my visit in September 2021, many trails have still remained closed. The significant trails I noticed include the Oneonta Gorge, Elowah Falls, and the Eagle-Benson Trail. Many others that were not on my list to hike were closed as well.
Reopening the Eagle Creek Trail
It took two years of hard volunteer work from 2018 - 2020 in order to reopen the Eagle Creek Trail following the 2017 fire.
Some volunteer statistics:
X 64 Volunteer Projects
X 171 Logs Cut
X 6,369 Total Volunteer Hours
X 27,935 Total Feet of Trail Rehab
I found this popular video of Eagle Creek Trail in 2017 before the fire and you can get a really good idea of what this hike looked like before the forest fire and how long it will take for this to return fully.
Story of my Hike
I first learned about this hike a couple years ago from a photographer, Jacob Moon (@moonmountainman), posting on Instagram, a photo similar to the one below.
When he posted this in 2020 he mentioned it was a photo from 2016 and remembers it being the greenest place he's ever seen. Then he proceeds to say it's been burned by a kid playing with a firework and been closed ever since.
I was as heart broken as I could be about a place I've never been to but I still saved it in my Instagram and Google maps hoping to visit someday. Luckily I never forgot about this place and the work of the volunteers got the trail open before I arrived in Oregon for my 2021 trip.
I showed up to the trailhead around six o'clock after a full first day of shooting waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge including Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Multnomah Falls. I also hopped up to Washington in the afternoon to shoot Panther Creek Falls and Falls Creek Falls. You bet I got around!
So still on a first time west-coast high, I packed my bag with all my Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Gear for the first time since August 9th (the date I summited Katahdin). This was also about to be my first night sleeping in the woods since August 8th (The day before I summited lol).
It felt amazing to be hiking again with a full pack, the 3.3. miles to High Bridge were the most exhilarating of my hiking career. As someone who has never hiked out west, this trail was the most insane thing I'd ever walked. It's literally built into the cliffs of the gorge overlooking endless waterfalls.
Without entirely knowing where I'm camping for the night I come across a tent set up to the right of the trail after High Bridge and see plenty of great real or legal stealth campsite spots on the other side of the trail overlooking the creek.
I set up my UL bug net sleep system and had a couple IPA's as the sky turned to cotton candy. It was one of the happiest I've been in the woods because everything felt so at home. It was also impossibly easy to plan and pack which I realized was due to the experience and knowledge learned from my AT thru-hike.
After a stark wake up at 430am from raindrops and the realization that I'm not in a desert and 'draught' doesn't mean no chance of rain ever... I throw up my tarp and get a couple more hours of sleep.
The morning hike was a lot more of What I got the previous night, plenty of cliff-side trail that looks into the gorge and the mountains that look covered in toothpicks but are actually the thousands of burnt trees. An ominous but naturally visually interesting sight nonetheless.
It was under 3 miles to Tunnel Falls from camp in the morning in which I passed another campsite about a mile where I set up. Nobody was here, and nobody was on the trail this early Friday morning, absolutely loved the serenity.
I arrive at Tunnel Falls and it's quite possibly the most magnificent waterfall I've ever visited. The fact you get an insane six mile hike to the waterfall adds to the cool factor and you know that limits the people willing to make the trip.
(I love but also can't stand a waterfall with a parking lot directly next to it, F that noise)
Anyways, I venture through the tunnel that goes behind the waterfall and come out the other side and start shooting all the shots I've ever wanted to shoot here. I spend a good hour plus taking in the beauty and shooting as much as possible. Nobody comes, it's all mine!
It's not until I'm about 10 minutes of a walk back that I see my first person of the morning, now about 9am. I had been planning on hopping on a cut-through trail to the PCT to loop back towards Bridge of the Gods. When I arrived at the trail split I was met with this closure sign - very effective sign to keep me off if I had been in the adventurous mood.
More people trickle in and by the time I'm a mile or two until I'm back at the trailhead the flow of people is pretty consistent. When I reach the trailhead the parking lot is full with people waiting on my spot as I reach my rental car.
Hell of a hike and to me, this was the right, most perfect, and best way to experience it. Any way would be amazing but the more time you can spend on this trail the better your experience will be.
Getting There and Important Information
This is a popular hike in the Columbia River Gorge and unlike many other hikes along this stretch of highway, the hike to tunnel falls has sizeable mileage meaning people typically spend at least half their day here.
The parking lot closest to the trailhead fits at most 20 or so cars which then leaves people parking about a quarter mile away. This secondary lot is by no means any bigger and I would imagine at peak weekend times parking in the walkable vicinity runs out.
Camping is allowed but you must hike at least 3.3 miles past High Bridge which is where I spent the night. There aren't signs on the trail for camping but you will see spots to the left and right of the trail.
Dogs require leashes on this trail - something important to note because Forest Service put out a notice stating each year several dogs fall or chase others off the trail, which is on a cliff.
Are you adding this hike to your list or have you already done the Eagle Creek Hike? Drop me a comment I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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