(A note to our readers, September 6, 2017: at this time, the Eagle Creek Fire is raging in one of our family's favorite places. The fire was set in the canyon itself, and it is likely that everything in this post has been damaged. It may be months or years before the hike can be attempted again, but we will keep you posted regarding its accessibility. In the meantime, we will leave this post as a tribute to this unique and beautiful area.)
Arguably the most popular trail in the Columbia River Gorge, Eagle Creek is famous for its numerous waterfalls and steep canyon walls. Spring attracts crowds of photographers with its peak water flows and plentiful wildflowers. During the summer months, whole families of happy tourists wander the trail. Young couples hike up to Punchbowl Falls in swimsuits and flip flops to spend their day swimming and lying in the sun.
The Case family hikes Eagle Creek in the fall.
The waterfalls are at a fraction of their springtime glory. The wildflowers remain only as distant memories held in seedpods beside the trail. Gone are the happy families, the carefree lovers. The low-angled sun glows softly on towering canyon walls as the gentle creek chuckles along. Maple leaves drift onto the trail. The mellow air holds a tinge of sharpness as we snuggle into our sleeping bags for a long, luxurious post-equinox snooze with only the sound of water to keep us company.
The views on this hike, the massive basalt cliffs, the luxuriant foliage, and the numerous waterfalls along the way are almost ridiculously out of proportion to the short six-and-a-half mile hike to Twister Falls. This thirteen mile out-and-back could be done as a long day hike; the trail climbs fairly steadily, but it never becomes very steep. An overnight hike allows for frequent photo stops, though, and opportunities to just stop and absorb the beauty of this deep canyon.
Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to find excellent driving directions to the trailhead; it can be a bit tricky to find your first time. Please note that parking near the camp host, as the page suggests, is not likely to be an option in the off-season when the campground is closed. Instead, park at the trailhead (this is generally not possible during the summer, but there is usually plenty of room in the fall). Do not leave anything of value in your vehicle. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here, or else pay at the kiosk. Your first view of Eagle Creek is here as it rushes past the parking lot; this mountain-born stream will be the thread that traces the entire hike.
|Likely pika country|
At some point along the trail, you are likely to hear a sound like a stepped-on squeak toy emanating from a cliff or rock pile. You will have just heard a pika. These cute little rabbit relatives live in burrows among the rocks, where they store dried grasses for food during the winter. They are rarely seen, but they will let you know their whereabouts with their shrill whistle.
|Tunnel Falls. Vertigo indeed.|
|Water purification break.|
Water is readily available from the creek, but be sure to purify it before drinking. Dogs must be on a leash, not because the rules say so (they do), but because too many dogs have plunged over the cliffs here (we once encountered a couple trying to locate their dog, not knowing how badly it had been hurt by the drop). For the same reason, it is crucial to keep small children close if you bring them on this trail. Eagle Creek has carved an extraordinary but deep canyon here; please enjoy it safely.
As you head back to Portland, consider a quick stop at ever-photogenic Multnomah Falls. This exit is frequently closed during the summer months because the parking lot is filled to capacity. You will find that the 620-foot falls is equally beautiful in the fall after the tourists have thinned out and left you your very own parking space.
|A particularly narrow section of Eagle Creek Canyon|
|Ladies and gentlemen, your trail...|