Friday, May 26, 2017

The Light Adventurer: Eagle Creek Trail in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge 2017

Being a 65+ person, I'm all for what is called "light adventure." This week, I found adventure and stunning natural beauty in Oregon's Columbia Gorge. With a group (a great idea for light adventurers) I trekked from the Eagle Creek Trailhead to Punch Bowl Falls. I'll tell you what I experienced and add a few tips for a safe and comfortable hike.

Choosing the Day for the Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek, less than an hour from Portland, Oregon is a very popular hike. On weekends, you'll have a hard time finding a parking place and may end up parking a mile away at the fish hatchery. Plus, if you are a light adventurer like me, you might be taking it slowly and the Millenials and trail runners can get a little testy.

So choose a weekday if you can. Go as early as you feel comfortable. We went at noon on a Thursday in May and found a place to park. I'd recommend going earlier as the trail was getting busy when we returned from our hike at about 3 p.m.

Eagle Creek Trailhead
Trailhead. Park here if you can. There are restrooms (flush toilet)
and a place to buy your pass.
Choose a Reasonable Distance

The Eagle Creek Trail to Punchbowl Falls is not an easy one. It's very rocky in spots, is a smooth incline most of the way (we were told 500 foot elevation gain) and there are some narrow spots with cables provided to grab on to. So the 4 mile round trip distance is a good one for the light adventurer. 

You'll probably take two hours to reach Punch Bowl Falls because of the incline and, of course, stopping to take photos and admire the beauty of the area. Coming back is much easier because it is a gradual slope down, but the narrow spots and rocks remain. 

Hiking Eagle Creek
Eagle Creek Trail
What You Will See on the Eagle Creek Trail

So this is why you go.  You'll be hiking beside the beautiful Eagle Creek, look up to see water dripping off tall basalt cliffs and marvel at the lush temperate rain forest interspersed with warmer hillsides where oak trees grow. The greenery along this trail runs from maidenhair ferns to delicate wildflowers, clinging to damp cliffs. You'll experience old growth forest dripping with moss and catch a glimpse of what a rough winter can do to a trail and trees.

Maidenhair Ferns along the Trail
Although not all that far from the highway, you'll be hiking into wilderness and may encounter backpackers coming down from the mountains. Remember, the trail to Punch Bowl is only the beginning. There are more waterfalls and excitement if you keep going. But for me, the 4 mile round trip was just right. I was good and tired when I returned.

The Beauty of Punchbowl Falls

You'll be taking a detour off the main trail at about the 1.8 mile point. This trail will take you DOWN (remember if you go down, you must come back up!) a pretty steep trail to get to Eagle Creek. This is where you may not dive, just in case you are interested. You'll see people in bathing suits enjoying the rocky beach and wading for views of Punchbowl Falls.

However, I have to say, the creek was running high this week and I didn't get to see the falls. I had Goretex boots on and tried to walk out on the rocks, but many were slippery with moss so I turned back and just enjoyed what I could see... which was stunning!

I couldn't see the falls but it was beautiful!
 I was a little disappointed because, all along the way, I was thinking about a couple I knew who got married at Punchbowl Falls and had magnificent photos to remember the event.

Punchbowl Falls. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Common
Its a great place for lunch or a snack and to soak in the feel and sound of the rushing water and the play of light on the cliff walls. And then you'll hike back up the trail. The good thing is once you make it up that side trail, the trip back is pretty quick and is downhill most all the way.

The following information includes affiliate links, just FYI.

Tips for Your Eagle Creek Trail Light Adventure

Kids and Dogs - Remember those narrow trail areas on the cliffside with cable hand holds? Well it's no problem for careful adults, but if your kids are not careful and your dog is not under control, you can be in danger. Here are some dog safety tips from Cinnamon the Coonhound.

The paths aren't that bad if you are careful.

Gear Up for Your Hike - You'll be more comfortable and safe if you have the following:

 - Water Bottle or Hydration Pack - It was just a warm spring day when I went. I carried a small bottle of water and finished every drop by the time I finished the hike. There are cliff face trails that are exposed to the sun and can get very hot. Consider a small hydration pack.

- Lunch or Snacks - Carry at least some trail mix or snack bar. The hike might take longer than you think it will and a good trail bar or mix will give you energy. I prefer Corazonas bars. They taste great and are a healthy snack.

- Hiking Stick or Hiking Poles - Due to uneven terrain, rocks and tree roots, you'll need to consider a hiking stick. I prefer my collapsible travel staff. It gives me a third leg and helps a lot when I trip or slip (which isn't uncommon for me!)

- Gortex Hiking Boots with Good Tread - It's uneven terrain out there on the trail and it's rather rocking in places. I like a mid-height gortex hiking boot. We had to cross a small creek on the way up and my boots kept out the water.

- For Swimmers and Waders - We didn't plan for a swim in the rocky river but if you would like to indulge, take water shoes or water sandals and shorts with you to change in to. The water was high and we could have seen Punchbowl Falls (and cooled off) if we had brought a change of clothing.

Light Adventurers probably don't need this reminder!
 - Last but Not Least - Bring your camera. There is plenty to photograph along the way from scenery to wildflowers.

One reason it took us 2 hours on the way up!

When You Go

- Coming from Portland, travel eastbound on I-84, and turn off at Exit #41. At the bottom of the ramp turn right. Go about 1/2 mile to the end of the road (don’t park at the fish hatchery unless the trailhead lot is full). When you leave, you’ll have to take I-84 eastbound to the Cascade Locks exit and turn around there. But you might also want to check out Thunder Island Brewing in Cascade Locks and swap trail stories with the Pacific Crest Trail through hikers.

- (Coming from the east, there is no westbound exit at Eagle Creek. You must continue on I-84 and get off at the Bonneville Dam exit, get back on the interstate and backtrack to exit #41.)

- You will need a Northwest Forest Pass or Federal Senior/ Disabled pass. There is a drop box for purchasing the day pass at the trailhead. If you use a senior or disabled pass, just put it on your dashboard.

You'll be glad you went to Eagle Creek. It's beautiful!