Sunday morning we decided to go for a hike, rather than ride for two days straight. One of our last trips we had done part of a hike called the Eagle Creek Trail. We only did a short section of it, and I wanted to do the whole thing this time.
We managed to get an early enough start that the parking lot wasn't packed, but the trail was still very busy, and there were lots of people that came and went throughout the day. Not ideal, but for what has been described as "one of the most popular and magnificent trails in the Columbia River Gorge", that's not too surprising.
The hike itself is not that hard - it's pretty long at 12 miles round trip (I think we ended the day at a total of just over 22 km), but the elevation gain over the day was only 1600 feet. Just a nice, gradual uphill the whole way.
The trail itself is quite interesting and travels through quite a variety of terrain. In some place you are in temperate rainforest, and then in others it opens up and it feel like you're in meadows with these big oak trees. The main draw for this hike, like most that are in the Gorge are the waterfalls. This hike has lots of them, and most are quite easy to get to.
The first waterfall that you get to see is Metlako Falls, which you don't get close to, but you get this long, tunnel view down into. It's quite a nice looking waterfall, with a jet of water shooting out into a pool that seems to be hidden away in the forest. You don't get close to this waterfall, but the short side-trail that leads to the view point is worth doing.
About 1/2 a mile up the trail, there's another side trail that takes you down to the creek floor, and gives you access to Punchbowl Falls. There are two waterfalls here - Upper and Lower Punchbowl. Most people see the lower falls, which is immediately at the bottom of the side trail. To see the upper falls, you actually have to wade out into the river, to see far enough down the canyon to see the falls at the end. Or you can get back on the main trail and continue on to the viewpoint that looks down on the main falls.
The next waterfall on the tour was Loowit Falls. This very tall waterfall cascades down the opposite wall of the canyon, so you see if from a good distance back. As the trail winds a bit, you end up with a couple different views of the waterfall, which is kind of cool.
Just over 3 miles into the hike, you come to High Bridge, which is exactly what is sounds like. It's a bridge over the river, and it is quite a distance up in the air. Apparently High Bridge also marks the separation between camping/no camping for those looking to do longer, backcountry hikes.
It also marked about the halfway point for us on our way up to Tunnel Falls. We were still feeling pretty good at that point, so we decided to push on.
The trail is a good, well-used, well-maintained trail, but part of the fun of it is that there are sections where it becomes very narrow, and winds its way along the edge of cliffs. Nothing too dangerous really, but it does make for some interesting hiking - you have to pay attention through those stretches.
The other nice thing about this trail is that it is almost completely in the trees. There are short stretches where you come out into the open, but whether it's hot and sunny, or rainy and overcast, for much of the hike it's really all the same.
The rest of the hike up to Tunnel Falls was much of the same as the last few miles. Nice, relatively easy hiking, with the occasional small waterfall. Past High Bridge, the crowds thinned considerably, so we had more of the trail to ourselves, and saw way less people. Which was nice. It's much better to hike in the peace and quiet of the forest.
The end of our now very long hike was at Tunnel Falls. The Eagle Creek Trail continues of for a while more, but this was as far as we were going to go today. From the description, I was expecting a natural tunnel behind a water fall. Despite the impressive size of this waterfall, it was a bit of a disappointment that the tunnel behind the waterfall was man-made.
All that said, it was still a very impressive waterfall, and we were both glad to have come all the way to the end of the hike. We explored the waterfall from both sides, and this was one places where the slick rocks, the narrow trail and long fall to the bottom made me glad for the cables drilled into the rock face.
After hanging around Tunnel Falls to take some pictures, it was the long 6 mile hike back down to the car. Despite it being mostly downhill, it was a long slog and we were pretty wiped out by the end of it. We decided for the path of least effort, and had dinner at one of the local taco places in town, rather than trying to cook. We also missed the store closing, so we had no firewood for a campfire that night. It probably wasn't a big deal, as we were pretty exhausted and needed to head to bed anyway.