Backpacking at Eagle Creek
The Columbia River Gorge is unlike anywhere you’ve hiked before. Forget the mountainous, strenuous hiking Washington offers, and imagine instead walking through the pages of your favorite fantasy novel. The trails are lush and mossy green even in the dead of winter.
Some articles about Eagle Creek Trail boast that there are so many waterfalls along the 13 mile loop that you’ll lose count. When I read that I immediately said, “Challenge Accepted!” However, I found the challenge almost more than I was capable of. I think there were twenty total falls but in the first two miles there are just so many that you lose track. I blame my failure on the distracting presence of the trail itself. Walking cliff side on a narrow path with rebar lines to grasp in case you slip on the undergrowth is always a great sign that you’re on an amazing hike.
The first four miles the path is extremely narrow and there are no campsites. Indeed, camping isn’t even permitted in this stretch. After the High Bridge point however, you can camp anywhere you’d like. You have to be 200 foot off the trail to have a campfire but other than that, there are no restrictions. Camp by the river, in the grassy knolls, twenty foot from a double waterfall, the possibilities are endless.
You can do this hike in a day. Thirteen miles sounds tough, but remember, this is a stroll through the woods, not a summit trail. There are a few side trails that are worth doing. To the bottom of the Punch Bowl falls is definitely a must do (especially in the summer months). So I recommend camping and taking your time to do the trail.
There are a lot of campsites that have clearly been used by hikers again and again so take your pick. Don’t just settle for the first one you come to. There is more than likely a better spot just around the corner, so be patient and get the best one. I camped around mile four by the river with two waterfalls just across the water. Keep in mind, I hiked this trail in January so the trail wasn’t really busy. If you hike in the summer it might be a little more difficult to find a spot.
What should you wear? Boots, not tennis shoes. With 20+ waterfalls, this is a wet hike and some of it (especially early on) is rather muddy. You will also have to walk logs to cross streams so waterproof shoes are a must. A lightweight rain shell should be sufficient for this trail if you have the customary PNW layers in your pack to add and take off as needed. Bring a toboggan if you’re going to camp. While you’re hiking you stay warm enough but once you stop for the night you’ll want to keep your heat in with a hat and gloves.
A note on bringing your dog: I have a border collie and I typically allow her to be off-leash no matter the trail rules (as do most people who hike with dogs in the PNW). However, on this trail I kept her on-leash except at my campsite. The trail is very narrow and dogs have fallen off in the past and gotten seriously injured or killed. I hiked past fifteen other dogs though, and none of them were on a leash.
Whether you live in the PNW or are just visiting, this hike should be in your top ten things to do while you’re here. You will not be disappointed, and it is perfect for the entire family.