Thursday, December 6, 2012

Unexpected Beauty on Eagle Creek

Judging by the decline in comments on my last two posts, I need to provide another hiking story!  And I've got just the trip - join me on a visit to the Eagle Creek Trail, crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

The mighty Eagle Creek

Last Friday was another day off from work.  My original plan was to head up to Mt. Hood for some skiing.  But a morning check of the conditions reported a 25 inch base, 32 degree temps, and rain on the way.  Not wishing to get soaked while dodging rocks on skimpy snow, I activated "Plan B."

Which was, of course, to go for hike!  (Bet you didn't see that coming) 

Droopy moss covers the tree

I headed to the Eagle Creek Trail.  If you can only hike one trail in the Columbia River Gorge, this is the one to choose.  Following lovely Eagle Creek, this path takes one through beautiful old growth woods, under amazing tall vertical cliffs, across dizzying high bridges spanning deep gorges, and past numerous waterfalls. 

Last of the fall colors

Unlike most other Gorge Trails that rocket straight up the steep bluffs, this hike stays fairly level.  With portions of the trail perched on ledges blasted from cliff sides, it's an engineering marvel.  Wildly popular, the Eagle Creek Trail resembles a hiker freeway during spring and summer months.  Wishing to avoid the masses, I usually steer clear of the place during these times.

Serious exposure part of the trail

 But on a rainy day in late November, I'd have the place nearly to myself.  Which is exactly how I like it.

But there are handrails...

Now that most of the autumn leaves had fallen, I wasn't expecting any stunning scenery.  I figured it would be a good "stretch your legs and get outside" kind of hike.  But I of course brought my camera just in case.

It's a long way down!

Parking at the trailhead, I was amazed by all the green.  And  the color was due not to leaves, but huge amounts of moss hanging from the trees.  The moss was a bright, electric green and it really brightened up the area.

Heading down the trail, I couldn't believe all the moss that was coating trees and adjacent rocks.  I've hiked this trail numerous times, and never before noticed it.  Maybe the lack of leaves on the trees just highlighted it more.

Everything but the trail is green

About a mile into the trail, I came upon the first of the cliffside paths.  Here the trail becomes a narrow ledge, perched on the side of a steep basalt wall.  Traversing this section gives one exciting, vertigo-inducing views - not for the faint of heart.  Steel cables are embedded into the adjacent rock for those hikers needing something to cling onto.  Of course the rock walls were also encased in a feathery coating of bright green moss.  Very cool!

Metlako Falls

Two miles into the trail visitors get a glimpse of the first waterfall, Metlako Falls.  Tucked away at the end of a deep gorge, this cascade can only be viewed from a distant cliff-edge overlook.  But I got out my zoom lens and captured it anyway.

Gateway to Punchbowl Falls

Not far from Metlako Falls is the next great waterfall, this one a little more accessible.  A steep path leading to Punchbowl Falls takes visitors from the main trail down to the creek's edge.  This area is very picturesque, featuring a broad beach of rounded rocks surrounded by high, mossy walls.

Trader Joe's treats

Punch Bowl Falls is hidden away between two high basalt cliffs that form a sort of "gateway."  The falls can be viewed just beyond this mossy grotto.  In the summer, water levels are low enough to see it from the beach.  But this time of year, high water inundates the shore.  Punch Bowl Falls can only be viewed by wading out into the creek.  The water was much too deep for my liking.  Not keen on completing my hike with wet feet, I opted to pass up today's waterfall photo session.

Cookie break!

So you'll have to settle for photos of me eating cookies instead.  Yeah, Trader Joe's has their holiday cookies out now, and I had a most excellent selection with me.  Perfect with tea!

Cool little rock cairn

Instead of waterfalls, I busied myself taking photos of the small cairns someone had constructed from beach rocks. 

Eagle Creek below Punchbowl Falls

And I took more shots of this lovely creek.  Isn't it amazing?  (Even in the rain and fog it looks good)

Ferns a-plenty

Continuing on in the land of green, I passed more moss-encrusted trees, and a hillside covered with gigantic ferns.

Loowit Falls

Three miles down the trail brought me to Loowit Falls, a tall delicate cascade spilling down the side of a narrow gorge.

The fog is rolling in

About the time I reached this point, the fog began to thicken, and rain started to pitter-patter on my head. 

Stay on the trail!

I managed to get a few more shots of this amazing deep gorge that dropped vertically below the trail.  Another place where the path is a mere rock shelf hanging over the abyss. 

Or this is where you'll end up

But the views are fantastic!  On a sunny spring day, this place is simply amazing.  Of course on this drizzly November afternoon, it wasn't too bad either.

Foggy, rainy return trip

The increasing rain and lateness of the day forced Bear and I to turn around at mile 3.5, and head back.  Not wanting to risk my camera in the rain, we marched back without any photo breaks, and beat the sunset by mere minutes.

I was pleasantly surprised to find so much beauty outside on a dreary November day.  It just goes to show there is never a bad time to hike in the Gorge.


  1. Coming down the Eagle Creek Trail was definitely one of my favorite experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail. There couldn't be a better place to end hiking in Oregon.

  2. Wow, looks incredible. Such a foreign looking landscape for us aussies. I love how dogs don't worry about little things like exposure and slippery paths.

  3. Stunning scenery - I'm amazed at how green everything is for this time of year.

  4. Gorgeous views Linda. This one is on my bucket list for next spring :)

  5. What an amazing place! Bear is gorgeous :) we always end up eating our snacks about ten mins into a willpower!

  6. Gorgeous and yes scary but oh those falls. Water falls that is.

  7. OMG, that trail is so scary, one slip and it will be your end, or your camera's. But if I were there i will try to tag along with you, just for the waterfalls! Is that narrow trail as wide as 2ft, oh yes i can negotiate that. But your time is so incredible, are there no landslides in there during rains? If that is in the tropics, that is extremely dangerous to be there at those times! Your post is suspense thriller, PG18! haha. thanks for visiting my site.

  8. Linda! This trail takes my breath away, and not just due to the vertigo-inducing views! I was longing for a trail like this on our damp day here today, but I'll have to settle for pics of yours because there ain't nothing like that out here in farm country!


    Posting in blogosphere tends to come and go...doesn't it? Sometimes I think it might be the post, but really, I think it is just that some weeks time isn't on ones side.

  10. Linda, that is such a beautiful trail! I'm adding it the list of trails I want to explore when I get to the Pacific Northwest. The waterfalls are gorgeous and it looks like there is a certain thrill walking the cliffs...just the challenge for an un-surefooted gal like me! Awesome post! Than you for sharing :)

  11. Simply beautiful. Love your hiking posts. You live near some of the best places

  12. Gorgeous shots! Everything looks saturated in moisture. It must be amazingly green in springtime.


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