Eagle Creek Overnight: 8 Miles Out, 8 Miles Back

When you live in Portland, Oregon, you learn pretty quickly that you must take advantage of every sunny day, especially when they fall on the weekend. This post is the tale of how crazy all the trails get within a 100-mile radius of Portland when we do get good weather around here.

Doot, doot, doot doot dadoot dadoot…  Breaking News! Sun will be shining on the Portland area Saturday and Sunday this weekend, said the weather forecaster on TV. Immediately I, and thousands of other locals, think, “where should we go to take advantage of this great weather?” I got an email from my friend Cassie, “…would you be interested in doing a Saturday/Sunday overnighter hike, maybe at Eagle Creek? The weekend looks like it will be warm & dry. XO C”

YES! We’re on. Eagle Creek is one of the best hike and camp areas close to town. It’s just over 30 minutes in the car and right off of Hwy 84. I’ve enjoyed Eagle Creek many times because of its plentiful waterfalls and unique rock formations, but this trip beat all other hikes I’ve done here. The down side is competing with thousands of hikers for room on the trail.

I guess that’s why we had to park over a mile from the trailhead when we arrived. The cars didn’t scare us away and the crowds of people didn’t either. We knew it would be crazy. Not only did we see way too many people on the first part of our hike, but at least two of every three groups had dogs with them. Eagle Creek is a very popular hiking spot, but I’d guess that at least 85% of the hikers only make it as far as Punchbowl Falls.

Punchbowl Falls is about 4 miles in and truly a great hike if you don’t overnight it, but there is so much to see past this point and fewer hikers.

As we hiked, we saw a couple of slithering creatures alongside the trail. Snakes really seem to like this area, but most stay hidden from view. We heard a few more than we saw; of course, they won’t come near you and you shouldn’t go near them either. I don’t think they are poisonous, but it’s just better that we keep our distances. There are also tons of flowers adding color to the Basalt rock and small fields seen along the trail this time of year.

The best fall on the trail is about 6 miles in and known as Tunnel Falls. All I can say is that it’s intense, dramatic, very green and thunderous especially in the spring when the melt-off is running heavy. My heart was pounding as we arrived here. It was my first time  making it to this point and I can say it was spectacular! I couldn’t help but think that all the hikers who’d already turned around were really missing out.

Camping areas can be found just past Punchbowl Falls, and they continue to be scattered throughout the trail system. As Cassie and I trekked further in, we noticed that the trails had fewer people on them, but the campsites were filling up fast. Each one we passed had campers, and it seemed we may not get a spot alone. That was OK with us. It might have been nice to hang out with a few like-minded folks for a night. At the 8-mile point, we found an empty site. It wasn’t right next to the river, but there were already campers in those spots.

We set up our tent and two hammocks, hung our bags, and started to work on the fire. We had a hard time starting the fire because of all the recent rain, but were content to use our camp stoves to heat the water needed for our dried food meals and then snuggle into our hammocks for the night without the blaze nearby.

Now, I have to share with you the last trip we went on where we used hammocks for sleeping. We were in  Zion National Park, hiking the West Rim Trail in April. This was our first real backcountry camping experience, and it showed. Our packs were 30 lbs and we didn’t even bring a tent. We truly thought it would be warm enough, but boy were we wrong. The climb was out of our league and we hiked through some deep snow areas to get to the top of the rim.

Up on the rim it got as low as 35 degrees, and half way through the first of two nights sleeping in my hammock, it ripped and my butt hit the ground. Now, you should know I’m a good sleeper, but obviously that woke me. I tried to just relax and lie there, but the position was not pleasant for very long. I wound up sleeping on the ground for the weekend.

Some people would have never tried to sleep in a hammock again, but not me. I bought a new one, made sure it was good quality and tried again on this trip to Eagle Creek. This time I packed a tent just in case the hammock or weather didn’t hold up, and it was a success!

The next morning we hit the trail back to the car. Another 8 miles, and by the time we made it to our parking spot, we were sore and hungry for a hearty lunch. Because of the way the highway runs past Eagle Creek, you must head east on 84 and turn around in Cascade Locks to return to Portland, so our lunch spot was there. There were several places, but we chose the Cascade Inn. The menu had sandwiches and dinner-style food. The burgers were way overcooked, but it filled us up and we enjoyed the people-watching while we ate.

Something to keep in mind: you must have a Northwest Forest Pass or pay the day fee of $5. Also, here are some great historical facts about this area:

Built in the 1910s to accompany the opening of the Columbia River Highway, the Eagle Creek Trail was blasted out the cliffs with dynamite by Italian engineers. The area above the 800-foot-elevation mark was officially designated Wilderness in 1984.

 The many layers of columnar basalt exposed in the cliffs of Eagle Creek are all part of the massive lava outpourings that inundated 50,000 square miles of Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho to a depth of up to a mile 10 to 17 million years ago. These rock floods surged down the ancient Columbia River to the sea, pushing the river north to its present location. Read More

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