Eagle Creek – Punch Bowl Falls – Tunnel Falls – Wahtum Lake

MAY 7 2010

5,310 Feet
30.02 miles Round Trip
Myself, David, Drew
Eagle Creek Hiking Photos

Route Replay
Hiker Trail Info

Eagle Creek is an extremely popular trail due to the multiple waterfalls, swim areas, and its relatively flat. The trail starts about a half mile or so from the Camp Host area (right of Interstate 84). If you plan on doing a multi-day trip it is wise to park here and tack on the extra mileage because it will give you some peace of mind that your car is relatively safe in this more highly trafficked area.

The trail parallels Eagle Creek most of the way providing you with some great views of the creek, waterfalls, and high cliffs. Eagle Creek flows through a small gorge with high cliffs on either side. Much of the trail was cut into the hillside – hence its unstableness during the winter months.

On hot summer days the general public usually hikes up just 2 miles to Punch Bowl Falls. This is a beautiful waterfall that has become a hot spot for adrenaline seekers. For others it is simply a popular swimming hole. However, in May it seemed as though nobody was willing to test out the mountain cold water.

DSCN0421

[Thrill Seekers jumping off of Punch Bowl Falls]

The High Bridge that crosses over Eagle Creek is at about mile 3 and is another popular out and back day hike. Just another 3 miles down the trail is Tunnel Falls (6miles in). Tunnel Falls is a man made tunnel that moles through the cliff side behind a waterfall. The tunnel was blasted and built back in the 1910s as another attraction along the Historic Columbia River Highway. This is an awesome waterfall that is extremely powerful! This video walk-through does not do it justice, but gives you a glimpse –

[Dave filming Drew and I walking through Tunnel Falls]

For day hikers the journey typical ends here at Tunnel Falls. I always recommend to family and friends to walk another .2 miles up trail to enjoy yet again more waterfalls. Twisty Falls is a cool falls and just above it there is a great lunch spot along the creek.

IMG_9408 [Twisty Falls]

Twisty Falls was the furthest I had hiked up until this trip. I have 2 beefs with the Eagle Creek Trail – How crowded it gets and how rocky the trail is. When it is really crowded on this trail it can definitely ruin your hiking experience. Many sections of this trail are along cliffs with not-so-wide trail, which makes it difficult pass by others. The other small annoyance is how rocky the trail is. It may sound petty, but when you log some decent mileage on this trail your feet will definitely let you know!

We left on a Friday afternoon and avoided most of the crowds. Beyond Tunnel Falls we saw just 5 people (over the course of 6 miles). The section after Tunnel Falls is absolutely amazing with many more waterfalls. As you start to gain elevation the trail improves from sharp rock to soft undergrowth – making things much easier on the feet and knees.

Our start time was 1:16pm. Our plan was to make it up to Wahtum Lake and camp there. Then the following day based on weather conditions we would hopefully do a loop up to Chinidere Point – Benson Plateau – and down Ruckel Creek. I was well aware that snow levels were low and that our trip could be altered, but I was excited to just get out on the trail and was cool with playing things by ear.

Passing people early on we were asked about our trip. This older guy told us a few stories about “when he was younger” and how him and his buddies hiked all over the area. Then he proceeded to tell us that it would be a long shot for us to make it up to Wahtum Lake that night. This nonetheless motivate the hell out of us. I knew it might be close, but was definitely optimistic with how we were holding up so far pace wise.

From Twisty Falls the trail continues to follow the creek for just another mile or so then shoots up into the dense forest gaining some decent elevation. At about 2100ft (Inspiration Point) you get a decent glimpse of how vast the Columbia River Gorge Forest is. Beyond Inspiration Point we were welcomed with small sections of snow. At first it was kind of fun – then it became annoying – then we were completely done with it and never wanted to see it again.

IMG_9452 [Dave and Drew at Inspiration Point looking onward]

IMG_9492

[Dave struggling in the soft deep snow – Drew plotting a much smarter route to avoid being eaten up by the deep cold snow]

Despite the deep snow and us probably being somewhat ill-equipped for such conditions we pushed on and finally made it to Wahtum Lake. However, this was the scene when we arrived…

DSCN0505[Me taking a break from the snow in a mud puddle – also contemplating this as a camping spot]

DSCN0508

[Wahtum Lake snow covered in all]

Once we arrived to Wahtum Lake we achieved are goal, but definitely needed a place to eat, get warm, and sleep and Wahtum Lake was definitely not it! After strategizing about possible alternative routes – we finally came to our senses after starring off into the obis and seeing snow everywhere. It was decided to turn around and head back down below the snow level. We plowed through the snow in a quarter of the time it took us to hike up. We quickly hiked down and could feel the temperature increase as we dropped in elevation. It got dark fast in the trees so we had to bust out our headlamps to find camp.

Hiking up we saw many great camping spots. This trail is highly used by boy scout groups and is well-maintained with good signage and plentiful campsites near the trail.  We pulled off at the first decent looking camp spot. Time was of the essence as the little day light we did have was fading fast. We quickly unpacked and started setting up the tent, cooking dinner, and gathering firewood.

Lucky for us it was rather warm once we hiked down below the snow level. We had a few solid attempts at building a fire with water-logged wood, but in the end it was a failure. However, it was definitely entertaining to see who could get the fire to sustain itself the longest.

DSCN0513 [Dave’s 2 man tent ended up having to fit 3 men – it all worked out okay in the end..]

We awoke to a cold morning. With our subpar fire starting skills and the wet wood we decided to get on the trail right away. We hiked a few miles down to another great camping spot and cooked up some piping hot oatmeal – delicious!

DSCN0523 [Love oatmeal in the morning!]

IMG_9519 [Nearby creek – used it to clean our dishes]

After breakfast the sun started to come out a bit warming up the densely cool forest. With doing an out and back hike instead of our planned loop things were a bit more relaxing. We didn’t have to worry about time and were able to take in the sights a bit more as our pace was much less rigorous going down. We came across a few early risers who had similar plans as ours. We shared our experience and talked out some possible alternative routes due to snow levels.

We reenergized at one of my favorite spots on the way back – Twisty Falls. Took the boots off, ate some food, and took in some vitamin d.

The sun and blue skies brought out the crowds. Once we turned the corner to Tunnel Falls we started to see more and more people. It was nice as all of the traffic was headed up trail.

We took a couple more short breaks just off the trail to give the feet a break from the sharp rocky trail. I finally learned how to use the ‘macro’ feature on my camera.

IMG_9539 [testing out my camera features]

This was a solid backpacking trip. I would recommend it most especially to the beginner backpacker (in ideal conditions) as it is relatively flat, just 30 miles and has amazing views (waterfalls, riverside hiking, valley views, etc). If you wanted to cut down on the mileage you also could drive up to Wahtum Lake and hike down through Eagle Creek.

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One response to this post.

  1. Wow! What a trip! Great post, great videos. I wouldn’t have liked the narrow high path at tunnel falls! Glad you got the macro shot – I’d love to see more like that!

    Reply

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