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Eagle Creek to High Bridge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Approaching the High Bridge from downstream, Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Streambank globemallow (Iliamna rivularis), Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Punch Bowl Falls from the overlook (bobcat)
The Eagle Creek gorge below Loowit Falls (bobcat)
The cliff approach to the High Bridge before the Eagle Creek Fire (Jeff Statt)
Looking to Loowit Falls from the Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Upstream of the High Bridge, Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
The Eagle Creek Trail as far as the High Bridge
  • Start point: Eagle Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: High Bridge
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Out and Back
  • Distance: 6.4 miles (round trip)
  • Elevation gain: 840 feet
  • High point: 640 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: All year
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
  • Family Friendly: Yes, for older kids
Falling
Poison-Oak

Contents

**Falling Hazard**

Be careful with dogs or small children on the Eagle Creek Trail. On many sections, there is a steep cliff to one side of the trail. Maybe this isn't the best trail for dogs or kids.

Hike Description

The hike to the Eagle Creek Trail's High Bridge is a popular day-hike option. At about 6 1/2 miles round trip, and with a mere 840 feet of elevation gain, this outing gives you a great balance of effort vs. reward, and will hopefully whet your appetite for return visits that take you far farther up the gorge. As compared to the shorter excursion to Punch Bowl Falls, you'll get slightly smaller crowds, an additional pretty waterfall, and a lot more dangerous cliff exposure. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire burned hot in this section of the gorge, so you will be constantly reminded of that conflagration. In addition, two bridges, the Fern Creek Bridge and the High Bridge itself, had to be replaced because of fire damage. The PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) has done a magnificent job in restoring the trail, however, and the tread is in good shape. Bear in mind that it is only above the High Bridge that overnight camping is permitted on the Eagle Creek Trail.

Starting at the trailhead, pass a weir, and then follow the wide well-groomed trail above the creek for a stretch. The steep slopes above you are composed of conglomerates from the Eagle Creek Formation, sedimentary deposits laid down by the ancient Columbia River millions of years before the Columbia River Basalt Flows. In fact, you'll soon pass a large fossil tree stump, now much diminished because of the depredations of decades of souvenir snatchers. Also, you'll notice blackened conifers from the 2017 fire almost immediately, and most of the maples went up in flames but are vigorously sprouting back from their lignotubers. After you pass into a dripping grotto festooned with maidenhair fern, you'll rise above the Eagle Creek Formation and reach cliffs of Columbia River Basalts where the trail was blasted out of the rock. Here there is the first set of handrail cables, one of several along the trail. Penstemon, arnica, and saxifrage cling to the rocky fastness. Looking across the gorge, you can see different layers of basalt entablature separated by narrower bands of colonnade. Many months, the fog hangs low in the canyon, blocking your view of the sheer basalt walls towering above you. In places the trail is narrow, and you need to take care when passing others.

Soon you'll reach your second cliff face, also with a cable handrail. The small oaks on this steep slope were burned but are coming back from their bases. Conifers at the bottom of the canyon survived the fire with a full canopy, but you'll pass through a scorched area where fireweed, thimbleberry, poison oak, and ocean spray flourish. After you walk between two large Douglas-firs, you will see up the narrow gorge to the lower horsetail of 100-foot Sorenson Falls splashing off the east rim. Then 82-foot Metlako Falls spouts on Eagle Creek itself, where it makes a tight turn east. This will be your best sighting of Metlako Falls as the former overlook, on a now abandoned spur trail off the trail ahead, disappeared in a landslide in December 2016. As you turn into a gully, you'll get a glimpse of the top of Metlako Falls across the gorge and then cross Sorenson Creek, with its round concrete steps.

At the junction with the Lower Punch Bowl Trail #440B, you can descend 300 feet down into the gorge to see Lower Punch Bowl Falls and a 2018 landslide that blocked the creek (see the Eagle Creek to Punch Bowl Falls Hike). Otherwise, stay on the Eagle Creek Trail, and cross a massive crib wall constructed by the PCTA at a spot where the trail slid away. Soon, you'll come to the Punch Bowl Falls overlook, where you can view Punch Bowl Falls spouting into its circular amphitheater and magnificent deep pool below. You may recognize this viewpoint from photos and postcards. Please stay inside the guardrails. Every year, there is a story about someone falling from this spot and injuring themselves.

There's another view to Punch Bowl Falls as you continue along the Eagle Creek Trail, and then you'll cross the Tish Creek Bridge, this version installed in 2017 and miraculously a survivor of the fire later that year. After you cross a scree slope, the valley becomes more V-shaped with the slopes across scorched by a raging crown fire. The trail turns into a gully and passes over the Fern Creek Bridge, one of two bridges on the trail that had to be replaced after the fire. At the next scree slope, you should hear the alarm calls of the resident pikas, who survived the fire huddled in cool crevices below the surface. The trail negotiates its third cable-railed section on a high cliff with views to massive boulders that have tumbled into the creek below. At an exposed cliff viewpoint, you can see across to Loowit Falls splashing in a thin pretty veil down to a pool with a final short drop to Eagle Creek. Loowit Falls is framed by two small drops on Eagle Creek itself.

Rounding a corner at a rocky viewpoint, you can see ahead to the High Bridge, which spans a spectacularly narrow, sheer-sided gorge. The fourth cabled section of the trail takes you along a cliff 120 feet above the creek. Little succulent-leaved stonecrop plants bloom here in late spring. Standing on the High Bridge, you can see down the narrow gorge and also up the creek to small cascades. The bridge was damaged in the Eagle Creek Fire, with its floorboards completely burned, so it was replaced in October 2019, with the new version being airlifted in by helicopter. (The Eagle Creek Trail didn't reopen until 2021, however.) If you want to catch one more waterfall, you can hike a little farther upstream to get views, more open since the fire, of 50-foot Skoonichuck Falls, which plunges in two big tiers below a 400-foot cliff.

Longer alternatives include:


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Regulations, fees, etc

  • Northwest Forest Pass (or America the Beautiful Pass) required; fee kiosk at the trailhead
  • Restrooms, picnic tables, information kiosk, nearby campground
  • Dogs on leash
  • Limited parking; if lot is full, go back to the Eagle Creek Day Use Trailhead

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • I Heart Oregon (& Washington) by Lisa D. Holmes
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Trips & Trails: Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Best Hikes Near Portland, Oregon by Fred Barstad
  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Take a Hike: Portland by Barbara I. Bond
  • Hiking Oregon’s Geology by Ellen Morris Bishop
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Pokin’ Round the Gorge by Scott Cook
  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavich
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Best Outdoor Adventures Near Portland, Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • 50 Hikes in Oregon by David L. Anderson
  • Hiking Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hike America: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • Oregon’s Best Wildflower Hikes: Northwest Region by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon’s Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 42 Scenic Hikes: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 70 Hiking Trails: Northern Oregon Cascades by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Short Trips & Trails: The Columbia Gorge by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Steinstra & Sean Patrick Hill
  • Trail Running: Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Canine Oregon by Lizann Dunegan
  • Fire, Faults, and Floods: A Road & Trail Guide Exploring the Origins of the Columbia River Basin by Marge & Ted Mueller
  • Waterfall Lover’s Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.