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Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Wahtum Lake (Jeff Statt)
Punch Bowl Falls (bobcat)
Side view of the High Bridge from the west bank, Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Tunnel Falls (Tom Kloster)
The 'Vertigo Mile' near Twister Falls (Jeff Statt)
Eagle Creek, just above Twister Falls (Jeff Statt)
Sevenmile Falls, from the Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
The first site in the area of 7 1/2 Mile Camp, just below the Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
Small waterfall above the East Fork Eagle Creek, Eagle Creek Trail (bobcat)
The route of the Eagle Creek Trail to Wahtum Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/USFS
  • Start point: Eagle Creek TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Wahtum Lake
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: In and out or loop
  • Distance: 26.1 miles (in and out)
  • Elevation gain: 3610 feet
  • High point: 3,725 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer into fall
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Crowded: Yes, especially the first 7 miles


Hike Description

This is a popular multi-day backpack trip, often done as a two-day, one-night excursion on summer weekends, thus inducing high competition for limited camp space. You will be hiking up the scenic and crowded Eagle Creek Trail, ascending steeply to Wahtum Lake. As of 2021, your only option for a return loop is to use the Pacific Crest Trail and then the Gorge Trail (almost 17 miles one way; 30 miles for the loop), with a former choice (the Ruckel Creek Trail) closed since the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. The PCT loop option will probably involve an overnight camp on the Benson Plateau. More rugged loop options used to include the Eagle-Benson Trail or the Ruckel Ridge Trail, but these have no longer been viable since the 2017 conflagration. The current recommendation is to return the way you came on Eagle Creek and enjoy the spectacular waterfalls and gorge scenery from a different angle. A leisurely approach may involve a night at Seven and a Half Mile Camp and two nights at Wahtum Lake, allowing a full day to day hike in the area. Return all the way down the Eagle Creek Trail on your last day.

The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire burned hot in this section of the gorge, so you will be constantly reminded of that conflagration until you pass the junction with the Indian Springs Trail. In addition, two bridges, the Fern Creek Bridge and the High Bridge, had to be replaced because of fire damage. However, as you enter the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness beyond Wy'East Camp, you'll encounter larger stands of intact canopy where the fire was less intense. The PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association) has done a magnificent job in restoring the trail, and the tread is in excellent shape. Bear in mind that it is only above the High Bridge that overnight camping is permitted on the Eagle Creek Trail; in addition, many of the original campsites have disappeared under heavy brush or downed trees, so availability is more limited.

For an overnight backpack, it's recommended that you park at the Eagle Creek Day Use Trailhead, next to the fish hatchery and camp host, for better security. Hike up Eagle Creek Lane along the burbling creek, passing the historic day use area and the Eagle Creek Bridge. At the regular Eagle Creek Trailhead, pass the kiosk to find the trail. You'll see a weir to the right and then follow the wide well-groomed route 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 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. 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.

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. 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.

After crossing the High Bridge, walk high above the creek to get a good view, more open since the fire, of 50-foot Skoonichuck Falls, which plunges in two big tiers below a 400-foot cliff. You'll reach the location of Tenas Camp, the first area of permitted camping on the Eagle Creek Trail. The campsites to the right of the trail were obliterated by two large Douglas-firs, which fell in early 2017. There are a couple of small sloping campsites below the trail. From this area, you can get a view back to a pinnacle formation on the west side of the Eagle Creek Gorge. Past Tenas Camp, the forest was heavily burned in the 2017 fire. Pass along another cliff face to reach Four and a Half Mile Bridge, only the second time you'll cross Eagle Creek. Before the bridge, a trail leads down to the cobbled shore and a swimming hole, a nice place to cool off on a hot day.

Across the creek, you'll may notice little Tenas Falls, where a tributary splits around a rock to make a twin plunge into Eagle Creek. Next, you'll see the mouth of Opal Creek, which flows steeply down from the bowl below Tanner Butte. The trail crosses a rocky wash above thickets of willow on the creek, and tiger lilies bloom at the trail verge in early summer. A spur leads down to some campsites, and the view up the creek is of a lush green canyon with living trees! You'll soon reach Wy'East Camp, where the former campsites along the trail have been decommissioned and staked out with "Site Restoration" signs. A path leads up to some sites on a bench above the trail, and there are more campsites below. The trail passes the boundary sign for the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and enters a shady defile to cross Wy'East Creek. Tall, ribbon-like Wy'East Falls plunges from a basalt rampart. Then you'll pass under a cliff face to reach the junction with the Eagle Benson Trail #434. (The Eagle Benson Trail, which rises 2,900 feet to the Benson Plateau, has not been maintained since the 2017 fire.)

Below the trail, on a bench above Eagle Creek, you'll see the campsites at Blue Grouse Camp. The trail crosses scree slopes that bloom with stonecrop in late spring. Then you'll negotiate another cable-railed cliff face on hexagonal "paving stones", actually columns of basalt sheared off by the original trail builders. (This is a section of trail sometimes called the "The Potholes".) You'll get a view to Grand Union Falls down on Eagle Creek; these falls are just below the confluence of the East and West Forks of Eagle Creek. The trail enters a lovely amphitheater, dripping with moss and maidenhair fern, where Tunnel Falls plunges 175 feet to a shallow pool.

As the name implies, your path will pass through a tunnel behind the falls about midway up the drop. Consider, as you enter the tunnel, that work to build trail was completed before 1920, and the trail bench has been virtually unchanged since! The falls convey the East Fork Eagle Creek from the bluffs above to the creek bed below, and then downstream into the main Eagle Creek run. After you pass through the tunnel, you'll see yellow-blooming streambank arnica clinging to the cliff face.

The last two major waterfalls, both on the West Fork Eagle Creek, can be seen in the next half mile, and the trail grade continues to be gentle. As you hike out along the cliff from Tunnel Falls on the sixth cabled section of the trail, you can see down to where the East Fork Eagle Creek plunges through a defile to its confluence with the West Fork. Then you'll get a view up the West Fork to the lowest tier of 148 foot tall Twister Falls (sometimes called "Crossover Falls" or "Eagle Creek Falls"). Many have referred to this stretch of trail as the "Vertigo Mile". It is the most dramatic section of the hike for its vertical rise above the gorge floor. You'll reach the top of Twister Falls, with its necktie "crossover" of two streams of water. There are rock benches on the stream here where you can take a break, and small drops above on the creek where there are swimming holes.

It's another quarter mile of shady, intact canopy to Sevenmile Falls, which plunges 52 feet into a deep pool. Seven and a Half Mile Camp is a little farther up the trail. There's a lovely spot below the trail on the creek, with the main camp bench a few hundred yards up the trail after you enter another intensely burned area of the 2017 fire.

From Seven and a Half Mile Camp, it's about 2,300 feet in elevation gain to reach Wahtum Lake. The Eagle Creek Trail maintains a distance from the West Fork and crosses a couple of large streams. You'll switchback at the obscure Eagle Creek-Eagle Tanner Trail Junction and ascend the slope, crossing the two streams again. After a long traverse, the trail switchbacks at the nose of a ridge, the divide between the East and West Forks of Eagle Creek. There is a beautiful view here down the main Eagle Creek Canyon toward the Columbia River.

The trail sticks to the east side of the ridge crest and passes the junction with the Indian Springs Trail. Continuing up the East Fork valley, you'll pass a small waterfall. Soon, you'll exit the area of the Eagle Creek Burn and enter a younger silver fir, Douglas-fir, western hemlock woodland. The trail enters a wide gully, and you'll see campsites situated below. Then you'll cross a large stream and pass the Upper Eagle Camp to reach a talus slope. There are more streams and talus slopes as you continue to rise to a jumble of boulders which offer a view to Chinidere Mountain. Everything becomes more lush and overgrown as you cross several streams overhung by Sitka alder and vine maple. Large cedars and a huge noble fir tower overhead as the trail is often wet and spongy from uphill seeps in a forest several hundred years old. Devil's club chokes the next watercourse. There are two more open talus slopes, with a massive Douglas-fir guarding the trail at the first. The East Fork of Eagle Creek, with its source in Wahtum Lake, rushes below, and you'll continue to rise beneath outstanding old growth silver firs.

When you reach the Eagle Creek-Chinidere Cutoff Trail Junction, there's a choice to make. There are a few small campsites across the East Fork on the Chinidere Cutoff Trail. These are the last to fill on busy days and are a more secluded choice than the busy sites near the Pacific Crest Trail at Wahtum Lake. (Bear in mind, that some "campsites" right on the lakeshore are designated day use only.) If you want to try the PCT sites, however, keep straight on the Eagle Creek Trail to keep left at the Pacific Crest-Eagle Creek Trail Junction near the west end of serene Wahtum Lake. (This junction is the official terminus of the Eagle Creek Trail.) Wahtum Lake is nestled large and lovely in its forested cirque. Keep following the PCT around the shore of the lake in old growth noble fir/silver fir forest. Look for sites above and below the trail on the south and west shores.


  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Eagle CreekTrail #440 (USFS)
  • 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 at trailhead
  • Dogs on leash
  • Parking areas fill up; get there early on holidays and weekends
  • Overnight camping permitted above the High Bridge; campfires not allowed! At Wahtum Lake, camp in designated overnight sites only.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavich
  • One Night Wilderness: Portland by Douglas Lorain
  • 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
  • Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge: Camping & Hiking by Tom Steinstra & Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


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.

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