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Punchbowl Falls Park Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to Punchbowl Falls at sunset (Tom Kloster)
Staircase to fish ladder above Punchbowl Falls (bobcat)
Nine-leaf desert parsley (Lomatium triternatum), Punchbowl Falls (bobcat)
View to the confluence from the Yew Trail (Tom Kloster)
Dead Point Falls (bobcat)
The trail system in Punchbowl Falls Park (Tom Kloster)
Falling
Poison Oak

Contents

Hike Description

Trailkeepers of Oregon crews have been constructing short trails here on what used to be private land but saw regular infiltrations by the local youth in the summer. These 102 acres on the West Fork Hood River became a Hood River county park in 2016 after an initial acquisition by the Western Rivers Conservancy. You’ll enjoy an oak woodland, wildflower meadows, and a couple of waterfalls in a picturesque gorge. The hike ends at the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Hood River. You can return via the short but leafy Dogwood Trail.

Note that the far more famous and much photographed waterfall on Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge is spelled as two words: Punch Bowl Falls.

The trail departs from an old access road. Walk around a gate and pass a sign for the park. About 50 yards from the gate, you’ll see a path departing the road on your left (To the right, you can see the return part of the loop trail).

The White Oak Trail leads through an oak wood above the basalt-columned lower gorge of the West Fork. Lupine and Oregon grape verge the route. You’ll notice the rambling and decaying staircase dropping down the cliff on the opposite side of the gorge: this gave access to an ugly and intrusive fish ladder constructed in 1959 at Punchbowl Falls. Pass across a wet slope, which blooms with grass widow, saxifrage, buttercup, monkey flower, and larkspur during the spring. There are a couple of tie trails that lead back to the access road. Soon, the trail splits, with a lower section that passes along the edge of the cliff, while the main trail is routed behind an oak copse. Here, you’ll pass a shrine and cross that attests to the perils of these cliffs. You’ll arrive at a viewpoint almost directly above Punchbowl Falls, with a great view downstream to its magnificent amphitheater. Look upstream to see if the top of Mount Hood is visible. A trail leads down to the left to reach the river, crossing the lush seeps. This trail is sometimes used by fishermen from the Warm Springs Reservation, who use ladders to reach the pool below Punchbowl Falls.

The White Oak Trail leads up from this viewpoint and then splits left just before reaching the road. The path leads to a second oak-shaded viewpoint which gives you a frontal view of 10-foot Punchbowl Falls and its fish ladder/wooden staircase as well as a partial sighting of 75-foot Dead Point Falls plunging down a steep gully across the gorge. Above Dead Point Falls are the buildings of a fish hatchery, constructed in 1920 by the state but which then reverted to private ownership. The hatchery uses water from Dead Point Creek, which issues from the slopes below Mount Defiance, and then returns some of the flow via a side waterfall to the right of Dead Point Falls.

Take the trail back into the mixed woods of maple/Douglas-fir, and continue walking north. Just past a sign stating angling conditions for the West Fork Hood River, take a spur trail that leads out to the cliff edge and the best viewpoint for Dead Point Falls. After enjoying the scene from this perch, take the new Yew Trail which leads left to descend a steep slope wooded with yew trees, young Douglas-firs, and white oaks. You'll reach a balsamroot-flowered point, guarded by a gnarly oak, which offers an excellent view to the East and West Forks Hood River Confluence. Then switchback up to a trail junction. Go left to follow this path down to a cobbled bar at the East and West Forks Hood River Confluence. You can see up the West Fork gorge, but not as far as the waterfalls, and views up the brushy banks of the East Fork are limited, but it’s easy to imagine that many of the river rocks here found their way downstream from Mount Hood in one of the raging floods for which that stream is notorious.

On your return up the slope, make a left at the junction, and hike steeply up to a bend in the park's service road. Go right through a thinned woodland and under power lines. Make a left on the Dogwood Trail, which switchbacks up into a secondary woodland of Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple, and vine maple. The trail proceeds on a level grade through an understory of Oregon grape, bracken, trailing blackberry, Pacific dogwood, and hazel. Soon, you'll come to the access road. Make a left to return to your car.


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Regulations or restrictions, etc

  • Stay on trails

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Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook

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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.