Eagle Creek to High Bridge Hike
From Portland Hikers Field Guide
- Start point: Eagle Creek Trailhead
- End point: High Bridge
- Trail Log: Trail Log
- Hike Type: Out and Back
- Distance: 6.4 miles (round trip)
- Elevation gain: 840 feet
- Difficulty: Easy to moderate
- Seasons: Year round
- Backpackable: No
- (but there are backpacking options further up trail)
- Crowded: Yes
- Family Friendly: No (Due to exposure)
Eagle Creek is the quintessential hike in the Columbia River Gorge, boasting dozens of spectacular waterfalls, tall basalt cliffs, ubiquitous talus slopes, and the lush temperate rain forests that so characterize the Pacific Northwest. It is considered by many to be one of the most resplendent hiking destinations in the Northwest -- no doubt, essential fare for Portland-area outdoor lovers.
What makes Eagle Creek even more popular is the number of ways one can enjoy it! There are options that can take 3 hours to 3 days depending on how far you go! In fact, one could literally hike to Mexico starting from the Eagle Creek trailhead, as it eventually intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail some 13 miles in. In fact, many PCT thru-hikers will choose to divert their usual course over the Benson Plateau to take in the splendid beauty of the Eagle Creek gorge.
Maybe as impressive as the Gorge itself, is the story of how it was built. It was created in the early 1900s as part of an effort to begin preserving parkland areas in the Columbia River Gorge where industry was rapidly encroaching. In some sections, workers used dynamite to blast the trail into the side of the cliffs. Soon thousands of people could enjoy areas that were impossible to traverse otherwise. The original trail has remained nearly unchanged to this day.
The Eagle Creek to High Bridge Hike is a popular day-hike option. At a little over 6 1/2 miles round trip, and with a mere 480 feet of elevation gain, this option gives you a great balance of effort vs. reward, and will hopefully whet your appetite for return visits that take you far further down the gorge.
Before you've gone a mile, you'll find yourself high above the creek, which has now opened up to a glorious valley. Many months the fog hangs low in the canyon, blocking your view of the snow-encrusted cliff-sides towering around you. In places the trail is narrow and the drop-off is quite steep. Cable lines were built into the walls in sections to provide some stability.
As the trail steadily gains elevation, it begins to divert away from the creek. You'll notice the quiet as you ascend away from the rushing water and deeper into the lush old-growth forests of douglas fir, cedar and hemlock. Dewy ferns, moss-covered rocks, and sometimes poison oak blanket the forest floor. You will be surprised at the beauty and quiet of these sections, which at times are like scenes from a fairy tale.
Along the rest of the hike, you'll cross various side-creeks -- some by rock steps, many by footbridges. Be sure to look upstream as you pass by -- especially in the wetter months -- as you will be treated to waterfalls and more lush greenery.
After you've walked about a mile and a half, watch for an obvious spur trail off to your right. The path drops down to an overlook with a view of the magnificent 100-foot Metlako Falls, the tallest falls on Eagle Creek proper. Metlako seemingly shoots straight out of a cliffside into a large pool below.
Walk back up the spur trail to the main drag and continue Southward, winding high away from the gorge with the creek well out of view. In just over a half-mile, you'll be at an obvious junction and resting spot near Punchbowl Falls. Many will take the optional spur trail down to the creek bed which is to your right. This is a recommended diversion for newcomers! Otherwise, you can still see Punchbowl Falls from a viewpoint about a quarter mile uptrail.
Continuing onward, you'll again swinging away from the gorge for a spell, crossing more footbridges on your way past toward High Bridge. You'll reemerge from the forest very high above the creek bed. At this point watch for the necktie-shaped Loowit Falls on the opposite side. It drops from side creek seemingly from nowhere into a uniquely-shaped pool below before spilling over into Eagle Creek.
Turn the next corner and you approach the homestretch. The trail leading up to High Bridge -- although wide, well groomed and oft-traveled -- is rocky and can be slippery in places. The path is carved into the cliffside 120 feet up! A cable-line is affixed in the rock to your left, providing some security, but on a busy day you will encounter two way traffic through this short, but vertigo-inducing stretch! Pass with care. As a courtesy to other hikers hold your dogs close to you through this stretch.
You should see High Bridge amid the trees ahead of you to the right.
The name high bridge is well-earned! It dramatically spans a very narrow channel 120 feet high. It's hard not to gawk as you cross to the other side.
This is your turn-around spot. Should you choose to rest and fuel-up before heading back, you can sit at one of the (often crowded) scenic viewpoints near the bridge or walk the trail another hundred yards to Tenas Camp and find a quiet spot to sit.
Return to the way you came.
See these other hike alternatives:
- Eagle Creek to Punchbowl Falls Hike (shorter)
- Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls Hike (longer)
- Eagle Creek to Wahtum Lake Hike (backpack option)
- See clickable image to the right
- Maps: Hike Finder
- Search Trip Reports for Eagle Creek
Related Discussions / Q&A
- Search Trail Q&A for Eagle Creek
Guidebooks that cover this hike
- Hiking Oregon's Geology, by Ellen Morris Bishop
- Day Hike! Columbia Gorge, by Seabury Blair, Jr.
- 60 Hikes within 60 miles of Portland, by Paul Gerald
- Afoot and Afield Portland/Vancouver, by Douglas Lorain
- 35 Hiking Trails, Columbia River Gorge, by Don & Roberta Lowe
- Columbia River Gorge, 42 Scenic Hikes, by Don & Roberta Lowe
- Hiking the Columbia River Gorge - 1st and 2nd Editions, by Russ Schneider
- 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon - 3rd Edition, by William L Sullivan
- Information, history and photos of Eagle Creek at Splintercat.org
- Punchbowl Falls from Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest
- NWHiker.com Hike #55