PCT: Eagle Creek Alternate

A popular trail beside jaw-dropping waterfalls, recently reopened following a fire.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
23 km
Ascent
406 m
Descent
1.6 km
Duration
5-6 hrs
Low Point
28 m
High Point
1.3 km
Gradient
12˚
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PCT: Eagle Creek Alternate Map

Description

This ever-popular alternate route into the Columbia Gorge was closed for a number of years following the destructive Eagle Creek Fire of 2017. The trail was laboriously repaired by PCTA and other crews and finally reopened in 2021. Thankfully, this beautiful route with its host of waterfalls is once again available to PCTers, and also to day hikers who flock to this destination near Portland.

So while you can’t expect solitude along Eagle Creek, this alternate is worthwhile for quality campsites in the upper watershed, and of course, for the photo-famous waterfalls. It’s also a more gradual and more pleasant descent than the knee-bashing twists which the official PCT takes into the Gorge.

The alternate departs the PCT at Indian Springs (NB mile 2127.6), where there’s water and good campsites. The trail descends immediately on a ridge, and soon enters the burned area. After a contouring descent, the trail reaches the West Fork of Eagle Creek, and finds the first waterfall near 7½ mile Camp. Twister Falls, a Y-shaped cascade, comes next. Later on, there’s an even more dramatic spectacle––Tunnel Falls. Here the trail bores through a cliff behind the 175-foot column of water.

Past Tunnel Falls, the trail traces the main stem of Eagle Creek, finding additional waterfalls and pools around nearly every turn. Despite the fire, a lot of greenery remains or has returned in this sheer-walled gorge. The trail finds an amazing variety of scenery, cutting through basalt cliffs and dipping into mossy groves between sunny swaths of burned trees.

Camping is allowed near the trail only in the upper watershed, from Tenas Camp and higher. Because much of the terrain is so steep, and because some areas were altered by the fire, suitable sites are somewhat limited. Space is available if you look, but you might expect to share proximity with others.

Where Eagle Creek finally empties into the Columbia River Gorge, there is a Forest Service campground near the highway. To reconnect with the PCT, you’ll continue on the paved historic trail, which roughly parallels the highway to reach the Bridge of the Gods.

Sources: https://www.oregonhikers.org/fieldguide/EagleCreektoTunnelFallsHike https://thetrek.co/pacific-crest-trail/eagle-creek-trail-popular-pct-alternate-reopens-after-3-years/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

High Exposure

3 out of 4

Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.

Remoteness

1 out of 4

Close to help in case of emergency.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Guidebooks in this area