THE Waterfall hike in the Gorge!
The Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls Hike is one of the most popular and magnificent trails in the Columbia River Gorge, and for good reason. You will literally lose count as you pass dozens of spectacular waterfalls through the lush temperate rain forests and tall basalt cliffs.
Starting at the Eagle Creek Trailhead you'll hike along the water for a 1/4 mile or so, but soon ascend high above the gorge floor, spanning a wide valley. Continue away from the creek into a moss-covered old growth forest, crossing many side-creeks and footbridges until you reach the spur trail to Metlako Falls at about 1 1/2 miles. Take the optional side trek to the viewpoint (highly recommended for first-timers!), or continue on toward Punchbowl Falls, at about the 2 mile mark. At Punchbowl Falls you again have the option of taking a side trail. This one is a bit longer, dropping you down to the creek floor with a head-on view of the falls. Thru-hikers will sometimes skip this option, being satisfied continuing ahead a quarter mile to a viewpoint from above. After another mile or so you'll pass by Loowit Falls and come to High Bridge at the 3.3 mile mark. 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.
High Bridge is one of only two places where the trail crosses the creek. It also marks the border where camping is allowed (in designated places). There are many sites between here and Tunnel Falls, but the premium ones are gobbled up quickly in the summer months. You'll see the first a few hundred yards past the bridge on your right and another one .1 mile past. At the 3.7 miles mark you'll pass Tenas Camp, which has room for three tents and decent water access. Campfires are not allowed along the Eagle Creek trail.
As you continue past Skoonichuck Falls, you'll notice the forest composition gradually start to thin and feature younger deciduous trees. (A sign further uptrail describes a forest fire that swept through this area back in 1902). At 4 1/2 miles you'll cross the creek for the second and final time. The appropriately named Four and a Half Mile Bridge is a nice place to cool off on a hot day. It is quite a contrast to it's downtrail cousin, sitting a mere 4 feet above the water!
Over the next few miles you'll pass through several more campsites -- but the nicest may be about a 1/3 of a mile past the bridge -- with decent size and water access. Not far beyond is Wy'East Camp - which is the tenting equivalent of an RV Park with 7 or 8 sites - some right on top of each other! Just prior to seeing to the camp you'll have crossed Wy-Est Creek. In the summer, this is dried up completely, but in the wetter season, look to your left in the distance for a beautiful tall, ribbon-like Wy'East Falls. (There is a primitive bushwack back to a better view.)
You'll notice that the forest has now completely changed to one of maples and other hardwoods. The trail has flattened out and runs straight for awhile as the ever-present creek ebbs and flows to your right. You'll pass into the Hatfield Wilderness and the junction with the Eagle Benson Trail #434. Hikers are required to stop at the Hatfield Trailhead and fill out a free day pass. Wilderness regulations apply from this point forward.
Just as you starting to wonder how much longer, you'll you cross two enormous talus slopes, then a section called the "Potholes" -- signaling you're approaching the homestretch. Finally, at around the 6 mile mark, you'll turn around bend and be awestruck by the object of your journey - the 175 foot Tunnel Falls!
As the name implies, your path with pass through a tunnel behind the falls about midway up the span. Consider as you enter the tunnel, that work to build this was done in the 1910s and has been virtually unchanged since! The falls drop from the bluffs above to the creek bed below then downstream into the main Eagle Creek run. The years have carved out a striking amphitheater here. It is a breathtaking area, and easily the climax of your trip.
The stretch just beyond the falls is another very exposed cliff-side pathway etched into the gorge wall. Again, a cable line is there you steady you. But nowhere has the traverse been quite so dizzying!
If you still feel like you have some energy, continue less than a half-mile ahead to the two-tiered, 200 foot tall Twister Falls (sometimes called "Crossover Falls" or "Eagle Creek Falls"). It is well worth the minimal additional effort if time affords. It is difficult to see the full span of the cataract, but more impressive is the trail to it. Many have referred to this stretch as the "Vertigo Mile". It is the most dramatic section of the hike for its vertical rise above the gorge floor. Just beyond the falls is plenty of room to take a break before heading back the way you came.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.