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Raps:3, max ↨115ft
Red Tape:No permit required
9 Sep 2023
"Possible first descent of Full Eagle this year as we had to rebuild the anchor at R1. Water levels friendly, no hydraulics. One new giant logjam in up
Eagle Creek is a major tributary of the Columbia River. Although a popular hiking trail is located no more than a few hundred feet away from the creek at all times, the large volume of water and inability to reach the trail from the watercourse present some unusual risks. This is one of the best canyon destinations in the Columbia River Gorge. Eagle is best visited later in the summer when the water levels are lower.
Eagle Creek has several options: you could run the upper section, the lower, or both. Lower Eagle is arguably the best part of the canyon and can be completed in a half-day.
- Please read the "Red Tape" section below before visiting this canyon.
- Use caution when descending the creek. Post-wildfire hazards such as landslides, fallen trees, and loose rock may persist for many years to come.
Eagle Creek has a large watershed (~27mi^2) and retains good water well into late summer. Expect a lot of swimming.
- Prior to entering any hydraulics, always have a person ready with a throw rope, and be sure there are no obstructions blocking the exit. Expect to be tossed and turned in some of them. In late summer, the hydraulic threat reduces considerably and may disappear completely. Those at the bottom of the waterfalls are easily avoided.
- Jumping is a leading cause of canyon injury (broken ankles and legs). Always send someone down first to check the depth and look for submerged obstacles. Please do NOT jump Punchbowl Falls (see "Red Tape" below).
From Portland, take I-84 east to exit 41. Turn right off of the exit and park in the lot immediately past the fish hatchery on the left. This is the recommended parking area. (The actual Eagle Creek trailhead is 0.5mi further down the road, but that trailhead is renowned for car break-ins. You've been warned!) Arrive early for parking.
- The trailhead is only accessible from I-84 eastbound.
- Leave nothing of value - and nothing that looks like it could be valuable (ex: visible bags, purses, rope bags) - in your vehicle. Keep stuff in your trunk and out of sight.
Walk the road (flat) for 0.5mi to the actual Eagle Creek trailhead, then continue ~2.1mi to drop in just above Punchbowl Falls (approx. 45.62087, -121.89252). Descend off-trail down a mossy talus field (there's a bit of an old trail, but it's hard to recognize. We typically handline or rappel from a convenient tree about 8ft down into the creek.
- Beware poison oak along the Eagle Creek trail. There's quite a bit of it.
To run the upper section of the canyon, continue on another mile to High Bridge where the trail crosses a narrow chasm to the west side of the creek. Continue 0.3mi further along the trail. Just above Skoonichuck Falls, locate an old campsite on the left side of the trail. A use trail leads from the campsite down to the creek just above the falls.
- R1 - Skoonichuk Falls: 120ft from a cairn DCR. The line of the rappel keeps you mostly out of the flow and hydraulics. Although the vertical drop is only about 50ft, the waterfall has two tiers and additional rope is required for the horizontal distance. The second tier can be jumped in the right conditions. It's recommended to extend the pull side ahead of time; this allows for an easy pull from the far side of the pool. In high flow, rappel from a tree DCL at the campsite to avoid the hydraulics.
- Hydraulic #1: This hydraulic is just before the High Bridge narrows. Stay DCL and slide into the hydraulic. A person with a throw rope can be situated on a ledge DCL.
The canyon makes a sharp left turn as it exits the narrow slot and Loowit Falls appears on the left.
- Hydraulic #2: Slide or jump into the hydraulic. A person with a throw rope can be situated at the exit lip of the pool. In high flow, the recirculating current is noticeably stronger at the exit where you'll need to climb out.
- Hydraulic #3: This hydraulic looks the tamest, but proceed with caution, especially if entering the center. In high-extreme flow, seven people who entered were unable to escape and required a throw-rope. A person with a throw rope can be situated on a ledge DCR. To avoid the hydraulic, slide/hug the wall DCR.
Just past hydraulic #3 the canyon walls start to open up. In 2023, there was a big logjam here. Climb up the middle and find a way to downclimb on the DCR side.
At this point, you have two choices:
1) Recommended: exit the creek at about 45.61102, -121.88546, and bushwhack up to the trail. There's some thick vegetation at the start with open talus above. The trail is about 60 vertical feet above. Hike about 0.9mi downstream and drop into Lower Eagle as described above.
2) Or, if in need of punishment, continue down the creek to Lower Eagle. It's a long creek slog.
- J1: 12ft from DCR into a deep pool. This is a sign you are nearing Punchbowl Falls.
Just ahead is another short drop into a pool with a waterfall (Tish Creek) entering DCR. Entering this pool may commit you to going over the falls. It might be difficult to escape from the pool pictured, but probably not impossible. The point where this picture was taken is the last chance for different options.
- R2 - Punchbowl Falls: ~65ft from a tree DCL. Use caution as the approach to the rappel station may be slippery and difficult. The rappel take you to the lip of the falls, but keeps you mostly out of the flow. Be aware: jumping Punchbowl Falls is illegal. While it is possible to jump or ride the falls under certain conditions, every year people are injured and killed attempting it. (See "Red Tape" below.) It's recommended to extend the pull side ahead of time; this allows a pull from the far side of the pool. The last person should also pay special attention to avoid tangling the rappel and pull strands as it's a free hang. Note: There is some current at the bottom of the falls that will push you DCL. If there are rope pull issues and you need to swim back to the rappel line, approach from DCR side of the falls. It's easier than fighting the current.
The bottom of Punchbowl Falls is a popular hiking destination. On summer weekends, expect to have an audience.
Continue downstream a short distance until you reach Lower Punchbowl Falls. There is an easy exit on a trail DCR here.
- J2 - Lower Punchbowl Falls: 12ft. Or downclimb a big old-growth log. Head downstream a short distance.
- J3: 6ft+ into a nice narrows. Jumping may also be possible from fallen logs spanning the canyon.
Just ahead, the creek swings right and you'll reach the top of Metlako Falls. Be careful not to get swept over the falls. In high water, this is easily avoided by hugging the DCL canyon wall as soon as the pinch where the waterfall begins appears (pictured below).
- R3 - Metlako Falls: 115ft from two bolts DCL atop the rocks about 8ft above the water. Again, it's recommended to extend the pull side ahead of time; this allows an easier pull below. The last person should pay special attention to avoid tangling the rappel and pull strands as it's mostly a free hang.
At the bottom is an amazing amphitheater with Sorenson Falls entering DCR. This is the location of the banner photo for this canyon and a highlight of the trip. The amphitheater is worth exploring; there are some interesting rock formations and caves.
When ready, swim out through a long watery narrows, bypassing an enormous logjam DCR. Once through the landslide area, continue until you reach:
- J4: 15ft from DCL into a deep pool. (Or downclimb carefully.) This is the last technical obstacle in the canyon.
From the last jump, it's about 15-20 minutes of creek hiking downstream to the exit. Watch for a tributary with several waterfalls (Wauna Creek) entering DCL. Continue past the tributary a short distance and look for the bottom of an open mossy talus field (approx. 45.63157, -121.90789). Exit the creek into the talus field (if you are doing any bushwhacking, you're in the wrong place) and head upwards on an ascending traverse to climber's left to reach the trail above (~100ft elevation gain). There is an old trail leading upwards if you can find it. It's easier than it looks.
Eagle Creek is Open!
The Forest Service has rescinded the long-term closure of Eagle Creek; it was closed for almost five years after the 2017 wildfire. Canyoneers and paddlers can now legally access the creek, including Punchbowl Falls. Please help us retain long-term access by treating the area with extra sensitivity and caution.
Punchbowl Falls: Jumping Injuries & Deaths
Update 2023: A person (non-canyoneer) jumping the falls broke their hip in July 2023.
Jumping and diving at Punchbowl Falls and Lower Punchbowl Falls is prohibited. Despite the closure order, Punchbowl Falls (before the Eagle Creek Fire) saw an average of ten Search & Rescue (SAR) missions per year extracting injured jumpers. There were 17 such incidents in 2013. There have been a number of deaths. Many of those injured/killed were inspired by online videos of others jumping the falls. Please do not encourage others to jump and be cautious of what you post on social media. Access to this area could be closed by the Forest Service at any time. It very likely be closed again if the number of jumping accidents does not abate.
"Past fatalities and serious injuries at Eagle Creek have involved visitors incurring neck or back injuries after jumping off 80-foot Punchbowl Falls. Dangerous undercurrents and thick sediment in the water below makes the pool at the base of Lower Punchbowl seem shallower than it is and the water remains dangerously cold year round. Signs near Punchbowl warn visitors not to jump, yet tragic incidents occur every year. Between 2014-2016, the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office had 44 SAR events just at Eagle Creek (11 in 2014, 16 in 2015, and 17 in 2016)." - Hood River News - July 7, 2017
The intent of the prohibition is to protect the public (injuries & fatalities), reduce the number of SAR missions, and to give much-abused area above the falls time to recover.
Leave No Trace
Eagle Creek is one of the most popular places in the Columbia River Gorge and can be an absolute zoo on summer weekends. Canyoning is less well-known in this part of the world and hikers may sometimes react negatively to canyoning activities, leading to degraded relations with land managers. For this reason, locals suggest trying to do the canyon when the number of hikers will be low -- particularly early in the morning and on weekdays. While descending the canyon, it is highly recommended to scrupulously follow a Leave-No-Trace ethic. Be aware: leaving bright/visible anchors can annoy waterfall photographers, irk land managers, and may encourage the inexperienced / unprepared to try to follow you.
- Please help us keep the canyon clean and pack out any trash you might encounter in the creek.