Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. 🙂

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. 🙂

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.