Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Many Stunning Waterfalls of Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River Gorge is an extremely beautiful, well known waterfall that gets flooded with visitors year round. The parking lot has been packed every time I've visited, and the vast majority of the visitors are driving 30 miles east of Portland merely to marvel at one famous waterfall.

Personally, I think they're crazy! Now I don't dispute the idea that seeing Multnomah Falls is worth an extra 60 miles of driving, but there are so many beautiful things to see out this direction that I'm surprised people don't take the opportunity to see as much as they can. The gorge itself is stunning, and there are literally hundreds of waterfalls, some of which are every bit as beautiful and unique as Multnomah Falls.

I've mentioned a few of the other Columbia River Gorge waterfalls in some of my previous posts, but on our most recent trip to the area, I wanted to take the ultimate waterfall lovers hike - the Eagle Creek trail. Gregory Plumb, the author of my "Waterfall Lover's Guide" book, says this is his favorite hike.

This waterfall featured above, Metlako Falls, is actually on the cover of the 2010 edition of his book, featured below (though his photo is noticeably better since it's professionally done. He probably also visited the falls at an earlier time of year when the water flow was higher).

When we first arrived and set up camp the previous day, we visited a few waterfalls and found they weren't terribly impressive. August is the driest time of year for waterfalls in Oregon. I'd been concerned that we'd driven all the way down here to see nothing but dried up waterfalls.

So I was delightfully surprised to find that this waterfall was still quite impressive! Technically this should be the 2nd falls you see while hiking, but we missed the spur trail leading to it on our way up, so it ended up being the last one we saw. The spur trail is a bit more obvious on the descent. We looked for Wauna Falls, which should have been about 1/2 mile before this one, but we never found it.

I later learned on a closer reading of my book that many waterfalls are still worth seeing in dry periods as long as they have a medium to large watershed. This particular waterfall has a large watershed. Though you can see from the book cover photo that it does get bigger during the rainy months, it's not so much smaller in August that you'd regret having gone out of your way to see a waterfall that wasn't at its peak.

The next waterfall along the route is Lower Punch Bowl Falls, assuming you take the larger spur trail down to it. It was impressive that this much water was still coming over the falls, even though it's clear that the river it falls from was very dry.

We liked this little grotto.

 From here it's a short walk up to Punch Bowl Falls. If it looks familiar, it's because it's an extremely popular waterfall among photographers. 

 We also enjoyed taking multiple pictures of this falls. It's beautiful the way it drops into this large amphitheater.

And there are so many different angles to experiment with.

If you don't veer off to Lower Punch Bowl Falls, you can still see Upper Punch Bowl Falls from the viewpoint featured below.

 I did prefer this viewpoint, but it was nice to have both options, and to see Lower Punch Bowl Falls.

 Our next falls was Loowit Falls, which was very dry at this time of year. I've seen pictures of it in spring, though, and even then it's not all that impressive.

It was cool, but scary, to peer down into the gorge channel.

Skoonichuk Falls seemed like it'd be pretty impressive, but the trees make the view pretty obscured. We saw a guy standing at the bottom of it, so there must be a way to scramble down to a better vantage. I saw a path that might have been the way to get there, but Oscar didn't want to take it.

If you don't stray from the regular hiking trail, this is the best view you can get of the falls.

Oscar liked this little lizard.

And finally we reached the crowning jewel of the Eagle Creek Hike - Tunnel Falls.

I insisted on scrambling down to take pictures from the base of this falls. It's extremely steep and you slide for most of it, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not dangerous if it's not going to kill me. Sure I might break a leg if I lost my footing and tumbled down the hill, but it's not like I'm going to die from falling off a cliff.

This falls is really nifty since there's a tunnel built behind it. You actually have to come through it in order to continue the hike.

 This part, though, is quite dangerous. The entire hike hugs a lot of cliffs, so I would not recommend bringing little ones with you, or anyone who suffers from vertigo.

And the final hike before turning around is Eagle Creek Falls.

What I liked about this falls was how the water drops into it.

Waterfalls have several distinct forms, and this falls actually has four forms by itself - punchbowl, cascade, plunge, and horsetail.

The cliffs were pretty scary, but this part of the hike is not for the feint of heart. I have zero fear of heights, and even I felt a little dizzy here.

Tunnel Falls really is beautiful. It's also the front page of our book before the title page. His shot looks just like this one. I wonder if he scrambled down like we did to see the waterfall from its base.

Here's Oscar about to enter the tunnel in the gorge wall

Blue Grouse Falls can be seen from the trail, but the nearby vegetation greatly obscures the view.

These rocks we walked on to cross a stream looked like chocolate chip cookies!

After finishing our hike we took a few pics of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge from Vancouver Point.

Though our legs were tired from hiking, we really wanted to go mini golfing at an outdoor course in Happy Valley, OR. It's called Eagle Landing, and they have regular golf as well as 2 fun 18 hole minigolf courses. We'd come here the first time we visited Portland in 2007, and we enjoyed it so much that it stuck out in our memories, and we've been wanting to return since then.

We had a great time mini golfing, and the price was reasonable too. I also loved this centipede bench!

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