Punchbowl Falls Hike

Author: Njage Wambui

A report published by University of East Anglia in July of 2018 revealed that spending time outdoors has a wide array of health benefits. Exposure to green space reduces a person’s susceptibility type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, stress and high blood pressure. Green space refers to any land that is heavily vegetated, whether it is an urban park or a naturally occurring forest like the one at Columbia River Gorge.

One hundred and twenty minutes is the minimum amount of time each week that you need to spend in nature to claim the health benefits and enjoy the feelings of well-being. Coincidentally, the 3.4 mile Eagle Creek to Punch bowl hike has a hike time of one hundred and twenty minutes, making it the perfect weekend recharge. This trail is pretty popular, so it is best to go early if you want to enjoy the scenes without too many people.

The Punchbowl Falls gets its name from its shape. The creek narrows abruptly into a thin channel due to the cliffs surrounding it and plunges 15 feet into a wide circular pool. This natural amphitheater is perfect for wading into in the hotter months. Diving, and jumping off the cliffs, however, is forbidden. Jumping off the cliffs may lead to grievous bodily harm or even death. If you live to tell the tale, you will still be subject to a fine.

It began forming 40-60 million years ago by volcanic activity under the graphite that forms most of the Columbia River Gorge. Lava flows from the hundreds of cracks in the basalt 10-15 million years ago flooded the area with lava, mud and ash. Uneven cooling caused created the hexagonal pillars visible at Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. During the ice age 2 million years ago, glacial movement and volcanic activity formed the Cascade mountain range and Gorge. For a period of 2500 years dating back 1800 years ago, more than a hundred floods scoured the Gorge area due to the melting of an ice dam at Lake Missouri. This is the greatest amount of flooding believed to have ever occurred on the planet. Along Eagle Creek, rocks containing leaves and pieces of bark from this era can be observed. Eagle Creek is believed to have carved the gorge that contains this trail during those 2500 years.

The Columbia River Gorge trails are also unique in how they were built. In a bid to preserve the park surrounding the gorge, workers dug and even blasted parts off the cliffs with dynamite to create a trail. This was instrumental in boosting its popularity in the 1900’s and this may be the reason why the park remains to this day.

Apart from the phenomena that gave Eagle Creek its unique history, the picturesque views along its length are an important selling point. Punch Bowl Falls is among the most photographed waterfalls in the world. It is best enjoyed in the late spring and summer. If you can brave the cold, the true splendor of the Punch Bowl falls can be enjoyed in the fall, when the Eagle Creek has been reenergized with rainfall.

In autumn, the bowl of Punchbowl becomes the spawning ground of Coho and Chinook salmon. If you visit during this time, please do not swim so that the fish can spawn in peace. Some of the spawn are taken to Cascade Hatchery where these Coho salmon are taken and raised and later re-introduced to Eagle Creek and others to bolster their populations in the Columbia Gorge.

The towering basalt cliffs and the beautiful rainforest typical of the Pacific Northwest can be enjoyed along the Eagle Creek hike. If you love the outdoors, whether you are a seasoned hiker or not, this trail has a lot to offer. It is rated easy, so you can bring kids who are ten years old or older. The hike is also dog friendly, so you can bring your family friend as long as it is leashed. Care should be taken, however, with young children and dogs, as the cliffs that give the Columbia River gorge its resplendent beauty also make it dangerous. Steel wire is secured to cliffs with steep drops on the side for you to hold onto during your hiking.

The lush rainforest boasts of stately Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock. The undergrowth is covered in ferns, moss and the occasional poison ivy. Combined with the fog and the stately rock formations, the Eagle Creek trail made me feel like I was on some fairytale quest.

If you are driving from Portland, take the I-84 and turn off at exit #41. If you are coming from the East, get off I-84 at Bonneville Dam Exit and back tract to exit #41. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp and continue until you pass a footbridge. The road will narrow into one lane, which ends at a large parking lot. This is where the trailhead is located, and where you will start your Eagle Creek to Punchbowl falls Hike. The trailhead address of Punchbowl falls is 74162 NE Eagle Creek Loop, Cascade Locks, OR, 97014, USA.

To enter the park itself, you need a Northwest Forest pass, whether seasonal or daily. Alternatively, you can buy a National Parks pass which will get you into any park, not just this one. If you want to be really comfortable, get some hiking boots and proper hiking gear. You can get away with fitness gear in the hotter months, but dress warmly in the fall and winter. Some snacks and one liter of water per head should do for refreshments. A must have is a map watch/GPS as well as a map. With a mobile phone, you run the risk of it dying on you. The Eagle Creek trails have bad reception. Before you set out, I recommend you print out any information that you feel may be necessary during the hike. Have your maps ready and load a GPX track on the GPS of your choice. Make sure you know what the major landmarks are and the name of the trails before you start your hike, and good luck!