Boomerang Backpacking

Columbia River Gorge

When it rains, and it will, you might think jungle. The gorge does have a misty majesty. Even after the rain stops and the sun comes out, the mist rises and the forest steams like a witch's cauldron. It really feels like jungle: wet air, moss-covered trees, a thousand kinds of green.

This, however, is no jungle. This is Oregon's Eagle Creek Trail, a path that revels in water. Cascades tumble down steep-sided ravines rushing pell-mell to the Columbia River Gorge. Droplets glint on rain-washed ferns; waterfalls throw off misty rainbows that float in veils of translucent color. The trail hugs the creek, passes through a tunnel blasted into the cliff behind a waterfall ? Tunnel Falls, of course. Rays of sun stream like spotlights through the dark green conifers, but they are no match against the trees' cool shade.

Hike this trail anytime, even in the rain. Especially in the rain. After all, the best thing to do on a dreary rain-drenched day is to get out in it. This is the place to do it.

Location: Columbia River Gorge, northwest Oregon, about 45 miles east of Portland on I-84.

Distance: 30 miles.

Maps and Guidebook: The trails are well-marked, so you don't need quads. Both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Eagle Creek Trail (and the connector between them, which runs from Cascade Locks to the Eagle Creek Trail) are described in The Pacific Crest Trail: Volume II: Oregon-Washington, which includes maps. If you're flipping through the guidebook, notice that two other loops in the immediate area warrant attention: trails around Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams are both spectacular.

Permits: Not required.

The Route: This approximately 30-mile loop combines the Eagle Creek Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and a short connector between Cascade Locks and the Eagle Creek trailhead. Figure an easy four days, because you'll want to spend the first one lollygagging along Eagle Creek and camping in one of the official streamside sites. the second day will take you uphill on well-graded trail to serene and beautiful Wahtum Lake. Day three, head northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail for a downhill run; you'll need to camp somewhere between Wahtum Lake and Cascade Locks unless you can manage 15 miles plus the 2.5-mile connector in one day. On Day four, you should finish your trip in time for lunch. Breakfast, if you're hungry.


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