Punch Bowl Falls

Columbia River Gorge / Eagle Creek, Oregon, USA

About Punch Bowl Falls


Hiking Distance: 5 miles round trip; 6 miles round trip (from overflow parking)
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2009-03-29
Date last visited: 2017-08-18

Waterfall Latitude: 45.62202
Waterfall Longitude: -121.89502

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Punch Bowl Falls (sometimes spelled Punchbowl Falls) was perhaps the main attraction of the Eagle Creek Gorge.

For such a modestly-sized waterfall at 30-35ft, it was a very popular waterfall.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_099_08182017 - People who have made the swim up to the secluded cove before the Punch Bowl Falls on Eagle Creek
People who have made the swim up to the secluded cove before the Punch Bowl Falls on Eagle Creek

I’ve seen photographs of this waterfall downstream from its base grace post cards, screensavers, and even book covers.

After all, its position deep within a lush circular bowl seemed to embody everything that people love about the Columbia River Gorge in that one shot.

During my visit on a hot Friday in August 2017, I saw at least 40+ people lingered around the banks of Eagle Creek while a handful more made the swim to get within the secluded cove right at the base of the falls.

This place took on a festive scene as some people brought radios, and other groups of people consisted of whole families with small children and elders alike.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_092_08182017 - Looking ahead from the Lower Punch Bowl Falls (where some daredevils used this log as a diving board) at the people chilling out near the Punch Bowl Falls not seen in the distance
Looking ahead from the Lower Punch Bowl Falls (where some daredevils used this log as a diving board) at the people chilling out near the Punch Bowl Falls not seen in the distance

The more daring teenage and twenty-something types even did cliff dives over the Lower Punch Bowl Falls just downstream of the viewing area.

Indeed, this waterfall was synonymous with Eagle Creek, and it was even more so since the collapse of the Metlako Falls viewpoint (so that waterfall could no longer be seen cleanly anymore).

Beyond Punch Bowl Falls

The Eagle Creek Trail actually encompassed many more waterfalls in addition to Metlako and Punch Bowl Falls.

Further upstream, there were more waterfalls at Tish Creek and a dramatic one as far as Tunnel Falls (which would have made this a 12-mile round trip hike).

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_016_08182017 - My original intent was to finish the hike to Tunnel Falls and back, but the Indian Creek Fire prevented that from happening
My original intent was to finish the hike to Tunnel Falls and back, but the Indian Creek Fire prevented that from happening

However, the Indian Creek Fire closed the trail beyond Punch Bowl Falls during my visit so Tunnel Falls was out of the question.

So I’d say that for all intents and purposes, this hike involved a minimum of 4 miles round trip (depending on where you park the car and which viewpoint(s) you’re after).

Throughout the hike, there were some mild cliff exposure as several sections of the trail clung to narrow ledges.

Maybe I might be able to partake in a longer hike to experience more of Eagle Creek, but time will tell when the next opportunity for that will come up.

The Hike to Punch Bowl Falls – the first 1.5 miles

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_004_08182017 - I was shut out of the closest parking spots for the Eagle Creek Trail so I had to park a half-mile further back (not far from this closed bridge leading in the direction of Wahclella Falls) and walk that distance to get started
I was shut out of the closest parking spots for the Eagle Creek Trail so I had to park a half-mile further back (not far from this closed bridge leading in the direction of Wahclella Falls) and walk that distance to get started

The hike began either at the end of the Eagle Creek Road or at a picnic area about a half-mile before the end of the road (which would extend the hike by another mile round trip; see directions below).

Near the overflow parking spots, there was a bridge traversing Eagle Creek and headed towards Wahclella Falls, but that bridge was closed anyways during my visit.

The half-mile walk from the overflowing parking spots to the end of the Eagle Creek Road was pretty much along the paved road with minimal shade.

Once at the actual trailhead, the trail then passed through a small forested area before it started to skirt the banks of Eagle Creek.

Eagle_Creek_006_03292009 - The Eagle Creek Trail skirted along (actually above) the banks of Eagle Creek en route to the Punch Bowl Falls and beyond
The Eagle Creek Trail skirted along (actually above) the banks of Eagle Creek en route to the Punch Bowl Falls and beyond

After passing a bridge, the trail then made a gradual climb as the dropoffs became more pronounced while the trail undulated between forested stretches and cliff-hugging ledges.

In some of the scarier parts, chains were bolted into the cliff walls to help the unsure.

During the first 1.5 miles of the trail, the hike would persist in this manner.

However, in wetter times (like the late March 2009 visit that Julie and I did when we first came here), we spotted several temporary waterfalls across Eagle Creek along this stretch.

The Hike to Punch Bowl Falls – beyond the Metlako Falls Viewpoint

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_043_08182017 - The Eagle Creek Trail was on ledges that were narrow and hugged cliffs like these, but there were often railings or chains to hold onto in order to mentally help the unsure
The Eagle Creek Trail was on ledges that were narrow and hugged cliffs like these, but there were often railings or chains to hold onto in order to mentally help the unsure

At about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, there used to be signposted spur leading to the Metlako Falls Viewpoint, which was a viewing area perched by a cliff ledge with a view upstream at the impressive waterfall.

Unfortunately, that viewpoint collapsed in a major landslide in late 2016 so now there were closure signs discouraging hikers to leave the main trail.

It would turn out that there’d be no clean look at the falls unless you knew exactly where to look though remaining cliff instability and potential for additional collapse ensured that would be an extremely risky move.

Shortly after the old Metlako Falls Viewpoint spur, the trail veered to the left and then crossed Sorenson Creek.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_079_08182017 - Given the collapse of the Metlako Falls Viewpoint, this was probably the most of that waterfall that can be seen from a sanctioned trail now
Given the collapse of the Metlako Falls Viewpoint, this was probably the most of that waterfall that can be seen from a sanctioned trail now

The first time Julie and I did the hike under much wetter conditions, the crossing was pretty scary as water from the creek flowed over the circular concrete steps to facilitate the crossing.

Under such conditions, we definitely needed the Gore-tex property of our hiking boots to still keep our feet dry.

However, on my latest visit in August 2017, there was much less water on this creek and crossing it was pretty trivial (except for some slippery spots on the wet rocks).

Further downstream, Sorenson Creek sounded like it tumbled into a significant waterfall or cascade unseen further downstream.

Eagle_Creek_035_03292009 - Julie crossing a swollen Sorensen Creek when we first tried to visit the Punch Bowl Falls back in late March 2009
Julie crossing a swollen Sorensen Creek when we first tried to visit the Punch Bowl Falls back in late March 2009

After the crossing, the trail then headed back towards the main contour of the Eagle Creek Gorge, where I did manage to catch an obstructed glimpse of Metlako Falls (though it was far from satisfying).

At about 2 miles from the trailhead, I then reached a trail junction.

Two ways to experience Punch Bowl Falls

The path on the right was signposted for “Lower Punch Bowl” and it would descend to the bottom of the gorge in a roughly quarter-mile sloping path.

The path on the left continued the Eagle Creek Trail, where in another quarter-mile of relatively flat hiking, it reached a viewing area overlooking the Punch Bowl Falls.

Eagle_Creek_047_03292009 - Looking down at the Punch Bowl Falls from the Eagle Creek Trail during our first visit back in late March 2009
Looking down at the Punch Bowl Falls from the Eagle Creek Trail during our first visit back in late March 2009

At this overlook, we were able to get relatively clean views of the Punch Bowl Falls and its circular plunge pool as the vegetation was thin as a result of a combination of foliage not having grown from the Winter season yet.

However, when I was there in August 2017, the view was completely obstructed.

While it was tempting to traverse the barricades and scramble down the use trails for a closer look, I knew that the barricades were there for a reason, and cliff instability and erosion were a real threat to safety.

So back on the descending trail to the Lower Punch Bowl Falls, I eventually made it to the bottom, where I found myself at the top of the Lower Punch Bowl Falls.

Eagle_Creek_039_03292009 - Julie descending to the top of the Lower Punch Bowl Falls. Notice the people near the top of this photo attempting to get a frontal view of the real Punch Bowl Falls despite the high flow of Eagle Creek
Julie descending to the top of the Lower Punch Bowl Falls. Notice the people near the top of this photo attempting to get a frontal view of the real Punch Bowl Falls despite the high flow of Eagle Creek

A giant fallen log there made photographing it difficult, but that didn’t stop some young folks from using that log as a diving board to jump into the plunge pool below.

Scrambling further upstream on the rocky shores of Eagle Creek, I was eventually able to get to a spot where I got the distant view of the Punch Bowl Falls that you see at the top of this page.

This was where lots of people were chilling out as the partially shaded spot was flanked by vertical cliffs.

I didn’t need water shoes to get a decent view of the Punch Bowl Falls, but swimming was necessary in order to go further as the water was much deeper in the channel separating the informal viewing area and the secluded cove further upstream.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_118_08182017 - Context of the Punch Bowl Falls as some people swam their way back from the secluded cove while others looked to go in the other direction into the deeper waters of Eagle Creek
Context of the Punch Bowl Falls as some people swam their way back from the secluded cove while others looked to go in the other direction into the deeper waters of Eagle Creek

When Julie and I first did this hike, there was too much water on Eagle Creek as it had swelled to fill the entire width of the gorge by the Lower Punch Bowl Falls.

So it was not safe to walk the stream bed up to the informal viewing area at that time.

It just goes to show you that sometimes the conditions dictate what you can and can’t do.

So after having my fill of this spot, I headed back the way I came.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_136_08182017 - It was quite the festive scene at the Punch Bowl Falls when I made my August 2017 visit
It was quite the festive scene at the Punch Bowl Falls when I made my August 2017 visit

Since I had parked in the overflow parking area (I wasn’t lucky enough to score one of the closer spots), I wound up doing about 5+ miles on the trail, which included the unnecessary out-and-back section to the upper viewpoint.

Arson on Eagle Creek

Finally, I have to make one final comment about this hike.

The arson-caused Eagle Creek Fire that started in early September 2017 happened before I was able to publish this writeup.

From looking at news coverage of the aerial footage surveying the damage, it appeared that Eagle Creek was scorched as a result of illegal fireworks being tossed in this gorge.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_145_08182017 - With the Eagle Creek Fire in September 2017, without vegetation to stabilize the soil, ledges like these on the Eagle Creek Trail are now too risky to safely allow public access
With the Eagle Creek Fire in September 2017, without vegetation to stabilize the soil, ledges like these on the Eagle Creek Trail are now too risky to safely allow public access

Given the steep terrain of the gorge, it will probably be a while before this trail would re-open again as the resulting lack of vegetation will destabilize the soil.

Inevitably, landslides undermining the usability of the trail would occur.

So until this area finally recovers and the trail may (or may not) get rebuilt or at least re-routed, this writeup will now serve as a reminder of what the area once was.

Authorities

Punch Bowl Falls resides in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Hood River in Hood River County, Oregon. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_001_08182017 - These sunny spots were where I actually parked the car, which was next to the shaded overflow parking lot. As you can see, I was not successful getting one of the closer spots to the Eagle Creek Trailhead on this visit in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_171_08182017 - Walking the extra half-mile from the overflow parking spaces to the Eagle Creek Trailhead
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_012_08182017 - The official trailhead for Eagle Creek Trailhead on my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_015_08182017 - The closure signs said that the Eagle Creek Trail was closed beyond Punch Bowl Falls due to the Indian Creek Fire on my August 2017 hike. So there'd be no way to visit Tunnel Falls on this day
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_018_08182017 - Crossing this bridge as the Eagle Creek Trail started to skirt the creek and hug the cliffs on my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_022_08182017 - In the heat of the Summer, I welcomed the shade that these tall trees provided along the Eagle Creek Trail during my August 2017 hike
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_026_08182017 - The Eagle Creek Trail alternated between shaded forests and sun-exposed cliff ledges. Note the mossy branches attesting to how moist this area can get
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_028_08182017 - The Eagle Creek Trail going under fallen trees while hugging cliffs as seen during my August 2017 hike
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_036_08182017 - A closer examination of the narrow ledges on the Eagle Creek Trail en route to the Punch Bowl Falls during my August 2017 hike
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_037_08182017 - It didn't take long before the Eagle Creek Trail started to hug the cliffs and test one's fear of heights (this was taken on my August 2017 visit)
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_048_08182017 - More cliff-hugging stretches of the Eagle Creek Trail as seen during my August 2017 hike
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_056_08182017 - Chains were set up to help in the narrower parts of the Eagle Creek Trail as seen during my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_058_08182017 - Looking back at some hikers making their return on the Eagle Creek Trail while holding onto the railings bolted in the cliffs for assurance during my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_069_08182017 - One of several closure signs saying that the Metlako Falls Viewpoint was closed indefinitely. This was seen during my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_077_08182017 - This was the Sorenson Creek crossing as of August 2017, which was considerably easier to cross at this time than when we first showed up in late March 2009
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_083_08182017 - Railings and signs near the junction where a spur trail branched off and descended to the banks of Eagle Creek and the Lower Punch Bowl Falls as seen during my visit in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_085_08182017 - This was the top down view of Punch Bowl Falls, but it was very overgrown when I showed up in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_086_08182017 - Following some hikers along this spur trail leading down to the Lower Punch Bowl Falls on my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_088_08182017 - The descending trail to the Lower Punch Bowl Falls during my August 2017 hike
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_094_08182017 - Looking downstream at Eagle Creek from the wide shores nearby the view of the Punch Bowl Falls during my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_101_08182017 - My first look at the Punch Bowl Falls from the bottom as seen on my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_103_08182017 - More zoomed in look at some people who have managed to swim their way to the secluded cove right in front of the Punch Bowl Falls during my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_108_08182017 - Another zoomed in look at the Punch Bowl Falls in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_115_08182017 - In order to get to where those three people went at the Punch Bowl Falls, you had to swim even when Eagle Creek was in low flow in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_126_08182017 - This guy tried to see how far he could walk in Eagle Creek before swimming was necessary to proceed further to get all the way to Punch Bowl Falls in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_141_08182017 - Returning on the Eagle Creek Trail after having had my fill of Punch Bowl Falls on my August 2017 visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_142_08182017 - Continuing to head back to the Eagle Creek Trailhead after having had my fill of the Punch Bowl Falls in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_151_08182017 - Another cliff-hugging section of the Eagle Creek Trail during my August 2017 visit as I was heading back from Punch Bowl Falls
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_161_08182017 - The Eagle Creek Trail starting to descend back to the level of Eagle Creek as I continued my return hike from Punch Bowl Falls in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_164_08182017 - Finally making it back near the Eagle Creek Trailhead as I managed to get this nice view of the serene Eagle Creek in August 2017
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_173_08182017 - Finally making it back to my parking spot, where even this overflow parking area for Eagle Creek was full on my August 2017 visit!
Eagle_Creek_001_03292009 - On our first visit to Eagle Creek in late March 2009, we did manage to snag one of the nearest parking spots to the trailhead
Eagle_Creek_002_03292009 - Julie on the Eagle Creek Trail when we first tried to make it to Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_003_03292009 - Julie trying to negotiate the mud on the trail as she approached the bridge near the start of the Eagle Creek Trail in late March 2009. These Spring conditions contrasted a lot with the drier Summer conditions
Eagle_Creek_007_03292009 - Julie continuing along the Eagle Creek Trail in March 2009 in context of some ephemeral waterfall coming down opposite the Eagle Creek
Eagle_Creek_008_03292009 - Looking across Eagle Creek towards this other ephemeral waterfall as seen in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_010_03292009 - In the Spring of March 2009, the shade wasn't necessary, but the moss-covered trees and the shaggy leaves definitely made the Eagle Creek hike more atmospheric
Eagle_Creek_012_03292009 - Contextual look across Eagle Creek towards a seasonal side waterfall as seen on our late March 2009 hike
Eagle_Creek_015_03292009 - Julie going under some moss-covered overhangs along the Eagle Creek Trail. During our late March 2009 hike, these moss were even dripping water like it would be raining on us
Eagle_Creek_018_03292009 - Julie on the Eagle Creek Trail in late March 2009 as it went behind some of the ephemeral waterfalls spilling over the trail
Eagle_Creek_020_03292009 - Julie continuing to climb the Eagle Creek Trail during our late March 2009 hike
Eagle_Creek_001_jx_03292009 - We noticed this sign which momentarily detoured us to the Metlako Falls Viewpoint back in late March 2009. However, after a major landslide that took place after this visit, such infrastructure is no longer there
Eagle_Creek_034_03292009 - We made a slight detour to get this view of Metlako Falls as we made our way to Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_043_03292009 - Looking down at Punch Bowl Falls from the Eagle Creek Trail when the vegetation wasn't as overgrown in late March 2009. We had to abort our attempt to try to see this waterfall from the bottom due to Eagle Creek running high on that day
Eagle_Creek_049_03292009 - Pretty cool triple ephemeral waterfalls with an obstructed view of it when Eagle Creek Gorge was wetter in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_050_03292009 - This was what the Eagle Creek Trail looked like on the return hike back in late March 2009 after having had our fill of the Punch Bowl Falls overlook
Eagle_Creek_053_03292009 - Julie negotiating a particularly narrow part of the Eagle Creek Trail on the return hike from Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_055_03292009 - Julie going by a small waterfall beneath an overhanging mossy part of the cliff on the return back from Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_057_03292009 - Another look back across Eagle Creek towards an ephemeral waterfall as we were making our return from Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_058_03292009 - Looking back across at another ephemeral waterfall on the return hike along Eagle Creek during our late March 2009 visit
Eagle_Creek_060_03292009 - Context of a moss-covered branch fronting Eagle Creek and that ephemeral waterfall as seen during our return hike from Punch Bowl Falls in late March 2009

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Punch Bowl Falls can be accessed on the famous Eagle Creek Trail.

A Northwest Forest Pass was required to park at the Eagle Creek Trailhead vicinity.

However, my Interagency Pass (formerly the National Parks Pass) was accepted here (so I displayed it on the dash of my rental car).

At both the end of the Eagle Creek Road and the shaded overflow parking area (which I’ll describe shortly), there were payment kiosks to purchase a NW Forest Pass to display on the dashboard of your car as proof of payment.

Directions from Portland

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_006_08182017 - This was the overflow parking area if you couldn't score a parking spot right at the Eagle Creek Trailhead about another half-mile further from here
This was the overflow parking area if you couldn’t score a parking spot right at the Eagle Creek Trailhead about another half-mile further from here

Since I’d imagine most visitors would drive out to Eagle Creek from Portland, I’ll start to describe the driving route from there.

Basically, I headed east on the I-84 for about 40 miles towards the Eagle Creek Exit (exit 41). It was shortly after the tunnel.

Turning right at the offramp, I’d then follow the Eagle Creek Road for about a quarter-mile, where there was the shaded overflow parking to the left.

A short distance further, there were more parking spaces though they were exposed to the sun.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_011_08182017 - The parking spaces closest to the Eagle Creek Trailhead
The parking spaces closest to the Eagle Creek Trailhead

A half-mile further was the end of the Eagle Creek Road, where the nearest parking spaces for the trailhead were.

Overall, this drive would take about 45 minutes or so.

Directions from Cascade Locks

Going in the other direction from Cascade Locks, I’d drive west on the I-84 for about 3 miles or so before taking the exit 40 for Bonneville Dam.

Turning left at the stop sign, I’d then drive under the I-84 and take the on-ramp on the left for the I-84 eastbound.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_167_08182017 - Parking was tight near the Eagle Creek Trailhead as people tried real hard to squeeze in to save themselves an extra half-mile (in each direction) of additional hiking
Parking was tight near the Eagle Creek Trailhead as people tried real hard to squeeze in to save themselves an extra half-mile (in each direction) of additional hiking

Once on the freeway, I then took the exit 41 for Eagle Creek shortly after leaving the tunnel.

Overall, this drive would take a little over 5 minutes.

For some geographical context, Portland was about 49 miles (over an hour drive) west of Cascade Locks, 75 miles (90 minutes drive) west of Hood River, 80 miles (1.5 hours drive) east of Cannon Beach, 112 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Eugene, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Medford, 173 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Seattle, Washington, 440 miles (7 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho, and 423 miles (6.5 hours drive) north of Redding, California.

Comprehensive video showing the festive scene well before the actual Punch Bowl Falls as well as some of the geology surrounding the immediate area


Short sweep of the Lower Punch Bowl Falls with a couple of jumpers going into its plunge pool from some protruding logs


A top-down view of the falls as the lower view was inaccessible due to high water


Sweep from left to right of the Lower Punch Bowl Falls.

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Tagged with: eagle creek, columbia river gorge, hood river, mt hood, mount hood, cascade locks, oregon, waterfall, pacific northwest



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.