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: -121.92360

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

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). 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) with some mild cliff exposure as there were several sections of the trail clinging 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.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_011_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 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 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). 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. 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 though 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.

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.

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 rails or chains to hold onto to help the unsure
The Eagle Creek Trail was on ledges that were narrow and hugged cliffs like these, but there were often rails or chains to hold onto to help the unsure

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

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 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. 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.

Finally, I have to make one final comment about this hike. The arson-caused Eagle Creek Fire that started in early September 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 (the illegal fireworks were tossed in this gorge). Given the steep terrain of the gorge, it will probably be a while before this trail would re-open again as the lack of vegetation will destabilize the soil, and 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.

Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_006_08182017 - The shaded parking spaces at the overflow parking lot were full when I showed up to Eagle Creek
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
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_004_08182017 - This bridge led to Wahclella Falls and it was closed during my visit
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_012_08182017 - The official trailhead for Eagle Creek Trail
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_015_08182017 - The closure signs said that Eagle Creek Trail was closed beyond Punch Bowl Falls due to the Indian Creek Fire. 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
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_026_08182017 - The 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_037_08182017 - It didn't take long before the trail started to hug the cliffs and test one's fear of heights
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
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_048_08182017 - More cliff-hugging stretches of the Eagle Creek Trail
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_058_08182017 - Looking back at some hikers making their return while holding onto the railings bolted in the cliffs for assurance
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_069_08182017 - One of several closure signs saying that the Metlako Falls Viewpoint was closed indefinitely
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_077_08182017 - This was the Sorenson Creek crossing as of August 2017
Eagle_Creek_035_03292009 - Julie trying to stay relatively dry while crossing Sorenson Creek in high flow as of late March 2009
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_079_08182017 - Beyond the Sorenson Creek crossing, I got this very obstructed glimpse of Metlako Falls
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
Eagle_Creek_047_03292009 - Top down view of the Punch Bowl Falls from the upper viewpoint during late March 2009 when the vegetation was bare enough to allow for this view to happen
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_086_08182017 - Following some hikers along this spur trail leading down to the Lower Punch Bowl
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_088_08182017 - The descending trail to the Lower Punch Bowl
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_092_08182017 - Made it to the top of Lower Punch Bowl Falls with lots of people further upstream where the main Punch Bowl Falls could be seen
Eagle_Creek_039_03292009 - The underwhelming Lower Punch Bowl Falls as seen in late March 2009
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_101_08182017 - My first look at the Punch Bowl Falls from the bottom
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_108_08182017 - Zoomed in look at the Punch Bowl Falls
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_118_08182017 - There were lots of people at Punch Bowl Falls, and this picture only showed a small fraction of them
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_115_08182017 - In order to get to where those three people went, you had to swim
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_136_08182017 - Looking back at some of the many people at the Punch Bowl Falls view
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_142_08182017 - Now headed back to the Eagle Creek Trailhead
Eagle_Creek_050_03292009 - This was what the Eagle Creek Trail looked like on the return hike back in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_053_03292009 - A particularly narrow part of the Eagle Creek Trail on the return hike in late March 2009
Eagle_Creek_055_03292009 - Going by a small waterfall beneath an overhanging mossy part of the cliff on the return back in late March 2009
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_167_08182017 - When I returned to the Eagle Creek Trailhead, I noticed these cars were illegally parked
Punch_Bowl_Falls_17_173_08182017 - Finally making it back to my parking spot, where even this overflow parking area was full!


Portland, I’ll 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. 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.

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. 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.

A Northwest Forest Pass was required to park here, but 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, there were payment kiosks to purchase a NW Forest Pass to display on the dashboard of your car as proof of payment.

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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