Because of the damaged bridge at Trish Creek, hikers can only reach as high as Punchbowl Falls before turning around.
Lots of cliffs and exposure make this hike less than ideal for those who are afraid of heights.
The hike begins with a gradual climb along a wide, well-maintained segment of trail following Eagle Creek. Pretty soon, the trail climbs away from the creek to the first of many exposed sections situated along a beautiful valley. In many of the narrower sections there are cable lines to assist hikers.
The trail continues to steadily climb through an old-growth forest that forms a lovely canopy overhead. At around 1.7 miles, it reaches the Lower Punchbowl Trail #440B
. This rocky detour is a worthwhile addition to the hike. Punchbowl Falls sets a beautiful scene with a large grotto and plenty of rushing water. You are unlikely to have it to yourself, however, as it's a popular swimming area. For those interested in taking photos of the falls, be sure to get there early to beat the crowds.
Back on the main trail, a birds-eye view of Punchbowl Falls is soon reached at a guard-railed overlook. This is a popular turnaround spot for short outings, and the majority of visitors don't proceed past this point.
NOTE: In December 2015, the bridge across Trish Creek was severely damaged, and the trail beyond remains closed (see restrictions above).
Over roughly the next mile, the trail works its way in and out of the tree cover into occasional narrow areas. Shortly after a view of Loowit Falls, the trail crosses to the other side of the gorge. To accomplish this feat, simply hike across High Bridge, which sits 150 feet above the creek below. This is another popular turnaround spot, but if your feet are up for it, you won't regret pushing on.
The remaining miles to Tunnel Falls travel a little closer to the creek, though still above it. Another bridge sends you back to the other side of the gorge, meanwhile you'll begin to pass a number of small campsites suitable for an overnight. Shortly before the intersection with the Eagle Benson Trail #434, the trail crosses into the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, where a self-issue wilderness permit box is located.
From here, you're now in the home stretch and there's just a mile to go. Before you reach Tunnel Falls, you'll come across the less-impressive Grand Union Falls near a bizarre section of trail that appears to be formed from various bowls and columns of dynamite-blasted basalt. Pretty soon, you'll round a bend and get your first glimpse of the prize.
Tunnel Falls strikes an impressive scene as the tall, majestic plume spills down over a backsplash of moss and ferns. About mid-way up the falls, the trail sweeps up to enter a short tunnel that was blasted into the rock behind the falls. After crossing behind the falls, the trail follows a narrow ledge circling the hillside as it climbs away from this truly beautiful scene. While the going is rocky and obviously slippery here, fortunately there is a stretched cable to aid your passage.
While in the tunnel, be sure to cool down and enjoy the scene from every angle. Once you're finally ready to tear yourself away, begin the trek back to the trailhead. Make sure to tread carefully in the narrow sections, as your legs have inevitably experienced a full day of hiking by now.
This content was contributed by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge. To find more hikes they recommend and to learn about their efforts to support the Columbia Gorge, click here
An impressive amount of effort was required to build this trail in the early 1900s. In some sections, crews had to use dynamite to blast the narrow path that allows visitors to appreciate this unique trail.