The Columbia River Gorge is breathtaking any way you look at it. I am lucky enough to live within a half day’s drive to Oregon, so exploration of endless loops and treks in the area are at my fingertips. Eagle Creek is one of the most popular hikes in the Gorge, rightfully so. Last year we planned a trip up Ruckel Ridge with hopes of running down Eagle Creek, but due to an injury I had at the time, we had to cut our trip short and gimp down Ruckel Creek instead.
With Eagle Creek being so popular, we wanted an alternate route that would make a nice two-day loop, allowing us to enjoy the scenery of Eagle Creek leisurely on day two without fighting the crowds.
We decided to start at Herman Creek trailhead, and stashed a bike at Eagle Creek trailhead a few miles away so getting the car back was just a short bike ride at the end of our trek. I didn’t have to bike back to get the car, so t was extra convenient for me!
Though Herman Creek trail is quite the slow, uphill slog, only a few miles in boast some waterfalls and scenery that make you want to need a break sooner than later.
Past the waterfalls we continued up the Herman Creek slog, past the Cedar Swamp campsite, and paused at the Mud Lake junction. We decided to dump our packs for a break and check out Mud Lake, just a short jaunt down the trail. Being more of a mosquito haven and a swamp, Mud Lake didn’t keep our attention long, but it was a nice little reprieve from the march we had been on the past few hours.
We grabbed our packs again and headed on towards Wahtum Lake. As we came to the ridge above the lake, a cold fog blew in, along with some chilly air at the 4,400ft elevation level. What should have been some spectacular views became grey waves of fog crossing our trail.
We quickly descended down to Wahtum Lake where we perused the shore for a suitable campsite. There were a few people that had already staked their claim, and we didn’t see anything that met our fancy, so we decided to keep trekking. Our goal was to find a suitable campsite along the PCT, maybe near Chinidere Mountain or Hicks Lake.
Having passed both assumed locations and not finding a site, we were starting to wonder if we would end up just pitching our tent on the trail. It was getting later, and we only had an hour left of light.
We knew there would be a spot at Smokey Spring, but we were really hoping for something exceptional. About two miles from Smokey Spring, we saw a little side trail and decided to check it out. A few hundred feet in boasted probably the best camp site on this stretch of the PCT. Mt Adams was in full view from an amazing ridge top, and the little camp space was just big enough for our tent. We set the tent, made dinner, and had a picturesque view of the sunset.
The next morning we packed up and headed towards Smokey Spring, where our cutoff was to connect to Eagle Creek Trail. Upon arriving at the Smokey Spring campsites, I was to thankful that we found our little diamond in the PCT rough. The site would have been safe, level, and doable, but did not boast the view (or any view, for that matter) that the ridge site had. Luck was certainly on our side!
The cutoff trail turned out to be more of a “are you sure this is still the trail?” bushwhacking event. I doubt the trail had been maintained at all in the past 5 years. It was so steep that when trying to navigate over downed trees, I often had to straddle the log and slide down to the ground on the downside since I am so short. Not to mention the bush was so over-grown that it was above my head most of the time. Let’s just say that I wouldn’t recommend the trail, and I’m glad we were descending and not ascending it!
Touchdown to Eagle Creek was a sigh of relief. We took a break by the creek, had a snack, and refilled our water. Even with Eagle Creek’s popularity, there were no other hikers at this spot since it was so far in. It was lovely!
The long trek along Eagle Creek was true to it’s reputation. Spectacular views of the creek, waterfalls every few miles, and lots of day hikers. We took a few side trips for better viewings, including one to lower punchbowl falls. I would absolutely hike eagle creek again, but certainly would opt for a mid-weekday to avoid some of the crowds.
Soon we were at the Eagle Creek trailhead, with just a quick bike ride to the car at Herman Creek trailhead. After loading our packs into the car and switching our trail shoes for sandals, our first stop was to Thunder Island Brewery, where we discovered the best Barley Wine in the States yet! After 27 miles in two days, this was the perfect end to another great adventure!