The first time I ran in the Gorge I was invited to go running on the Eagle Creek Trail by a very athletic, slightly unhinged, friend of ours who insisted on showing me what she considered one of the best trail runs she had ever done. I was interested, but slightly weary. The drive up to the trailhead would allow for the most one-on-one time I had ever had with this girl, and I was hesitant to be confined to the car, without quickly available means of escape. Thankfully I got past the fear that she was going to stab me, and was able to try out the run in all of its glory (this is after we almost died on the off ramp, as she apparently manifests her crazy in the way she takes icy corners). Heart rate blasting – we headed up the trail for what has become my favorite run in Oregon. For me, Eagle Creek provides the quintessential Northwest running experience, a place where I can retreat when I am not sure if I can handle the gray skies or the seemingly endless rain. The run is green, muddy, steep and utterly gorgeous.
The trail runs along the walls of the canyon that has been carved by the Eagle Creek, which runs from the foothills of Mt. Hood into the Columbia River. Numerous other creeks pour into the canyon, creating countless waterfalls that you pass as you wind your way up the canyon. The waterfalls make the trail popular with hikers, hence the first 2 miles or so are fairly crowded with day-trippers (the crowd seems to thin out after Punch Bowl Falls). I could go on and on about the wateralls as they are truly amazing, but part of the fun of this run is discovering what is around the next turn.
For the most part, the trail is narrow and rocky, and runs along the canyon walls resulting in incredibly steep drop offs through many parts of the trail. The actual ground is fairly jagged in a number of areas, forcing you to pay attention to footing. Additionally, there are parts where water sprays off the rocks above creating numerous puddles, mudslicks and wet areas that have to be navigated carefully to avoid slipping into the canyon below (how cool of a story would that be – “I was running Eagle Creek and fell into the abyss!”). But do not let this deter you; the run, while perhaps vertigo inducing in some sections, climbs gradually enough to be fairly easy on the legs. You can generally make it as easy or intense as you want.
The map below ends at my usual turn around point – just above Twisting Falls, about 7 miles from the trailhead. It’s a good spot to take a break, stretch and let the dog play in the water.
Topographic map and elevation profile here.
Do it because: the amazing views and excellent trail conditions provide so many “I can’t believe I am seeing this” moments that 12 miles just doesn’t seem enough.
Distance: 12+ miles round trip (I generally stop at Twisting/Eagle Creek Falls, but the run can continue past for another 8 miles).
Time: 2.5 hours
Directions: Take I-84 East out of Portland and take exit 41 (the exit is immediately after a tunnel – take it slow, this is where my friend almost killed us on the ice). After exiting, take a right at the stop sign and continue along a narrow road until it ends, there is usually parking available.
Our Suggestions: Lock your valuables in the car as apparently they have been having problems with break ins. There is a $5.00 day use fee that I have never paid but never been ticketed for. Bring food for during and after – it’s a long one and a picnic lunch is a perfect ending. Time your trip so you head back to Portland during the sunset. You’ll fall in love with the Northwest all over again.