There are moments on the Eagle Creek Path while you fully neglect that it was the birthplace of considered one of Oregon’s largest and most high-profile wildfires of the previous decade.
In autumn the canyon is ablaze in golden coloration as waterfalls drip down cliff partitions from each route, reminding hikers why this has lengthy been thought-about considered one of Oregon’s 5 greatest hikes.
Even within the locations which can be burned — and the influence is evident — the burn scar just isn’t overwhelming for a lot of the hike. There may be a lot of low-intensity hearth, usually referred to as “good hearth,” the place timber may need black scorch marks however the cover is unbroken and the forest ground is roofed up with ferns, moss or the golden coloration of bigleaf maple.
However each on occasion you hear it — the loud crack and crash of a fire-weakened tree splitting and plummeting down the canyon. As a result of whereas the path has largely “healed” from the 2017 Eagle Creek Hearth, the flames of 5 years in the past will preserve this an unstable and dynamic place of falling timber and landslides for years to return.
“The overwhelming majority of timber that have been killed within the hearth are nonetheless standing with weakened root buildings which means they do fall over fairly frequently,” stated Karen Davis, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Gorge Nationwide Scenic Space. “There’s additionally frequent particles and mudslides. Although it’s been 5 years because the hearth, there may be nonetheless numerous hazard or not less than issues to look out for particularly after massive storms.”
Certainly, even after Eagle Creek Path formally reopened final yr, it has been closed or blocked a number of instances by landslides. And that’s more likely to occur once more.
However not less than for now — as of November — the route is evident for the spectacular 3.3 miles to Excessive Bridge. Past, the subsequent 3 miles to Tunnel Falls do have some landslides that make for difficult climbing, and not less than one semi-difficult creek crossing, nevertheless it does stay open and doable.
And it’s nonetheless among the finest hikes in Oregon, particularly amongst those who often keep open via the winter, aside from just a few low-elevation snowstorms and the aforementioned landslides.
As ever, there are one million issues to understand concerning the path, together with the autumn colours, strolling the perimeters of excessive cliff faces and views of the countless waterfalls — Punchbowl Falls chief amongst them.
“The hearth opened up the views in order that after a rainstorm, you’ll be able to see dozens of waterfalls that have been beforehand obscured by dwelling timber,” Davis stated.
What I’ve at all times appreciated is the way it can completely arrange the kind of day that you just wish to have.
For a fast, straightforward and semi kid-friendly trek, hike 2.2 miles (4.4 round-trip) to Punchbowl Falls.
For a pleasant day-trip, hike 3.3 miles (6.6 round-trip) to aptly named Excessive Bridge, then return and head to Cascade Locks for a late lunch.
For a full day and journey, hike 6 miles (12 round-trip) to Tunnel Falls, a trek that takes you into the Gorge’s greatest style of a wilderness journey.
It’s additionally an awesome place to see the way in which wildfires influence totally different patches of forest at totally different severity.
The primary few miles — and actually a lot of the method to Excessive Bridge — there may be numerous low-intensity hearth alongside path, whereas up on the upper ridges, you’ll be able to see a lot higher-severity hearth manifest within the rows of useless timber. Later, the path enters forest that has been extra severely burned.
The story of the Eagle Creek Hearth’s ignition
Most individuals who stay in Oregon know the story of how the Eagle Creek Hearth ignited — a teen tossed a firework off the path on a boiling scorching day in early September 2017.
However not everybody is aware of the story of the 150 hikers who have been trapped by the hearth — together with 9 Salem youngsters — and compelled to spend an evening within the forest earlier than climbing out the great distance.
The Statesman Journal coated the story of the escape from the Eagle Creek Hearth — which you’ll be able to learn at StatesmanJournal.com. There’s additionally a wonderful documentary by TOPIC journal on the rise of the Eagle Creek Hearth.
Both means, it is a fantastic factor to return to Eagle Creek Path.
Eagle Creek Path
In a nutshell: Considered one of Oregon’s most scenic trails, positioned within the Columbia River Gorge close to Cascade Locks.
Issue: reasonable to troublesome
Size: 4.4 miles round-trip to Punchbowl Falls; 6.6 miles to Excessive Bridge; 12 miles to Tunnel Falls
Scary elements: If exploring makes you nervous, this won’t be the hike for you, as elements of the path scale rocky cliffs excessive above the creek under.
Pure hazards: Downed timber and landslides could also be potential on the path. Watch social media channels from the U.S. Forest Service Columbia River Gorge Nationwide Scenic Space.
Charges: Northwest Forest Cross required, or pay a $5 price on the trailhead per automotive.
Zach Urness has been an open air reporter in Oregon for 15 years and is host of the Discover Oregon Podcast. To help his work, subscribe to the Statesman Journal. Urness is the writer of “Best Hikes with Kids: Oregon” and “Hiking Southern Oregon.” He will be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-399-6801. Discover him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.