Backpack the Mark. O Hatfield Wilderness Via Eagle Creek

Eagle Creek Trailhead

The Columbia River Gorge contains the highest concentration of waterfalls in the world. Enjoy gorgeous views as you hike through the area's verdant temperate rainforest and skirt precipitous paths cut into sheer basalt hillsides along the popular Eagle Creek trail. Afterwards, escape the crowds and climb picturesque peaks, discover pristine alpine lakes, and enjoy a true wilderness experience just 45 minutes from Portland!

This is a somewhat incomplete report because we did not venture too far into the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. The sky had been threatening us with rain for the duration of our hike along Eagle Creek and we did not want to push our luck too far since we were hoping for an early start on our drive back to Spokane the next day. We are hoping to return soon to do some more exploring, but thought that we might share our trip ideas and maybe inspire some others to go check out the area as well! Any feedback would definitely be appreciated. Here goes:

US Forest Service Guide to the Area

A Northwest Forest Pass is required from May 15th to October 1st.

These is also a fee of $5 per day to park at the trailhead or day-use host site - bring cash. The Eagle Creek Trail is dog-friendly but keep an eye (and a leash) on your furry friend around the cliffsides. Also, if you do decide to bring your pup, consider hitting the trail extra early to avoid some some potentially stressful situations while you try to maneuver them around nervous hikers (this trail gets crowded)!

Getting There:Access to the trail from the West is easy. Take the I-84 Eastbound exit #41 for Eagle Creek and follow the signs to the parking area. Things get trickier when approaching from the East: there is no Westbound exit #41, so you'll have to take exit #40 for Bonneville Dam, circle under the freeway, and backtrack for about a mile to get to exit #41. The Forest Service recommends parking at the day-use site if you're planning on camping, as it is more secure than the nearby parking at the trailhead.

Accessing the Wilderness:Follow the Eagle Creek trail as it winds its way along its namesake water feature. You'll meander through beautifully verdant temperate rainforest and skirt precipitous paths cut into sheer basalt cliffsides (there are cables bolted into the rock for people who are not so comfortable with heights). Don't miss the lower Punch Bowl falls viewpoint! Watch for kayakers getting ready to run the falls!

After 5 miles you'll enter the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness: issue yourself a permit here. You'll soon pass a junction with the steep Eagle-Benson trail that climbs up a hillside to the left. After another mile you'll reach the famous Tunnel Falls. It's possible to climb down to the base via a steep scree path but be careful - if you get too close to the falls your feet will get soaked.

After another mile and a half, you'll reach a junction with the Eagle-Tanner trail on the right. This is where the trail climbs up and away from the creek for about 2000 vertical feet over 5 miles towards Wahtum Lake. This is also the area where we decided to make our camp.

What to do in the Wilderness:The Eagle Creek Trail can be made into a loop from Wahtum Lake in three different ways via the Chinidere Cutoff and the Pacific Crest Trail (see guide linked above).A hike to the top of Chinidere Mountain will offer some fantastic and unobstructed views of Mt. Hood.

PCT to Eagle-Benson:
From the lake, take the Pacific Crest Trail (#2000) to its junction with the Eagle-Benson trail (#434) and follow that until it rejoins the Eagle Creek trail (#440) at the entrance of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. The Eagle-Benson trail is steep, so keep that in mind when hiking in wet weather.

PCT to Benson Way to Ruckel Creek:
Follow the PCT (#2000) past it's junction with the Eagle Benson Trail and onto the Benson Plateau, where it joins with Benson Way (#405B). See the guide linked above for other options for exploring the Benson Plateau. Head left on the Ruckel Creek Trail (#405) from the North side of the plateau. This will lead you back to the Gorge, where you can hike back to the parking lot.

You can take the Pacific Crest Trail around the East side of the Benson Plateau and back to the Gorge about 6 miles east of the parking lot.

If you have two cars available, you could park one at the Herman Creek Trailhead (#406)or the Tanner Butte Trailhead (#401) (the road to this trailhead is gated so you have to hike 1.9 miles in to access it - consider parking at the Tooth Rock Trailhead).

Look out for newts if you spend some time near the river, and be careful of snails and slugs crossing the trail after it rains!

Consider visiting Full Sail Brewing in Hood River for some well-deserved brews after you return from your adventure!

This also seems like a pretty great place to go canyoneering if you have the equipment and the experience. I hope to come back with both someday!

Researching this area really makes me wish I had lots of time to spend there. Happy Exploring!

Pack List

  • Northwest Forest Pass from May 15th to Oct 1st
  • 10 Essentials (a printed map would be useful - there is also a map at the entrance to the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness)
  • Backpack with Rain Cover and a good shell layer (the area receives 70-90in of rainfall annually)
  • Fire starting materials (campfires are not allowed during the Summer, but it would have been great to have one when we went)
  • Swimming trunks (especially during the Summer)
  • Snowshoes (during the Winter and early Spring)
  • Bug Spray!
  • Trekking poles would provide some extra security in wet weather conditions
Show More
RT Distance 26 Miles
Elevation Gain 2300 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Running, Kayaking, Swimming, Snowshoeing, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Trail Type Loop
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Picnic Area
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole


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