There are moments on the Eagle Creek Trail when you completely forget that it was the birthplace of one of Oregon’s largest and most high-profile wildfires of the past decade.

In autumn the canyon is ablaze in golden color as waterfalls drip down cliff walls from every direction, reminding hikers why this has long been considered one of Oregon’s five best hikes.

Even in the places that are burned — and the impact is clear — the burn scar is not overwhelming for much of the hike. There is lots of low-intensity fire, often known as “good fire,” where trees might have black scorch marks but the canopy is intact and the forest floor is covered up with ferns, moss or the golden color of bigleaf maple.

Eagle Creek Trail, in the Columbia River Gorge near Cascade Locks, features waterfalls, autumn colors and high bridges. The trail was the site of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, leaving burn scars throughout the hike.

But every now and again you hear it — the loud crack and crash of a fire-weakened tree splitting and plummeting down the canyon. Because while the trail has largely “healed” from the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, the flames of five years ago will keep this an unstable and dynamic place of falling trees and landslides for years to come.

“The vast majority of trees that were killed in the fire are still standing with weakened root structures that means they do fall over pretty regularly,” said Karen Davis, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. “There’s also frequent debris and mudslides. Even though it’s been five years since the fire, there is still a lot of danger or at least things to look out for especially after big storms.”

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Punchbowl Falls seen from Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge near Cascade Locks. The trail features waterfalls, autumn colors and high bridges. The trail was the site of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, leaving burn scars throughout the hike.

Indeed, even after Eagle Creek Trail officially reopened last year, it has been closed or blocked multiple times by landslides. And that’s likely to happen again.

But at least for now — as of November — the route is clear for the spectacular 3.3 miles to High Bridge. Beyond, the next 3 miles to Tunnel Falls do have some landslides that make for tricky hiking, and at least one semi-difficult creek crossing, but it does remain open and doable.

And it’s still one of the best hikes in Oregon, especially among those that usually stay open through the winter, with the exception of a few low-elevation snowstorms and the aforementioned landslides.

Eagle Creek Trail, in the Columbia River Gorge near Cascade Locks, features waterfalls, autumn colors and high bridges. The trail was the site of the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, leaving burn scars throughout the hike.

As ever, there are a million things to appreciate about the trail, including the autumn colors, walking the edges of high cliff faces and views of the endless waterfalls — Punchbowl Falls chief among them.

“The fire opened up the views so that after a rainstorm, you can see dozens of waterfalls that were previously obscured by living trees,” Davis said.

What I’ve always appreciated is how it can perfectly set up the type of day that you want to have.





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