My Love Affair with Punchbowl Falls: Trail Guide

Is it weird to be obsessed with a gorge? Because I kinda am.

The Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest has always been special to me. It marks the dividing line between the states of Washington and Oregon and really is a utopia for adventure seekers and travelers. There are literally hundreds of waterfalls to chase, rivers to forge and ridges to climb in this region (not to mention the Deschutes brewery). But of all the sights, Punchbowl Falls is probably my favorite.

Punchbowl Falls is no secret, though I wish it was. It is a popular enough attraction for both tourists and locals, especially in the summer months. The best part? The pools are totally swimmable.
IMG_2991Well, sort of. My journey to Punchbowl falls was one of the first adventures I shared with Tay Babe. When we got to the lower falls, it was actually pretty crowded along the shores. Nobody else was swimming, for reasons I soon learned were obvious. Even in June, the water is freezing. But what is cool about that? As soon as you swim away from the shore, you’ve got the entire pool to yourself.

How do you get there?

The Columbia River Gorge is a short hour drive from Portland, Oregon. Set your GPS for the Eagle Creek Trailhead and head on your way. The trail is a 3.8 mile out-and-back that ends at the lower falls of Punchbowl. Follow the easy and well-packed trailhead. Be sure to watch the weather, as sections of the trail can become muddy and slick in rainy conditions.

IMG_2961When is the best time to go?

Since the pools are swimmable, the best time to go is when its the warmest. The crystal clear snowmelt that makes up the pools can be freezing, so its always nice to be able to warm up in the sun after a swim. Not to mention that the falls have become a popular attraction for kayakers. In these summer months, you may catch a line of whitewater athletes waiting for their turn to bomb the 35 foot waterfall.

Is it safe?

There is some high exposure on one side of the trail once you get closer to the falls. For this reason, I don’t recommend bringing your small children or dogs, though people certainly do. The more wet the conditions, the more slick the trail can be. Likewise, the trail can be foggy so always use caution. Trails are put in place for a reason, so don’t go exploring off the beaten path. There have been countless injuries and few casualties (dogs included) from doing just that.

What should I bring?

Bring a towel and some warm clothes, just in case the weather turns foul. Its always a good idea to bring plenty of water and snacks for your journey (I eat a lot). If you bring an inflatable flamingo to float on, I won’t judge you either.

Check out the full video here


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