An estimated 98% of PCT hikers take the Eagle Creek alternate route, not the official PCT, and with good reason. The alternate route is far more scenic, and has easier access to water.
After a night at trail angel Shrek's house (aka "Shrek's Swamp"), we headed for Eagle Creek. The trail parallels Eagle Creek as it climbs the sometimes narrow, forested canyon. We climbed past tall, moss covered trees, along mossy rocks and ground. At times the canyon narrowed and our trail became a ledge along the steep rock wall, with vertical rock rising above and a sheer drop off to the water below.
We passed Punchbowl Falls, looking down as the water poured from its rocky spout into a waiting bowl-shaped pool. Then we climbed up to High Bridge, which crosses the narrow canyon hundreds of feet above the water. Continuing up the canyon, we soon reached Tunnel Falls.
Tunnel Falls. The water plummeted hundreds of feet down a vertical wall of dark rock. Our trail passed behind the waterfall via a damp, mossy tunnel through the rock. We felt cool drips of water as they dropped from the rock walls of the tunnel and sprayed from the waterfall on the other side.
Shrek (a Cascade Locks trail angel we visited on our way back through town) had warned us that Eagle Creek is a popular hike, but nothing prepared us for what we experienced on the way back down the canyon. Earlier that morning as we climbed up the canyon the trail had been deserted. Now we felt like salmon, struggling against the flow as countless backpackers, trail runners, and day hikers climbed up to the falls.
Reaching the now-crowded parking lot, we decided to visit the fish hatchery, where huge salmon were struggling upstream to spawn in their last moments of life. Some of the fish looked like they might measure 30 inches! Although the creek looked like a buffet table for a hungry bear, no animals were feeding when we visited.
We left Cascade Locks happy to have experienced both trails: the official PCT on our PCT thru-hike and the beautiful Eagle Creek alternate route as a day hike on our return trip.