Eagle Creek Alternate
The Eagle Creek Trail of northern Oregon is another alternative route that departs from the official PCT. It is not only a common deviation for most thru-hikers, but one of the most popular spots in Oregon to see a high concentration of water features. While most thru-hikers navigate the many waterfalls of Eagle Creek heading north into the town of Cascade Locks and the border of Oregon and Washington, a day hiker’s best bet will be to start from Cascade Locks to make their way south along this featured trail of the Columbia River Valley.
Just under two miles from the start of the trail, Punch Bowl Falls and its large basin of water waits to be seen, and nearly seven miles in, Tunnel Falls allows hikers to trek under a waterfall through an impressive tunnel carved out of the rock. The Eagle Creek trail is one of the most popular trails in the Pacific Northwest, so you might be sharing the trail with some other avid adventurers, but with all there is to see, you won’t mind the company.
Every mile of the Washington portion of the PCT is filled with lush rainforest environments, craggy high-alpine terrain, and big views of defining Pacific Northwest attractions. Not much of the Washington PCT is easily accessible for day hikes, but where the trail crosses Highway 410 at Chinook Pass, complete with an ample parking area, day hikers can explore the PCT in either direction and feel their wanderlust satisfied. Heading north on the PCT from Chinook Pass, Sheep Lake is only 1.5 miles away and is worth the drive up the mountain. Heading south, Dewey Lake, Anderson Lake, and the Laughingwater Trail Junction encourages exploration. With Chinook Pass serving as the eastern border of Mount Rainier National Park, your fun doesn’t have to end with a day hike on the PCT, and the adventure options are nearly endless considering the vast mountain environment that surrounds it.
The North Cascades National Park section of the PCT in northern Washington is arguably the most rugged, but with an adequate amount of sweat equity, the stunning views of the craggy Cascade Mountains are well worth the effort. Much of the terrain that the PCT crosses through in northern Washington is inaccessible without multiple days of hiking, but not far from the Canadian border, just outside the small adventure town of Mazama, you can access great PCT day hiking from Harts Pass.
The Forest Service road to access Harts Pass is narrow, with a steep cliffside instead of a shoulder, and partly for that reason the drive up to this day hiking destination could be your biggest challenge of the whole adventure. The other part of the reason is that because Harts Pass is at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet, you don’t have to climb much when you start hiking on the trail. Instead, the whole family can follow the relatively flat grade heading south or north on the PCT from Harts Pass, and take in some of the most dramatic ridgelines, mountain peaks, and craggy alpine environments found in the entire state of Washington.