As of this week, you own 102 beautiful wilderness acres at the base of Mount Hood. Technically, we all do—and Hood River County is our caretaker. Meet Oregon’s newest park, Punchbowl Falls, and all it has to offer: hiking, fishing, and—if you're a polar bear—even swimming.
Located southwest of Odell, Punchbowl Falls Park can be found at the glacier-fed confluence of Hood River's East and West forks, home to its namesake wide-basined waterfall. (If you're thinking of Punchbowl Falls on the Eagle Creek Trail, think again—this new park is a dozen or so miles east.) According to Danny Palmerlee of the Western Rivers Conservancy, the new park—which formally opened on Tuesday, July 26—represents a major win for salmon habitat, one that's been a very long time coming.
“People wanted to see Punchbowl Falls turned into a public park for people to enjoy and to protect from development or any other kind of exploitation," says Palmerlee. "And that was in the paper 100 years ago.”
Western Rivers Conservancy—a nonprofit that helps protect outstanding river ecosystems in the western United States through strategic land acquisition—was the future park's first owner, purchasing an initial 20 acres in 2006 and slowly adding to the property. In February 2016, the conservancy helped facilitate Hood River County's public purchase of its holdings, which now total 102 acres.
Punchbowl Falls Park's July 26 opening was marked by a formal ceremony. Over the next few years, Palmerlee says the county has promised to provide hikers with established trails—a west fork and forest loop are planned—along with currently-absent park facilities (like restrooms) and ongoing maintenance.
If you’re looking for a new place to explore right now, you can find the falls west of the park's main access point (currently a logging road), but for now, you might want to be ready for a bit of bushwhacking to get there. Thriving in Hood River's swiftly-flowing waters are exceptionally diverse populations of migrant and native fish, including Chinook and Coho salmon, winter and summer steelhead, and rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout.
According to Palmerlee, the salmon hold in the area below the falls, happy as clams in the glacial meltwater. Look down from the edge of the basin and you might witness the beautiful sight of fish darting below in the aqua blue water. Fishing is allowed; bring a rod and license and try to catch dinner from designated fishing areas. (Look around and you'll also see wooden fishing platforms built above the river—possibly a century ago, says Palmerlee—by local tribes. The platforms are still used, but only by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.)
Looking to make a day out of your trip? Stop by Mt. Hood Winery or Wy’East Vineyards located just 20 minutes away on Highway 35. If you’re searching for more family-friendly activities, try exploring Hood River or diving into Lost Lake in the afternoon.
Punchbowl Falls Park is located just outside of Dee, Oregon, and is about a two-hour drive from downtown Portland. (NOTE: There are multiple Punchbowl Falls throughout Oregon, so ensure you’re trekking to this one.)