March 6, 2011

Upper McCord Creek Falls & Elowah Falls

Location: Columbia River Gorge, John B. Yeon State Park
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 600 feet

Although the trailhead is right beside the highway, and you can hear the traffic for a good part of the way, this easy hike is well worth trying due to two spectacular waterfalls: Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls.

The hike starts in a deciduous forest, then slowly climbs through evergreen forest until a trail junction at .4 miles. Take the trail to the right to go another .7 miles up to Upper McCord Creek Falls, or go straight for .4 miles to Elowah Falls. Since the distances are short to each, it is easy to do both.

We decided to go up to Upper McCord Creek Falls first so we’d have the climbing over on the first part of the hike. There are several switchbacks, and the trail isn’t steep, but there is an exposed high point along a sheer cliff wall with metal handrails for the faint of heart at heights… and it is a good thing the railing is there. Along this section, there are nice views looking out towards the Columbia River. On a clear day, Table Mountain and Mount Adams are viewable. We could only see part of Table Mountain today… the rest was hidden behind an overcast sky. The railing and trail turn and there is a nice view of the top of Elowah Falls. A short distance further, and McCord Creek is below the trail, then a view of Upper McCord Creek Falls is right in front of you. The trail only goes a short distance from here and ends at the Creek, just above the Falls.

Backtracking on the trail to the junction, we turned right to head to Elowah Falls. The trail rises slightly, then begins a descent with switchbacks to the circular amphitheater of basalt cliffs where Elowah Falls dramatically plunges 289 feet. The closer to the falls you get, the more the water sprays and the winds swirl. I didn’t get up the bridge because my hiking partner came back from the base of the falls looking like someone dumped several buckets of water on him.