Elowah Falls

Columbia River Gorge / John B. Yeon State Park / near Portland / Multnomah County, Oregon, USA

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 2
Elowah Falls

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Elowah Falls was another one of the distinct plunging waterfalls situated in John B. Yeon State Park more towards the eastern end of what we perceived to be the "waterfalls area" along the historical highway detour of the Columbia River Gorge. Because of its plunging characteristic and overhanging vertical cliffs (clear evidence of past lava flows giving rise to these hard layers of rock), this waterfall reminded me very much of Latourell Falls. In fact, if I took a glancing look at photos of the two waterfalls, I could easily get them confused without examining them a bit more carefully. Nevertheless, in this instance, the McCord Creek was said to drop 213ft (though I've seen this figure as high as 289ft), and it required a little bit more of a hike to access it (though not by much as it was said to be about 1.6 miles round trip). Those factors alone made this waterfall a relatively hidden gem as it was far less popular than most of the drive-by waterfalls in the area. Since the falls was on McCord Creek, at one point, it was referred to as the McCord Creek Falls (there was an Upper McCord Creek Falls further upstream reached by a separate hike) before it was renamed to Elowah by a mountaineering organization based in Portland called the Mazamas.

The trail to Elowah Falls was within the boundaries of the John B. Yeon State Park (I guess it's now called the John B. Yeon Scenic Corridor). Yeon was a Portland businessman who was instrumental in the completion of the Columbia River Highway at a time when the project was plagued with mismanagement and cost overruns. He apparently took personal ownership of the project as a volunteer roadmaster for Multnomah County, but his devotion to the project costed him his own business endeavors and investments. Nevertheless, the existence of the road connecting most of the Columbia River Gorge waterfalls, which most motorists take for granted these days, could be attributed to Yeon's efforts.

From the trailhead right next to a freeway entrance for the I-84 (see directions below), the trail immediately climbed past an old water tank then switched back and continued rising towards a trail junction in 0.4 miles. At the junction, I kept left to continue onwards to Elowah Falls. Going right at this junction would lead up a steep trail to Upper McCord Creek Falls, which would nearly double the round-trip length of the overall hike if I were to add it to this hike. The trail would continue to gently climb for the next 0.1-mile before starting to descend some narrow ledges then resuming alongside the McCord Creek. When I first did this hike in late March 2009, the trail veered left then switched back along McCord Creek to the falls. However, on my second visit, the trail was re-routed to the right and made a sharp switchbacking descent on an eroded hillside. I'm sure this part of the trail would be in constant maintenance as conditions seemed to be in a perpetual state of flux here.

Next, the narrow ledge trail meandered alongside McCord Creek in a more gradual descent eventually leading to a footbridge crossing right before the base of the Elowah Falls. In high flow (like it was when Julie and I first visited in late March 2009), it was tremendously misty, windy, and slippery around the footbridge, but in lower flow (like on my second visit in August 2017), I was better able to appreciate the open amphitheater as the scene was less turbulent. Thus, I could get a closer look up at the overhanging cliffs giving rise to the waterfall's freefalling plunge. But unlike Latourell Falls, the cliffs seemed to have a less pronounced columnar appearance. With all the rocks strewn at the base as well as some giant boulders strewn next to the footbridge, I was reminded of where they came from and how prone rock slides were here. I even noticed what appeared to be a tiny cave further upslope from one of the rock slides, where a thin ephemeral waterfall was still flowing.

Anyways, since this waterfall required a 3/4-mile hike (or 0.8-mile based on the signage) to get here, it wasn't nearly as busy as at Latourell Falls. So it was a relaxing and enjoyable visit. After having my fill of this falls, I went back the way I came and wound up spending under an hour away from the car.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

Elowah Falls could be combined with the Upper McCord Creek Falls hike, whose payoff was actually these sweeping views towards Mt Adams before even reaching the fallsElowah Falls could be combined with the Upper McCord Creek Falls hike, whose payoff was actually these sweeping views towards Mt Adams before even reaching the falls
Elowah Falls was one of many waterfalls draining Mt Hood in the Columbia River Gorge, which itself was a scenic place as shown hereElowah Falls was one of many waterfalls draining Mt Hood in the Columbia River Gorge, which itself was a scenic place as shown here
It was very easy to be content with seeing Multnomah Falls, but Elowah Falls demonstrated that there were plenty of other waterfalls worth checking out in the areaIt was very easy to be content with seeing Multnomah Falls, but Elowah Falls demonstrated that there were plenty of other waterfalls worth checking out in the area
Portland and the Columbia River Gorge was probably around a half-hour or so from each other, so on a nice day, clear views like this of the major volcanoes could be seenPortland and the Columbia River Gorge was probably around a half-hour or so from each other, so on a nice day, clear views like this of the major volcanoes could be seen
The trailhead parking almost besides I-84The trailhead parking almost besides I-84

The start of the trail as it climbed above the parking lotThe start of the trail as it climbed above the parking lot

We noticed this water tank at the switchback just above the parking lotWe noticed this water tank at the switchback just above the parking lot

The trail continuing to climb well above the I-84 and trailhead parking in the first 0.4 milesThe trail continuing to climb well above the I-84 and trailhead parking in the first 0.4 miles

The signed trail junction where going left went to Elowah Falls and going right went to Upper McCord Creek FallsThe signed trail junction where going left went to Elowah Falls and going right went to Upper McCord Creek Falls

Julie on the trail amongst tall trees on the ascent during our first visit back in late March 2009Julie on the trail amongst tall trees on the ascent during our first visit back in late March 2009

Near the apex of the climb, the trail started to round a bend as it entered the gorge carved out by McCord CreekNear the apex of the climb, the trail started to round a bend as it entered the gorge carved out by McCord Creek

During my August 2017 hike, the trail was re-routed to my right (instead of left), which descended these tightly wound switchbacks though it appeared that the hill was eroded here as wellDuring my August 2017 hike, the trail was re-routed to my right (instead of left), which descended these tightly wound switchbacks though it appeared that the hill was eroded here as well

Julie descending towards the falls on the former pathJulie descending towards the falls on the former path

The trail now followed this narrow ledge along McCord CreekThe trail now followed this narrow ledge along McCord Creek

Looking back at some of the narrower stretches of the Elowah Falls TrailLooking back at some of the narrower stretches of the trail

Finally the Elowah Falls started to come into sightFinally the Elowah Falls started to come into sight

Approaching Elowah Falls and the footbridge, where there were a trio of people already hereApproaching Elowah Falls and the footbridge, where there were a trio of people already here

Approaching Elowah Falls in high flow (as seen on our first visit in late March 2009) as we were passing between bare mossy trees flanking the trailApproaching Elowah Falls in high flow (as seen on our first visit in late March 2009) as we were passing between bare mossy trees flanking the trail

Checking out the Elowah Falls as of August 2017Checking out the Elowah Falls as of August 2017

This was what Elowah Falls looked like in high flow as of late March 2009. Notice Julie getting sprayed as she crossed the bridge, which provided a sense of scaleThis was what Elowah Falls looked like in high flow as of late March 2009. Notice Julie getting sprayed as she crossed the bridge, which provided a sense of scale

Checking out the Elowah Falls over the footbridge as of August 2017Checking out the falls over the footbridge as of August 2017

Elowah Falls and the footbridge over its creek as seen as of late March 2009The waterfall and the footbridge over its creek as seen as of late March 2009

Examining the overhanging cliffs giving rise to the plunge characteristic of Elowah FallsExamining the overhanging cliffs giving rise to the plunge characteristic of the falls

Upon closer inspection of the cliffs around Elowah Falls, I noticed what appeared to be a caveUpon closer inspection of the cliffs around the falls, I noticed what appeared to be a cave

This ephemeral waterfall that could have given rise to a rockslide that caused a big jumble of boulders and rocks making access to that cave more trouble than it was worthThe ephemeral waterfall that could have given rise to a rockslide that caused a big jumble of boulders and rocks making access to that cave more trouble than it was worth

Looking downstream at some of the large boulders strewn about with people providing a sense of scale of just how large these chunks wereLooking downstream at some of the large boulders strewn about with people providing a sense of scale of just how large these chunks were

Going bcack up the eroded section of trail on the return hikeGoing back up the eroded section of trail on the return hike


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Examining Elowah Falls from a few different spots with an eye towards the geology that gave rise to the falls itself


Bottom up sweep from the upper viewing area under heavy rain


Bottom up sweep looking directly at the falls


Checking out the brink of Elowah Falls and the Columbia River from the dramatic cliff-hugging section of the Upper McCord Falls Trail


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

We accessed the car park and trailhead (known as the John B. Yeon Trailhead) from the very east end of the Historic Columbia River Highway just before the road merges back onto the I-84 east. This trailhead was about 3.6 miles east of Horsetail Falls and 6.7 miles east of Multnomah Falls Lodge. We would access this trailhead from Portland by going east for about 25 miles on the I-84 to the Bridal Veil Exit (exit 28), then keeping left and continuing for just under 10 miles along the Historic Columbia River Highway (avoiding entering the I-84 at each of the junctions).

If you happen to be coming from the west on I-84 (say if you're coming from Cascade Locks) or you managed to overshoot the John B. Yeon trailhead going east and had to go back west on the I-84, then the key exit was exit 37 (Warrendale) off the westbound I-84. Once on the NE Warrendale Road, we'd then turn left in about a half-mile to go under the I-84, then turn left again to go east on the Historic Columbia River Hwy. After another 0.3 miles, the trailhead parking was on the right just before the road was about to re-enter the I-84 east.

For some geographical context, Portland was about 49 miles (over an hour drive) west of Cascade Locks, 75 miles (90 minutes drive) west of Hood River, 80 miles (1.5 hours drive) east of Cannon Beach, 112 miles (under 2 hours drive) north of Eugene, 274 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Medford, 173 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Seattle, Washington, 440 miles (7 hours drive) west of Boise, Idaho, and 423 miles (6.5 hours drive) north of Redding, California.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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Gorgeous (Elowah Falls) 
One of the most rewarding shorter/easier hikes that I've done. It's definitely worth the very short patches of barely steep inclines. There is a path less …

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