Elowah Falls

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

About Elowah Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.6 miles round trip; 3 miles round trip (combined with Upper McCord Creek Falls)
Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes; 90-120 minutes (combined with Upper McCord Creek Falls)

Date first visited: 2009-03-29
Date last visited: 2017-08-17

Waterfall Latitude: 45.61194
Waterfall Longitude: -121.99459

Elowah Falls (it can also be called Lower McCord Creek Falls) was another one of the distinct plunging waterfalls situated in John B. Yeon State Park.

This park sat more towards the eastern end of what we perceived to be the “waterfalls area” of the Columbia River Gorge along the Historic Columbia River Highway.

John_B_Yeon_SP_035_08172017 - Elowah Falls in low late Summer flow
Elowah Falls in low late Summer flow

Because of its plunging characteristic and overhanging vertical cliffs, this waterfall reminded me very much of Latourell Falls.

In fact, such overhanging vertical cliffs provided clear evidence of past lava flows giving rise to these hard layers of rock and ultimately the waterfall itself.

Moreover, if I took a glancing look at the photos of the two waterfalls, I could easily get them confused without examining them a bit more carefully.

Nevertheless, in the case of Elowah Falls, the McCord Creek was said to drop 213ft (though I’ve seen this figure as high as 289ft).

Columbia_River_Gorge_150_03292009 - Elowah Falls in high early Spring flow with Julie near the bottom providing a sense of scale
Elowah Falls in high early Spring flow with Julie near the bottom providing a sense of scale

It also 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 Elowah Falls was on McCord Creek, at one point, it was referred to as the McCord Creek Falls before it was renamed to Elowah by a mountaineering organization based in Portland called the Mazamas.

As a matter of fact, there was an Upper McCord Creek Falls further upstream of the Elowah Falls, which I managed to reach by a separate hike.

So you could argue that Elowah Falls could have been called the Lower McCord Creek Falls.

John B. Yeon’s Efforts

John_B_Yeon_SP_005_08172017 - The trailhead for both the Elowah Falls and the Upper McCord Creek Falls in John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor
The trailhead for both the Elowah Falls and the Upper McCord Creek Falls in John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor

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.

Experiencing Elowah Falls

John_B_Yeon_SP_008_08172017 - An old water tank situated near the trailhead for Elowah Falls
An old water tank situated near the trailhead for Elowah Falls

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.

Columbia_River_Gorge_128_03292009 - Julie past the trail junction and keeping on the path leading to Elowah Falls
Julie past the trail junction and keeping on the path leading to Elowah Falls

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.

Columbia_River_Gorge_146_03292009 - Elowah Falls fronted by a footbridge being blasted by the mist from the waterfall's high early Spring volume
Elowah Falls fronted by a footbridge being blasted by the mist from the waterfall’s high early Spring volume

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.

Yet, 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.

Therefore, 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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_028_08172017 - Elowah Falls visited by only a handful of people even in late Summer though its flow was far less than in the Spring
Elowah Falls visited by only a handful of people even in late Summer though its flow was far less than in the Spring

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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_036_08172017 - Looking up at the cliffs flanking Elowah Falls, which revealed overhangs as well as a hidden cave towards the bottom right in this photograph
Looking up at the cliffs flanking Elowah Falls, which revealed overhangs as well as a hidden cave towards the bottom right in this photograph

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 (not counting adding the hike up to Upper McCord Creek Falls as part of this excursion).

Authorities

Elowah Falls resides in the John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor, which is within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area near Portland in Multnomah County, Oregon. It is administered by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

John_B_Yeon_SP_002_08172017 - Looking east from the parking area for the John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor before going on the hike to Elowah Falls during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_009_08172017 - Looking back at the switchback in front of the water tank as I made my way to the Elowah Falls on my August 2017 hike
John_B_Yeon_SP_012_08172017 - The trail continuing to climb well above the I-84 and trailhead parking in the first 0.4 miles to Elowah Falls (as seen during my August 2017 hike)
John_B_Yeon_SP_015_08172017 - The signed trail junction where going left went to Elowah Falls and going right went to Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_016_08172017 - Near the apex of the climb, the trail to Elowah Falls started to round a bend as it entered the gorge carved out by McCord Creek
John_B_Yeon_SP_017_08172017 - The Elowah Falls Trail descending as it skirted this pretty eroded and narrow section as seen during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_022_08172017 - During my August 2017 hike, the Elowah Falls 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
John_B_Yeon_SP_023_08172017 - The Elowah Falls Trail now followed this narrow ledge along McCord Creek during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_024_08172017 - Looking back at some of the narrower stretches of the Elowah Falls Trail as of August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_025_08172017 - Finally the Elowah Falls started to come into sight while still clinging to the ledge perched above McCord Creek as seen during my August 2017 hike
John_B_Yeon_SP_027_08172017 - Approaching Elowah Falls and the footbridge, where there were a trio of people already here on the morning of my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_031_08172017 - Direct look at Elowah Falls in a more graceful late Summer flow in August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_034_08172017 - Checking out the Elowah Falls over the footbridge as of August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_040_08172017 - Upon closer inspection of the cliffs around Elowah Falls during my August 2017 visit, I noticed what appeared to be a cave
John_B_Yeon_SP_041_08172017 - This ephemeral waterfall could have given rise to a rockslide next to Elowah Falls that caused a big jumble of boulders and rocks making access to that cave more trouble than it was worth during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_042_08172017 - More angled profile view looking up at the top part of the Elowah Falls from a brief scramble attempting to access the cave during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_043_08172017 - Looking downstream at some of the large boulders strewn about with people providing a sense of scale of just how large these chunks were during my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_044_08172017 - Returning via this narrow and eroded trail after having my fill of the Elowah Falls on my August 2017 visit
John_B_Yeon_SP_045_08172017 - Going bcack up the eroded section of trail on the return hike from Elowah Falls in August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_047_08172017 - The return hike from Elowah Falls in August 2017 made it even more evident that there were parts of the trail that used to be the route before erosion must have caused some re-routing to and from the falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_050_08172017 - Back at the trail junction where now keeping left would go to Upper McCord Creek Falls while going to the right would descend back to the trailhead as seen during my Elowah Falls visit in August 2017
Columbia_River_Gorge_126_03292009 - The trailhead parking for Elowah Falls, which was almost besides I-84, as seen during our late March 2009 visit. The rest of the photos in this gallery were from this visit
Columbia_River_Gorge_130_03292009 - Julie descending towards the Elowah Falls on the path descending closer to its base as seen in late March 2009. Notice how this path veered left instead of directly to the right as shown in the trail photos from August 2017
Columbia_River_Gorge_133_03292009 - Back in late March 2009, I was already able to start seeing the Elowah Falls well before the trail took me very close to its base thanks to its high low
Columbia_River_Gorge_138_03292009 - 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 trail
Columbia_River_Gorge_140_03292009 - This was what Elowah Falls looked like in high flow as of late March 2009
Columbia_River_Gorge_143_03292009 - Direct look at Elowah Falls in high flow in late March 2009

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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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_004_08172017 - Looking west across the parking lot for John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor
Looking west across the parking lot for John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor

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).

At the next junction, we’d then keep 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 east 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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_143_08172017 - Looking to the east at the parking lot for John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor with the on-ramp going back onto the I-84 east
Looking to the east at the parking lot for John B Yeon State Scenic Corridor with the on-ramp going back onto the I-84 east

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.

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

Tagged with: columbia river gorge, portland, multnomah, oregon, waterfall, pacific northwest, mt hood, mount hood, historic columbia river, john b yeon, state park, cascade locks, mccord creek



Visitor Comments:

Gorgeous (Elowah Falls) June 14, 2010 12:46 am by Stephanie - 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 traveled, however it makes for an amazing hike when you happen to visit this extraordinary beauty... A bit more of a strenuous hike toward the top but this little… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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