Upper McCord Creek Falls

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

About Upper McCord Creek Falls

Hiking Distance: 2.2 miles round trip; 3 miles round trip (combined with Elowah Falls)
Suggested Time: 60-75 minutes; 90-120 minutes (combined with Elowah Falls)

Date first visited: 2017-08-17
Date last visited: 2017-08-17

Waterfall Latitude: 45.61086
Waterfall Longitude: -122.00526

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The Upper McCord Creek Falls (also called just Upper McCord Falls) was an attractive double-barreled waterfall said to have a height of about 64ft. As you can see from the photo at the top of this page, I happened to see this falls in a bit of a low flow state because it lacked that twin characteristic as the left segment of the falls only showed a wet stain on its underlying wall. I’d imagine that this reduced flow would be typical towards the late Summer, which was the case when I made my visit on August 2017. Nevertheless, while this falls lacked the dramatic plunge of its downstream neighbor in Elowah Falls, the hike leading up to it featured dramatic scenery, an opportunity to look down at the Elowah Falls, and have a bit more of an intimate experience with this understated waterfall as it was less popular given the amount of effort to reach it. But rather than giving in to comparing the two waterfalls, I found it worthwhile to combine them in a single hike to get the full experience.

The hike shared the same trailhead as that of Elowah Falls so it was also within the boundaries of the John B Yeon State Park. For the first 0.4 miles, the trail ascended above the trailhead parking area and reached the trailhead junction. At this junction, I went right, and from this point forward, the hike deviated from the Elowah Falls experience. After continuing its gradual climb as the trail went further to the west, it eventually switched back as it turned out to be the first in a series of switchbacks ascending far higher than the Elowah Falls Trail did. Along the way, I noticed some corroded pipes criss-crossing the switchbacks in a couple of spots, where I had to climb over them while being careful not to succumb to the dropoffs.

These pipes turned out to be penstocks that used to divert water from McCord Creek towards a pulp mill belonging to settler Myron Kelly in the late 1800s. Eventually, after the switchbacks (ultimately gaining about 400ft), the trail then skirted a basalt cliff ledge, which was said to be where Kelly utilized this break in the hard rock layers to move the water from McCord Creek to the pipes that I had to cross over a couple of times. By the way, if you want to read more about the fascinating history of this area, I’ve provided a link to an excellent source here. With railings to held mentally assure me that I wouldn’t go off the dropoffs to my left, this dramatic part of the trail was the first main payoff of this hike as it afforded me gorgeous views across the Columbia River towards Mt Adams as well as a hint of Cascade Locks in the distance. The ledged part of the trail would continue to round a bend as it skirted the gorge carved out by the McCord Creek.

At about a half-mile from the trail junction, I started to catch a fleeting glimpse over the top of Elowah Falls down below. Some of the railings here were actually loose or had fallen off already so I had to be careful not to get too close to the cliff edges to get a cleaner look at the falls (the overgrowth in the foreground conspired to obscure the views). The trail would continue its meander along the ledges (with one section having an overhang above me) for the remaining 0.2 miles before the trail re-entered a forested area. Shortly thereafter, I approached the Upper McCord Creek Falls where there was a lookout providing the view you see pictured at the top of this page. The trail actually kept going towards the top of the waterfall, but I was content to turn back at the viewpoint, looking forward to taking advantage of my momentum on the all downhill return hike.

John_B_Yeon_SP_004_08172017 - The trailhead parking almost besides I-84
John_B_Yeon_SP_009_08172017 - The start of the trail as it climbed above the parking lot
John_B_Yeon_SP_050_08172017 - The signed trail junction where going left continued to Upper McCord Creek Falls while going right returned to the trailhead.  Elowah Falls Trail was behind me in this photo
John_B_Yeon_SP_054_08172017 - One of a handful of switchbacks on the climb up to Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_057_08172017 - Going up another one of the switchbacks on the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail
John_B_Yeon_SP_061_08172017 - I had to climb over this corroded pipe, which was said to have belonged to Myron Kelly in the late 1800s as it fed water to a pulp mill when the Columbia River Gorge was heavily industrialized
John_B_Yeon_SP_064_08172017 - Some fallen trees that I had to duck under as the scenery started to open up
John_B_Yeon_SP_080_08172017 - Following along the narrow cliff ledge adjacent to vertical basalt cliff walls
John_B_Yeon_SP_085_08172017 - Some parts of the cliff-hugging part of the trail actually had overhanging sections
John_B_Yeon_SP_088_08172017 - The trail then rounded a bend as it re-entered the gorge carved out by the McCord Creek
John_B_Yeon_SP_092_08172017 - Context of the basalt cliffs and Elowah Falls down below
John_B_Yeon_SP_125_08172017 - Looking down at the Elowah Falls from the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail
John_B_Yeon_SP_101_08172017 - Turned out I wasn't alone on this trail as one hiker was on his way out while I was on my way in. He was the only other hiker I saw on the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail
John_B_Yeon_SP_103_08172017 - Finally getting to see the Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_104_08172017 - The trail actually kept going towards what I believe would be the top of the Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_116_08172017 - Focused look at the Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_121_08172017 - Getting to experience the cliff-hugging section of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail once again on the return hike. Note the missing rail on the right, though
John_B_Yeon_SP_129_08172017 - Zoomed in on the peak of Mt Adams
John_B_Yeon_SP_140_08172017 - On the return hike, I had to slow down in order to carefully traverse this pipe without succumbing to the slopes to the right


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.

Checking out the Upper McCord 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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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, elowah falls

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