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: -121.99303

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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.

I happened to see this falls in a bit of a low flow state because it lacked that twin segmented characteristic.

John_B_Yeon_SP_108_08172017 - Upper McCord Creek Falls in low late Summer flow
Upper McCord Creek Falls in low late Summer flow

As you can see from the photo above, 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 and an intimate experience.

Indeed, the scenery included an opportunity to look down at the Elowah Falls as well as cliff-hugging views across the Columbia River Gorge.

John_B_Yeon_SP_076_08172017 - Context of the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Adams as seen from Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail
Context of the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Adams as seen from Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail

The trail also yielded a bit more of an intimate experience with the Upper McCord Creek Falls given the amount of effort to reach it (and hence its reduced popularity).

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.

Hiking to Upper McCord Creek Falls

The hike to Upper McCord Creek Falls shared the same trailhead as that of Elowah Falls.

Therefore, it was also within the boundaries of the John B Yeon State Park.

John_B_Yeon_SP_050_08172017 - Context of the trail junction where the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail continued climbing to the left while the trailhead was descending to the right. The Elowah Falls Trail was actually behind me
Context of the trail junction where the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail continued climbing to the left while the trailhead was descending to the right. The Elowah Falls Trail was actually behind me

In order to hike to the Upper McCord Creek Falls, it was about 2.2 miles round trip, but it had a 380ft elevation gain.

If you combine both waterfalls into a single hike, then you’re looking at around 3 miles round trip.

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.

Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail Description – the long climb

John_B_Yeon_SP_054_08172017 - Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail climbed a series of switchbacks as it gained almost all of its 380ft here
Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail climbed a series of switchbacks as it gained almost all of its 380ft here

The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail continued 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.

For each of these pipes, I had to climb over them while being careful not to succumb to the dropoffs given the narrow width of the trail.

John_B_Yeon_SP_140_08172017 - The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail traversed some of the pipes that apparently used to divert water for Myron Kelly's pulp mill back in the late 1800s
The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail traversed some of the pipes that apparently used to divert water for Myron Kelly’s pulp mill back in the late 1800s

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 380ft), the trail then skirted a basalt cliff ledge.

This 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.

Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail Description – the payoffs

John_B_Yeon_SP_121_08172017 - Looking back at a part of the cliff-hugging stretch of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail with a missing railing
Looking back at a part of the cliff-hugging stretch of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail with a missing railing

With railings to mentally assure me that I wouldn’t go off the dropoffs to my left, this dramatic cliff-hugging part of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail was the first main payoff of this hike.

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 way down below, I started to catch a fleeting glimpse over the top of Elowah Falls (also appearing below this trail).

John_B_Yeon_SP_092_08172017 - Context of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail with Elowah Falls down below
Context of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail with Elowah Falls down below

Unfortunately, there was overgrowth in the foreground, which conspired to obscure the views of that waterfall from the trail.

Moreover, 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.

In any case, 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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_103_08172017 - Contextual look at the Upper McCord Creek Falls in low late Summer flow from its main lookout
Contextual look at the Upper McCord Creek Falls in low late Summer flow from its main lookout

The trail actually kept going towards the top of the waterfall, but I was content to turn back at the viewpoint.

After having my fill of this waterfall, I looked forward to taking advantage of my momentum on the all downhill return hike.

Authorities

Upper McCord Creek 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_009_08172017 - The start of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail as it climbed above the parking lot
John_B_Yeon_SP_015_08172017 - Facing the trail junction where going right continued to Upper McCord Creek Falls while going left continued to Elowah Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_057_08172017 - The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail went up a handful of switchbacks
John_B_Yeon_SP_061_08172017 - I had to climb over this corroded pipe en route to the Upper McCord Creek Falls. Such pipes were 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 en route to the Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_080_08172017 - Following along the narrow cliff ledge adjacent to vertical basalt cliff walls en route to the Upper McCord Creek Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_085_08172017 - Some parts of the cliff-hugging part of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail actually had overhanging sections
John_B_Yeon_SP_087_08172017 - Looking across the Columbia River from the upper parts of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail during my August 2017 hike
John_B_Yeon_SP_088_08172017 - The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail then rounded a bend as it re-entered the gorge carved out by the McCord Creek
John_B_Yeon_SP_095_08172017 - The Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail continued its cliff-hugging section of the hike as it entered the hanging gorge upstream of Elowah Falls
John_B_Yeon_SP_098_08172017 - Looking down at part of the Elowah Falls along the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail during my August 2017 hike
John_B_Yeon_SP_125_08172017 - Looking down at the Elowah Falls from the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail. As you can see, there was a lot of foliage in the way, but I had to temper my temptation at improving the view given the sheer dropoffs here
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_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 in its late Summer flow in August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_127_08172017 - On the return hike from Upper McCord Creek Falls as there were overhanging basalt cliffs in this stretch as seen on my August 2017 hike
John_B_Yeon_SP_129_08172017 - Zoomed in on the peak of Mt Adams as seen from the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail in August 2017
John_B_Yeon_SP_136_08172017 - Looking back at the context of the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail and the Columbia River Gorge as I had just finished returning from that cliff-hugging stretch on my August 2017 hike

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We accessed the parking lot 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_143_08172017 - Looking back at the parking lot for the John B Yeon Trailhead, which was right before the I-84 east on-ramp
Looking back at the parking lot for the John B Yeon Trailhead, which was right before the I-84 east on-ramp

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, we’d keeping left and continue 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.

John_B_Yeon_SP_004_08172017 - Looking across the parking lot towards the actual trailhead for Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls Trails
Looking across the parking lot towards the actual trailhead for Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls Trails

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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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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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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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