If you want to hike to one of the most underrated waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, this one is for you! The Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls hike takes you to two beautiful waterfalls, with some incredible views of the gorge thrown in as a bonus.
Despite this waterfall being spectacular, visitors to the gorge tend to be drawn to the more well-known waterfalls along the route, so chances are you will not see too many other people on the trail.
The hike can be split into two hikes, ideal if you are short on time or just interested in seeing Elowah Falls. Seeing as they both start from the same trailhead, we believe it is well worth visiting both!
Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail
Distance: 2.42 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Elevation Gain: 862 feet
The Elowah Falls Trailhead and Parking
Start this hike from the John B. Yeon Trailhead just off I-84. There is a well-marked parking area here, and seeing as it is not one of the most popular hikes in the region, you should have no trouble getting a spot.
The Hike to Upper McCord Falls
It doesn’t really matter which waterfall you visit first, but we strongly recommend heading to Upper McCord. It is not quite as impressive as Elowah Falls, so that way, you’ll save the best until last.
It is also further away along a steep trail, so that you will get the most challenging part of the trail out of the way. By doing this route first, you will spot Elowah from above, so you will know what is in store for you later. (HINT: It’s a stunning, super tall waterfall!)
This part of the trail is quite a climb, as you will be heading up, up, up via a series of switchbacks. We will be completely honest: the trail is overgrown in some spots, and the trail isn’t as clear as it could be, but the path is still evident enough, so you shouldn’t find it too hard to follow.
The higher you climb, the better the views of the gorge become. There is a railing along the cliff side at some points, so you get an even better view of The Gorge below and, on a clear day, even over to Hamilton Mountain and Table Mountain.
We should make one thing clear. Don’t do this hike if you are scared of heights. The vertigo-inducing trail follows the cliffside, so close that you need to be careful if you have children or dogs with you! At some points, as the trail levels off slightly, you will be walking under a column basalt overhang, so don’t be surprised if you feel a few drops of water falling off it.
Before long, you will turn a corner of the cliff and see Elowah Falls down below and soon Upper McCord right in front of you.
Upper McCord Falls
You will be rewarded from your climb with a great view of the tumbling Upper McCord Falls. There is no official viewpoint here; it’s more of a rocky platform, but you still get a great view.
The 64-foot waterfall is unique because it *sometimes* splits cleanly into two smooth chutes, curving around the rock that blocks its path. The bright green moss that covers the surrounding rocks helps to give this waterfall a surreal feel. It is absolutely beautiful, but nothing compared to what is to come.
The Hike to Elowah Falls
Once you have had your fill of this waterfall, it is time to head back down the way you came. With the steep drop-offs, this is an adrenaline seeker’s dream. Before long, you should reach the junction that will take you towards Elowah Falls. So rather than going back down to the trailhead, take this junction to the right.
Those who were not a fan of the cliffside walkway will be pleased to know that the path is wider, and instead of teetering on the edge of a drop-off, you will be walking through a forest made up of beautiful Douglas Fir.
This time, the switchbacks along the trail will take you down towards the waterfall, and it won’t be long until the incredible Elowah Falls comes into view from a very different angle from how you witnessed it before.
Getting to Elowah Falls
At Elowah Falls, you can witness McCord Creek crashing down a huge 213-foot drop, plunging into the pool below. The amphitheater it crashes into is made up of lava flows between 14 and 17 million years old. It is truly something else!
You can go almost all the way to the base of the falls and feel the powerful spray on your face. Be careful, as the rocks require a bit of a scramble and can be slippery. This one is the star of the show; it is a spectacular waterfall.
You’ll only be able to hear the thundering of Elowah Falls down here, that’s how close you are!
Getting Back to Your Car From Elowah Falls
Getting back to where you have parked your car is simple. Just turn around and head back up the way that you came. When you reach the junction, rather than heading back up to Upper McCord Falls, start descending again to the trailhead.
The option here is also to turn the whole hike into a loop. At Elowah Falls, instead of turning round and heading back up the trail, you could cross the wooden bridge at the base of the falls and make your way along the Gorge Trail. Once you reach the freeway, you can turn left to return to the car.
*Note that this bridge can be slippery and sometimes washed out, so have a back up plan!
It is one of the best Columbia River Gorge hikes for a short adventure, perfect if you want something away from the crowds.
If you aren’t ready to leave yet and want more waterfalls, we have you covered! Read our guide to the best waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.
We hope this helped you plan your visit to Elowah Falls!
Oregon native and explorer at heart. Loves tackling expeditions around the world and drinking a good beer at the end of the day. PNW obsessed, VW nerd, and surf or snow riding fanatic.