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Elowah Falls Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

This page is marked as a Closed Hike. Some or all of this hike has been closed by a governing body and hikers may be liable for fines or even arrest. At least part of this route may be dangerous and hard to follow, or it may cross areas with sensitive plant life or wildlife habitat. Trailkeepers of Oregon does not endorse or recommend hiking this route. When restrictions are lifted, this notice will be removed.
TKO put tools to trail here.png
Elowah Falls (Steve Hart)
Water tank, built to serve nearby residences, at the trailhead, John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor (bobcat)
Fairy bells (Prosartes hookeri), Elowah Falls (bobcat)
Footbridge over McCord Creek at the base of Elowah Falls, Gorge 400 Trail (bobcat)
Base of Elowah Falls from the footbridge (Steve Hart)
Beacon Rock from the Gorge 400 Trail (bobcat)
The loop hike past Elowah Falls (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: John B Yeon TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Elowah Falls
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 2.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 340 feet
  • High point: 255 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year-round except during winter storms
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes, as far as the falls

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: The trail to the bottom of Elowah Falls is closed until further notice due to a massive landslide that buried the trail and bridge across McCord Creek.

At Elowah Falls, McCord Creek crashes 213 feet down into a huge amphitheater exhibiting several distinct lava flows of 17 - 14 million years ago. This is a fairly easy hike, appropriate for most beginners. It is also very popular, but you can continue on from Elowah Falls to walk back along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail on the return, thus taking a less populated although much noisier route. Most visitors combine this outing with the Upper McCord Creek Falls Hike from the same trailhead.

The wide trail heads up from the parking area to switchback at a wooden water tank which seems to be permanently dispensing its contents. The 2017 Eagle Creek Fire burned down to the freeway here, and you’ll notice scorched alders and maples right away. There’s a somewhat tangled understory of thimbleberry and trailing blackberry. Pass the junction with the Nesmith Point Trail, which has been closed since the 2017 fire. Once you enter the Douglas-fir forest, you’ll see that most of the conifers on this section survived the fire even though the flames blackened the lower reaches of their trunks. Through the trees, there are views to Pierce Island, Beacon Rock, and Hamilton Mountain. After rising steadily up a slope, you’ll come to the Gorge-Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail Junction.

Keep left at this junction unless you want to make the side trip to Upper McCord Creek Falls (see the Upper McCord Creek Falls Hike). The trail drops along a scree slope under the Douglas-fir canopy. Past a small basalt pinnacle, the trail turns to offer a glimpse of Elowah Falls. Sword fern, Oregon grape, and saxifrage verge the path. Switchback down twice, getting a view of the McCord Creek Bridge on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. On your left, a faint spur leads to an old viewpoint, constructed before the surrounding trees grew up. Six more short switchbacks take you down past the old trail alignment, and you’ll cross a trickling brook. The path now traverses above McCord Creek, full of mossy basalt boulders that have peeled from the cliffs above over the years. The trail bench cuts into a layer of cobbles, part of the Eagle Creek Formation, a thick belt of breccia/conglomerate deposited before the Columbia River Basalts of 17 – 14 million years ago. A massive house-sized boulder sitting in the creek has only been there a few decades. Then the Gorge Trail passes over a footbridge near the plunge pool of 213-foot Elowah Falls, one of the prettiest waterfalls in a gorge full of attractive falls, as it spouts out of its narrow basalt defile.

Continue hiking on the Gorge Trail, and soon reach the Gorge-Elowah Falls Viewpoint Trail Junction. The viewpoint trail angles up to the right, buttressed by walls originally constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. (The trail was restored by Trailkeepers of Oregon in 2019.) Switchback up twice to get a good view of McCord Creek where it flows to the lip of Elowah Falls. Two short switchbacks down take you above the top of a large boulder that once held a railed viewpoint. The trail ends at a view down to Elowah Falls’ plunge pool.

After you return to the Gorge Trail, keep right to get more views down to the McCord Creek Bridge and Beacon Rock. This area was scorched by the 2017 fire and has become a tangle of maple shoots, fireweed, trailing blackberry, and snowberry. You may notice up to the right a somewhat incongruously placed picnic table. Views open up across the river to Beacon Rock, Pierce Island, Ives Island, Hamilton Mountain, Aldrich Butte, Cedar Mountain, and Table Mountain. The Gorge Trail passes below a scree slope with a lone, snapped off Douglas-fir, now totally blackened by fire. You can see up to basalt pinnacles on the Wauneka Point ridge. Soon, the trail joins the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail near the freeway.

Bear left on the paved trail, which proceeds next to the freeway in a road cut through the Eagle Creek Formation, the wet face held in place by mesh netting. The route dips to cross the 2012 bridge over McCord Creek, from which you can get a glimpse of Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls when the leaves are off the trees. The rest of the walk is right next to the freeway past a dripping layer of the Eagle Creek Formation until you reach the John B Yeon Trailhead.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Bridal Veil, OR #428 and Bonneville Dam, OR #429
  • Green Trails Maps: Columbia River Gorge - West #428S
  • Geo-Graphics: Trails of the Columbia Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Bureau of Land Management: Columbia River Gorge
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Zigzag Ranger District
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Mt. Hood National Forest
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Dogs on leash
  • Limited parking; trailhead gets full early on weekends

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hikes in the Columbia Gorge by Don J. Scarmuzzi
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Curious Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Pokin’ Round the Gorge by Scott Cook
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Oregon by Bonnie Henderson & Zach Urness
  • Oregon & Washington: 50 Hikes With Kids by Wendy Gorton
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Columbia Gorge Getaways by Laura O. Foster
  • Portland Hikes by Art Bernstein & Andrew Jackman
  • 70 Virtual Hikes of the Columbia River Gorge by Northwest Hiker
  • Best Short Hikes in Northwest Oregon by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Columbia River Gorge: 42 Scenic Hikes by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • 35 Hiking Trails: Columbia River Gorge by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • The Columbia Gorge: Short Trips and Trails by Oral Bullard & Don Lowe
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Craig Hill & Matt Wastradowski
  • Oregon State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan
  • Waterfall Lover’s Guide: Pacific Northwest by Gregory A. Plumb
  • Waterfalls of the Pacific Northwest by David L. Anderson
  • Waterfalls of the Columbia Gorge by Zach Forsyth

More Links


Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.