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McCord Creek to Tanner Creek 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 from the Gorge Trail (bobcat)
Beacon Rock from the Gorge 400 Trail (bobcat)
Big scree slope on the Gorge 400 Trail between McCord and Moffett creeks (bobcat)
Hamilton Mountain from the Moffett Creek Bridge, Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (bobcat)
The McCord Creek Bridge on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail (bobcat)
Gorge 400 Trail in yellow; Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail in orange (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: John B Yeon TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End Point: Tanner Creek Bridge
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 7.1 miles return
  • Elevation gain: 820 feet
  • High point: 335 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Seasons: Year-round except during winter storms
  • Family Friendly: Only short distances
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Only as far as Elowah Falls

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: The 400 Trail from the John B Yeon Trailhead is closed until further notice due to a large landslide at Elowah Falls.

The Gorge Trail #400 between the John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor and Tanner Creek runs close to the freeway, and the highway noise is only drowned out when you are tucked up McCord Creek viewing Elowah Falls. However, those looking for a low elevation winter hike may want to take this one in their stride. The completion of a section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail between the John B Yeon Trailhead and Moffett Creek in 2013 has allowed a loop of sorts although the paved trail is even more closely married to the freeway than the 400. This section is best done by bicycle, which you can leave locked near the Tanner Creek Bridge or Wahclella Falls Trailhead for the ride back.

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 burned 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 line the trail. Switchback down twice, getting a view of the McCord Creek Bridge. 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 trail 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. This 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 the McCord Creek where it flows to the lip of Elowah Falls. Two short switchbacks down take you above the top of 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 fore 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 right to hike along this paved trail, passing a couple of columnar basalt seating circles and then white railings as the route rises. When you reach the next junction with the Gorge 400 Trail, bear right.

The 400 trail takes you up to offer open views across the river again. Thimbleberry, trailing blackberry, and blackcap raspberry form a dense understory. A nicely flagstoned piece of trail leads to a crossing of an open scree slope as you keep rising away from the freeway. Sheer cliffs rise above. You’ll soon enter another area of scorched maple trees sprouting again from their lignotubers. Strawberry Island can be seen across the river, and there are good views to the west. When you reach the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail again, bear right and make a sharp to turn off the paved surface and back onto the Gorge Trail.

Traffic roars across the freeway bridges over Moffett Creek as you descend under the gray conglomerates of the Eagle Creek Formation to a slippery footbridge. Pass under a massive toppled Douglas-fir and soon note the Gorge-Munra Point Trail Junction, where an ‘Area Closed’ sign forbids access to Munra Point. The trail passes along a slope of forested scree where that hardy weed herb-Robert proliferates. After a while, the trail merges with a grassy road bed, and you’ll undulate along over small creek and pass a mossy old cistern on the right. An old turnpike takes you over a boggy patch before the trail rises to give you a view of the Bonneville Dam. Then you’ll switchback down a very steep slope above Tanner Creek, seeing the Wahclella Falls Trailhead below. At the junction with the Historic Columbia River Highway, you can go right to the old Tanner Creek Bridge or turn left immediately to make a loop back to the John B Yeon Trailhead.

The Historic Columbia River Highway passes under eroding cliffs and takes a route under the freeway. (The actual old highway followed the exact alignment of the freeway west of here.) A couple of interpretive signs tell of the construction of the highway and the Lancaster Lodge, a way station and campground built near here which burned down in the 1920s. The trail switchbacks up to proceed right alongside the westbound lanes of the freeway, across which you’ll see a splendid example of the Eagle Creek Formation, which you can scan for the remains of petrified trees. Views open up again to Bonneville Dam, with the juvenile fish facility jutting out into the river just below it, and the Table Mountain area. Then drop down below the freeway and pass a gated access point. The trail becomes screened in a corridor of cottonwood, alder, and Armenian blackberry. You’ll pass a marker denoting the original alignment of the old highway as you approach the 1915 Moffett Creek Bridge. On your right is an interpretive sign explaining that this was “the longest flat-arch bridge in the country and the longest three-hinged concrete span in the world” when it was constructed. As you cross high above Moffett Creek, you can see down to the 1906 railroad bridge between you and the river. Above you to the left are the separate freeway spans for the westbound and eastbound lanes.

A newer segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway, opened in 2013, begins once you cross the Moffett Creek Bridge. This passes under the freeway bridges and loops around past the junctions with the Gorge Trail. You’ll be hiking close to the eastbound lanes of the freeway now. The slope above was logged of burned trees after the 2017 fire. There are good views across the river to Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock before you pass two more junctions with the Gorge Trail and columnar basalt circles you saw hiking east. The paved trail now 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 face of the Eagle Creek Formation.


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
  • Most sections of the Gorge Trail east of the John B Yeon Trailhead are shared with mountain bikes

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Day Hike! Columbia Gorge by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Oregon: The Creaky Knees Guide by Seabury Blair, Jr.
  • Hiking the Columbia River Gorge by Russ Schneider; revised by Jim Yuskavitch
  • 50 Hiking Trails: Portland & Northwest Oregon by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Best Bike Rides: Portland, Oregon by Lizann Dunegan & Ayleen Crotty (HCRH Trail)
  • 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.