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Upper McCord Creek Falls Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

TKO put tools to trail here.png
Upper McCord Creek Falls (Steve Hart)
Hiker with leashed dog, Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail (bobcat)
Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola), Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail (bobcat)
Hamilton and Table mountains from the Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail (bobcat)
Elowah Falls from above (Steve Hart)
Sitka mist maidens (Romanzoffia sitchensis), Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail (bobcat)
The switchbacking hike to Upper McCord Creek Falls (bobcat) Courtesy: Caltopo/MapBuilder Topo
  • Start point: John B Yeon TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Upper McCord Creek Falls
  • Trail Log : Trail Log
  • Hike type: Out and back
  • Distance: 1.9 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 445 feet
  • High point: 540 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Year-round except during winter storms
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes
Falling
Poison-Oak

Contents

Hike Description

NOTICE: The trail to the bottom of Elowah Falls is closed due to a large landslide, but the upper trail to McCord Creek Falls is open.

A pair of short hikes from the busy John B Yeon Trailhead take you to two picturesque but very different waterfalls on McCord Creek. Both Elowah Falls (see the Elowah Falls Loop Hike) and Upper McCord Creek Falls can be viewed from the vertigo-inducing Upper McCord Creek Falls Trail, the pathway itself being carved out of a cliff face and a highlight of the hike. On a good day, there are also views across the Columbia River to Hamilton Mountain and Table Mountain. This is a switchbacking hike with a reasonable amount of climbing and a ledge section under a dripping cliff face protected by handrails. While most of the hike is within the John B. Yeon State Scenic Corridor, you'll cross into the national forest's Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness just before you arrive at the waterfall.

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.

Make a sharp turn right here. The rock walls above and below the trail were constructed along this scree slope by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. They were partially destroyed in scree slides after the Eagle Creek Fire but were painstakingly restored by Trailkeepers of Oregon crews in 2018/2019. You’ll enter a section of forest that experienced crown fire and will then make a couple of switchbacks up a steep scree slope. Part of a rusty old penstock, once 400 feet long, crosses the next switchback. The pipe was put in place in the 1880s by one Myron Kelly to divert water from McCord Creek in order to power his pulp mill on the Columbia River below. The trail crosses another, partially buried, penstock pipe and switchbacks to give you a view up to the railed trail that passes along the cliff face. A last switchback takes you to the trail along the cliff face.

Myron Kelly took advantage of a layer of entablature (column basalt) to blast a platform for his penstocks coming from McCord Creek. The cliff face drips constantly and a pipe railing keeps you from stepping into the void. The dripping rock comes alive with native wildflowers in the spring, including cliff paintbrush, rockslide larkspur, stonecrop, saxifrage, mist-maidens, bolandra, kittentails, and two rare fleabanes that are endemic to the Gorge. Views open up across the Columbia River to Table Mountain, the town of North Bonneville, the top of Mount Adams, and other locations on the Washington side. When you round a curve in the cliff, Elowah Falls (below) and Upper McCord Creek Falls (straight ahead) hove into view at a wonderful high vantage point.

From the end of the cliff railing, you’ll pass a photogenic viewpoint to Upper McCord Creek Falls, 64 feet tall and splitting into twin chutes around a mossy rock. You’ll get more views down to the creek as it plunges towards the lip of Elowah Falls. A user path leads around the root ball of a large tree to pretty McCord Creek and you can look upstream to a small picturesque cascade.


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
  • 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.