After yesterday’s adventure with the Starvation Creek/Ridge hike, we made sure to double-research what type of hike we were getting ourselves into BEFORE heading out the door. No trusting the magazine directions this time! Ha!
We decided to do the Elowah Falls hike, which was listed as “Moderate” and 1.6 miles round-trip. It said you could add an extension by splitting off the trail to hit the Upper McCord Creek Falls, also rated “Moderate”…and the combination of the two would make the hike about 4 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 600 feet.
At Elowah Falls, McCord Creek crashes into a huge amphitheater made up of several distinct lava flows. This is a fairly easy hike, appropriate for most beginners, leading to a 289-foot waterfall. There is a small amount of climbing involved, with a summit in the middle of the hike. Follow the trail from the parking area up to junction, veer left to lower trail.
The trailhead is at the John B. Yeon State Park which is at the farthest East end of the Historic Columbia River highway….”end” meaning if you don’t pull over here to park, you will be forced to merge with I-84 and head into Hood River!
[sidenote: the stupid magazine we used for our other hike has this hike featured in it as well….and (not) surprisingly gives horrible directions for finding the trailhead. Nowhere does it say to park at the John B Yeon State Park. Nor does it tell you how to access one trail from the other. So once again, I’m glad we weren’t using that stupid magazine as our guide.]
Anyway, we had a later start today because first we had to pack up all our belongings, then check out of the hotel, then use our Fox12 Daily Deal Sunday Brunch coupon to have “brunch” which didn’t start until 9am and was a SIX course breakfast! So yeah, that took up some time!
We didn’t arrive at the trailhead until 10:30am.
[sidenote: we had ALL of our belongings in our car, in the trunk, out of site, but it was all there. We have since learned that John B. Yeon State Park has THE highest break-in and theft rating of all the other trailheads in The Gorge! It is suggested that you leave your glove compartment open. Thankfully, our car was not broken into. But we also didn’t park in the parking lot, we parked alongside the road about 100 yards from the actual parking lot. There were other cars alongside the road, it wasn’t packed, but we figured it was just easier to pull off there.]
At the base of the actual trailhead is an old water tower, although it’s more like a water tank being so low on the ground- ha!
It’s too big to fit in my viewfinder, so I took a panoramic shot:
This thing is OLD. And where the heck is all that water coming from? There’s actually a lot of pipes leading in and out of that thing… no idea what it’s original purpose was, I’m sure I could research that, though.
Anyway, onto the hike. The hike goes uphill for a short distance before coming to a split. Left to Elowah Falls or Right to Upper McCord Creek Falls. After we took the left to Elowah Falls, it was mostly downhill. A lot of switchbacks. A lot. Some of them had decent paths to shortcut straight down between them, which we’ve since learned you should NOT do because it causes erosion and damage to the official trails. So we won’t do it again. It’s just so tempting to have these shortcuts sometimes!
The trail is nicely groomed for the most part and easy to walk.
And there it was…. the falls came into view:
This is definitely a place to be on a hot sunny day. The water cascades down onto some boulders, rather than directly into a pool. There’s lots of giant boulders to set up “camp” and lay out in the sun, and the pool seemed like it would be relatively swimmable, but don’t quote me on that. We didn’t get close enough to check it out.
I found this picture online to show what I’m talking about:
The falls were too big to fit in my camera viewfinder, so I had to set it to panoramic mode-which leaves choppy water blocks:
If you cross the bridge at the bottom of the trail, you can get much better pictures of the whole falls:
Scramble down the rocks to the edge of the stream and the view is even better:
I absolutely love how clear the water is in the creeks below the falls.
And of course I had to take the obligatory waterfall selfie:
Oh- after crossing the bridge, there’s another length of trail:
We weren’t sure where it went so followed it for a bit, then realized it was climbing up and away, so we turned around and headed back. After all, we had to go back up to the trail junction and do the Upper McCord Creek Falls hike still!
We got to the trail junction and started up the next trail which starts out as a typical hillside trail with steep drop offs and a few obstacles. Old pipes, down trees, it wasn’t the easiest trail to walk, you did have to be aware and navigate carefully in a few spots. Totally fine for the kids to do it, though.
Eventually the trail takes you cliffside for quite a stretch:
The view is amazing:
We are so enamored with the view of The Gorge and trudging along and watching our step that we don’t even really look at the falls we are walking past. I mean, the trail description said we’d be hiking above Elowah Falls and we’d already seen it from below so we didn’t really need to focus on it from above.
Yep, there it is. No biggie. No picture taken.
Anyway, we keep trudging along, there’s a lot of damp spots where the mountainside is ‘leaking’ and it’s a narrow trail so we just focus on our footing and keep going as far as we can. Eventually we hear a bunch of voices and laughter ahead (and a very whiny 5 year old girl) and arrive at what appears to be the end of the trail. The family had been wading in the creek and were in the process of putting their shoes back on, so we stuck around, waiting for them to leave so we could get a photograph of the falls:
What a boring falls!! Is this the Upper McCord Creek Falls? Hmmm……not as exciting as I thought it would be.
We did find this, though:
But seeing as how neither of us had anything we were willing to part with, we didn’t open it to see what was inside or make any trades or anything. We didn’t even try to hide it – just left it where it was, only touching it with our vision.
Such a strange hike to go all this way for such a small falls. Hmmmm.
We did see a not-often-used trail that went up further, and we followed it for a bit, but then decided to turn back.
Oh, I forgot to mention…. on our hike up we had come across another couple, she seemed to struggle with the trail, not a very strong walker. We passed them and then as we were further up the trail we looked down and saw them sitting and resting. Well, as we were walking back down the trail, away from the anti-climactic short falls, they approached us and asked us “how much farther?” We assured them that they were really close- ALMOST there! Keep going! And we went on our merry way.
That’s when I looked back and realized that the falls we had seen earlier, the one that we had assumed was the top of Elowah Falls, was NOT Elowah falls, it was the McCord Creek Falls- THE falls that we were hiking to see!
Wait a minute…. what is that I see? Movement….. um….
OMG! It’s the couple we just passed!! The unsteady walker in the blue shirt… and her husband. Are they really crossing the falls there and going out to that seemingly slick looking rock?
OMG they are!!! The are OUT THERE!!!
We stayed and watched them for a while to make sure they were being “safe”. But oh my gosh. Even I wouldn’t think of doing that!! I don’t even know how they got there! We didn’t see any trails going down to the water’s edge.
OK, so wait. If that falls is the Upper McCord Creek Falls….and we’re supposedly above Elowah Falls….where the heck IS Elowah Falls? The falls above were the only falls we saw on our walk.
As we continued along the cliff, now occasionally looking down over the edge to find the falls, we eventually spot the bottom of the falls, in a brief glimpse. We can see the bridge and pool area….
And after getting a bit father away (and leaning over the railing a bit) I was able to capture this picture:
There it is….Elowah Falls from above.
We had totally missed it on our way up/to. We blamed the view of the beautiful Gorge as being our distraction. It’s all good.
I wasn’t totally oblivious to our surroundings. For example when we came upon this cliffside, I saw a face, so I took a picture:
When I looked at the picture again, several hours later- I saw a different face!
Anway- all in all it was a pleasant hike and took us about 2 hours total. Actually, we were back at our car by 12:30 so it was EXACTLY two hours. A nice little 4-mile morning jaunt. A great way to keep our muscles loosened up after the prior day’s events!
Here are some links to reference if you are interested in doing either of these hikes:
Friends of the Columbia Gorge: Elowah
Friends of the Columbia Gorge: Upper McCord Creek
Oh, and if you don’t see the faces in the rocks, here’s a little help: