A long splashy rope of a waterfall, Elowah drops 289 feet into an amphitheater of layered basalt, kicking mist into a mossy forest populated with boulders.
DODSON, Ore. — Elowah Falls is one of my favorite spots in the Columbia River Gorge.
A long splashy rope of a waterfall, Elowah drops 289 feet into an amphitheater of layered basalt, kicking mist into a mossy forest populated with boulders the size of small houses.
The hike to this enchanted spot is easy — just 0.8 miles one way — and worthwhile for children, provided you pay close attention to them at a few dangerous spots.
If you go
36 miles east of Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. From Portland, take Interstate 84 east to Exit 35, marked Dodson. Turn left at the stop sign, then immediately turn right onto the frontage road paralleling I-84. Drive east on the frontage road 2.1 miles and turn right into the trailhead parking lot at signs for John Yeon State Park trailhead.
In a nutshell
A mostly easy hike to a huge waterfall, with an option to hike to a second cascade
All year; falls best after a good rain
None; free parking.
1.6 miles round trip to Elowah Falls; 3 miles round trip to Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls. Elevation gain: 230 feet to Elowah; 712 feet to Elowah and Upper McCord Creek Falls
If you finish this hike but still have a hankering for more waterfalls, consider heading just up Interstate 84 to Wahclella Falls Trail. At just 2.2 miles round-trip and mostly flat, the hike is another easy one with spectacular waterfalls in a deep and beautiful canyon.
Elowah isn’t a hidden gem, but it doesn’t get quite the level of crowds seen at other Gorge waterfalls. You might even find a touch of solitude midweek, though probably not on weekends.
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The cherry on top — what makes it worth a visit when you’re in the Gorge — is the option to explore a second waterfall and traipse along the edge of a cliff with views of the Columbia.
It’s a nice day trip for families and photographers.
East of Multnomah
The hike starts at John B. Yeon State Park trailhead, 6 miles east of Multnomah Falls. The free parking lot is small and fills quickly on weekends, but there is extra room on the side of the road.
The trail starts by following an old road, gradually uphill through second-growth forest. After the drive, my 2-year-old daughter, Lucy, enjoyed running around below the trees on the wide and safe section of trail.
In 0.4 miles, the trail reaches a junction. The uphill route climbs to Upper McCord Creek Falls — a fun option if you have extra energy after visiting Elowah.
To see the main attraction, follow signs and drop down a series of steep-ish switchbacks. In cooler months, this section of trail can get slippery, and there’s a bit of exposure, so I keep Lucy close.
At the bottom of the switchbacks, we began to see Elowah, roaring down stone cliffs covered in yellow-green lichen.
A wooden footbridge crosses the creek near the waterfall’s base. This spot is a treat on summer days — you can walk right to the base — but it’s most impressive after a hard rain. On our trip the falls roared and spewed, and plumes of mist swept across our faces.
“Daddy, chilly,” said Lucy after about 15 minutes at the waterfall. We were both pretty soaked in waterfall mist.
For the hike back up, I put Lucy in her carrier backpack.
On to second falls
Upon returning to the junction, we headed uphill, following signs for Upper McCord Creek Falls. The switchbacks brought us up, up, before breaking out at a viewpoint of the Columbia River.
The trail then tightropes along the edge of a cliff, the views of Elowah now below our boots. There are guardrails here, but if you have impulsive children prone to daredevil acts, consider carrying them for this section, as a fall would not end well.
I was glad to be carrying Lucy on my back.
Upper McCord Creek Falls arrives shortly. Its twin cataracts fall just 65 feet and are far less impressive than Elowah, but it’s still nice. The trail continues a bit farther to a creekside glen before giving out.
The full hike — with the section to Upper McCord — totals 3 miles and 712 feet of climbing. I’d call it moderate for adults and moderately difficult for kids.