One of many projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930′s, the McCord Creek Trail leads up to a pair of the Gorge’s most dramatic, accessible, and yet somehow lesser known waterfalls. The lower section of the trail visits the roughly 220-foot Elowah Falls and its beautifully mossy, boulder filled amphitheater. A fork in the trail ascends to Upper McCord Creek Falls, a photogenic 60 foot twin cascade.
If you’re bringing younger kids you might want to consider just taking the lower trail to Elowah Falls. The easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to Elowah ranks high on the “Bang for the Buck” scale. This is also a great spot to hit in winter since water levels are robust and the low elevation of the falls ensures the trail is usually free of snow and ice.
The side trail leading to Upper McCord Creek Falls is memorable for many reasons. It doesn’t add a whole lot of distance, but portions of this upper trail were blasted out along basalt cliffs by the CCC. The result is a trail with stunning views, but also some exposure. There’s a hand rail for some of the dicier locations, and if it’s within your family’s comfort level, you’ll be treated to some excellent views of Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain. Above the creek are easily discernible layers of basalt. Each layer is millions of years old, and a reminder of the lava flows that helped form the region.
If you combine both trails into one outing you get two world class waterfalls in a tidy 3-mile, 600-foot elevation gain hike.
To get there take I-84 east to exit 35. Turn left, following signs for Dodson. After 150 feet, turn right onto frontage road and drive 2 miles to the trail head parking area on the right.
Start up the trail past an old water tank to a junction with the trail to Nesmith Point. Stay left for 0.8 mile until you reach Elowah Falls. Backtrack 0.5 mile and take a left at a fork. Follow the switchbacks and blasted out trail to Upper McCord Creek Falls. The trail ends a short ways past the falls. Head back the way you came.