Elowa Falls: Accessible, yet secluded

Not everyone who goes looking for waterfalls wants to embark on long, arduous hikes or scramble up talus slopes to see them. Sometimes you just want a nice, moderate walk on your way to getting your waterfall fix. And if you’re trying to cool down on an already sultry summer’s day, what’s the point of sweating even more?

If strolling is more in your wheelhouse than scrambling, consider a trip to Elowah Falls, located just 30 minutes from Hood River. Like the more popular Multnomah Falls 6 miles to the west, Elowah Falls is accessible and has parking located right off of Interstate 84, but most importantly, features a gorgeous, 220-foot single-drop waterfall that rivals the beauty of Multnomah.

The distinct advantage Elowah has over Multnomah is that the waterfall is significantly less visited — it isn’t visible from the interstate — and you likely won’t have to wait for a parking spot, even on the weekends. The Elowah Falls Trail starts at the west end of the parking lot for John B. Yeon State Park, located directly off I-84. A sign in the parking lot lists other attractions reachable from the trail if you’re feeling extra adventurous, including Upper McCord Creek Falls, which lies just above Elowah.

An easy to moderate uphill (mostly) hike of about 15 minutes is all you’ll need to reach the falls, but make sure you take the right path. After hiking through an enchanting forest of ferns and moss-draped maples for .4 miles, the trail splits with no indication as to which path provides a direct route to the falls. Not to condone vandalism, but thankfully, some Sharpie-wielding vigilante recently took it upon his or herself to scrawl “ß ELOWAH FALLS” on a rustic wood trail sign at the fork that previously had no mention of the sought-after cataract. Go left at the split.

As it is fairly close to the freeway, the sights and sounds of traffic on I-84 may offend the eyes and ears of those walking the trail, but don’t despair! As the path bends and descends into a gorge, you face away from the road and the top of Elowah Falls comes into view. The sound of McCord Creek tumbling over a 220-foot-high lichen-spattered basalt cliff quickly drowns out any freeway noise.

With every step, the temperature drops as the switchback trail descends to the bottom of the cool, shady gorge, where Elowah falls splashes down into a plunge pool framed by mossy boulders. Hop over the boulders, wade in and have a seat to cool off while watching the falls. Or if you feel like staying dry, a nearby wooden bridge provides a great place for waterfall viewing, photography, or enjoying summer breezes that are cooled as they drop over the basalt cliff in tandem with the falls.

To get to Elowah Falls from Hood River, travel west on I-84 and take Exit 37 (Warrendale). Continue down the exit road for .4 miles, turn left under the overpass, then turn left again onto N.E. Frontage Rd. Turnoff will be on your right after .3 miles.

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