High & Wild in Eastern OR

Settling In
By Joy Cordell
  |  Gorp.com
Wallowa Lake and Joseph, Oregon, from the Wallowa Lake Tramway.
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What with traffic and road rage, most of us these days are more interested in going "far from the madding crowd" than in just getting "off the beaten path." Our recent galavant through two wilderness areas in northeast Oregon — Eagle Cap Wilderness, in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, near John Day in Malheur National Forest — paid off handsomely on both counts.

In five days of hiking in two areas, my boyfriend Jeff and I encountered fellow travelers only twice on the trails. And as for road rage, well . . . one young horse we met suffered a mild panic attack upon seeing two creatures in packs and raincoats. But the only real wrath we endured was high mountain thunderstorms and we didn't take that personally.

On the Way to Eagle Cap

Our trip began in Seattle, 400 miles from our destination. We left early one Saturday morning and made a stop just over Snoqualmie Pass in Cle Elem, where, if people see you on a side street, they assume you're a local and wave. We progressed to Prosser, northwest of the Tri-Cities, and stopped for wine- and microbrew tasting. We continued into Oregon via Pendleton and LaGrande and then turned onto two-lane Highway 82, which threads through tiny ranching towns: Wallowa, Lostine, Enterprise, and finally Joseph. Then it was only six miles along moraine-edged Wallowa Lake to the Oregon State Park campground where we were to spend our first night, before entering the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

At Wallowa Lake

With 121 full hook-ups, 89 tent spots, two yurts, and three group tent areas,"secluded" is not the word I'd use to describe this state campground. Nor "cheap." The camping fee was $16 for our tent, and there was a $6 reservations fee from Reserve America, which I'd used online to grab one of the last spots a week prior. On the other hand, it was a good staging spot on the edge of the wilderness and had hot showers.

In all fairness, it is very much a forest campground and you wouldn't know there were that many people there unless you counted. We pitched our tent and wandered over to the rustic 1920s Wallowa Lake Lodge for dinner and wine, where we were serenaded by a truly good pianist who played classical and jazz favorites. After the final piece, a haunting rendition of "Moonlight Sonata," the waitstaff and we few remaining diners broke spontaneously into applause.

Knowing we were headed into a week of oatmeal, we went back to the lodge the next morning for hazelnut pancakes with marianberry butter. This south end of the lake — a resort community since the 1920s — is home to several restaurants, lodging of various kinds, and a general store that carries fishing licenses, just about anything you forgot to bring, and a dozen kinds of homemade fudge — two of which found their way into our packs for the first hike. If you have children, Joe's Place, besides the pizza and Umpqua Dairy ice cream, will attract them with putt-putt golf and bumper boats in the play area. (The doe and twin fawns we saw wander through there that morning seemed to like the place, too.) The lake also has a day picnicking and swimming area, and a full marina with boat rentals and fishing gear in the gift shop. The state campground also offers evening edutainment programs for children.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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