Oregon's Wallowa Mountains

Hiking the Lostine-Minam Loop, Part II

Cross the stream near the head of the valley and increase the rate of your climb as you switchback through open forests to a four-way junction. Most visitors turn left here to visit lovely Mirror Lake — well worth a side trip. Your route, however, turns right, passing below Upper Lake and providing excellent views down the East Lostine Canyon. If you choose to camp in this popular but fragile basin, be extra careful to leave no trace. The trail now begins a moderately steep climb toward Carper Pass. Frequent views of Eagle Cap, resembling Yosemite's Half Dome from this angle, make the climb more of a joy than a strain. As expected, the views from the pass are exceptional. From the high point the trail makes a rolling descent before dropping more consistently to the south end of large Minam Lake.

An earthen dam blocks this lake's former outlet to the south, so it now drains principally north into the West Lostine River. Aptly named Brown Mountain dominates the skyline to the west. Tip: To visit lovely Blue Lake, cross the dam and follow a trail one mile to this round jewel below a serrated ridge of granite peaks. The lake's outlet is the source of the Minam River.

Here's a tip: A side trail drops from here to large Long Lake, which features secluded camps and good fishing, but has only limited views.

To continue your tour, turn north as the trail loops around the east shore of Minam Lake, then gradually descends the valley of the West Lostine River. If the scenery in the East Lostine Valley rates a 10, then the West Lostine has to be a 9.9. You cross the stream twice as you wind down through the meadows and forests of this lovely valley. There are no bridges, so be prepared to wade (chilly, but not dangerous).

About 3.5 miles from Minam Lake is a poorly marked junction at a talus slope. Turn left on the Copper Creek Trail to a ford of the West Lostine River. There are good camps in the meadows nearby. The trail then begins to climb up the valley of Copper Creek, crossing the stream four times along the way. Warning: Through July these crossings will be wet and sometimes treacherous Although the climb is moderate in grade, it seems to go on forever. However, the excellent scenery is ample compensation. Camps are abundant in this section of bouldery areas and meadows, with a terrific variety of wildflowers throughout the summer.

Eventually the trail veers away from the creek and climbs to a high sandy plateau. In the basin to the right is Swamp Lake. More distant views extend to the Matterhorn, Eagle Cap, and the other distinctive peaks of this range. Now the trail gradually loses a bit of elevation to a junction where you turn right. This route makes a long, switchbacking descent into the meadowy basin holding Swamp Lake, which has good camps near the north end. The south end of this irregularly shaped pool is an intricate mix of meadows, creeks, and small ponds that looks like a Japanese garden.


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