Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
The southern Wallowa Mountains are both very similar to and quite different from the northern part of the range. As in the areas to the north, the scenery is spectacular, with the same enchanting combination of granite peaks, alpine lakes, and wildflowers. The southern part, however, has a very different character. First of all, the trail population is smaller. While you won't be lonesome, longer road access and more rugged trails mean far fewer people choose to hike in this region.
The terrain also differs from the northern Wallowas. Granite peaks are still found in abundance, but the geology here is more varied, many prominent peaks being more reddish than white. Finally, the forests are more open and the meadows more expansive, so vistas are wider and more common. This attractive but difficult hike traces a rugged up-and-down route as it alternates between the high passes and deep canyons that characterize the southern Wallowas. For the fit hiker who longs for the beauty of the Wallowas without the crowds, this is a wonderful choice. The hike is described here from east to west.
Begin by hiking northeast up an abandoned jeep road across the remains of a landslide to a bridged crossing of Eagle Creek. Now a pleasant footpath, the route climbs through forests as it closely parallels the stream. You recross Eagle Creek and soon reach the ford of Copper Creek expect to get your feet wet until late summer just downstream from impressive Copper Creek Falls. Tip: For the best view of this falls take a short spur trail north of the creek. Keep straight at a trail junction a little past Copper Creek, sticking with the Eagle Creek Trail. The trail gets rougher but the terrain is more open, with meadows and views of the surrounding peaks. At 4.1 miles is large Eagle Meadows, with good camps. There is also a junction here with the route to Looking glass Lake.
To visit the lovely lakes in the high cirques to the south and east, ford Eagle Creek and climb a fairly steep trail up the canyon wall. Views to the north of Needle Point and the basin of Eagle Lake improve as you ascend to a trail junction near the base of a meadow. To the right, a 1.6-mile trail climbs over a mostly open ridge before dropping a bit to large Lookingglass Lake. This deep lake has good fishing but is artificially dammed, so when the water is lower it resembles a bathtub. The rocky terrain around the lake makes for generally poor camping but the views are excellent. Back at the last junction, the left fork quickly enters the basin holding very scenic Culver Lake. Towering cliffs behind the east shore of this lake present a challenge for even the widest-angle camera lens. The trail continues north another mile to Bear Lake. This pool is attractive, but less spectacular than Culver or Lookingglass Lake. Tip: The best plan is to camp down at Eagle Meadows and day hike up to these lakes.
Here's a tip:"Peak baggers" will want to make the steep but not technically difficult scramble to the top of Needle Point. The view from the summit is truly outstanding, especially of the deep, curving Minam River Canyon to the north.
Continuing north on the Eagle Creek Trail, wildflowers brighten the canyon ascent as things change from meadows and open slopes back into forest. Not long after the trail begins to make a switchbacking climb is a rock cairn (and possibly a sign) marking the junction with the trail to Eagle Lake. Although Eagle Lake is artificially dammed and has generally poor campsites, it's still well worth the side trip.
The last 0.3 mile of the trail to this lake is up a steep granite ridge with stunted whitebark pines framing excellent views back down the canyon. The lake itself sits in a spectacular alpine basin rimmed by 9,000-foot granite peaks. There are few trees in this high bowl, but the scenery is impressive.
For better camps, return to the main trail and climb to the meadow flat holding tiny Cached Lake. Nice sheltered camps are in the trees on this pool's north side. Tip: Be sure to walk around to the lake's southwest shore for some excellent views across Cached Lake to Needle Point dominating the local skyline. As is true in many parts of the Wallowas, friendly deer are likely to visit your camp in the evening.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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