Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Overview
|Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (Purestock/Purestock/Getty)|
You'll be enchanted by the stately splendor of the Blue Mountains, the rugged grandeur of the Wallowa Mountains, and the spectacular canyon country of the Snake River in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Located in northeastern Oregon and western Idaho, the national forest’s elevations range from 875 to 9,845 feet above sea level. Plant life varies from the desert-like countryside of Hells Canyon to the alpine vegetation of the Eagle Cap Wilderness and Seven Devils Mountains. In addition to the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the forest includes three other wilderness areas: Hells Canyon, Monument Rock, and North Fork John Day.
Hike the Eagle Cap Wilderness
Most of the scenic country is beyond the range of day hikers. For the long-distance hiker, however, the Eagle Cap Wilderness is a land of alpine lakes and meadows, steep glaciated valleys, splendid vistas, and granite peaks. Eagle Cap is Oregon's largest wilderness, laced with more than 500 miles of interconnecting trails. Since more than 75 percent of all visits are to the Lakes Basin, Aneroid Lake, and Glacier Lake areas, there are many miles of lonesome trails in other areas. One of these is the trail to Traverse Lake, a good two-day backpack; you can ford creeks and walk through meadows and open slopes where wildflowers abound. There's an excellent view of Echo Lake along the way. Once you get to Traverse Lake, you can set up camp, cool off with a swim, and fish for some brook trout—maybe you'll catch your dinner.
Paddle the Minam River
The Minam River is a spectacular wilderness run through a deep, forested canyon. The area is rugged and filled with wildlife—deer sightings are common, and the fishing is good. Pine trees line the banks of this Class III river. The area is remote, and it's difficult to get to the put-ins—the only trail access you'll find is between Minam Lodge and the Minam River Recreation Area. From the put-in, you're on your own for 22 miles—you may want to camp along the way. After two miles of Class II water, there are eight miles of continuous Class III rapids. Besides sighting the occasional hiker, you'll see few signs of civilization along the way. The take-out is above the confluence with the Wallowa River, on the left-hand side.
Bike the Elkhorn Crest Trail
High in the Blue Mountains is the Anthony Lakes National Recreation Area. Good alpine riding is hard to find, but if you're willing to make the 1,300-foot climb, then you've just found it. Take a seven-mile ride in the Baker Ranger District. The Elkhorn Crest Trail offers you alpine riding among jagged peaks and translucent mountain lakes, plus awesome views as you approach Angel Peak.
Drive to Hells Canyon and Back
The Wallowa/Hells Canyon loop's 270 miles will take you on paved roads through desert, lush farmland, rugged canyons, and thickly forested mountains. Take highways 203, 82, and 86 through the towns of Enterprise, Joseph, La Grande, Union, and Baker City. Spend some time touring a forge at Valley Bronze in Joseph, or relax at Wallowa Lake. The route makes several crossings of the Wallowa Grande Ronde Rivers as it winds through commercial croplands, dairy farms, and a scenic canyon. The road climbs mountains, dips into canyons, and swirls around ridges. You'll see the forest from a variety of vantage points. With plenty of camping opportunities along the way, this drive makes for a beautiful two-day trip.
Spot Some Wildlife
In this national forest you may see a great variety of wildlife, including more big-game species than any other forest in Oregon or Washington. Here's a tip: Look for elk, deer, and mountain goats in this area, especially in the early morning and evening. Over 350 species of wildlife can be found in the forest. Species include mule deer, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goat, cougar, bobcat, hoary marmot, Pacific rattlesnake, rubber boa snake, pileated woodpecker, golden eagle, and bald eagle.
Ski the Eagle Cap Wilderness
This is a prime area for Nordic skiing in remote access alpine mountains. Expect a lot of uphill, for which you'll probably need skins. From December to May, you can ski six miles up the Lasting River and stay at the Lasting Guard Station. You'll be provided with cooking utensils, wood, propane, and anything else you might need, besides food and sleeping bags. This station owned by the national forest sleeps six comfortably. From the cabin, there's access to a smooth 11-mile road. More advanced skiers may venture up into the great unknown. Call Wallowa Mountains visitor center, at 541-426-5546 to reserve a spot.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication