Just like how you’ll want to plan for any trip around Joseph, we’ll start early with this section. The primary trailhead is the Wallowa Lake Trailhead. It fills up fast, so it will be best to get there early, which will also help beat the heat. From this trailhead, the main attractions to visit are Ice Lake and The Matterhorn. Ice Lake round trip is just a little over 15 miles with 3300 feet of gain.
Although it sounds long, the trail’s views and beauty make it seem much shorter. Ice Lake is a common destination, and it would be acceptable to turn around here once you’ve had your fill of alpine lake views and maybe a quick cold plunge. But to get an even better sense of why the area is called the Alps of Oregon, you can add a summit bid up to the Matterhorn for an extra 3.5 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain.
Obviously, with that much gain in only 1.75 miles, it will be steep – but the views up there are worth it! Again, this is where all but a few turnaround and get back for a swim in Wallowa Lake or a burger in Joseph. But for the peakbaggers out there, the true prize lies just a little further along the ridgeline and only 12 feet higher than the Matterhorn.
Sacajawea Peak is the highest point in the Wallowa Mountains and is also a county high point, in addition to being the second most prominent peak in Oregon. To get to the top and back from Wallowa Lake will be a total of 21.5 miles and 6500 feet of elevation gain – a serious day trip for sure! This route requires a small amount of scrambling but is not too difficult. The reward for making it to this point will likely be solitude. Few people continued this far, and when I visited in late July, my only company was thousands of butterflies!
Cover Picture: Ice Lake and the Matterhorn (Ryan Johnson)
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