For those of us living in Portland, Seattle, and other areas West of the Cascades, we are spoiled by our access to recreation. We can find Forest Park, the Issaquah Alps, or Silver Falls within minutes. Only a little further will be excellent recreation areas like the Columbia River Gorge. Within an hour or two, we have the Cascades, such as Mount Hood, Mount Baker, or Mount Rainier. I imagine this proximity combined with the 5+ hour drive causes the familiar refrain of, “The Wallowas – where is that?” or, “The Wallowas, oh, I have been meaning to go out there.” The Wallowa Mountains and surrounding area are so spectacular that the “Oregon Alps,” as they are called, are one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon. It is a massive wilderness playground that offers endless opportunities for trail-running adventures. The area inside the Wallowa Mountains is designated as the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
The geologic history of the Wallowa Mountains is a story of the forces of nature at work over millions of years through a combination of tectonic plate movement, volcanic activity, and glaciation. The Wallowa Mountains began to form about 160 million years ago through volcanic activity and subsequently were uplifted and eroded. This process exposed the granite batholith that formed the core of the mountains. About 3 million years ago, the Wallowa Mountains were glaciated, and when those receded, they carved out the valleys and deposited moraines and other deep lakes, such as the biggest in the area, Wallowa Lake.
When adventuring in the Wallowas, remember that you are on native land! Before this was our playground, this land was the homeland of indigenous people for millennia. The most recent inhabitants before it was stolen are the Nimiipuu, who survived now through members of the Nez Perce Tribe, a federally recognized tribal nation with over 3500 citizens. Nimiipuu people lived in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon for centuries. The Wallowa Mountains are a sacred place for the Nez Perce and deeply connect to the land. Many historical sites throughout the region remind those who stop by of the land’s original inhabitants. When you stand on top of Eagle Cap, remember that it is a sacred place for them. When you stand on top of Aneroid Mountain, look into Hells Canyon and consider the annual pilgrimage Nimiipuu people took through the valleys below to migrate to different areas. When you visit the Wallowas for any of these trips, always respect the land and remember all those who came before you.
The Wallowa Mountains are vast, with a treasure trove of adventure opportunities, no matter how you choose to enjoy the area. Explore these recommendations, or go find your own favorite spot, whether it be the perfect meadow of wildflowers, an alpine lake, or a rocky ridgeline. It will be an unforgettable experience no matter where you go.
Wallowas Trail Runs
There are three primary entry points for Wallowa adventures, and any of them could be linked with a shuttle car to make a point-to-point multi-day trip. The main access points, from North to South and from most trafficked to least trafficked, are the Wallowa Lake/Joseph region, the Two-Pan/Lostine/Eagle Cap region, and the Halfway/Southern region.
The primary trailhead is the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, with 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. Add the Matterhorn for an extra 3.5 miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain.
A trip to Aneroid Mountain combines a tram ride with a ridgeline run to escape the crowds in the most popular area of the Wallowas.
Eagle Cap from Two-Pan Trailhead heads straight into the Eagle Cap Wilderness, which offers over 500 miles of trails and 60 alpine lakes to explore. A loop with Eagle Cap and the Minam Lake Trail is 21.5 miles and 4800 feet of gain from Two-Pan.
The Hurwal Divide Traverse starts from Hurricane Creek by ascending 5,000 feet to the summit of Chief Joseph Mountain, then along high alpine ridgelines to connect several of the highest peaks in the Wallowas.
On the South side of the Wallowas near Halfway, OR, is Red Mountain and Crater Lake, a 14-mile round-trip hike with about 3500 feet of elevation gain.
Wallowas Trail Races
The Wallowa Lakes Loop is part of the Wild Idaho Endurance Challenge, with 33 miles and 8,600ft of ascent.
Hurricane Creek Half Marathon and 5k is a paved and dirt road race with views of the Wallowa Mountains.
The Lostine River Run 10k and 5k is mostly on paved paths but feels like a trail.
Wallowas Trail Running Groups
Runners of the Sage hosts a Mountain Runners Ranch Retreat in the Wallowa Mountains and also hosts a group preview run for the Hurricane Creek Half Marathon a month before the race.
Coffee and Microbreweries
Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph not only serves hand-crafted chocolates but coffee and tea as well.
Hurricane Coffee is a full-service espresso drive-through in Enterprise.
The Blythe Cricket, a bakery, and bistro in downtown Joseph is a great way to get a treat and a hot beverage.
Glacier Ridge Grill on Wallowa Lake is a bar, grill, and general store that can get you anything needed for before and after a long day on the trails.
Terminal Gravity is a great place to enjoy an Eagle Cap IPA while relaxing outdoors next to Prairie Creek and looking at the mountains from Enterprise.
Embers Brewhouse in Joseph has 17 taps of craft beers and ciders to sip while enjoying award-winning pizza and other pub fare.
Cover photos (Ryan Johnson)
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