Discovering the “Alps of Oregon ” prt. 2 – Wallowa County, OR

This is the second of a 2-part series covering our fabulous week in Wallowa County, OR.  You can check out part 1 here.

Day 4- Mountain High on the Wallowa Lake Tram

During our six+ years of travel, we’ve always tried to partake in activities that give us a unique perspective on the area we’re visiting.  One of those activities is riding trams to mountaintops where we can experience the majesty of the surrounding area.  We had an opportunity to do just that here in Joseph, as we rode the Wallowa Lake Tramway up to the 8,000′ peak of Mt. Howard.  It was a fourteen-minute trip up in what the operators claim is the steepest four-person gondola ride in North America.

Once at the top we followed all of the available hiking trails. It added up to only 3.5 miles, but a couple of them led us to fantastic views of the valley below, mountains flanked by glacial cirques, canyons, the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho.

This cute little greeter at the summit came up hoping for a treat!

Looking down at the town of Joseph

Wallowa Lake is a textbook example of a glacial lake, with its perfect 900′ lateral and terminal moraines

Hurwal Divide

One trail led to Hurwal Divide (in the foreground)

At Royal Purple Overlook with the Wallowas as the background

Joseph, OR

Patches of farms and ranches in the valley

Day 5- Hiking Hurricane Creek Trail

Hurricane Creek Trail takes hikers deep into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  It’s popular and heavily trafficked by people who just want to hike in a ways and turn around.  That’s what we did, going about 3.5 miles before turning back, and enjoying the sounds from the roaring creek as we wandered along.  The trail twisted through forest before entering wildflower-filled meadows and mountain peaks.

Should I jump on the end of the log?

Tall pine trees lined the trail

Sacajawea Peak is Wallowa’s highest peak at 9,839′

Hurricane Creek

After 3 miles and 760′ of elevation gain, we found Dead Man Falls surrounded by beautiful mountains at the edge of a meadow

Spreckled along the trail were these vibrant wildflowers.

Excellent background music during lunch!

A cold brew is always welcome after a long hike – especially at Terminal Gravity

Day 6 – From Canyons to Prairie

Another must do here, especially during the wildflower bloom, is a drive to Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.  It encompasses 33,000 acres and is part of the largest remaining intact Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass prairie in North America.  Luckily we came at the right time, as the hills were carpeted with all kinds and hues of wildflowers.

Yellow was the dominant color on the prairie, but these beauties added some contrast and begged to be photographed:

I don’t think the ticks can get me up here!

The Wallowas gleamed in the sun as we headed home

Day 7 – Nez Perce Homeland Hike

At Wallowa River RV Park, Betsy faced an open field and basalt ridges.  We had noticed a switchback trail leading up the ridges to grassy upland at the top, and we vowed to hike it before moving on.  Finally on our last day we put the boots back on and headed out from our site.

Purple Vetch

Purple Vetch carpeted the hillside

It was during this trek that we discovered we were hiking on a 320-acre piece of Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland.  The 4-mile trail led to a summit called Tick Hill, which inspired us to stomp our feet and check our clothes even more often than usual  😉

One of several bronze interpretive plaques placed along the trail

Once on top, we soaked up the views of Wallowa Valley and our RV Park at the end of town below.  As we followed the trail we learned that the Nez Perce name for this place is “Tamkaliks”, meaning “From where you can see the mountains.”  The natural vistas were quite impressive!

Looking down at our RV Park, we saw Betsy in the middle of the front row

Goodbye, Wallowa!

We were glad we’d gotten this hike in before leaving.  The trail was moderate, and a great way to see the blooming wildflowers up close.  We didn’t find any ticks on ourselves when we got home, but to be sure we wasted no time in shaking out the backpacks and shedding our clothes before immediate showers.

Map of Wallowa County (courtesy of Wallowalogy)

And that wraps up our exhilarating week at Wallowa County.  The map above shows how encompassing the county is, with so many activities available.  As usual, we had to prioritize things we wanted to do, leaving some for another time.  We enjoyed every minute of our stay, despite the daily “commute” to most destinations.

A picture-perfect farm scene

Breathtaking vistas, off-the-beaten-path gems and friendly laid back rural folks filled our days with a wonderful northeastern Oregon experience.  Whether or not we ever make it to the Swiss Alps, we had a great time at the Alps of Oregon.  The Wallowas is definitely one of the most scenic areas in the northwest we’ve set eyes on!


Next up:  Revisiting a slice of Montana