Updated June 12, 2016
Wallowa Lake Oregon is a gorgeous “postcard” must-see set against a backdrop of majestic mountains, ringed by crisp air and amazing skies, reminiscent of Alaska’s bucket list destinations.
No wonder it’s the “Wow! Of the Wallowas”, the “Sapphire in a Sea of Astounding Landscapes” and the “Crown Jewel” of northeast Oregon!
One of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon”, Wallowa Lake is smaller than Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada state border . . . the spectacular views remind me of Yosemite National Park.
No matter what your origin in the lower 48 states, find your way to Interstate 84 in Oregon. Take exit 261 at La Grande, Oregon, and then drive east-northeast on Highway 82/Wallowa Lake Highway, otherwise known as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Drive about 74 miles, 1 hour and 40 minutes to Wallowa Lake Oregon.
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway passes through historic rangelands and mountain towns along the way. We recommend taking time to stop at the North Pine Rest Area before navigating the mountain curves ahead.
Wallowa Lake is 1 mile south of Joseph, Oregon at elevation 4372 feet.
For this road trip, we made our base camp in nearby Enterprise, Oregon at Log House RV Park & Campground for several days while we explored the amazing Wallowa Lake Oregon area and the incredible Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
From La Grande to Baker City, Oregon, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a 218 mile loop, a journey across extraordinary country.
The byway courses through the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness scaling the high passes of the Wallowa Mountains with peaks of elevation over 10,000 feet, through the remote Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to the unforgiving outback of Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in the United States.
From there, road trippers step back in time to the gold rush era as they pass through ghost towns and trek where pioneering emigrants forged the Oregon Trail on their approach to historic Baker City, where the scenic byway ends.
Among the most stunning wilderness areas in Oregon, the Eagle Cap Wilderness measures as “jaw-dropping”. Home to Sacajawea Peak, the highest mountain outside the Cascade Range, and the “queen” of the Wallowas . . . it’s no wonder the area is known as the “Alps of North America”!
Access to Oregon’s largest alpine wilderness is on foot, or hoof, via an expansive trail system of over 500 miles. Conditions are rustic at best and permits are required.
Wildlife thrives amidst white-granite clefts, fragrant wildflower meadows, pristine lakes and tumbling streams.
Some call it a paradise.
All I know is the sight of it took my breath away!
Explore the vast and wild . . . there’s adventure for everyone!
Once upon a time, colossal glaciers cut enormous swaths through the Wallowa Mountains, dredging up mounds of house-sized boulders, rocks, dirt and silt, the stuff of which monumental moraines (glacial debris) are made of. Water flows, the Wallowa River, ice and snow melt, trapped by the glacial moraines, accumulated over the centuries resulting in a wondrous azure blue lake.
Today, the moraines plunge deep into the seemingly bottomless depths of Wallowa Lake Oregon and break the mirrored surface, rising over 900 feet into the air.
Did you know Wallowa Lake Oregon is one of the most crystal clear lakes in the world?!
Wallowa Lake Oregon remains one of the state's premier recreations areas since the 1880’s, attracting visitors far and wide. Anglers love fishing for Steelhead, Kokanee, spring Chinook salmon, trout, mountain whitefish and Mackinaw. Water sports enthusiasts enjoy swimming, boating, water skiing, jet skiing, canoeing and kayaking.
Plan to see the fabulous 4th of July fireworks over the lake.
Camping, backpacking, hiking and snow skiing. . . recreation abounds here all seasons of the year!
Deep in the Columbia Plateau in the northeast corner of Oregon State, the magnificent Wallowa mountain range is carefully guarded inside the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Oregonians hold them close, like a highly prized gemstone. It’s more than their grandeur; human history runs deep here, permeating the land and the culture.
Preservation of both natural and human history is a way of life. Conserving the wilderness for future generations is a stewardship taken very seriously, even at the federal level.
This dedication is reflected in the sustenance the land provides not only to the wildlife, but the people who live and visit here . . . their food, mode of dress, their housing, entertainment, and in their art and music.
To call it a “vibe” does not begin to define the Wallowa-effect. Visitors come away changed by the “spirit” of these monumental mountains; a dynamic . . . living . . . breathing spirit that rejuvenates the soul.
Before Oregon became a state, before early explorers discovered Wallowa Lake Oregon, the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce dwelled in this area. The rights to their homeland were guaranteed in the Treaty of 1855.
But, all that changed when gold was discovered. The ensuing gold rush led to great trespass of ancestral lands and accelerating conflict between the natives and the brash newcomers.
In 1863, treaty renegotiations resulted in reducing reservation by eliminating the Wallowas from its holdings. The Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce objected to being removed from their ancestral lands and refused to sign the proposed treaty. Other bands of the Nez Perce, whose lands lay elsewhere, signed the treaty.
Suddenly, the Wallowa Band found themselves living outside the reservation.
Through the years, the pressure of incoming emigrants settling on the Wallowa Band’s ancestral lands grew. Clashes escalated to violence, even murder. Wise Chief Joseph led his people out of their ancestral lands and crossed three states to seek asylum in Canada. The U.S. government sent militia who gave chase, citing murder and various crimes as their reason for hunting down the Wallowa Band who harbored the young warrior perpetrators.
The terrible exodus left hundreds dead from exposure, starvation and disease. Exhausted and weakened, the dwindling numbers of the Wallowa Band caused Chief Joseph great concern. Though they were close to the Canadian border, he knew his people would never reach their “promised land”; the U.S. Army was upon them.
With a broken heart, he surrendered on October 5, 1877 at Bear Paw Battlefield in Montana.
Following the surrender, the Wallowa Band was exiled to Okalahoma. Their history and plight are commemorated in the Nez Perce National Historic Trail by numerous historical sites, monuments and dedications.
With great reverence we visited the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Cemetery, located near the northern shore of the Wallowa Lake Oregon, adjacent to the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site, ancestral sacred grounds of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Though my husband is descended from eastern Native American tribes, he felt drawn to honor a brother who was such a brave warrior.
Beyond the Old Chief Joseph's gravesite stands a monument to Frank David McCully and his wife, Martha, honored for their "long friendship with Chief Joseph and his people".
Joseph, Oregon, was named after Old Chief Joseph, because of his courageous leadership in the face of severe injustice by the U.S. government that lead to the banishment and near demise of a proud nation of Native Americans.
As word got out about the pristine beauty of Wallowa Lake Oregon, tourism and subsequent development followed. By 1923 visitors enjoyed staying at Wallowa Lake Lodge and sought entertainment at Wonderland Inn’s amusement park, which operated until 1940, when an unusual snowfall damaged buildings and operations, causing the place to close. Undaunted by the frosty act-of-God, visitors returned.
Today, the commercial community located at the south end of Wallowa Lake Oregon continues to draw tourists from all over America. Visitors enjoy restaurants, rustic lodgings, and various entertainments such as bumper boats and miniature golf.
On our visit, we took a break and explored Little Alps State Park, located on the south end of the tourist community.
The Wallowa Mountains rose up before us! It was breathtaking!
Little furry locals, otherwise known as Columbian Ground Squirrels, scolded us for trespassing.
Cameras ready, we photographed what we saw. Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a herd of Mule Deer bucks browsing along the shore of the Wallowa River! These guys were anything but shy. On alert, as deer are very dangerous in the wild, we took a risk and photographed them as they fearlessly closed in.
The moment they exhibited some bold aggression, I cut off filming, pocketed my camera and opened my bright green anorak to make me appear bigger and more threatening. The bucks moved off enough so my husband and I had a clear path of escape to safety.
What a thrilling (terrifying) experience! I loved it!
To get this tourist area and Little Alps State Park, visitors must pass through strategically located, Joseph, Oregon.
Commerce came to the Wallowa Lake Oregon area in 1879. A man named, Matthew Johnson built the first store, serving gold miners’ needs and he became the first postmaster.
The population swelled. Other towns sprung to life. By 1887, the area was formed into Wallowa County.
Though small, Joseph packs a big punch.
Set against a back drop of the wild and wooly Wallowas, and brilliant starry skies, Joseph quickly becomes a favorite of those who wile away time wandering through town and visiting with the locals. We took time to enjoy a decadent treat at Arrowhead Chocolates . . . Mmm-mm!
The eclectic mix of cowboy culture and epic art (especially the bronzes) are just a few of the key elements comprising Joseph’s fascinating personality.
Among “The 10 Most Beautiful Towns in Oregon” by internationally renowned, CultureTrip.com, visiting Joseph is part of experiencing Wallowa Lake Oregon, one of the seven wonders of Oregon.
Unparalleled wildlife graces the wondrous land of Wallowa Lake Oregon.
It’s a birders’ bliss! The largest number of raptors in the USA is here, including osprey and bald eagles.
Elk, deer, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep can be found in this area, as well as wolves, foxes, black bears, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Coupled with the iconic vistas in an untouched wilderness, wildlife enthusiasts love the stunning photographic venues at Wallowa Lake Oregon.
I know I do!
For more information about wildlife viewing opportunities, click here ==> ODFW Wildlife Viewing Report
The best road trips result in memories lasting a lifetime. Experiencing Wallowa Lake Oregon is one I’ll never forget, and it will become a treasured memory for you, too, once you visit here.
Consider extending your road trip to see more marvelous destinations in historic eastern Oregon.
Travel the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway, a remarkable gateway back in time . . . it’s a Wild West gold rush! No wonder it has received national recognition as one of American’s Scenic Byways.
Road tripping the Snake River through the spectacular Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is an unforgettable journey filled with outstanding adventure in one of the USA’s wildest places.
One of the foremost bronze art organizations in Oregon makes its home in Joseph. When you visit the Wallowas add a tour of this remarkable foundry to your road trip itinerary.
"Whether you are a Golf pro that is practicing for competition or a novice golfer looking for a relaxing game, Alpine Meadows Golf Course has a golf package suited just for you. Tee off on the 9 hole course or practice chip shots on the putting green."
"Sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of a train ride on the Eagle Cap Excursion Train. Journey back in time on a section of the picturesque and historic Joseph Branch rail line in Northeast Oregon. Discover untamed territory as the train follows the Grande Ronde River downstream through rugged cliffs and timbered ridges, then travels up the Wild & Scenic Wallowa River. Whether you are a rail fan, a nature and wildlife enthusiast, a history buff or a vacationer looking for a fun and relaxing way to enjoy the spectacular beauty of region, a ride on the Eagle Cap Excursion Train is sure to please!"
"Nestled in the pines, at the end of beautiful Wallowa Lake is the Matterhorn Village. Our Matterhorn Gift Shop offers unique gifts and souvenirs. Scoops Ice Cream Shop serves ice cream and beverages. New to Matterhorn Village in August, 2011 is our 18 hole premier miniature golf course called Mt. Pines Adventure Golf and our Candyshack, offering an assortment of sweet treats."
With amazing views of 4 states on a clear day, several hiking trails circling the heights and good eats at the restaurant at the top, who wouldn’t enjoy a ride on the Wallow Lake Tramway to spend an afternoon on the summit of Mount Howard. This is one ADA accessible attraction you won’t want to miss!
"Located along the Hurricane Creek riparian area, this Hurricane Creek Campground offers 3 tent/trailer sites and 8 tent-only sites. Three of the campsites are now accessible for people with disabilities. The access road to this campground is rough and not recommended for low clearance RVs and trailers."
"A beautiful setting for a perfect vacation at Wallowa Lake! Located on the Upper Wallowa River, this deluxe RV Park offers 49 full hookup sites,water,power,sewer, cable TV and Wi-Fi are included.
Cabin in the Park Sleeps 10 and is a 3 bedroom that has it all. It features a large living room with a gas fireplace .The kitchen is stocked with all the cookware and utensils to prepare and enjoy your own meals. The back bedroom has one queen bed. Another bedroom has two twin over full bunk beds and the front bedroom has a queen bed. The bathroom has a tub with shower a separate sink area. All towels, soap and shampoo are included."
Conference Center facilities are available.
"If you're interested in a campground surrounded on three sides by 9,000' tall snow-capped mountains and a large clear lake, this is the area for you . . . 121 full-hookup sites (2 ADA), 89 tent sites with water nearby, yurts- 2 hard-sided (ADA), group gent camping, group picnic areas, hot showers and flush toilets (ADA available), RV dump station"
"Whoooa! Come experience wilderness from a higher perspective! Let the horse focus on the trail while you take in the incredible beauty of the Eagle Cap. Leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life and settle into a rugged outdoor adventure and bring home memories of a lifetime. Whether you're looking for a short one hour ride into the mountains or a week long stay deep in the back country, the Eagle Cap Wilderness Pack Station has a trip suited for you. Come let us show you one of the Eagle Cap's 52 high lakes or perhaps guide you to that trophy mule deer you've been longing to hang on your wall. Our pack trips include drop camps, backpacker's gear drops, and guided trips. You can also choose to hike or ride into one of our set-up camps."
"'Feel the Thunder'--Four action packed PRCA Rodeos plus six days of western entertainment"!
"Race in one of the most beautiful venues in the Pacific Northwest. Wallowa Lake is positioned at the foot of the majestic Wallowa Mountain Range. The race will be held at the south end of Wallowa Lake and will take advantage of the facilities at the Wallowa Lake Marina and the day use area of the Wallowa Lake State Park on the south lake shore. Wallowa Lake with its calm current-free waters will make for an excellent race venue. A portion of the day use area adjacent to the marina parking lot on the east side will be available for up to 100 paddlers’ tent camping, food concessionaires and dragon sports vendors. The State Park has space for over 200 RV and additional tent camping sites and full bathroom and shower facilities at the campground. Participants should make their reservations as early as possible. Click the accommodations link for other overnight alternatives."
Oregon’s only Iditarod, the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race is a Yukon Quest Qualifier!
"Join us for four days of rodeo action in beautiful Elgin, OR, as we celebrate . . . PRCA rodeo performances, the Mark Nichols Memorial Bull Riding, Family Night, the Stampede Challenge, Parades, Dances, and much, much more!"
"Hells Canyon Mule Days will be celebrating Mules and Mule Skinners on the weekend after Labor Day, September 11th, 12th, and 13th. From its humble beginnings in 1981 it has progressed steadily and is the fastest growing Mule Show in the Northwest. This annual event draws mule and donkey owners, and spectators intrigued by this long-eared equine, from all over the West. In 2010 Hells Canyon Mule Days was selected, for the fifth consecutive year, by American Cowboy Magazine as one of the 101 Great Western Events. Also, in part of this historical event, in 2008 First Lady Laura Bush awarded the city of Enterprise a Preserve American Community Award."
"A fun-filled four-day celebration of Swiss and Bavarian culture, cuisine and liquid refreshment in Wallowa County, Oregon's Little Switzerland. Visit Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa Lake to enjoy polka music, folk dancing, alphorn blowing and Swiss yodeling plus Joseph Trading Post bratwurst, the official sausage of Oregon's Alpenfest; Alpenfest Sauerkraut, and Terminal Gravity Alpenfest Ale."
"Located at the confluence of the Minam river and Wallowa river. [Minam] motel and store is located at the main put-in for floating the wild and scenic Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers." Services include, "professional shuttle service, rent the best rafts in the business, rent inflatable kayaks, packrafts, and other gear as well", and guided trips down the river.
"Ninebark Outfitters provides extremely private, high quality, customized recreational opportunities based from a private lodge nestled in the bottom of a 2,500 ft. deep canyon. Just a short one hour drive from the town of Joseph, Oregon, this historic working cattle ranch has private trailhead access into one of the most inaccessible drainages in Northeast Oregon."
"Tri-State Outfitters offers deluxe guided hunts, drop hunts and information fee services. We also offer guided fishing trips for kokanee, mackinaw, rainbow trout, bass, catfish, crappie and sturgeon. We hold numerous state and other record book game animals that our clients have taken as well as lake records for our fishing."
Experienced guides lead thrilling white water rafting and exciting fly fishing trips, plus specially featured vacation trips, too.
"Excellent backcountry skiing opportunities abound and the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon are reputed for deep, dry, powder snow. Backcountry skiers of any skill level may find an experience to suit their desire. . . Guided tours focus on avalanche safety, wilderness ethics, and orient you to the terrain and snow-pack history. Transceivers, shovels, probes, and climbing skins are provided on guided trips . . . Warm, comfortable huts are available for your use after a long day of touring in the nearby backcountry terrain of the Eagle Cap Wilderness."
"On the shores of glacial Wallowa Lake, historic Wallowa Lake Lodge is a peaceful retreat in Oregon's spectacular Wallowa Mountains. Like one of the great national park lodges, but without the crowds, the lodge offers wilderness hiking, fishing, boating and more, just steps from its front door . . . Built in 1923, the historic lodge is warm, cozy and artfully restored.
It is the only lodging option in the Wallowa Lake community with a lakefront setting."
"Maxville" was the railroad logging town that existed about 15 miles north of Wallowa, Oregon . . . Maxville itself operated until the early 1930s and was unique in that it included 50 or so African Americans and their families and was home to the only segregated school in Oregon. Previously, historic records only made small mention of these African-Americans. In the last three years, the Maxville Heritage Project has fostered a reawakening of interest in this rich chapter of history through [various media] spotlighting this unique local history. With the ground swell of historic artifacts and stories emerging from descendants and those with relationships to people from Maxville, a large number of video, image, audio and textual digital files, and hard copy images have been collected."
"Erl McLaughlin has a love of agricultural bordering on obsession. He has been collecting antique tractors since 1983, restoring them to their original glory and storing them in a 40’ x 220’ metal shop on his property. If people hear about his antique tractor and farm implement collection, and they want to see it, they call Erl on his cell phone. They will likely catch him farming his fields. When he receives a call, Erl jumps down from his tractor, the one he uses to farm today, and he brushes the dirt and the dust from his jeans, and he meets you at his showroom, if you can call it that, because really is just a big metal shop off a dirt road. But it contains an incredible collection of agricultural history."
The Union County Museum in Union, Oregon is dedicated to preserving the history of Union County and the surrounding area. The museum is continually adding and upgrading exhibits and is worth the short side-trip off of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to see.
Located in Wallowa, Oregon, "The Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center Inc. is a partner in the Nez Perce National Historical Park. The Wallowa site is designated traditional Lostine Campsite by the National Park Service.
In mid-1994 residents of Wallowa County, in conjunction with the dispersed Nez Perce descendants in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, organized an ad hoc Nez Perce Trail Coalition to identify how best to provide a place for the regular return of the descendants to the valley. In this place they hoped to tell the story of the people who once resided in what is now Wallowa County. They wanted to trace, clarify, and explain the story of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce expelled from the area in 1877. They also wanted to welcome Nez Perce to the Wallowa community."
Featured exhibits, events, activities, preservation, conservation and education, define Wallowology's outreach.
"The North Pine Rest Area is located along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and offers travelers a chance to stretch their legs and use the restroom facilities. The site has a pull-through parking area for cars, RVs and trucks and trailers." Activities include picnicking, wildlife viewing and some interpretation of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.
"Advisory: The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is usually closed by snow from late October through late May or early June and is not passable with motor vehicles."
"The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated 4,400 acres of Zumwalt Prairie Preserve as a National Natural Landmark . . . North America's largest remaining grassland of its type." Visiting this phenomenal prairie is part of experiencing one of Oregon's seven wonders.
"In 1911, to sever the close proximity of a house of ill repute, Elgin’s city leaders built a new city hall that would serve the dual function of city government and performing arts center . . . this two-story, colonial revival brick structure with stone foundation," known as the Opera House Theater, "shows movies and noted performers are scheduled throughout the year."
If you love clear icy water, then jump into Wallowa Lake Oregon for one of most bracing swims of your life! Youngsters will enjoy getting their feet wet in the shallows while parents supervise on from a pleasant sandy beach (no lifeguards on duty). Bring a snorkel and mask so you can view fish underwater.
The Wallowa Lake Marina has everything you need to enjoy your favorite watersports. They carry fishing tackle, bait, ice and sell fishing licenses, too. Rent a pontoon boat, paddleboard, paddle boat, canoe, kayak, row boat or motor boat, and take a cruise around the lake. Boat owners can rent a slip. The marina serves campers' needs as well including, snack foods, drinks, clothing, RV and camping suppies and for tourists, souenirs. Get the latest fishing, hiking and road condition information here.
Ferguson Ridge Ski Area has deep roots the Wallowas. It's a part of the history of the area, especially of the intrepid people who reside here. There's something about experiencing the place that lives on in the memories of all who visit.