The Other Oregon: Wallowas

Northeast Oregon's Wallowa Mountains Are Worth the Drive

From Joseph’s Jennings Hotel to jet boats on the Snake River, this corner of the state is prime for easy family touring or epic adventures.

By Benjamin Tepler and Margaret Seiler April 17, 2017 Published in the May 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Sunrise on Steamboat Lake in the Eagle Cap Wilderness

Called Oregon’s Alps and home to the state’s highest peaks outside the Cascades (we see you, Sacajawea and Matterhorn), the Wallowa range cradles rivers and ranchland prime for easy family touring or epic adventures.

Earn Your Eagle Cap

Adventure-hungry Oregonians get a special twinkle in their eye at the mere mention of the Wallowas’ Eagle Cap Wilderness, and for good reason. The high-alpine wonderland of white granite, crystal clear lakes, and gobsmacking views is a rare redoubt of the wild and inaccessible. A day hike won’t even get you close. Three well-documented backpacking loops exist: The southbound Wallowa River Loop (36 miles) offers easy access from Wallowa Lake. (How easy? A Prius can make it.) The East Eagle-Imnaha Loop (39 miles) is a gentle middle ground, making a big northerly loop over three sky-scraping passes. Seeking absolute isolation? The Eagle Creek-West Eagle Loop (35 miles) approaches from the little-traveled southwest corner of the wilderness. Here, it’s just you and the elk. Plan your trip with Douglas Lorain’s guidebooks Backpacking Oregon and 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon. BT

Find Portland in Joseph

If you’re already homesick after the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Joseph, post up in the Kickstarter-funded Jennings Hotel, where the guest rooms have a familiar feel to them. Many were designed by the same minds behind Portland locales like Löyly (Brendon Farrell) and the tasting room at New Deal Distillery (Osmose’s Andee Hess), with furnishings and other details courtesy of Portland-based Wood & Faulk, Phloem Studio, and Rejuvenation. Artists willing to contribute a work to the Jennings collection can apply for a residency at a discounted weekly rate. From $95.

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Ropers at June’s Hells Canyon Junior Rodeo in Halfway

Hit the Water

Just south of Joseph is Wallowa Lake, whose southern end is a hub of family-friendly lodging and camping, with a marina to rent paddleboats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. It’s also home to beloved Vali’s, now in its fifth decade of Hungarian dinners and weekend doughnuts, and an aerial tram that runs to the top of Mount Howard May through October.

For something a little less placid, Hells Canyon Adventures offers jet boat tours and fishing trips on the Snake River. It’s a trek to access the country’s deepest river gorge: tours start north of Oxbow, about three hours from Joseph or two and a half from Baker City. Pack for swim stops in July and August. MS

Distance from Portland: 5½ hours to Joseph and Wallowa Lake

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