A Complete Guide To Visiting The Wallowa Mountains
Have you ever heard of the Wallowa Mountains? If you haven’t you’re not alone. We hadn’t either but the first time we saw a picture of these stunning mountains in Eastern Oregon we knew we had to go. We hope this post convinces you that you should also take a trip here and that number one on your list while visiting should be the Wallowa Lake Tramway! Watch the video on our ride up the tramway and hikes at the top. Then keep reading to learn about how you can plan to visit, this and other things to do, where to stay, and where to eat!
In this guide we share all the things you need to know to plan your own trip to the Wallowa Mountains!
About The Wallowa Mountains
The Wallowa Mountains are the highest peaks in Oregon outside of the Cascade Range. Located in the extreme northeast corner of the state, they get their name from a Nez Perce tribe that lived in the area. Much of the area is protected by the Eagle Cap Wilderness. There are 534 miles of trails throughout the wilderness to take you from low level grasslands, through pine forests, all the way up to beautiful alpine meadows.
When To Visit The Wallowa Mountains
Recreation opportunities are available year round, although the most popular season is summer. While there are many winter activities available, the main tourist attractions in the area are only available in the warmer months.
How To Get To The Wallowa Mountains
The best way to get there is to take I-84 to the city of La Grande, OR. From there, get on OR-82 and head all the way to the town of Enterprise or on to Joseph. Wallowa Lake State Park and the Tramway are just a few miles past Joseph.
Things To Do In The Wallowa Mountains
Whether you’re looking for adventure or laid back enjoyment of beautiful scenery, the Wallowa Mountains are a great place to visit. Here are several things we would recommend!
Take a Ride on the Wallowa Lake Tramway
Probably the most famous attraction in the area, the Wallowa Lake Tramway is the steepest gondola in North America. While the tickets aren’t cheap, it is by far the best way to get some spectacular views. Not just of the Wallowa Mountains, but also of the Seven Devils and Hells Canyon out in Idaho. Keep in mind that the tramway is only open from sometime in May through September.
On the ride, you’ll spend 15 minutes on the gondola and when you arrive at the top, you will be at top of Mount Howard and an elevation of 8,150 feet, after having started your ride at 4,450 feet. You’ll have gone a distance of 3,700 vertical feet and 1.83 miles horizontally.
At the top, you can see some spectacular views of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. There are several great overlooks that require a short walk from the top of the gondola, including: The Royal Purple Overlook, The Summit Overlook, The Highlands Overlook and Seven Devils Overlook. If you were to hike them all, there are 2.5 miles of hiking trails.
There is even a Summit Grill at the top of the tramway that offers spectacular views from the outdoor seating area. Here you can get a drink or some food, look at the mountains and down into the valley, and watch the gondolas come and go.
Near the base of the gondola there are several other lodging and restaurant options as well as another RV park. The Matterhorn Village even offers mini-golf and an ice cream shop.
Explore Wallowa Lake State Park
This is where we stayed when we visited the area. Wallowa Lake State Park is a beautiful park with everything from full-hookup RV sites to tent and group camping. Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. We definitely recommend booking in advance as this is one of the most popular places to stay in the area.
Wallowa Lake State Park also has a day use area complete with picnic grounds, disc golf, a marina and swim beach. When we visited in the fall, the Kokanee Salmon were spawning and it was fascinating to watch the bright red fish in the river. We’d highly recommend coming in time to see this sometime if the timing works out for you. If you do, make sure to obey the signs and stay out of the river to not disturb the fish and their eggs.
Paddleboard or Kayak on Wallowa Lake
Wallowa Lake Marina is located on the south shore within the state park and offers motorized boat rentals as well as kayaks and paddleboards.
Another option is JO PADDLE which will deliver kayak or paddleboard rentals to either the south or north shore of the lake. On the north end of the lake lies Wallowa Lake Park which is run by the county and has no entrance fee. It’s another beautiful launching point for a boating adventure. JO PADDLE also offers tours and another unique experience: clear kayaks and paddleboards!
Peddle Down An Old Railroad Track
Speaking of unique adventures, Joseph Branch Railriders offers tours where you can peddle a 4 wheeled rail bike down the railways in the area. They offer several different tours of varying lengths in different parts of the Wallowa Valley.
We had booked a tour but unfortunately had to cancel our trip we had planned with them due to inclement weather. We will either have to return or find another similar experience elsewhere!
Explore The Town of Joseph
Only half a mile from the north shore of Wallowa Lake, the town of Joseph has a gorgeous downtown area lined with shops and restaurants. You have to drive through it either way if you are headed to the state park or tramway. One could easily spend an afternoon walking up and down main street, checking out the art galleries, or getting a bite to eat. There are also quite a few other options in town for lodging if you are looking for something more “in town.”
Go Backcountry Hiking
There are 7 trailheads within a short drive from Joseph. All of them offer day hikes or wilderness backpacking. The 3 closest ones are:
- Wallowa Lake Trailhead – just past the Tramway by the Little Alps day-use area. This is the most popular trailhead in the area and branches off into 3 trails. More information is available here.
- McCully Trailhead – Two options are available here. The first is to hike to the top of the Tramway and the second option takes you 5 miles to the McCully Basin at the northern edge of the wilderness boundary.
- Hurricane Creek Trailhead – This one is in the next valley to the west of Wallowa Lake. It is the second most popular trailhead in the area. This a launching point for a back country trip to the Lakes Basin or, more commonly, for a 5.7 mile round trip day hike to Slick Rock Creek.
See a Waterfall
A short walk from the Hurricane Creek Trailhead mentioned above, is Falls Creek Falls. these falls are approximately 50 feet tall. Further down the other trails are several more, but this is the easiest one to see in the area.
Wallowa Paragliding offers tandem flights in August and September. Did we say the tram was the best way to see the Wallowas? This has it beat for sure depending on how adventurous you are feeling!
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
The deepest river gorge in North America is just 45 miles from Joseph. Looking for a long scenic drive? This 213 mile loop has got you covered! Seriously though, it’s worth the hour and a half drive to see into the canyon. There are even several side trips off the main scenic byway if you want to see it all.
Where To Stay in the Wallowa Mountains
There are various options for where you can stay in the area. Since we came with our RV, we got a spot in the Wallowa Lake State Park. We’ll tell you about this and other options below.
Wallowa Lake State Park
The state park has a really nice campground. It is perfect for RVs, tents, or renting a Yurt. We recommend making your reservation a ways in advance. The campsite pictured above is actually C37.
Wallowa Lake Lodge And Cabins
Wallowa Lake Lodge is right outside the state park. While we didn’t stay there when we visited, it looks beautiful. It also has wifi for guests. That’s definitely something the state park doesn’t provide!
Other Lodging Options
There are a ton of other options in the area. The Matterhorn Village that we mentioned earlier has an RV park called Park At the River, the Wallowa Lake Resort has various vacation homes, and there are even more options in Joseph. If we were looking for lodging near Joseph, we would check out Barking Mad Farm or The Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfasts.
Where To Eat & Drink
There are lots of places in the area including:
- Summit House Grill at the top of the tramway
- Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, just 6 miles north of Joseph
- Embers Brewhouse in Joseph
- Camas Dining Room within Wallowa Lake Lodge – walkable from the State Park Campground
- Glacier Ridge Bar & Grill – Serves Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner right across the street from Wallowa Lake Lodge
- The Gold Room on main street in Joseph – Wood fired pizza rated 4.8/5 stars on Google
We hope this gives you several ideas to add to your list of amazing things to do in the area. Check out some of them and you’re sure to have a great time. Let us know if there’s anything else you would add to your list of things to do in the Wallowa Mountains!
Ready To Plan Your Trip To The Wallowa Mountains?
If you’re ready to plan your own trip, download the free Wallowa Mountains Trip Planner, with all the things to do, places to stay, and where to eat on one easy to reference page. You can print it out, or save it to your phone for when you’re out and about! It even has a link to this blog post and each item mentioned so you can get all the details on the go!
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If you’d like to read about our RV and other RV adventures, then check out some of our other posts :
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