The blue waters of Wallowa Lake and towering mountains are in the far reaching northeastern corner of Oregon. Of the “7 Wonders of Oregon,” is it probably the most remote, but oh so worth the drive to the “Alps of Oregon”!
To reach Wallowa Lake, you drive through the small, but scenic town of Joseph (we had lunch and did a little shopping here, but didn’t otherwise explore too much of the town). On the day we planned to arrive, we didn’t navigate our driving well (we drove into Baker City to go to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center which was way past the turnoff for Enterprise and Joseph), but we did end up getting to the lake with enough time to enjoy the beautifully hued sunset on the south side of the lake at the Wallowa Lake State Park.
We stayed at the Eagle’s View Inn & Suites hotel in Enterprise which was about 25 minutes from the lake. (There are not a whole lot of hotel options the Joseph area - the few extra minutes drive to Enterprise was definitely worth the savings, and even then, it was pricey by my usual goals (around $100/night) at $142 for 2 queen beds).
The next morning, we decided to get up very early to catch the sunrise on the lake. We were bundled up in sweaters and extra blankets because even though it was the end of August, it was still a bit chilly in the morning!
Take the Tramway
Later that morning, we headed out again to the lake to take the tramway up the mountains. The Wallowa Lake Tramway seasonally runs a gondola on a 3700 feet (elevation gain) trip up into the mountains (At the time of our visit in 2018, we paid $35/person for a day pass). Even though it was a little cool at the tramway base, by the time we got to the top, the sun was shining in full force and it was quite warm.
There are 2.5 miles of groomed trails at the tramway summit. They are pretty easy trails - some stairs and elevation gain, but nothing too difficult (I had a really bad headache the day we were here, so trust me that they are not too difficult. I’m not sure if the headache was from the elevation or just the stress of travel since I had recently flown in from Hawaii. And on that note: be sure to bring water to drink and sunscreen if your skin is sensitive since you’ll be that much closer to the sun).
We were told on a clear day you can see three different states (Oregon, Washington to the north, and Idaho to the east). We tried to figure out exactly what we were looking at, but in any case, you could see for miles and miles!
What to Do:
Enjoy the view
Mountains, mountains, and more mountains… but who could ask for a better view?
Swimming. kayaking, boating
The water was still pretty chilly, but the blue waters looked oh so inviting for all sorts of water activities
Take the gondola up the mountain (seasonal availability)
There are 2.5 miles of groomed trails to walk to see many different mountain views
Eat at the Summit Grill on Mount Howard
”The Northwest’s Highest Restaurant” has select menu options and a gorgeous deck to enjoy the views
Railriders - Joseph Branch
I’ve wanted to try one of these day adventures, so just making a note here that there is a branch here in Joseph. (Railriders has people-pedaled carts on decomissioned railroads - what a unique way to experience the countryside)
Camping and more
There is so much more to do and explore than we could possibly do in one day in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (which is 2.3 million acres in three different states!)
Things to Know:
Enterprise, Joseph, and Lake Wallowa are pretty remote (there are still stores, restaurants, etc), but as always when on a road trip in remote areas, keep an eye on your gas gauge
Keep an eye out for wildlife - there’s lots of acres and acres for them to roam!
From what I can tell, there is no day-use fee at the Wallowa Lake State Park (all though there are boat mooring and other fees)
The Wallowa Lake Tramway rates (2019 published rates) are $35/person for a single day
If you go up the gondola, be sure to bring some water to stay hydrated (and sunscreen if you burn easily!)
When going up the mountain, there are warnings that if it starts to storm when you are up there to head back to the gondola ASAP because of possible lighting and thunder