Best of Oregon's northeast corner, Wallowas to Hells Canyon – OregonLive.com
The deepest river gorge on the continent, right next to the prettiest cluster of mountains in the West. What more could anyone want? Add to the mix Joseph, one of Oregon’s best small towns, and the northeast corner of the state is so appealing that it should be cast in bronze. Come to think of it, one of the foundries at Joseph probably has done just that.
Best horse pack: Let’s face it: Lugging a pack up a mountain trail is a lot of work — and you really want to bring a case of beer, a chaise lounge and a boombox, too. The solution? Let a mule do the lifting. Next time you’re bound for the Wallowas’ Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, hire an outfitter to carry you and your gear to “a drop camp” at Ice Lake. They bring you in, drop you off, then come back a few days later to pick up you and your empties.
Best wilderness gateway: You can’t afford to hire a mule, but really want to see the heart of the “Little Switzerland of America.” And you don’t much like the 350 cars parked at the Wallowa Lake trailhead, either. So what’s the best way to get deep into the Wallowas? Drive south to the lightly used Summit Point trailhead near Halfway. It starts at 6,500 feet in elevation, a 2,000-foot head start on trails from Wallowa Lake. In a jiff you’ll be camped at Crater Lake (not the famous one, though).
Best sunrise view: The sun rises first in Oregon on the rim of Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest river gorge. Because of this easterly location, daylight comes a half-hour earlier at Hat Point than in Portland. Late sleepers in western Oregon may rejoice in this knowledge, but they also would be missing a stunning view. As long as you’re making the steep but passenger car-friendly drive to Hat Point to see the sunrise, you may as well gaze 5,400 feet down to the Snake River, too.
Best mountain trio: Every Oregonian should reach a mountain’s summit at least once in a lifetime. Go ahead, bag one by riding the Wallowa Lake Tramway, 3,700 feet up to the summit of Mount Howard. But you don’t need to be content with just one. From there, hike south on a ridge over East and Hidden peaks to Aneroid Mountain, fourth highest in the Wallowas at 9,702 feet. To get home, drop down to the East Fork trail, turn right and hoof it to the bottom of the tram.
Best accessible fishing: Once in a while, the federal government gets something right. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest staff should turn around for a pat on the back. The forest’s Powder River Recreation Area, outside Baker City, is a superb wheelchair fishing area, with two miles of paved trail and numerous secluded fishing spots. The trout are hungry, too.
Best trail ruts: It’s just too easy getting to Oregon these days. Board a jet in Kansas City . . . touch down in Portland four hours later. Barely a century and a half ago, pioneers left Missouri in April and were lucky to arrive in Oregon by October. For a reminder of this incredible migration, join the Oregon Trail crowds at Baker City, then head to Echo on the Umatilla River near Pendleton. The quiet little town is justly proud of its one mile of ruts at Echo Meadows, plus the related historical exhibits in Fort Henrietta Park.
The best of Oregon schedule:
Saturday, Sept. 12: Introduction for the best of the Oregon outdoors.
Sunday, Sept. 13: Best of the Willamette Valley.
Monday, Sept. 14: Best of the northern and central Oregon coast.
Tuesday, Sept. 15: Best of southern Oregon (with a cameo appearance by Crater Lake)
Wednesday, Sept. 16: Best of Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge.
Thursday, Sept. 17: Best of the central Oregon Cascades.
Friday, Sept. 18: Best of Oregon’s High Desert.
Saturday, Sept. 19: Best of southeast Oregon’s Outback.
Sunday, Sept. 20: Best of northeast Oregon.
See you back live on Wednesday, Sept. 23.
— Terry Richard