Set amid the mountains, wilderness and rivers of northeast Oregon, Wallowa County is a virtual haven for outdoor adventurers.
The area's peaks reach almost 10,000 feet elevation. Hundreds of trails worm through 1,400 miles of forests. Whether traversing inclines on foot, bike or horseback during the summer, you are bound to encounter one or two deer, sheep, bears, elks, goats, eagles, owls, hawks or ravens - not to mention tall pine trees and meadows filled with wildflowers.
Wallowa Lake and the rivers and streams that branch from it, meanwhile, make up a water sportsman's paradise. South of Joseph, Wallowa Lake State Park pokes into the base of rising mountains. Visitors camp, swim, fish and boat during the summer. With so many activities to choose from, trips to the county can be loaded with as many thrills as you can handle.
HikingWhether you wish to hike for a day or a week, single paths can take hikers through remarkable scenery in both the Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area (HCNRA) and the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area (ECWA). One of the most easily accessed trailheads is at the end of Powerhouse Road at Wallowa Lake State Park.
Another popular hike is down Trail No. 1803, the Chief Joseph Trail - a one-day hike. A third of a mile in, a scenic bridge extends over the Wallowa River and, later, you'll come upon the BC Creek waterfall.
It's always a good idea to stop in at the visitor's center on Highway 82 in Enterprise for the latest information on which trails are open and the latest updates on their conditions. While many trails are accessible for free, some cost $5 to hike. An annual season pass costs $35. For more information on the trailhead system, contact John Hollenbeak (541-426-5520), Trails Coordinator of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in Enterprise.
Horseback RidingHorseback rides are popular along trails in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Rent horses - or mules - and ride up 1,000 feet to a spectacular view of Wallowa Lake, or spend a day in the saddle exploring.
For longer, or more luxurious trips, contact Eagle Cap Pack Station or any of the outfitters and guides in the county. The Forest Service - and advertisements in this guide - offer plenty of options.
Outfitters offer a wide range of services and supply horses, mules, tents, stoves, food, and a cook. Contact Eagle Cap by calling 800-681-6222, or visit www.eaglecapwildernesspackstation.com.
Or, for a truly unique experience, on the trails of Wallowa County, contact Hurricane Creek Llama Trek (866-386-8735) and haul your camping gear on llamas. The company operates from June through September. Visit (www.hcltrek.com).
Bike RidesWallowa County has a variety of routes for pedal pushers of all levels, from easy bicycle rides around its charming towns to challenging off-road ventures in Hells Canyon.
Mountain-biking information is available at the Wallowa Mountain Visitors Center (541-426-5546). In addition to offering maps, center representatives can describe the trails, challenges and conditions. For example,16 miles out of Joseph, the Wagon Road Loop is lightly used and open in the spring, summer and fall. The 10-mile trail, of sections of which are dirt road, travels along the historic wagon road and offers beautiful scenery.
Whitewater RaftingExperience the turbulent and breath-taking rush on a jet boat or raft. From May through September, Hells Canyon Adventures leads tours down the white waters of the wild and scenic Snake River. Captains narrate the trips, explaining history and geology of the canyon. The wild ride is about 40 miles round-trip and concludes with an upstream return in U.S. Coast Guard-inspected jet boats. Hells Canyon Adventures is about 23 miles north of Oxbow, Ore., roughly 80 miles east of Baker City or, coming from Idaho, approximately 52 miles west of Cambridge. Call 1-800-422-3568 or visit (www.hellscanyonadventures.com).
ParasailingBesides the usual water sports, Wallowa Lake also offers the opportunity to parasail. With parachutes on their backs, riders are harnessed to a motorboat - and then taken around the water until they are elevated as high as 600 feet in the air. Parasailing tickets may be purchased at the Eagle Cap Wilderness Pack Station. Information is available online, at (www.eaglecapwildernesspackstation.com), or call the Pack Station at 1-800-681-6222.
GolfAt Alpine Meadows Golf Course in Enterprise, golfers tee off before a beautiful backdrop of the Wallowa Mountains. The course is a challenging mix of trees and bunkers. Trout Creek runs down the middle of the course and hooks around the seventh hole. Playing men's tees, the course covers 3,067 yards; for ladies, it's 2,558. Additional tees give those playing 18 holes a second set of challenges. The course has a full-service golf shop. You can rent carts and clubs, or to sit down for lunch at the snack bar. Ken and Sue Storm manage Alpine Meadows Golf Course. They don't reserve tee times, but it's a good idea to call ahead if large groups wish to play. Call 541-426-3246.
Winter SportsLocals can never get enough of the outdoors, and that rule does not change during winter. Add a layer of snow to the landscapes and mountains, and locals will find ways to be a part of the beauty outside - from straddling a roaring snowmobile to strapping on snowshoes in a pristine wilderness.
Ice SkatingWallowa Valley Community Ice Rink in Enterprise is open all winter to everyone for skating over the natural, un-refrigerated surface. The rink has a regular schedule, with two hours set aside each day for local hockey games or lessons. Weekday games, with stadium lights for a professional look, happen at night. The other 10 hours are open for anyone who'd like to lace up their skates and coast the ice, free of charge. Every year in early December, volunteers assemble the rink at Enterprise City Park, at the corner of Depot and Greenwood Street. Southbound drivers on Highway 82 should make a right at Southwest Second Street; two blocks down, they'll see the parking area on the right. Hockey skates, figure skates, hockey sticks, pads, helmets and any other equipment skaters might need is available to rent from Deb's Apparel, a clothing store on Main Street, two blocks from the rink.
The rink stays open until the spring thaw. For more information, call the hotline at 541-263-0715.
Ski FergiEach weekend, cars fill up the parking lot outside the Ferguson Ridge Ski Area for skiing and snowboarding. Called "Fergi" around the county, the locally operated slope is just a brief drive from downtown Joseph. Open weekends and holidays, Fergi is a favorite when school is out. The T-bar lift takes outdoor sportsmen as high as 640 feet, from which they can maneuver down eight downhill runs ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert. On paths that aren't cleared, snow enthusiasts improvise or "tree ski." Lift tickets, good for the whole day, are $15 for adults and $10 for kids under 16 years. There are also season passes available: $50 for individuals and $100 for the whole family. All the gear required for the day - skis, snowboards, poles, goggles, helmets -the café and lounge is a nice place to get some hot food, warm up and rest. February and March tend to supply the best snowfall, but April is the time for the annual Fergifest, where everybody enjoys free skiing, live music, a potluck meal and games. For more information, call Fergi's manager, Charlie Kissinger, at 541-398-1167.