The Wallowa Mountains are an absolute gem! Last year, we saw a mention of the Wallowa Mountains in an outdoors magazine that we get in the mail and were so surprised that we had never heard of them before. We saw pictures and couldn’t believe that northeast Oregon could have such gorgeous mountains, so we decided to take the leap and planned to spend 5 days in the Wallowa Mountains. We are so glad that we did! The wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains is absolutely gorgeous and I hope you too are able to visit!
About the Wallowa Mountains
The Wallowa Mountains are referred to as the “Alps of Oregon.” Various rivers surround the bounds of the Wallowa Mountains, which seemingly rise out of flat grasslands. Glaciers shaped the area in and around the Wallowa Mountains, although there are no longer glaciers present. The Wallowa Mountains were first inhabited by the Nez Perce.
How to Get to the Wallowa Mountains
Car is definitely the best way to get to the Wallowa Mountains. If you are flying, the best option would be to fly to a larger city nearby and rent a car. The closest larger cities with airports are Portland, Boise, and Spokane. If you’re renting a car, I recommend using Booking.com as it is great for renting cars and giving you the best prices. We use Booking.com every time we rent a car.
Portland, Oregon to the Wallowa Mountains: 330 miles, 5.5 hours
Boise, Idaho to the Wallowa Mountains: 240 miles, 4 hours
Spokane, Washington to the Wallowa Mountains: 200 miles, 4 hours
Places to Stay around the Wallowa Mountains
Camping is definitely the cheapest way to stay near the Wallowa Mountains. Lucky for you, there are several camping options in the area.
If you are hiking any of the long hikes in the Eagle Cap Wilderness or Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, you can backcountry camp throughout the area.
Wallowa Lake State Park
Wallowa Lake State Park has a large campground available with various amenities. We stayed one night at the Wallowa Lake State Park campground and enjoyed our time. The campsites are pretty small and close together. Most of the people at this campground have RV’s. If you are tent camping (like we were), definitely try to get one of the spots along the forest that are designated more as tent spots. These spots are a little bigger and slightly more private, so definitely preferable if you are camping.
The bathrooms and showers are clean and nice. They also have nice accessible family bathrooms for those with disabilities or small children that might need help.
Little Alps Day Use Area
The Little Alps Day Use Area is NOT on Google Maps, but is located beside the parking area for the Wallowa Lake Trailhead beside the Wallowa Falls Hydroelectric Plant. There are four first-come, first-serve campsites here that you can pay for with cash and an envelope. They are not super great camping spots, but would be okay if the campground Wallowa Lake State Park is full.
Wallowa Lake Lodge
The Wallowa Lake Lodge is the classic place to stay on the south shore of Wallowa Lake. It is an old historic lodge that was built in 1923 and has drawn visitors to the area for almost 100 years. We stayed here 2 nights and loved the cozy vibes. It is little pricey for the area, but was a nice splurge stay for us. In the summer, they host events at the lodge and have a delicious restaurant. To book a stay at the Wallowa Lake Lodge, you can book on their website.
Hotels in Joseph, Oregon and Enterprise, Oregon
There are a wide variety of hotels and motels in Joseph and Enterprise. We stayed at the Wilderness Inn in Enterprise which is an older motel, but clean and had fast wifi. There are several options in both towns. We use Booking.com to find the best hotels when we travel because they show the lowest prices and often have free cancellation for many properties.
Things to Do in the Wallowa Mountains
Joseph, Oregon is the closest town to Wallowa Lake. It is a super cute town and has many things to do. There are many great restaurants and places to shop in Joseph. Most days we came to Joseph to grab a bite to eat or to go shopping. The town is filled with huge bronze statues that you can see by walking along the main street.
Our absolute favorite place to stop in Joseph was Arrowhead Chocolates which has some of the most delicious chocolates we have ever tasted. Their homemade salted caramel mocha was one of the best coffee drinks I have ever had. We came to Arrowhead Chocolates 4 times during our short stay.
A good ice cream place is the Ice Cream Station which is attached to the store Mad Mary’s.
There are also nice boutiques and shops in Joseph. My favorite store we stopped at was beecrowbee which has a lot of natural products that smell amazing and other home items. I absolutely love the soap and lotion I bought there. Moonlight Graphics was another nice store that has gear with unique Oregon and Wallowa designs. Walking along the main street will bring you along most of the main shops in town.
Wallowa County Park
Wallowa County Park is located at the northernmost point of the lake close to Joseph. There is a boat ramp and beach here. The area is free to use. One of the perks of visiting the lake from this side is that you have great views of the lake and the mountains at the same time. With the direction the sun sets, Wallowa County Park is definitely one of the best places to watch the sunset in the area. On a good night, the sky lights up bright pink behind the mountains, casting an orange hue on the white caps of the mountains.
There are picnic tables along the beach and also a swimming area (although the water was quite cold even in July!). You can also launch kayaks and paddleboards from here if you have one on your trip. We launched our inflatable kayak here without any issues. Wallowa County Park was one of our favorite places around Wallowa Lake and we came here most evenings.
Wallowa Lake State Park
The Wallowa Lake State Park is located at the southernmost point of the Wallowa Lake. There is a boat ramp and beach here. It also has a campground and is a good starting point for various trails in the area. There are various picnic areas along the lakeside in the state park. Parking at Wallowa Lake State Park was free during the day when we visited.
If you are interested in swimming, the beach has a designated swimming area.
If you are interested in watersports, there is a kayak put-in area and also kayak rentals if you do not have a kayak with you. We are not really into fishing, but we saw many people fishing on this side of the lake and also saw some pretty large fish swimming around our kayak during our short time in the water.
As Wallowa Lake State Park and Wallowa County Park are both around Wallowa Lake but in different places, I would say there are pros and cons to each. Wallowa Lake State Park has more facilities and feels more “nature-y.” Wallowa County Park has a better beach and views, even though it is smaller overall.
East Moraine Community Forest
East Moraine Community Forest is an area that was privately owned until 2020 and recently opened to the public. A “moraine” is created by a glacier when it passes through the area and this one makes up the eastern side of Wallowa Lake. You can hike to the top of the moraine by starting from the West Side Trailhead.
To get to the West Side Trailhead of the East Moraine Community Forest, drive south along the eastern side of Wallowa Lake and there will be a decent-sized pull-off on the left side of the road. There is a small sign that says “East Moraine Community Forest, West Side Trailhead.” You can park here and start the only trail that begins from there, heading up the moraine.
The West Side Trail will take you to the top of the moraine where there are also other trails if you are interested in walking further. From the top of the moraine, you can see a great view of the lake with the Wallowa Mountains in the background. However, my favorite part of the entire hike was walking through fields abundant with wildflowers of all different colors. We hiked this trail at the end of June and it was definitely peak wildflower season in this area.
You can walk as little or much once you reach the top of the moraine as there are various trails in all different directions. The trail map for the East Moraine Community Forest can be found at the trailhead before you begin your hike.
Wallowa Lake Tramway
Wallowa Lake Tramway is a great way to get awesome views of the Wallowa Mountains without much work or hiking. It makes for a great half-day or full-day excursion. There are some amazing views of the Wallowa Mountains and short hiking trails at the top. Read my full post on how to visit the Wallowa Lake Tramway.
Explore Nez Perce History
There is a great deal of important history surrounding the Wallowa Mountains and Joseph area. The land in this area is very important to the Nez Perce Tribe and they lived in the area for many years.
Old Chief Joseph Gravesite
Old Chief Joseph Gravesite is located right outside Joseph and is part of the Nez Perce National Historical Park.
Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site
The Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site is an area that has walking trails and beautiful views of the Wallowa Mountains, all while reminding that this land is the sacred to the Nez Perce Tribe. Iwetemlaykin means “at the edge of the lake” and is the Nez Perce name for the surrounding area.
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is a gorgeous national forest with many different ways to enjoy it. The Eagle Cap Wilderness (discussed below) is within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. There are some short hikes into the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that give you a small taste of what this large national forest has to offer.
BC Creek Falls
BC Creek Falls trail is around 2 miles long and starts from the Little Alps Picnic Area. The hike weaves through the forest, crosses a river on a wooden bridge and snakes up the side of the mountain for a short bit. The BC Creek Falls is much larger than I was expecting, with a deafening roar filling your ears anywhere within its view. There is a wooden bridge crossing BC Creek so that you can see the waterfall from multiple angles. It is worth the short hike to reach the falls. After you see the falls, you can return back on the same trail.
Chief Joseph Mountain
We did not get the opportunity to hike to the top of Chief Joseph Mountain, but if we visit this area again, we would love to make it to the summit. You can see Chief Joseph Mountain from Wallowa Lake. There is a lot of elevation gain on the trail, but there are supposed to be gorgeous views of the area from the top.
Eagle Cap Wilderness
Eagle Cap Wilderness is within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and has some amazing secluded nature. Most of the trails into the Eagle Cap Wilderness are very long and require overnight backpacking to complete the trail. We hiked the Ice Lakes Trail which is one of the few long distance trails that can be completed in a day and we completely recommend it if you’re able! It is an absolutely gorgeous trail with amazing views along the way. If you’re interested in learning more about the Eagle Cap Wilderness or the Ice Lakes Trail, check out my blog post about Eagle Cap Wilderness.
4 Day Itinerary
Wallowa Tramway in the morning, have lunch at the summit of Mount Howard (at the top of the Wallowa Tramway), spend the late afternoon and evening in Joseph shopping and eating chocolate at Arrowhead Chocolates
Hike in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (and the Eagle Cap Wilderness if you’re up for it!), have dinner at the Wallowa Lake Lodge
In the morning hike in the East Moraine Community Forest to the top of the glacier moraine, in the afternoon rent a kayak and kayak at Wallowa Lake State Park
In the morning hike to BC Creek Falls or explore local Nez Perce History, in the afternoon relax on the beach or go kayaking from Wallowa County Park
Tips for Visiting the Wallowa Mountains
There is limited phone service on the south side of the lake, so have maps and information downloaded
In Joseph, you will have cell phone service, however on the other side of Wallowa Lake (where the Wallowa Tramway and Wallowa State Park is), there is not service. If you plan on hiking in the area or even just want to find restaurants around, you should download the Google Map of the area for offline use or download your trails on AllTrails.
The weather changes rapidly so have appropriate clothing
If you are hiking up into the Eagle Cap Wilderness or taking the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard, be prepared for significantly different weather. The weather in the mountains, especially as you gain altitude can be very volatile and can be much colder than you may expect. Wear layers and have warm and waterproof clothes in case the weather turns on you.
I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to the Wallowa Mountains! Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments!
Thanks for reading!