Wallowa Lake Tramway is an easy way for anyone and everyone to see beautiful views of the Wallowa Mountains. From the valley, you cannot see many of the mountain peaks, but the view from the top of tramway on Mount Howard’s summit is completely breathtaking and unexpected. We almost did not take the Wallowa Lake Tramway, but are so glad that we did and hope you do too if in the area!
About the Wallowa Lake Tramway
The Wallowa Lake Tramway takes visitors to the top of Mount Howard in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. From the top, you can see views of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. It is the steepest gondola tramway in the United States. You will gain over 3,700 feet of elevation in a short ride that is around 15 minutes long.
Where is the Wallowa Lake Tramway?
The Wallowa Tramway is located close to Joseph, Oregon at the base of the Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Lake. We used Google Maps to navigate us to “Wallowa Lake Tramway” and had no issues. There is a gravel parking lot next to the ticketing and boarding area for the tramway.
Distance from Boise, Idaho to Wallowa Lake Tramway: 250 miles, 4.25 hours
Distance from Portland, Oregon to Wallowa Lake Tramway: 340 miles, 6 hours
Distance from Spokane, Washington to Wallowa Lake Tramway: 200 miles, 4 hours
How to Ride the Wallowa Lake Tramway
The tramway is open from May to October. The hours the tramway runs depends on the time in the season. July through early September have the longest hours while May, June, and October have shorter operating times. Be sure to check their website for the latest hours and operating times.
To ride the Wallowa Lake Tramway, you will need to purchase a ticket, which can be purchased in advance online or at the ticket booth beside the parking lot. We purchased the ticket from the ticket booth, but wished we had purchased online since purchasing online allows you to bypass the ticketing line (which becomes quite long in the summer months!).
As of 2022, ticket prices for adults are $40, with various discounts for seniors, military, and students. As folks who like to travel cheap, we were unsure if it would be worth the $40 per person, but we agreed that it was definitely worth it!
Once your ticket is purchased, you can wait in line to board the tramway. An employee will assist your party in boarding the tramway. Note that each tramway car can fit 4 people, so if your party is bigger, you will have to split your group up.
Things to do at the top of Mount Howard from the Wallowa Lake Tramway
Walk to Each of the Viewpoints
The main thing to do at the top of Mount Howard once you get off the tramway is the walk around to the various viewpoints around the summit. If you walk the full loop around the summit, it is around 2.5 miles. The trails to the north, which have the views of the valley and Seven Devils mountains, are much muddier and snowier than the more popular short northern trail to the Royal Purple and Summit Overlook.
If you only want to visit a few of the overlooks rather than the 2.5 mile loop, definitely prioritize the Royal Purple Overlook and the Summit Overlook. These two overlooks are the closest to the lift terminal and by far have the best mountain views.
Royal Purple Overlook
The Royal Purple Overlook has great views of the Wallowa Mountains. There are many chipmunks around the main viewpoint here, waiting for any snacks that you or a small child may drop. When we visited there were 3 chipmunks sitting on a kid’s lap while he ate peanuts. However, note it is advised that visitors do not feed any of the animals at the summit (for many reasons).
Summit Overlook has great views of the Wallowa Mountains, but also a closer view of East Peak. It is a short distance from the Royal Purple Overlook.
If you continue on the trail, you will reach the Highlands Overlook. The Highlands Overlook looks to the east. If you’re wanting to head back to the tramway or restaurant, here you can take a trail that cuts back. If you’re wanting to walk the full loop around, continue on the main trail.
Snake River and View of Seven Devils
The distance from the Highlands Overlook to the view of the Seven Devils is about 0.75 miles. On a clear day, you can see the Seven Devils Mountains in the distance. Continue along the trail for another 0.75 miles to the last overlook.
The Valley Overlook looks to the north and the east. You can see the mountains turn into a very flat valley. On a clear day, you can see to Washington. From here, paragliders can launch and paraglide to the lake below. Continue on the trail to reach the lift terminal and restaurant.
Eat at the restaurant or bring a picnic
Since it is likely you will spend a few hours at the top, it is a good idea to bring a picnic, snack, or be prepared to grab something at the restaurant at the top. We brought a picnic lunch and sat on a rock at the Summit Overlook, which had the perfect view for lunch.
The restaurant is another great option if you would prefer to have a meal there. The restaurant is at the lift terminal where you will board and deboard the tramway. Tables with umbrellas are outside and it has typical grill food and drinks. It is the tallest restaurant in Oregon.
Hike a Longer Trail
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, there is the possibility to summit East Peak or walk even further to Aneroid Mountain. There is not a ton of information about hiking to East Peak, but Rachel Takes a Hike describes her hike there on her blog. The trail to Aneroid Mountain is around 10 miles round trip once getting off the tram. We were unable to hike either of these longer trails because it was too early in the season and there was too much snow. Keep in mind that both of these hikes will likely have snowy, muddy conditions into July, so be aware of that when planning your hike!
Tips for visiting the Wallowa Lake Tramway
Bring water and snacks
At the top of Mount Howard, the only place to purchase any food or drinks is at the restaurant beside the lift terminal. It’s not a bad idea to bring a snack with you, but definitely bring water. Even if the temperature is cool, the sun is very strong at higher elevations and can dehydrate you quickly.
The tramway is known to get crowded, especially on weekends and holidays. We visited on a weekday in June, which is considered their early season, and even though we arrived at their opening time, there was a line of 30 people in front of us at the ticket booth. I am not sure if they ever sell out of tickets, but it would be worth it to either arrive early and/or buy your tickets online to avoid all of the lines.
Be aware of weather
The weather can change rapidly at the top of Mount Howard (or any mountain for that matter). While the weather could be perfect down at the bottom in the valley, at the top it could be cold, windy, and rainy. When we visited, it was very hot in the valley (think shorts, sandals, and t-shirt), but at the top I wore my heavy boots and coat and was still cold! Bring a jacket, even in the middle of the summer.
Wear good footwear
Wearing good footwear is always important, but definitely think about your shoe choice before ascending. At the top there is snow in July and even when the snow has melted, there is mud from all the melted snow.
Things to do Nearby Wallowa Lake Tramway
Visit Joseph, Oregon
Joseph, Oregon is the closest main town to the Wallowa Lake Tramway. There are so many cute shops and things to do in Joseph. Check out my blog post about Joseph for more information about Joseph, Oregon and how to have the best time visiting.
Visit Wallowa Lake State Park
Wallowa Lake State Park is practically right beside the tramway boarding area in the valley. At Wallowa Lake State Park, you can hike, camp, and of course enjoy the lake. Read my blog post about Wallowa Lake for more information about Wallowa Lake State Park.
Hike in Eagle Cap Wilderness
Eagle Cap Wilderness is a wilderness area located within the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. While the summit of Mount Howard is in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Eagle Cap Wilderness is farther into the national forest. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece of wilderness that is worth seeing. Read my blog post about hiking to Ice Lake for more information on Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post! Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments down below!