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Oregon: Wallowa Lake and Joseph

We have lived in Oregon for over 10-years and had never explored much of the eastern side of the State, particularly the northeast. We had heard good things about the small towns of Joseph and Enterprise, which sounded like very interesting communities, and about the amazing Wallowa Mountains with 15 peaks over 9000-feet. So, off we set for a few days to explore the area and find out whether the stories of how wonderful this area is were true.

Below are eight ideas, most based on our own experiences, of things to do if you plan to visit Joseph, Enterprise and the Wallowas.

1. TAKE A TRIP ON THE JOSEPH BRANCH RAILRIDERS

Our number one thing to do in Joseph was to go on a journey along the disused railway tracks on a Railrider which is a 4 wheeled railbike. It is designed to be lightweight, comfortable, and easy to operate. They even have electric-assist versions to make the ride more accessible to all.

We decided to take the 2-hour roundtrip from Joseph to Enterprise. There are other options, for shorter and longer trips, for more information on these check the Railriders website 

The route takes you through stunning countryside with the backdrop of the spectacular Wallowa mountains. The track doesn’t have much of a gradient, so we didn’t have to work too hard. These days they have fitted electric-assist to make it even easier! We loved every minute of the adventure and highly recommend this if you are visiting Joseph.

About to start our Railrider adventure from Joseph, Oregon to Enterprise
The railroad ahead on our 2-hour roundtrip journey
On our way through the stunning Wallowa Valley countryside

2. TAKE A HIKE IN THE EAGLE CAP WILDERNESS

Home to 17 peaks that eclipse 9,000 ft, the Wallowa Mountains offer Oregon’s best backpacking experience. The trailhead near Wallowa Lake State Park is a principal gateway into the sprawling Eagle Cap Wilderness.

A handful of hikes depart from the trailhead near Wallowa Lake. Each provides access to alpine wonders, jewel-like lakes, and granite mountainsides.
Most hikes in the Wallowas are long and relatively strenuous. Popular routes include the 13-mile Aneroid Lake Trail, the 16-mile Ice Lake Trail, and the 24-mile Wallowa River Loop.

3. STARE DOWN INTO HELL’ CANYON

We travelled east through Oregon toward the border with Idaho. This boundary is set by the Snake River which starts its journey in Wyoming at Jackson Lake and ends when it joins the mighty Columbia River in Washington State. At this point, where we met the Snake River is the start of Hells Canyon. This is the deepest river gorge in North America, at a mile deep and it is also 10-miles wide. It is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Before reaching the Snake River we turn north on a seasonal road (it is cut-off with snow during the winters and is not ploughed). Up we go into the mountains through thick coniferous forests. 20 miles along this road is a turn-off to a viewpoint of Hells Canyon. The view is spectacular with panoramic views across the canyon, but truth be told it is not the Grand Canyon and disappointingly you cannot stare a mile down into the gorge and see the Snake River rumbling and tumbling below. So, time to move on and get to our campsite at Wallowa before night sets in.

Above Hells Canyon - not much to see from here!
Plenty of moss on the trees and rocks ... they get a lot of rain & snow here!

4. GET OUT ON LAKE WALLOWA

Although neither of us had the greatest night sleep it was lovely to wake up in such a beautiful place. Our site is perfect – it is large and on the outer edge of the park, so we back onto a lovely wooded area complete with a bubbling brook. After breakfast, we decided to break out the kayaks and take a turn out on the lake. This was a mid-week morning and still early so we had the lake more or less to ourselves. We paddled up and gazed with curiosity at the homes that line the banks of Wallowa Lake. As we turned back towards home we got to see the stunning backdrop to the lake, the Wallowa Mountains. At this time of the year, the snow has receded but they nonetheless looked spectacular, making this a very special place.

Karen out on a kayak on Wallowa Lake
The beautifual Wallowa Lake in Eastern Oregon

We had brought our own kayaks to Joseph, but in the State Park, there is a marina where can you not only buy provisions and get a cup of coffee, you can also rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, paddleboats, pontoon boats and powerboats! 

You can hire paddle boards and kayak at Wallowa Lake

5. SPEND SOME TIME IN JOSEPH

We had not finished our exertions for the day since we had decided to head into Joseph, some 6 miles away, on our mountain bikes. The City of Joseph is not huge but it is very quaint, especially the main street which has a Western theme. The town has fostered a community of artists who work in bronze and there are several examples of their work lining the streets of Joseph.

There are a few small stores selling knick-knacks of various kinds catering to the tourists. Fueled by a chocolate ice cream float from the chocolatier we spend a merry hour or so perusing the shelves of these stores.

6.  TAKE THE TRAMWAY TO THE TOP OF MOUNT HOWARD

Enjoy a breathtaking gondola ride to the summit of Mt. Howard with panoramic views above the Wallowa Lake Village and the blue waters of Wallowa Lake. The tram is the steepest four-person gondola in North America, ending at the 8,256-foot (2,516 m) peak of Mount Howard.

The Wallowa Valley Overlook offers a breathtaking view of the valley where Chief Joseph and his people spent their summers. The communities of Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine and Wallowa are visible.

At the top, there is a restaurant and grill and over 2-miles of walking trails with spectacular views.

7. CHECK OUT THE MEMORIAL TO CHIEF JOSEPH

On our cycle back to the State Park, we decided to stop at the memorial to Chief Joseph the Elder, whose son the city is named after. Originally named Silver Lake and Lake City, the city formally renamed itself 136 years ago in 1880 after Chief Joseph’s son, also called Joseph, of the Nez Perce people.

The younger Chief Joseph was a real hero of his people. He led his band during the most tumultuous period in their contemporary history when they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley by the United States federal government and forced to move northeast, onto the significantly reduced reservation in Lapwai, Idaho Territory

.A series of events that culminated in episodes of violence led those Nez Perce who resisted removal, including Joseph’s band and an allied band of the Palouse tribe, to take flight, to attempt to reach political asylum, ultimately with the Lakota led by Sitting Bull, who had sought refuge in Canada.

In 1877 they were pursued eastward by the U.S. Army in what became known as the Nez Perce war.  For 1,170-miles, in a fighting retreat, the Nez Perce skillfully fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity led to widespread admiration among their military adversaries and the American public.

8. TRY THE AMAZING BREWS AT TERMINAL GRAVITY

There is a lot to do in the Joseph and Enterprise area, so after all that exertion you will want to spend some time with your feet up and enjoy a cool beverage. One really fun place to try is Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. They of course have a brewpub with a chill beer garden. We highly recommend making a trip to terminal gravity and trying their beers. They do flights of the beers so you can sample before choosing which pint to drink!

Best time to visit Joseph

The continental location and elevation of Joseph mean that it gets cold. Temperatures in Summer are typically mild with cool-to-cold nights. Winter is cold.

The best time to visit is the middle of Summer. The weather is perfect, and July 4th brings a big celebration to town and Wallowa Lake. Late-Spring to early-Fall are decent times, depending how well you handle the cold temperatures.

Where to stay near Joseph

1. BRONZE ANTLER BED & BREAKFAST

The friendly & knowledgeable hosts at Bronze Antler Bed And Breakfast, Joseph, offer you a very warm welcome and provide great value, 5-star accommodation with four well-appointed rooms starting from $32.00pp a night*, including nearby parking, plus free WiFi all rooms.

Delightful, award-winning European style bed & breakfast located in Joseph, Oregon–an artist community next to Wallowa Lake, the Eagle Cap Wildnerness area, and on the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Byway. Art galleries, unusual shops, museums and restaurants are walking distance.

2. KOKANEE INN

The Kokanee Inn offers eclectic and modern bed and breakfast accommodations in the heart of beautiful Joseph, Oregon. In our lovely alpine town, you’ll find unparalleled opportunities for outdoor adventure, arts, shopping, and dining. The unbeatable location just one mile from Wallowa Lake gives guests easy access to the region’s countless natural wonders. Whether you come to hike in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, fish in Wallowa Lake, or simply relax in the gorgeous Eastern Oregon wilderness, the Kokanee Inn is an excellent base in Joseph.

3. BARKING MAD FARM B&B

Explore one of Oregon’s most beautiful landscapes in a deluxe bed and breakfast that offers a full list of modern amenities. Barking Mad Farm B&B combines the quiet serenity of the gorgeous Wallowa Mountains with a fantastic lodging experience in a restored farmhouse that gives you the best of outdoor wonder and indoor comfort. Their pet-friendly bed and breakfast in NE Oregon includes accommodations for every vacation, from a brief weekend retreat to a romantic trip to the mountains to a base for outdoor recreational adventures.

Barking Mad Farm B&B is nestled on the edge of the Wallowa Mountains, named one of Travel Oregon’s Seven Natural Wonders of Oregon. With three spacious suites to choose from and a variety of amenities, there is something to fit every budget and need. Bring your dog along as we have acres of open land including a private “dog park” just for your four-legged travel companions

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