• Eagle Cap, at an elevation 9577' isn't the tallest in the area, but one look explains why it became the namesake (that and it's in the middle).
  • As you crest the top of Hurricane Trail into the Lakes Basin, a fantastic view of the Matterhorn becomes the perfect backdrop for a photograph of high adventure.
  • The easy way to sit the Matterhorn is from the back side via Ice Lake. Getting to Ice Lake, now that's the hard part!
  • The stillness of Ice Lake creates a perfect mirror reflrction of the route up the back side to the Matterhorn.
  • Aneroid Lake is a vigorous climb, 6.7 miles up the East Fork Trail. Great fishing and camping are just side benefits to the extraordinary beauty of this lake.
  • Beyond Aneroid, up through a postcard-like valley and into the alpine zone lays Tenderfoot Pass with routes down into the Lakes Basin and the Imnaha.
  • Oregon's Largest Wilderness holds many opportunities to get your 'Natural High.'
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Eagle Cap Wilderness

The Eagle Cap Wilderness, at 361,446 acres (556 sq miles) is Oregon's largest. Within these white salt-and-pepper granite mountains you'll find approximately 534 miles of developed trails and over 50 lakes to explore, including Legore at an elevation of 8,880 feet- Oregon's highest.

Prior to the coming of the white man, this was all part of the homeland of the Niimipu (Nez Perce). They used this area primarily in the summer months for grazing their horses, hunting, fishing and the gathering of huckleberries and other plants. Most of the trails in use today were long established by the Nez Perce, although the Forest Service made some switchbacks in certain places to deal with the steepness.

The ecosystems vary from cool, mixed fir & pine forests, to high alpine meadows. Almost everywhere you travel you'll plenty of cold, clear water. Classic glacial cirque lakes are common with many that have both stocked and natural populations of Eastern Brook and Rainbow Trout. Elevations range from about 3,000 feet to 9845 feet (Sacajawea Peak) and there are 31 other summits exceeding 8,000 feet. The most popular area within the Eagle Cap is the Lakes Basin Management Area which caries some additional restrictions due to its popularity.

Trails are easy to difficult and most are rocky. Horses should be freshly shod and a temporary boot/shoe should always be part of your gear.

Wildlife includes Mule Deer, Elk, Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep, Pine Squirrel, Pica, Pine Martin, Mink, Beaver and River Otter. There are also Black Bear, Cougar, Coyotes, Red Fox and Wolves- though the chances of an encounter are rare and there is no record of any attacks in this area from any of the top predators.

While many are content to admire the beauty of these mountains from the outside, entering the core opens up an experience that totally upends the notion that 'beauty is only skin-deep.' Your appreciation of this National Treasure increases exponentially with every effort you make to explore farther into it.

See the USDA Forest Service, Eagle Cap page for more detailed information or visit our hiking page for trail information.

Hiking Around Joseph

iwetemlaykin trail knights pond

The Joseph area has access to literally hundreds of miles of trails for hikers and trail runners to explore and exercise on. In the Eagle Cap Wilderness you’ll find that most trails are rocky and moderately difficult and the effect of elevation on those used to living closer to sea level also comes into play. The fit will find a stunning mix of visual surprises in an area that’s hard to completely cover in a lifetime.

Casual hikers can find many miles of easier trails that offer exceptional scenic experiences as well. Examples would be: Iwetemlaykin, Hurricane Creek and trail to BC Falls Wallowa Lake. Also, shortcutting to into the Alpine Zone is just a Tram ride away.

If you’re trying to ease your accent to one of the many peaks or lakes, consider a trailhead that starts at a higher elevation to begin with- this can cut more than 1000 feet off your climb.

When venturing into the more remote areas please be aware that even basic services are scarce and you'll find cell coverage spotty at best. Plan to have plenty of gas and water for your trip!

Speeds on USFS gravel roads are slow, less than 25mph. The gravel roads can be harsh on soft/worn tires so do check your spare and plan extra time to your destination.

Links below will take you to more information. Use the 'See and Do Map' for driving instructions.

Joseph Area Trail Access (closest to farthest):
  • Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site
    • One Mile from Joseph (natural, not wilderness)
    • El: 4400'
    • Improved- Smooth trails - Great for Runners
    • Good Parking
    • Features Short Nature Trail, Pond, Meadows, Wildlife
    • No Pass Required
  • Hurricane Creek Trailhead:
    • 13 Miles from Joseph
    • El: 5050'
    • Very Narrow Road (Blind Corners... GO SLOW)
    • Good Parking
    • Features Goat Meadows, Slick Rock, Lakes Basin
    • NW Forest Pass Required*
  • Wallowa Lake Trailhead:
    • 7 Miles from Joseph
    • El: 4675'
    • Improved
    • Good Parking
    • Features Three Major Trails, Views, Streams Waterfalls, Lakes
    • No Pass required
  • McCully Trailhead:
    • 11 Miles from Joseph
    • El: 5763'
    • Narrow Road, Paved/Gravel Road
    • OK Parking
    • Features Two Trails, Back-Route up Mt. Howard and the trail to the beautiful McCully Basin
    • NW Forest Pass Required*
  • Tenderfoot Trailhead
    • 24 Miles from Joseph
    • El 6514'
    • Rustic
    • Paved/Narrow Gravel Road
    • Good Parking
    • Features Bonny Lakes, Tenderfoot Pass, Dollar Ridge (fossilised seashells) and beyond
    • No Pass Required
  • Maxwell Lake Trailhead:
    • 33 Miles from Joseph
    • El: 5450'
    • Improved
    • Long Paved/Gravel Road
    • Good Parking
    • Features Maxwell Lake
    • NW Forest Pass Required*
  • Two Pan Trailhead:
    • 34 Miles from Joseph
    • El: 5590'
    • Improved
    • Long Paved/Gravel Road
    • Good Parking
    • Features easiest access to Lakes Basin
    • NW Forest Pass Required*

* NW Forest Day-Passes are available at most trailheads by self-issue.

East Fork Trail (Wallowa Lake Trailhead)

east fork trail aneroid roger lakes

This steep trail accesses the main destinations of Aneroid Lake and Tenderfoot Pass. Its popularity is somewhat limited because of its arduous nature, making it the perfect trail for the fit and those who enjoy a little extra tranquility.

Access it from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead by going left (follow the sign) up the old service road. After a waterfall and what seems like dozens of switchbacks you’ll come upon the pond that powers the hydro station below. Whew… you’ve made it two miles and you still aren’t actually in designated wilderness. From there on out the journey seems less severe, although you are still quickly climbing until you reach an area of big rocks that many stop at for a rest. Some consider this halfway, but you are now at the 4 mile mark and from here on out things are a little more level- not that it would matter: the scenery is breathtaking and it is full of surprises around almost every corner.

You’ll finally pass a little shallow pond called Roger Lake and in a few minutes you’ll enter above Aneroid Lake where most will finish their journey. Just before that point you’ll see a trail to the right (and possibly a sign) that directs you to several good camping areas.

If you stopped at Aneroid Lake, you’d be amply rewarded, but, if you have the time and energy you’d be truly amazed by the journey and destination to Tenderfoot Pass. This is 'High Alpine' at its finest: you'll know what it’s like ‘Living in a Postcard.’

From the pass you could summit Pete’s Point or search for seashell fossils on Dollar Ridge. Discover the tiny Jewett or Dollar Lakes or take a longer side trip to Bonny Lakes. The Tenderfoot trail connects to Polaris Pass and down to the Lakes Basin. It also connects to the Imnaha trail down to Indian Crossing.

View the Panoramas:

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Chief Joseph Trail (Wallowa Lake Trailhead)

chief joseph trail bridge

This is a trail that can be made short or long as you like and offers great views of Wallowa Lake within the first mile.

Take the West Fork trail at the Wallowa lake Trailhead and continue to the Chief Joseph Trail junction about 1/4 mile ahead. Go left upriver to the bridge and after a short distance the trail switchbacks to the north where you’ll find views of the lake. At a little over a half-mile you’ll encounter BC Falls, which used to have a bridge (until it was washed out). Depending on the water flow this may or may not be where your journey ends. If not, the trail continues on for another 6.5 miles to a meadow in a saddle at the base of Chief Joseph Mountain at 7620’.

Be on the lookout for Pica, Mountain Goats, Mule Deer and the occasional Elk. Rubber Boa's and Western Toads are often found on the lower trail as well.

This is an extraordinary spot with possibilities to explore or summit. Wildflowers abound in mid-June and the alpine setting will have you feeling like you should be singing in a musical. The views are awesome making it very hard to leave.

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Tenderfoot Trailhead and Trails

tenderfoot trail bonny lakes

If you’re planning on hiking the Eagle Cap but haven’t quite got your hiking legs on, a little known shortcut into the mountains is the Tenderfoot Trailhead. Right from the start, you’re almost 2000’ higher (at 6500’) than any of the other local trailheads and it’s just 3.6 miles to Bonny Lakes, a beautiful destination. From there you have you have opportunities to explore other features that are close by, making this a great option for day hikers or for overnight campers looking for an easier way into wilderness.

From Bonny Lakes, you can go another 2 miles where the trail intersects with the Aneroid Lake (East Fork) Trail #1804. From that intersection, going north about a mile will take you to Aneroid Lake; south will take you to Tenderfoot Pass- an incredible alpine experience where you’ll pear into the vast Imnaha Drainage. You could hike to the top of Pete’s Point, elevation 9673’, or Dollar Ridge, where fossilized seashells can be found at the top of a mountain!

This area is lightly used, so you’ll experience a solitary peacefulness that is completely timeless outside of the rhythms of nature.

Be sure to spend some time discovering the two unique small lakes, Jewett and Dollar- they can also provide a warmer swimming hole later in the summer.

All along this route you’ll find yourself feeling like your living in a postcard, so don't forget your camera.

A possible option for hikers is to be dropped off at this trailhead to hike the 14 miles back down to Wallowa Lake. Along this path you’ll experience most of the features that the Eagle Cap is so loved for.

Driving Distance- Joseph to Tenderfoot Trailhead: 24 miles- figure about 35 mph average speed for under one hour in transit. Be sure to check your fuel at Joseph – your traveling into wilderness and you’ll find no services beyond this point and cell service is very spotty (you may get some service at high points along the trail).

Driving Directions: From Wallowa Lake head back to Joseph (about 6 miles); In Joseph turn left (East) on Oregon State 350 (to Imnaha) for about 8 miles to the Wallowa Loop Road; Turn right on the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road (also known as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway); Travel on this paved road which eventually becomes Forest Road 39 for about 10 miles to Salt Creek Summit; Continue on past Salt Creek Summit on Forest Road 39 for 3 miles and turn right on the gravel Forest Road #100 and go 3 miles to the end of the road to the trailhead. Road #1oo is narrow, bumpy and rocky- be sure to check your spare!

Amenities: The parking lot is large but has no other facilities (no toilet). The lot requires no fee, although you’ll need to fill out a permit (free) available at the site before you enter the wilderness.

See the Bonny Lakes Panorama

See the Dollar Ridge Panorama

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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McCully Trailhead and Trails

mcully trailhead mt howard view

Another great trailhead into the Eagle Cap is found just a short drive away. It offers two possibilities (actually three). One is to take the fairly gradual trail into the beautiful McCully Basin, about 5 miles and gaining 1900’. The other is to follow the tram service road up the back side of Mt. Howard for 3.5 miles up to the top tramway station, gaining 3000’ in the hike.

Both treks couldn’t be more different: one takes you along a shady creek into a glacial cirque surrounded by mountains; the other runs right up the ridge to the top of a mountain. It really depends on what you’re willing to work for as both are beautiful in their own ways. These routes are open to both horses and hikers. The service road up to Howard is open to bicycles as well, making the return trip a breeze.

As the third option, if you were dropped off, you could just ride the tram back down to the lake (be sure to purchase your ticket first).

Driving Distance- Joseph to McCully Trailhead: About 11 miles- figure about 40 mph average speed or about 30 minutes in transit.

Driving Directions: From Joseph head east on Oregon State 350 (to Imnaha) and go for about 5 miles to Tucker Down Road (to Ferguson Ski Area); Turn right on Tucker Down Road (County Road 633) and go 3 miles over the cattle guard where the road then becomes Forest Road 3920; Continue on Forest Road 3920 for about 1.3 miles- the road forks; Take the right fork onto Forest Road 3920012 and go 0.5 miles to trailhead entrance on your right.

Amenities: The parking lot is large and has a vault toilet. The lot requires a NW Forest Pass or you can leave a parking fee. If you are traveling into the wilderness (McCully Basin is, Howard is not) you’ll need to fill out a wilderness permit (free) available at the site for your group.

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Hurricane Creek Trailhead and Trails

hurricane creek trail sacajawea peak

The second most popular trailhead (after the Wallowa Lake Trailhead) is located just a short country drive away.

The trailhead at Hurricane Creek offers a fairly gradual way into the Eagle Cap and has majestic mountain views within the first mile that only get better the farther you hike. It follows along the creek to open meadows where Mountain Goats are often spotted along the ridges above.

After the two meadows, the canyon narrows and climbs high over Hurricane Creek along cliffs that overlook pools and waterfalls (keep a leash handy for your dog and watch your kids).

The trail is a favorite for those making their way to the Lakes Basin, some 10 miles away, but is primarily used by day hikers and runners in their 5.7 mile round-trip journey to Slick Rock Creek. You can also find good places to camp along the creek in the first few miles, making this a great option for those just getting into backpack wilderness camping.

Driving Distance- Joseph to Hurricane Trailhead: About 13 miles- figure about 30 mph average speed or about 30 minutes in transit- stay under 20-25mph on the forest road after the bridge (it’s narrow with blind corners).

Driving Directions: From Joseph, Oregon go west on Airport Lane for about 1.5 miles and the road becomes Hurricane Creek Road; Continue on Hurricane Creek Road for another 0.5 miles to the white Hurricane Creek Grange; Turn left at the Grange onto County Road 521 (becomes Forest Road 8205) and go about 3.7 miles to trailhead. The road becomes narrow with turnouts and is not recommended for RVs.

Amenities: The parking lot is large and has a vault toilet. Has a loading ramp and posts for tying stock. The lot requires a NW Forest Pass or you can leave a parking fee and you’ll need to fill out a wilderness permit (free) available at the site for your group.

See the Goat Meadows Panorama

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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West Fork to Ice Lake (Wallowa Lake Trailhead)

ice lake trail

Ice Lake is one of the most outstanding and loved locations in the Eagle Cap. Even though the location is just under 8 miles from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, the last 5 miles involves numerous switchbacks over rocky ground and gains 2350’ in elevation. The trail climbs, unbelievably, right up a rockslide and up through sub-alpine into alpine, making the journey both beautiful and interesting as well. As you climb to the top, a large waterfall presents itself as you make the final accent into the large cirque that cradles Ice Lake (el 7849’). While this strenuous journey can be made round-trip in a day, campers can spend days exploring the many peaks that surround this unforgettable destination. Don’t forget to bring your fishing pole!

Note: This location has almost zero forage for horses- be prepared to pack in weed-free local hay or pellets if you’re staying overnight. Also, check your horses’ shoes and pack at least one easy-boot per horse- this trail is rocky- anything less-than-perfect or older shoeing will most likely fail.

View the Ice Lake Panorama

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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BC Falls Overlook (Wallowa Lake Trailhead)

bc creek fallsYou don’t have to go far to find something spectacular around Joseph. Start at the Wallowa Lake Trailhead and head up the West Fork Trail (#1820) on the right. Go about ¼ mile to where the trail forks and go right at that fork. In just a few feet you’ll see that the main trail follows left in about the same direction (upstream) that you were going at the fork, but if you want to see the falls, you’ll need to follow the less-used trail to the right (downstream, in the opposite direction of the main Chief Joseph Trail).

As you proceed down river you’ll come across many spectacular (and scary) overlooks on the river below- keep going and you’ll find where BC Creek merges with the West Fork to create an exceptional waterfall. Behind you, towards the lake, will be a little knob, climb it and get ready for great pictures of Wallowa Lake. This trail has cliffs along the way, and even though the trail is wide and safe, you don’t have to stray far to find real danger- please leash your dog and keep an eye on your little ones.

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

West Fork Trail (Wallowa Lake Trailhead)

west fork wallowa river

The popular West Fork Wallowa River Trail (#1820) provides a primary gateway into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It travels gradually upriver into all the regions that define area, including the always-popular Lakes Basin. While the initial visual rewards are a little slow in coming, it offers a warm-up for the less-fit with its gentle grade- while the fit can proceed on to the incredible features up the Ice Lake Trail and beyond. It works well for day hikers, trail runners, backpackers and horseman.

Six Mile Meadow and Beyond

As the name implies- six miles up the West Fork is where you’ll find a meadow- a beautiful and expansive one. You’ll follow the river in sub-alpine forest that winds its way through varied plant communities and past numerous springs, wildflowers and mountain views. At about the three mile mark, it’s worth the short diversion to the footbridge that goes to Ice Lake as the river is quite beautiful there. All in all, the trail gains just 1450’ to the meadow, making this one of the easier hikes of the area.

Beyond this you’re presented with two choices that lead you into the Lakes Basin- you could stay the trail, gaining 1200‘ in 4 miles ending up at Frances and Glacier Lake. Or, you can cross the footbridge (Trail #1810) over the river and proceed, steeply at times, another 2.5 miles (gaining 1400’) into the Lakes Basin at Horseshoe Lake. The latter is the more popular choice since it puts you into the main area with most of the lakes. The Lakes Basin has special rules- please read and understand them (posted at all trail entrances).

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

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The Wallowa Lake Trailhead

wallowa lake trailhead

The Wallowa Lake Trailhead is at the end of Hwy 82, just 7 miles south of Joseph, Oregon. This is where you'll find the main local trailhead into Oregon's Largest Wilderness, The Eagle Cap. If you thought this area was beautiful from the outside, entering the wilderness will simply blow you away!

The Eagle Cap is a true National Treasure, one that still affords unparalleled peace and quiet; a rare quality in today's world.

The Chief Joseph Trail, the Aneroid Lake (East Fork) Trail, and the West Fork Trail are the three main paths into wilderness from the Wallowa Lake area. Three other popular trails, Chief Joseph,  BC Falls and Ice Lake branch from the West Fork Trail. Each provides the opportunity to day hike, trail run, horseback or backpack to one's own ability. Easily reached vistas, wildflowers, and stunning mountain views are readily available for the casual hiker from this busy trailhead.

The 'Little Alps' state day-use area is adjacent with restrooms and picnic tables to provide a shady resting area before or after your hike.

The trailhead includes a large turn-around with plenty of parking and a horse ramp and tying posts for stock.

This is one of the few trailheads that does not require a NW park pass for parking as it is at the end of Hwy 82. You'll still need to fill out a wilderness permit (free)- those are self-issue and are found at all the trailheads.

Download a home-printable pdf map of this area

View the embedded image gallery online at:
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Wallowology!

Wild Science of the Wallowa Country

Visit our Discovery Center and explore what makes The Wallowa Country so unique ~ Canyons, Grasslands, Plants & Animals, Rivers, Forests, Lakes & Moraines, and the Geology of it all! Best of all, it's FREE!

  • Learn about the area and plan what and where you'd like see.
  • Learn about the unique habitats that form one of the most varied wild regions on the planet.
  • Discover the turbulent geology that formed this incredible region!
  • Discover the areas abundant wildlife!
  • Learn about the Great Blue Heron in it's own special room.
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Open 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM (Tuesday - Sunday). FREE Discovery Tours run Wed, Thurs & Fridays from 9 to 11am. Local experts will take you into the field for a hands-on experience. Meet at Wallowology at 8:30am.

Learn about other non-profit organizations and their activities.

Kids area for hands-on fun.

508 N. Main Street • Joseph, Oregon, (Across from Coco's and Mutiny),

Visit our Website: Wallowology.org

Touring for Grand Views

seven devils sunset hat point hcnraSeven Devils at Sunset © josephdigital

The stunning landscape around Joseph Oregon is characterized by extremes of elevation. While most rightly associate the Joseph area with the mountains, a vast area is actually made up of canyons.

And our canyons aren't just slight little things; they include the deepest gorge North America! Looking at a topographic map of the area reveals a very furrowed landscape- in fact if it weren't for the higher mountains, Joseph might well be thought of as 'Canyon Country.'

The forces were extreme! While the Eagle Cap and Seven Devils were literally lifted up off the sea floor (you can find sand dollar fossils on the mountain tops) the relentless forces of erosion were busy carving things in the opposite direction. The process continues to this day.

Read more ...

Joseph Creek Viewpoint including Flora & Troy

This excursion allows one to experience the many environs of the area and will also give you a look into the regions past. Joseph Canyon was a wintering ground for the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce. The failed town of Flora was once a thriving pioneer town. Troy was settled by early Mormons in the 1890's.

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Buckhorn Overlook including Zumwalt Prairie

Buckhorn Lookout presents one of the most vast and beautiful canyon views anywhere, even if you've visited The Grand Canyon. The beautiful drive travels through Oregon’s largest natural intact grassland: The Zumwalt Prairie. In June there are wildflowers galore and the emerald green fields of grass when they’re moving in a breeze are a sight to behold.

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Hells Canyon Overlook including the Upper Imnaha River

The Hells Canyon overlook presents a perfect opportunity to travel the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, a favorite for those into 'touring', whether by bicycle, motorcycle, car or RV. This is also a great route to see the upper Imnaha River region and some of the most beautiful old-growth Ponderosa Pine forests in the lower 48.

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Hat Point Lookout including Imnaha & Granny View Vista

This tour includes two major canyons that are distinctly unique and beautiful in their own way. Hells Canyon is the deepest gorge in North America and the Imnaha Canyon is Northeastern Oregon’s second largest; together they form the heart of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Standing on the ridge across from the Seven Devils Mountains is a sight like no other, truly a natural wonder.

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