The East Moraine

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If you ask locals to name their favorite places in Wallowa County, chances are this geologic wonder will be high on their list. Its unique shape and those large boulders that line the ridge very much set it apart from other landforms. In spring a mass bloom of large yellow daisy-like flowers heralds in the season of warmer weather and calls for closer examination. Seeing it from below, you can’t help but wonder; what’s it like up there? If you do spend any time on top you'll come to agree with the Nez Perce - this is sacred land.

But there was a problem; up until 2019 it was all private land and you had to have permission just to visit. All that changed when the Wallowa Land Trust finally achieved its goal of protecting this place, for the wildlife, plants and for the public to enjoy.

This Moraine, along with the West and Terminal Moraine to the north create the natural levees that capture the water to form Wallowa Lake. The view, backdropped by Chief Joseph Mountain with this sapphire lake below is a thing of remarkable beauty. It’s a place you’ll likely return to, again and again. If you’re a visiting hiker, mountain biker or horseman, you definitely need to put it on your list. The East Moraine, more than almost any other feature, makes us proud and happy to call this county home.

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Considered a Geologically Unique and a near perfect example-

Over eons of time and through several ice ages, glaciers ground through the mountains above and deposited the gravel, rocks and boulders to form the Moraines.

This unique glacial landscape was built up, not down, as typically happens. You’ll find it cited in geographic textbooks as a perfect of an example of this type of landform.

See more here 

wallowa lk e moraine gateStart of the West Side Trail

A Pretty (and) Easy Hike

Departing from the parking lot you’ll find a mostly smooth and gradual dirt road that rises about 700’ to the top. It’s great for a jabber-walk as the trail is wide enough that you can hike and talk side-by-side. As long as you’re somewhat fit, the hike to the top usually takes less than an hour and there are several places to rest and ponder the view along the way. The area is open to hikers, horseman and bicyclers (roads only). Fit Wheelchair users would probably find it doable also (though not ADA).

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The Journey

Along the way you’ll travel through forest with glimpses of the lake below. Be on the lookout for foxes, squirrels and Mule Deer. About three quarters of the way up you’ll finally break out into grassland with a full view of Wallowa Lake. Once up top, you can continue to hike along the ridge to the north or you could continue along the road east which turns south back into the forest.

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If you head north about 300 yards and then overland to the east, you’ll find a long bowl with a little livestock pond at the far end. Long ago this natural amphitheater was the original location of the first Joseph Rodeo. It’s said that the settlers and the Nez Perce would race their horses for pink slips; meaning the looser would forfeit his horse. Since the Nez Perce are legendary horseman, I’d imagine few took them up on the bet.

karissa wallowa lk moraine 5 26 21 11The original Rodeo Grounds


While there you’ll probably see Mule Deer and possibly Elk, Bald Eagles, Fox and maybe a Pine Martin, Coyote or a Skunk. At the top listen for the beautiful song of the Meadowlark, our State Bird. This area was meant to preserve a home for wildlife and the more you can do to keep it undisturbed the better. Pick a nice spot to just observe- the longer you stay still and quiet, the more you’re likely to see.

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While this area is open to your dog, understand that it depends on how responsibly you and you dog behave in this reserve. If you cannot maintain 100% control off-lead, then please leash your dog. There are baby animals, fawns and fox kits along the trail and that wildlife needs your protection. Doing your part will insure the future enjoyment by dogs and their owners.

Getting There

From Joseph, head south 1.5 miles to the first Wallowa Lake County Park and then another 2.9 miles to a parking area on the left side of the road (4.4 miles total). The parking area is more of a wide spot than anything. There’s a gate you’ll have to open (and please close securely: cows) and that gets you onto the dirt road that winds its way to the top.

wallowa lk e moraine gateTrail Gate

Alternative Northern Entry Point

Across the street from the southernmost trailhead for Iwetemlaykin State Park is another way to access the East Moraine. It's another wide spot on the left side of the road before you reach the Chief Joseph Grave site and Wallowa Lake. It's a little hard to find the start of that trail, but if you hunt on the south end of the parking area you'll find it. This trail rises a little quicker, but offers immediate views over the lake and county park. The trail is single-track (hikers only) and gets pretty rocky in places. It runs along the ridge, so you’re facing the best view on Wallowa Lake. If you keep going, you’ll come to the largest flat-topped boulder on the East Moraine. It’s here that many find a perfect setting for family photographs.

east moraine big boulder michele dogsThe Big Rock

A Special Thanks to:

The Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, Oregon Parks, the Nez Perce Tribe, hundreds of donations from individuals and grants from others (more detail here). Special thanks to the Wallowa Land Trust for getting the whole effort rolling, making possible access to this truly unique landscape, a gift and national treasure to us all and to all the wildlife that make it their home.