Wallowa Lake is a weekend getaway that has it all – snow capped mountains, glacial lake, charming village, and no cell service (at least on the far side).
Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce indians named it Wallowa, “The land of the winding waters.”
Getting To Wallowa Lake
Wallowa Lake is located in the upper righthand corner of Oregon, not far from the Washington and Idaho borders.
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, you can drive to get to this beauty. If not, fly into Boise, Idaho (4 hrs 15min drive away) or Walla Walla, Washington (2 hrs 30min drive away). Sure, it’s a trek, but that’s what keeps it so special. Plus, the drive is idyllic with rolling hillsides and green pastures.
Things To Do at Wallowa Lake
Given its remote location, Wallowa Lake has a surprising breadth of fun activities for families, couples, or solo adventurers. Here are the Top 12 Things to Do:
While the temperatures are glacial, it’s amazingly refreshing to go for a swim. The north end of the lake has a swimming beach that is busy on summer weekends. Water shoes are recommended for the rocks (see below) that are not as gentle on numbing feet. You can also wade out from the south end of the lake, but that’s where the fishers typically hang out.
There’s ample fishing to be had in Wallowa Lake itself and in the surrounding rivers and waterways. Head to the fly shop in Joseph for gear and tips.
Formed by Pleistocene glaciers and surrounded by towering moraine, it’s worth taking a hike to view Wallowa Lake from all the angles. An easy hike with rewarding views is the east moraine, which is teeming with wildflowers in May & June.
Alternatively, at the end of the road on the south end of the lake (by the power house) you will find the Wallow Lake trailhead. From here, there is a whole network of trails to choose from that take you into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
Most of the hikes include rivers, falls, or lakes – if not all of the above. This includes the West Fork Wallowa River trail and the Chief Joseph trail. Summit Chief Joseph Mountain at a stunning 10,000 ft.
Another scenic option is the Aneroid Lake trail. While Aneroid Lake is only 6 miles up the East Fork Wallowa River trail, it’s a hefty elevation gain of a few thousand feet, and you gain 1,200 ft in the first 2 miles of switchbacks. Naturally, the view is worth it. Beyond Aneroid Lake, you can continue on to Tenderfoot Pass.
Other options from the Wallowa Lake trailhead include Ice Lake, Six Mile Meadow, Lakes Basin, Frazier Lake, and Glacier Lake. Be safe, plan out your route, and pack sufficient water and snacks.
4. Race Go Karts
Let out that competitive streak and hop in a go kart for a race around the track. Kids like to hang out and shoot hoops, and sometimes there’s a Thai food truck on hand as well.
Joseph, Oregon is on the north end of the lake on your drive in. When you are dying for some wifi or beer on tap, scoot around the lake to explore this cowboy town.
My favorite shops are all along Main Street: Beecrow Bees (clothes and all-natural apothecary), Mad Mary’s (trinkets, books, souvenirs, toys – great for kids), Teal (women’s clothing boutique), To Zion (jewelry & clothing), and Lamb Trading Post (western art and handcrafted silver jewelry).
Red Horse Coffee or Arrowhead Chocolates are my favorite stops for a cup of coffee and a bite. Joseph also has an active farmer’s market and hobby shops – a fly shop, a quilt shop, a Sasquatch shop… something for everyone.
6. Canoe, Kayak, or SUP
Whatever floats your boat. #dadjokes. But seriously, there are lots of options for getting out on the water. There is a marina on the south end of the lake with a boat launch, and a boat launch on the north end of the lake. Both are accessible to the public.
7. Ride Horses
Wallowa Lake has well-run stables for horse rides up into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Beautiful horses, friendly guides, and stunning scenery – what else do you need?
8. Pedal the Rails
Last summer, I pedaled the rails with cousins and family. It was a blast. You pedal carts along the old railway, which takes you through farm fields alongside the mountains. Wear a hat and enjoy the ride! Make your reservation with JB Rail Riders.
9. Enjoy the Flora & Fauna
From alpine wildflowers to roaming deer, you will feel immersed in nature once you get to the south end of Wallowa Lake. Bald eagles live up in the trees along the lakeshore and fish rise below.
Recently a black bear (which may be brown, if it’s in its ‘cinnamon phase’) has been seen wandering about. Check the local media to see if the plans to transport it elsewhere have been completed.
10. Ride the Gondola
Take a ride on the aerial cable gondola lift up to Mount Howard (8000 ft). Open since 1970, the tramway feels a bit historic with a dash of Swiss influence. The views are spectacular and there is live music at the top in the summertime.
11. Play a Round of Mini Golf
There are two places to play mini golf at Wallowa Lake. You can go for the older, more classic style (cheaper), or for the more modern set-up that has all the bells and whistles (more expensive, comparatively). Either way, get your putt putt on.
12. Bask in the Beauty
You are surrounded by stunning nature. Spend more time outside than in, and soak it in.
Planning a Weekend Getaway?