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America’s Best-Kept Secrets: Eagle Cap Wilderness, OR

Donnelly_140.jpgSunshine Lake, on day two of this trip. (Terry donnelly)

In Granite peaks shooting 5,000 feet above verdant valleys, thunderous creeks, and bountiful wildflowers— a long day’s drive from neighboring cities
Out Mt. Rainier National Park’s loved-to-death Wonderland Trail

Eagle Cap’s top trip, a 41-mile loop tucked away in the southeastern part of Oregon’s largest wilderness, deals a royal flush of granite towers and secluded lakeside camping. From East Eagle trailhead, follow Trail 1910 toward Horton Pass; seven miles in, just before climbing the pass, take the unmarked trail 1.8 miles to Hidden Lake, and camp on its lonely shores ringed by spiky peaks. From Horton Pass on day two, make the 90-minute round-trip up trailed 9,572-foot Eagle Cap for its 360-degree vista of the range. Continue on Trail 1910 to descend into the Lakes Basin and pick up Trails 1806 and 1820 to sweeping views of the wilderness from Glacier Pass and Hawkins Pass. Complete the loop via Trail 1816, Cliff Creek Trail 1885 (where the larch foliage pops in early October, as it does along Eagle Creek), and Trail 1945. Local knowledge The wildflowers, lake panoramas, and fall colors make this loop a photographer’s dream. Save space on your memory card for: Mirror Lake reflecting Eagle Cap Peak; Glacier Lake laced by rocky peaks cloaked in snow; and the view down the South Fork Imnaha River Valley from Hawkins Pass. Hit the lakes in the early morning for calm, reflective waters. To see blooming Indian paintbrush, sego lilies, bluebell, and other wildflowers (best at Hawkins Pass and along Cliff Creek), go in July.

Do it From OR 203 just south of Medical Springs, turn east onto FR 70. Go 1.7 miles to FR 67. Turn left and drive 13 miles to a left onto FR 77. Go six miles, turn left yet again onto FR 7745, and continue 5.3 miles to the East Eagle trailhead. Map Wallowa Mountains—Eagle Cap Wilderness

Map ($7, discovernw.org)

Guidebook Backpacking Oregon, by Douglas Lorain ($19, wildernesspress.com)

Permit Northwest Forest Pass required for parking ($30, fs.fed.us/r6/passespermits)

Contact (541) 426-5546; fs.fed.us/r6/w-w/recreation/wilderness/ecwild.shtml

GPS data backpacker.com/eaglecap

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