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Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness

All trails lead to the top in this lake-lover's paradise.

Contact Information:

Eagle Cap Ranger District

Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

USDA Forest Service

Enterprise, OR 97828

(541) 426-4978

Wallowa Mountains Visitor Center

88401 Hwy. 82

Enterprise, OR 97828

(541) 426-5546

Location:

Eagle Cap Wilderness is in the heart of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the northeastern corner of Oregon, next to Idaho and Washington. The nearest sizable towns are Enterprise to the northeast, La Grande to the northwest, and Baker City to the southwest. For more information on Log County, call (800) 585-4121.

Getting There:

Access to the area from the west is about 10 miles east of LaGrande, Oregon, and I-84. LaGrande is about four hours or 265 miles from Portland, Oregon, and about three hours or 170 miles from Boise, Idaho, all on I-84. Most hikers enter from the scenic Wallowa Valley on the northern side of Eagle Cap. The town of Enterprise in the Wallowa Valley is about four hours or 190 miles from Spokane, Washington, via U.S. 195 and SR 3.

Seasonal Information:

In winter, temperatures can dip as low as -30° F and the area may be accessible only by ski or snowshoe. In most areas the majority of the Eagle Cap Wilderness trails snow-free by July 4. The area is then normally open until late October.

In summer, temperatures can soar into the mid-90s and then dip to lows in the 40s. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather and late-afternoon thunderstorms.

Wildlife:

Abundant wildlife features bears, cougars, deer, elk, and raptors. Bighorn sheep were re-introduced in the 1950s along with mountain goats.

Area wildlife presently classified as endangered, threatened, or sensitive include the peregrine falcon, bald eagle, ferruginous hawk, Swainson’s hawk, and the western spotted frog.

Insects:

High temperatures cause insect problems: mosquitoes around wet areas and horseflies elsewhere.

Plant Life:

You can follow the Imnaha River through stands of old-growth ponderosa and tamarack laced with grape and berry vines. There are also cottonwoods and various brush and grasses, but vegetation changes with elevation.

Engelman spruce, larch, mountain hemlock, sub-alpine fir, and whitebark pine can be found in the higher elevations.

Facilities:

Camping is primitive in the wilderness, but there are a number of sites available just outside of the wilderness. National forest campgrounds ring the lakes basin area, providing convenient access points. For all of these reasons, the lakes basin can be quite crowded on summer weekends. Come after Labor Day for more solitude.

Moss Springs, Boundary, Hurricane Creek, Indian Crossing, and Twin Lakes are primitive sites very close to the wilderness borders. Of these, only Indian Crossing is a fee site.

Parking:

No information available.

Permits:

Free permits should be obtained at the trailheads, visitor center, and other forest offices May through December.

Policies:

  • Camps must be at least 200 feet from any lake.

  • Groups are limited to 12 (limited to 6 in the lakes basin).
  • Fires are not allowed in some areas of the lakes basin. Check with the forest service for more specifics.
  • Motorized vehicles and bicycles are prohibited in the wilderness.
  • Pets should be kept under control.

Hazards:

  • Watch for poison ivy and down trees on trails.

  • There are bears and cougars in the area.
  • The country is very rugged and all trails have some steep pitches.
  • You are advised to carry a saw or ax to clear downed trees from the trails.
  • Finding water can be difficult, especially in fall.

Leave No Trace:

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

USGS quads of Chief Joseph Mountain, North Minam Meadows, Aneroid Mountain, Eagle Cap, and Steamboat Lake cover the lakes basin and general vicinity. Consult a USGS index for more extensive coverage. USGS and Eagle Cap Wilderness maps ($6) are available from the Eagle Cap Ranger District, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Other Trip Options:

  • Wallowa Lake State Park is just on the northeast edge of the wilderness.

  • Hells Canyon (503/426-4978), the deepest gorge in North America, lies to the east.

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1 Comment

  1. As a long time backpacker, backpack trip leader, sometimes wilderness ranger, contributing photographer to Backpacker and local resident who’s hiked extensively in the Wallowas, I was amazed at how such a short article can contain so many factual errors and such bad advice.

    Incorrect statements:
    ● “Watch for poison ivy and down trees on trails.” There is no poison ivy in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    ● “You can follow the Imnaha River through stands of old-growth ponderosa and tamarack laced with grape and berry vines.” There are no grape vines in the Wallowas.
    ● “Other Trip Options: Wallowa Lake State Park is just on the northeast edge of the wilderness.” This looks like the kind of thing that someone wrote from thousands of miles away using lazy research. Wallowa Lake State Park is a very small park with no overnight trip options. As a matter of fact there’s not even a day hike option in the park that would take over an hour, so no, it’s not another trip option.
    ● “Location: For more information on Log County, call (800) 585-4121.” There’s no such thing as Log County in Oregon.

    Partially correct statement:
    ● “Fires are not allowed in some areas of the lakes basin. Check with the forest service for more specifics.” The statement is true but it leaves out that fires are also not allow at many other locations in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

    But the worst statement was:
    ● “You are advised to carry a saw or ax to clear downed trees from the trails.” That likely ranks as one of the worst pieces of advice ever given out in Backpacker. There’s absolutely no reason why backpackers should carry a saw or ax and there are heaps of reasons why they shouldn’t:
    1. Backpackers can walk under, over or around fallen trees. Leave the tree cutting to the trail crew or horse packers. And even if backpackers were going to cut trees that have fallen across the trail, to do so with the kind of ax (e.g. a hatchet) or light saw that a backpacker would carry would likely take a day or so to cut the average size tree that would fall across a trail.
    2. Advising backpackers to carry completely unnecessary extra weight and bulk decreases the quality of their experience without adding any benefit.
    3. Many areas of the of the Wallowas, especially sub-alpine areas with popular camps, are already suffering from the visual and ecological effects of too many people with saws and axes. (I’d be glad to expound on that if you’re interested.)

    And to top it off, I was going end by joking that at least the article got the Forest Service address right, but then I realized that the phone number listed for Hells Canyon is wrong – it goes to the “Free & Fun Party Line.” Yikes!

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