I have been slightly misled about the mountains in Oregon. I believed the Cascade Range was not only the preiminent mountain range in Oregon, but the only one really worth seeing. Certainly, the largest peaks in the state come from the mighty Cascades – Mt. Hood tops the list at 11,249 feet in elevation, followed by Mt. Jefferson (10,497 feet), Three Sisters (South 10,363 feet , Middle 10,047 feet and North 10,085 feet), Mt. McLoughlin (9,495 feet) and Mt. Bachelor (9,068 feet). There are a handful of other peaks that follow in the 8000+ elevation. What I didn’t know was that if you travelled northeast to the right-hand corner of the state, you’ll find yourself in a wondrous place called the Wallowas. And what I didn’t know ended up delighting me to eat my own words about which mountains are really worth the view in Oregon.
The Wallowas Range runs about forty miles with the highest point being Sacajawea Peak, with an elevation of 9,838 feet – the tallest Oregon mountain outside of the Cascade Range. The range runs craggy like the Rockies and makes for an impressive landscape. Most of my Portland friends have never even heard of the Wallowas – so it’s never overrun with tourists. It’s a great camping destination with a beautiful lake and river, both sharing the Wallowa name. To get to Wallowa Lake, you drive 72 miles east of La Grande on I-84, and wind through the quaint little town of Joseph, named for Old Chief Joseph, the leader of the Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce tribe. A sentimental landmark is the monument to Old Chief Joseph, nestled under a tree with dream catchers, feathers and braided sweetgrass dangling from its limbs. The monument leads into the campgrounds around Wallowa Lake. Take the gondola to the summit of the Wallowas to get a bird’s eye view of the mountain range and the sprawling valley. It’s one of the most breath-taking views in all of the northwest.
Just don’t be afraid of the squirrels and chipmunks that come right up to you – they’re friendly, fearless creatures. Even the deer don’t get startled easily by people – I had never seen anything like it, as two deer came right up to our screened door one afternoon just to check out what we were doing. Russell’s At The Lake is a great spot for a beer, provisions and live music. Wallowa Lake Lodge makes for lovely accommodations, but there are also plenty of camp sites and rustic cabins to rent. The Wallowas are one of Oregon’s best kept secrets.
By: Leah Jorgensen