Eastern Oregon Wonderland
Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon contains countless natural wonders. From the steep river gorges of Hells Canyon, to the open grasslands of Zumwalt Prairie, to the snowcapped peaks and alpine lakes of Wallowa Mountains, adventure lies around every bend.
Long know among back country travelers for its rugged beauty, the Eagle Cap Wilderness, which encompasses much of the Wallowa Mountains, is a hikers and backpackers paradise! With over five hundred miles of trails, in over five hundred square miles of designated wilderness, one can find it hard to choose where to begin. Wallowa County provides many easily accessed trail heads, one of which is the Hurricane Creek Trailhead. This trailhead is located at the end of the well maintained road and is just a short drive from either Joseph or Enterprise. As with many of the trail heads, a fee is required. A Northeast Forest Pass can also be used. This pass is available locally at numerous shops and stores, as well as the Forest Service office in Joseph.
Located a few miles up the Wallowa Mountains is Hurricane Creek is the tallest mountain in the Wallowa’s, Sacajawea. At 9,838 feet above sea level, Sacajawea is the highest summit in eastern Oregon. For years there were some discrepancies as to whether Sacajawea or the Matterhorn, located only a couple of miles south along the same ridge, was the tallest. However, more modern surveys have the Matterhorn just a few feet lower at 9826 above sea level. They are the sixth and seventh highest summits in Oregon.
The Wilderness Trails:
The main Hurricane trail, 1807 is well maintained and tends to rise gradually. This trail can be used for short, family-friendly day hikes, as well as multi day treks that can link many of the hundreds of miles of trails, thus giving access to an incredible array of streams, lakes and summits! There are also many smaller side trails, that while steeper and more rugged, grant passage to these islands in the sky.
Many of these high places ere under the ocean millions of years ago. Seashell fossils as well as other unique formations can be found here. Millions of years of plate tectonics have played a major role in the formation and shaping of these steep craggy mountains. And valleys. More recently, volcanic and glacial activity has played a role as well. Hurricane creek is no exception. As one hikes the trail the U shape of the valley as well as the cirques high above give testament to the powerful forces that helped shape these places.
Among the few routes that lead to the summit of Sacajawea, the standard is the East Ridge. This ridge drops from the summit area to the west, then down to the headwaters of Thorp Creek. The trail up Thorp Creek leaves Hurricane Creek trail after approximately two miles, at an unmarked junction just past Deadman Meadow. This trail is maintained by volunteers, so expect a little route finding at first. You may have to walk across a log to get to the other side of the creek and then ascend to the ridge top.
Thorp Creek trail is a series of ever steepening with switchbacks up a grassy forested ridge that rises between Thorp Creek and the smaller Twin Creek to the north. The steep terrain angle eases up and Thorp’s basin starts to reveal itself as the views across to the west grow wilder. The path somewhat disappears in the high meadow that marks the beginning of the upper basin. From there you can follow the drainage up the stream on the game trails. One is surrounded by peaks above 9500 feet, including the massive limestone and marble north face of Sacajawea.
If you’re not up to hiking the steep Wallowa Mountains, you can take the Wallowa Tramway up Mt Howard. Mt Howard is 8150 feet above sea level and has views of the Wallowa Lake and Wallowa Valley. There are trails that lead off Mt Howard to the Wallowa’s as well. If you get hungry there is also a restaurant at the top of Mt Howard.