Summit Trail


Forest Service Trail #1774

Why? Great views of the Seven Devils

Season: June through October

Ease: Difficult. It’s 14+ miles end to end, with 4,000+ feet of elevation gain and 3.000 feet of loss, south to north. However, shorter out and back hikes, especially from the northern end, are well worth the effort and much more moderate.

You can’t beat the Summit Ridge Trail for an all-at-once view of the Seven Devils range. You’ll even be close enough to easily identify some of the peaks, for the trail is just 8 or 9 miles as the crow flies from these mountains, and there’s nothing in between but Hell’s Canyon. The only complication might be the weather.

I’ve hiked the two ends of this trail, the first 6 miles or so from P.O. Saddle on the south, and the first 4 ½ miles from near Jim Spring on the north. Both give you the views, but are vastly different trails. If you hike from the south, the first couple miles are the least exciting, especially if it’s cloudy. In clear weather you’d see the Wallowas some of the time, which does at least make the downs and ups of this section more interesting.

But after two miles, when you pass under the power lines coming up from the Hells Canyon Dam, the Seven Devils are visible.

We walked most of the way to Lookout Mountain that day. A couple of spots were especially pleasing. One was a large open area just before Jensen Spring. When we saw it from a distance, we thought it was a huge, old tumble-down corral. But from closer in, we saw that the corral was just a lot of nicely arranged downed trees.

There was a clear but tiny lake in this area that seemed to overflow with reflections: dark evergreens, old grey downed trees, blue-green sage, white clouds and blue sky. Above the lake we had a clear view of the Seven Devils. If clouds hadn’t covered the tips of most, the place would have received a “10” for the day. But even a “9 ½” makes a good stopping spot for lunch, especially when you add the flicker that flew to and from its home in a nearby snag while we ate.

The second spot was near Hells Canyon Dam. We left the trail and sat at the edge, overlooking Oxbow Creek. We couldn’t see the dam from there, just the sheer grey walls that rise on the Idaho side of it. But a bit downstream of Oxbow there’s a flat area on top of the cliffs that sits a bit lower in elevation than the rest of the hills. It looks like it might be the setting for a fairy tale kingdom, remote and isolated from its surroundings. We sat a long time and watched the shadows of the clouds move across the hills and the tiny kingdom.

We did see the Wallowas on our way back to the trailhead, once the clouds lifted. It’s a different view than that from the top of the Lewiston grade or when driving into Enterprise. From this trail you see their depth from north to south, and it looks to be more than the 35 miles or so the map indicates.

Hiking from the north is completely different. First, it’s a trail you’re walking, not an old road as it is from the south. The Wallowas are visible in their entirety almost from your first step. The first 2 miles of hike take you down 1,000 feet to Freezeout Saddle. Mostly it’s through open hillsides, which may be full of wildflowers in season as it was when I was there. It was glorious. I saw my first western peony, plus more different kinds of blue flowers than I thought existed.

After the saddle the trail heads uphill again, over 1,000 feet up to the top of the ridge. The first section is through woods, with shade, a different assortment of flowers, and more black, brown and white caterpillars than I’d ever seen before. Then it’s back to open hillsides and the long haul up to the top.

There were views of the Seven Devils in first two miles, but the best by far were from the ridgetop. The mountains looked ominous, completely bare with just a bit of snow and a few clouds above. They were close enough so that it was easy to feel why they were named the Seven Devils, not the Seven Saints.

The only problem is that the trail takes an incredibly long time to get you to the ridge top. Sure, you can see the Wallowas on the way, but you’ve been looking at them most all of the hike.

I suggest an alternate plan. Head off trail once you’re a ways past the woods, when small areas of loose rock are visible above or you see the old timbers that mark two springs. While the top is a lot further up than you’ll think it is, you get to the views sooner hiking up to the top this way and will see them longer. Plus, it’s no problem wandering south along the ridge until you bump into the trail when it finally gets there.

The only disappointment in our day was that we didn’t have time enough to get to the ridge ending in Bear and Black Mountains. It joins with the summit ridge we walked and sits between the north end of the summit trail and the Snake River. It would have been nice to walk a ways along it and see if the river was visible from it, as it is from some of the south part of the summit trail.

Note: The wildlife highlight of the hike from the north was a pair of mountain bluebirds. They reminded me of the first of these birds I saw. It was sitting on a fence that enclosed a snowy yard in Flora. I’m always amazed by their color and how hard it is to describe to someone who’s never seen one. The highlight of the hike from the south was the bobcat that crossed the road in front of the car as we drove to the trailhead.

But there’s also a humor highlight. On the trail from the north, after we’d side-hilled up for the views of the Seven Devils, we had lunch sitting by a snow bank. My hiking buddy suddenly exclaimed, “Mary, there’s been someone up here walking around in bare feet!” If you’ve seen the tracks of the hind feet of a bear, you’ll know why that’s funny.

Directions: To reach the southern trailhead, drive Imnaha Highway 350 east out of Joseph. Turn right onto the Wallowa Mt. Loop Road just past milepost 8, and right again on Road 727 when the Loop Road ends. It’s 33.3 miles from Highway 350 to the turnoff for the Hells Canyon Overlook, where you should turn left, and just shy of 10 miles on the gravel road from there to P.O. Saddle. The gate wasn’t closed when we hiked, but you should stop there.

To reach the northern trailhead, drive to Imnaha on the Imnaha Highway 350 out of Joesph and go straight through the town of Imnaha onto the road to Hat Point. The trailhead is marked by a small sign 17.0 miles later.

Information: U.S. Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Visitors Services, Joseph, OR, (541) 426-5546;Hells Canyon NRA in Clarkston (509)758-0616. There is also a handout on the trail available in Clarkston that has some information, directions, and copies of parts of the USGS maps.

Map: USGS Squirrel Prairie, Jaynes Ridge, and Hat Point, Oregon, cover most of the trail.

Connections: You also can access the ridge trail via trail #1776 up from Freezeout Creek to Freezeout Saddle. It was a steep and muddy trail much used by horses when I hiked it. Its only benefit is that it is available earlier in the year. We hiked it earlier in the year and were rewarded with blowing, freezing rain at the saddle plus no views. We spent all of 10 minutes there.