Cliff Creek


Forest Service Trail #1885

Why? From the trailhead to Little Kettle Creek, it’s possibly the most scenic trail in the Wallowas

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s 4.9 miles and 1,600 feet up to the Pine Lakes Trail, another 2.1 miles and 500 feet down to the Little Kettle Creek Trail to Crater Lake, and a full 11.8 miles with 1,850 feet up and 2,160 feet down to the South Fork Imnaha River Trail. But a shorter out and back hike of 2 or 3 miles each way is well worth the time.

This is another one of those Wallowa rock hikes, only with a difference. The rocks here are in the form of distant and not-so-distant ridges. Early in the hike, they’re primarily the ridges that define the valley of East Eagle Creek. The far ridge is a symphony of pale colors in all patterns imaginable. The near is mostly reds and browns, Krag Peak and Truax Mountain dominating. Cornucopia Peak also contributes, a brown and white edifice in the eastern foreground. Later on, it’s the ridge from Granite to Red Mountains, showing the obvious color plus the usual Wallowa whites and browns.

The reason all this is so extra special is that for most of the way, you can see it all cause the trail’s high up on the mountainside rather than down in the valley. You aren’t limited to occasional peeks through the trees or to waiting for the next brush field. It’s there all the way.

But rocks aren’t all. There are huge meadows that the trail passes through early in the hike and that are visible later on. One held a herd of grazing elk when we passed through. There’s a spring that exits the mountain right on the trail, a great spot for a brief rest or snack. And there are the trees, most of which exhibit characteristics of being at or near timberline. They’re gnarly and abstract in shape, relatively small in size.

Once past Little Kettle Creek, things change a bit. The trail passes in and out of a few wooded areas, for one. And it’s Red Mountain right across the creek that dominates the rock views – except that when I hiked the trail, it was smoky and the mountain wasn’t very visible. Close by the trail, there’s a fine little waterfall, a series of short drops cascading down through rocks, and the largest larch snag I ever want to see.

There’s a big woody meadow along much of the creek as it nears the South Fork Imnaha River, then more time in the woods before the trail splits. If you’re heading east, take 1885A down to the South Fork; if you’re heading west, stay on 1885.

Trail Notes: The trail to Pine Lakes takes off quite a bit before Tuck Pass, not from the pass. There also seems to be a trail down to the left off Tuck that’s not on the map or otherwise described.

Directions: Take a left on West Carson Lane, which becomes Road 7710, at mile marker 6 on the Cornucopia Road out of Halfway, OR. In about 2 miles, turn right on Road 77, following the signs to McBride Campground. At the campground, take the right onto Road 7715 and follow it to its end about 5 miles later.

Information: U.S. Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Visitors Services, Joseph, OR, (541) 426-5546.

Maps: USGS Cornucopia and Krag Peak, Oregon; Imus Geographics Wallowa Mountains, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.

Connections: Crater Lake and the Pine Lakes can be reached from this trail, which ends at the South Fork Imnaha River. Heading east on the trail along the Imnaha, then up the East Pine and Norway Basin Trails makes for a mostly interesting through hike with a reasonable car shuttle.