East Fork Wallowa River


Forest Service Trail #1804

Why? A lovely, if over-visited, lake with a beautiful rock backdrop and a fine pass.

Season: July through September

Ease: Difficult, at 6 miles and 2,850 feet up to Aneroid Lake, another 1 ½ miles and close to 1,000 feet to Tenderfoot Pass.

When I think about hiking to Aneroid Lake, the usual destination of hikers up the East Fork Wallowa River, I think more about getting to the trailhead or leaving the lake than the actual hike - which is definitely shortchanging a lovely lake in a lovely setting.

The reasons are as follows: on the drive to the trailhead on my first trip to the lake, I saw two cougar. My hike to the lake the second time was from personal favorite Bonny Lakes, and we went from Aneroid to Polaris Pass, a not-to-miss spot if you’re in the area.

Aneroid is a busy lake, if the condition of the campsites along its edges is any indication. All are hard packed dirt, difficult places to put up a tent that isn’t free-standing. But it’s also lovely, with one of the best rock walls you could wish as its western backdrop. The wall is primarily white and brown, with the white as background and the brown interrupting it in patterns ranging from random to zig zag, from two dimensional to three. The top is jagged, often fringed with trees.

To the east, Aneroid Mountain is visible from several places, as is Pete’s Point to the south. The former is smooth and grassy looking from this side. The latter is rock, fine looking rook with wonderful sweeping lines of color.

Getting to the lake by the trail up the East Fork isn’t the most exciting of hikes. Much of it is through the woods, so views are few. However, in the first 1.6 miles up to the bridge across the river, you can look back at Wallowa Lake, Joseph and some of the land beyond. Farther up, there’s only a glimpse or two back. While Wallowa Lake is no longer visible then, Enterprise and the plateaus beyond are. You have to wait until the last mile or so of trail before things open up again.

About 1 mile past the lake there’s a lovely wet pocket meadow, where the trail to Bonny Lakes heads to the left. Then it’s pretty much switchbacks to Tenderfoot, a marvelous open area below Pete’s Point and well worth a visit on its own. If there were naught else to recommend it, the rock of Pete’s Point is worth the visit.

It’s definitely an uphill hike to the lake, and there are plenty of switchbacks to help you on your way. At least the trail seems in decent shape throughout, though it usually boasts several inches of loose dust on the surface. Once past the lake, the trail is much less used and relatively dustless.

If you want a shorter hike you can loop back at the wood bridge 1.6 miles in and return to the trailhead along the opposite bank of the river along a steep old roadbed.

Trail Notes: The trail forks soon after the trailhead, and the left fork is the East Fork. A few hiking minutes later, stay straight when a graveled left switchbacks steeply up.

Directions: Drive through Joseph, Oregon, on Highway 82 past Wallowa Lake to the trailhead at the end of the road.

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

Maps: USGS Joseph and Aneroid Mountain, Oregon; Imus Geographics Wallowa Mountains, Eagle Cap Wilderness map.

Connections: Whatever the trail to Aneroid is or isn’t, the lake does offer the best access to one of the finer high spots in the wilderness, Polaris Pass. A fine long weekend outing would be hiking to Aneroid and staying two nights, then day hiking to Polaris, which involves crossing Tenderfoot Pass en route. Polaris arguably offers some of the best views in the Wallowas. It’s possible to continue on over that pass and out the West Fork Wallowa River, though hiking down to that river involves some pretty steep trail that I’ve never hiked.

You also can hike down to the North Fork Imnaha River and beyond from Tenderfoot, or take the Tenderfoot Wagon Road, yet another trail with wonderful views.