Echo Lake


Forest Service Trail #1824

Why? Lovely alpine lake and fantastic views.

Season: Mid-July through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s a steep 2,332 feet up over 3 miles to Echo Lake from Hurricane Creek.

You can already tell from the difficulty rating that this isn’t going to be an easy way to spend a day. The good news is that even if you don’t make it all the way to the lake, the hike is well worth the effort. As you climb out of Hurricane Creek, you get what arguably are the best views from any trail to a Wallowa Lake.

The views that make this hike worth the effort are primarily of the stretch of Wallowa Mountains from Chief Joseph to the Matterhorn, with the ridges to the north of Granite Creek and that above the lake thrown in for good measure. The most immediate landmark, cause you’re just across Hurricane Creek from it, is Sacajawea. She’s a lot more varied in her rock than is apparent from other views, and there’s a series of regularly shaped shallow ridges down her flanks just above tree line that are particularly appealing.

Next you notice the massive size of the Sacajawea to Matterhorn ridge and the oneness of the two mountains. They form a huge solid block of a ridge – the highest in the Wallowas - that on top is the bright white of the Matterhorn. Below the white, there are more other colors than you usually see, plus more layers and patterns. It really is quite impressive. Sacajawea is taller by a few feet, but sometimes it doesn’t look that way.

A long brown ridge stretches from Sacajawea to Chief Joseph Mountain, perhaps the most surprising mountain of all. On the other, north, side it’s your basic treed mountain with a dark rocky top. From this side, it’s a delightful mix of warm colors – rosy coral, cream, and brown.

It’s frosting on the cake that the ridge to the north of the trail is delightful – a rainbow mix of rock colors in browns, tans, beiges, whites and creams. And that the unnamed peaks above Echo Lake, though obviously intimately joined, are one brown and one grey.

The lake itself – well, it’s a lake, deep turquoise in color and clear, with fish of many sizes. It’s nicely set in a bowl with rounded boulders on the trail side and a fine selection of whitebark pine.

I personally prefer the meadow below, a bright green spot with flowers a plenty and meandering streams. But then, I never have been much of a lake person anyway.

Trail Notes: This is a hike that hikes even harder than the numbers suggest. I think there are two reasons. The first third of the hike, though decidedly uphill, isn’t steep. Then, after a short relatively level section and a couple crossings of small streams, it gets very steep until the gorgeous meadow. At that point, you’re ready for the lake to be just over that first rise, but it’s not – it’s another 600 to 700 feet up. It didn’t help that I also did this hike on a very hot July day.

When I did this hike, there was a lot of downfall at the start of the trail, behind the trail sign. We went right maybe 40 to 50 yards, following the path of least resistance around it, then headed back to the left to pick up the trail. At that point, the trail is switchbacking to the right.

In the meadow about 2 miles up, the trail is a bit hard to follow in spots. However, there are helpful scattered cairns. In general, just head uphill through the rock wash and along a tiny stream. You get almost all of the great scenery from the meadow, so you easily can turn around at that point.

Directions: The Echo Lake trail is on the right 5 miles up Hurricane Creek.

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

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