Maxwell Lake


Forest Service Trail #1674

Why? An alpine lake plus views during the hike to and from it.

Season: July through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s 4 miles and 2,350 feet up to the lake.

Of all the lakes I’ve visited in the Wallowas, I have the fewest good memories of Maxwell – except of course for Echo Lake off Hurricane Creek (hike 33). It sits about 4 miles above the Lostine River, and I found it a stark and cold in its basin below a couple of unnamed peaks. The shoreline is rocky and boulder-fieldy, with a few trees and a few snags. There’s an island in its middle, and a view of the Hurricane Divide if you look back to the east.

The best part for me was the meadow below the lake, with the outlet creek doing a fine meander through it. But is it worth the hike? I don’t know. Perhaps I need to revisit Maxwell, for friends of mine who’ve hiked there like it quite a bit.

The hike to Maxwell is definitely up, though not grotesquely so. The first three miles are just lovely, with well-graded switchbacks. There are a couple of short ones at the start, followed by long, drawn out affairs that make you wonder just where you’re going and if you’re really going uphill. But then the going gets tough, and that’s the part I think about when I’m trying to decide if the lake is worth the hike. Though the map doesn’t show that it’s all that bad, it seemed so when I hiked it – 1 mile of just plain steep uphill, complete with a false lake basin near but not at the top.

On the way up, there’s not a lot to see except a peek at the Eagle Cap when you’re high enough and heading in that direction on one of the long switchback legs.

I enjoyed the down trip more. Not just because it was down, which actually is harder on the body, but because there were other views during the trip in that direction. Right at the top, Twin Peaks are visible. They’re highly colored and look to be sitting on top of a white rock, though they’re not. The light ridge is in front of them. Twin Peaks are on the Hurricane Divide, which is quite brown near the peaks.

When I get right down to it, I guess I’d have to say that except for that last mile of trail, the walk up and down from Maxwell is mostly fine. There are some dense wooded areas at the start, then more open woods and some rocky spots. I met a few people on the trail in late fall, along with one large grouse that flushed to a low spot a short distance away.

Trail Notes: Although I had no trouble crossing the outlet creek that connects Maxwell Lake to the Lostine, a friend had a different experience in the spring. Admittedly, this friend isn’t the best stream crosser I know, but even in September, I could see that it might have been exciting with a higher water flow. It’s a steep and rocky area. In the spring, the creek was fine on the hike in, but enough snow melt was added to the flow during the day that by afternoon, it was quite exciting. The group ended up heading down the creek a bit, to a spot with a handy rock in the middle.

Directions: Turn right on Highway 82 at the stop sign in Enterprise, then left 10 miles later in Lostine onto Road 8210 at the sign for Lostine River campgrounds. The trailhead is on the right 16.7 miles up the road in the Shady Campground, while parking is on the left.

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

Maps: USGS North Minam Meadows, Oregon; Imus Geographics Wallowa Mountains, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon.