West Fork Lostine River


Forest Service Trail #1670

Why? Just a fine hike to a lovely lake.

Season: Mid-June through September

Ease: Difficult. It’s 6.1 miles and 1,845 feet up to Minam Lake, which essentially sits at the end of the trail.

Technically, it’s a shorter hike up the West Fork Lostine to the Lakes Basin than the hike up the East Fork. However, the East Fork hike takes you into the Lakes Basin proper, so to speak – to where several lakes are in relatively close proximity to each other. The West Fork takes you to an adjunct bit of the basin that holds just two lakes, Minam and Blue (hike 23) – beautiful ones, to be sure. But you have to hike over Carper Pass to get to the rest of the lakes.

Which definitely is not to say that Minam Lake isn’t worth the visit, for it is. It sits in a fine basin backed by the aptly named Brown Mountain, one section of which is grey with brown, triangular inclusions. It boasts a fair number of campsites, many of them somewhat secluded. And the lake itself is delightful, an island or two breaking its surface.

And getting there is a pleasant hike with some nice sights along the way. The first few miles are primarily in the woods, with dense trees and a low understory. The river is sometimes visible, sometimes not, with a few fine falls along with a couple of wonderfully quiet spots. The first is about 1 mile in and used to be an “old ladies picnic spot” according to the elderly gentleman on horseback I talked with as he rode past. It’s a place where the river divides, and the section nearest the trail seemed almost not to move. Though it was clear, I didn’t see any fish. Nor did I take exception to his definition of “old,” one that undoubtedly included me. There’s a similar spot a mile farther mile in that’s more open and has better scenery.

After the “old lady” clearings, the trail climbs through a long talus slope, then even more steeply as it wanders in and out of trees and small openings – my favorite part of the hike. From the openings, the grey granite of the ridge that divides the drainages of the two forks of the Lostine is visible, dotted with dark trees. On the west side, Elkhorn Peak and then Glacier Mountain provide a background.

You’ll know you’re getting close to Minam Lake when you cross the river, then head through a large meadow before crossing again. Two small meadows follow the second cross before you reach the lake itself.

Note: I had two memorable experiences on this trail, both involving lightning storms. The first happened when I was hiking out from a day hike up to Minam Lake. The weather turned bad, the temperature dropped precipitously, followed by drenching rain and then hail. I took shelter under some medium sized trees while trying to get my raingear on – it all happened so fast that I hadn’t had a chance to do so before. As I huddled and waited for it to blow over, thunder boomed and lightning went from one peak to another. A deer, as discombobulated by the weather as I, almost walked over me trying to get away from it all.

The second time, I was camped at Minam. A storm blew in and lightning ignited the top of a tree at the opposite end of the lake from my hike. The drenching rain meant it didn’t cause any problems, except for that tree, of course.

Trail Notes: There are two starts to this trail, one out of the parking lot and one at the end of the road. They join before the trails up the East and West forks split a short while later.

Directions: At the town of Lostine, turn off Highway 82 onto Road 8210 at the sign for Lostine Campgrounds. It ends at Two Pan 17 ½ miles later.

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

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

Connections: The trails to Blue Lake and down the Minam River are at the south end of the lake, just after the trail to Carper Pass toward the East Fork Lostine and Mirror Lake heads off to the east. The trail up Copper Creek is 2.6 miles up from Two Pan. Copper Creek has a fine basin, well worth visiting, and is a good entry into the Upper Lakes area in the Wallowas.