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East Fork Wallowa River Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Jewett Lake and Bonneville Mountain from near Tenderfoot Pass (bobcat)
Roger Lake, East Fork Wallowa River Trail (bobcat)
Aneroid Mountain from below (bobcat)
Alpine buttercup (Ranunculus adoneus), Tenderfoot Pass (bobcat)
Petes Point from near Dollar Lake (bobcat)
East Fork Wallowa River Trail marked in red (bobcat)
  • Start point: Wallowa Lake Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Tenderfoot Pass
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 17.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4620 feet
  • High Point: 8,500 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer through early Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: On summer weekends

Contents

Hike Description

This well-used trail, accessed by hikers in the summer and back-country skiers in the winter, ascends rather steeply in the first four miles along the East Fork Wallowa River between Bonneville Mountain to the west and the Aneroid – Mt. Howard ridge to the east. From typical Wallowa mountain slope forest in the lower reaches, the path becomes more gradual as it reaches a series of meadows, beaver ponds, and then Roger Lake and Aneroid Lake. You can camp at Aneroid, about six miles from the trailhead, or hike higher into stunning open alpine country, turning west for Tenderfoot Pass or east to Dollar Lake.

On the east side of the huge trailhead parking area, fill out your self-issued wilderness permit. Take the trail to a fork and go left on the East Fork Wallowa River Trail #1804. Reach an old road track, which leads to a dam up the trail, on your left. Keep right on the trail here. Climb for about two miles, making four wide switchbacks. Then make a long traverse with some shorter switchbacks. The trail then approaches the East Fork, tumbling to your left and sometimes in view. Aspens rustle in the breeze and there are views back to Wallowa Lake and the plains and Blue Mountains beyond. The conifer canopy is predominantly Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, and western larch. The trail is often used by mule and horse trains in the summer and the tread is loose, rubbly, and often dusty. Get your first view of Aneroid Mountain before coming to a lovely waterfall. Then reach a small dam on the East Fork: water flowing down a flume from this dam feeds the power house at the south end of the Wallowa Lake Trailhead. A short side trail leads to the site.

Not far past the dam, you enter the Eagle Cap Wilderness. The trail keeps ascending the lower slopes of Bonneville Mountain and you get more views back to Wallowa Lake. You can always hear and often see the East Fork rushing down its narrow valley to the left. Switchback up, and almost four miles from the trailhead, cross the East Fork on a footbridge. The trail braids right after the bridge. Keep right here on the one-way track and shortly rejoin the single trail.

Now the trail enters a series of lush meadows blooming with wetland wildflowers late into the summer. Limber pine and western white pine are the conifers as you climb higher. The East Fork up here is a quieter stream often dammed by beaver activity. Pass Roger Lake on the left and, after about half a mile, see Aneroid Lake on the right. Above rear the slopes of Bonneville Mountain. Come to the East Fork Wallowa River-Aneroid Lake Trail Junction. Going right here will take you to some well-used campsites in two separate areas and also some private cabins (Respect property signs!).

Keep left to continue higher for about a mile to the East Fork Wallowa River-Bonny Lakes Trail Junction. Heading right will take you above the cabins to Tenderfoot Pass after 1 ½ miles, the direction to go if you are headed towards Polaris Pass. Heading right off the trail before reaching Tenderfoot, you can hike across open alpine meadows to Jewett Lake and camp overnight. The East Fork Wallowa River Trail becomes the North Fork Imnaha River Trail #1814 at 8,500-foot Tenderfoot Pass.

Another option for an overnight camp and a visit to one of Oregon’s highest lakes, Dollar Lake, is to continue left up the Bonny Lakes Trail #1802 with great views of Aneroid Mountain above. The trail here is less-used, but still obvious. Before reaching Dollar Pass, you can head right to camp at Dollar Lake in established sites; another very private option is across the lake behind a screen of vegetation on the lower slopes of Dollar Ridge. The water in the tarn Dollar Lake (8,450’) is pure snowmelt and becomes very stagnant in the summer/fall, so for camping by a fresh water source needing no filtering, find a site in the valley below the lake near one of the sources of the East Fork.

Making an extended camp up here gives you an opportunity for multiple day hikes and easy ascents of some of the Wallowas’ highest peaks. Aneroid Mountain, at 9,702 feet, nurses Oregon’s highest trees, windswept whitebark and limber pines. Like a large swath of the eastern Wallowas, it exhibits the tell-tale rimrock and lava blocks of the Columbia River Basalts. The top of the massive horseshoe-shaped 9,675-foot Petes Point, which is primarily composed of Martin Bridge limestone/marble and Hurwal shales, can be reached from Tenderfoot Pass. Look for mountain goats here and also along the spine of Dollar Ridge, right above the lake. All three of these peaks may be ascended in one day by energetic hikers/ scramblers. Views are wide-ranging and spectacular from all of them, so save a clear day for these ascents! Another and lengthier ridge scramble is the route from Jewett Lake along the high ridge of Bonneville Mountain to its two summits. This involves a couple of gendarme encounters, but is also non-technical.

Day hikes from the upper East Fork valley can take you through the high meadows at Tenderfoot Pass and then along the beautiful headwaters bowl of the North Fork Imnaha, with its high benches and fells blooming with lupine and alpine knotweed in late summer, to Polaris Pass. To the east, drop from Dollar Pass on the Bonny Lake Trail to the lush meadows around the lakes and then the valley of the Middle Fork Big Sheep Creek.

A classic Wallowa backpacking loop continues from Tenderfoot Pass on the North Fork Imnaha Trail to reach the Polaris Pass Trail; this continues to the pass and its spectacular views from 8,890 feet. Then it's a vertical switchbacking descent, beginning on steep limestone scree, for over 2,000 feet to the West Fork Wallowa River Trail. Going south will take you to the Lakes Basin; heading north will be your return route to the Wallowa Lake Trailhead.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Sign in at the Wilderness Permit box at the trailhead
  • Keep dogs on leash around horse and mule trains; step off the trail when they approach.

Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Green Trails Maps: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness #475SX
  • Imus Geographics: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • 50 Hikes in Hells Canyon and Oregon’s Wallowas by Rhonda & George Ostertag
  • Backpacking Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Oregon's Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • The Wallowa Mountains: A Natural History Guide by Keith Pohs

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.