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Ice Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Looking towards the Matterhorn, Ice Lake (bobcat)
West Fork Wallowa River from the trail (bobcat)
White mariposa lily (Calochortus eurycarpus) on the Ice Lake Trail (bobcat)
Thundering falls on Adam Creek, Ice Lake Trail (bobcat)
Alpine death-camas (Anticlea elegans), Adam Creek (bobcat)
Rainbow and Bonneville Mountain from Ice Lake (bobcat)
Sketch of the trail route to Ice Lake (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Start point: Wallowa Lake Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Ice Lake
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3380 feet
  • High Point: 7,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer through early Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: On Summer weekends

Contents

Hike Description

Ice Lake is one of the most coveted destinations in the Wallowas and, as such, campsites can be at a premium on summer weekends, when overnighters have their sights set on bagging the Matterhorn’s marble summit (see Matterhorn Add-on Hike). The popularity of the spot should not detract from a visit, however, especially if you can do it mid-week. All up the trail, meadows are blooming in mid-summer, there are waterfalls to explore as you ascend Adam Creek, and Ice Lake itself is a tranquil oasis below the Wallowas’ highest ridge. Some will do Ice Lake, and even the Matterhorn, as a long day hike; others will prefer the repose of an evening or two in the wilderness on the shores of this high lake.

At the huge Wallowa Lake Trailhead in Wallowa Lake State Park, fill out a Wilderness Permit and attach it to your pack. Take the West Fork Wallowa River Trail #1820 and head up on a dusty tread well trodden by mule and horse trains. In about a quarter mile, the trail meets the West Fork Wallowa-Chief Joseph Mountain Trail Junction (keep left here) before the West Fork’s narrow, rushing gorge. Take a spur at the gorge to view the rushing spate and then resume hiking up the river. Enter the Eagle Cap Wilderness and soon reach an area scarred by an avalanche. Sometimes you are under a forest canopy of Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, and western larch with ponderosa pine, western white pine, and grand fir; at other times, you are hiking through shrubby thickets along the river sometimes shaded by lodgepole pine. The path rises in a couple of spots to skirt boggy seeps. There are frequent views of the West Fork Wallowa itself as well as the rugged ridge to the west. After about 2 ½ miles, you will reach the West Fork Wallowa-Ice Lake Trail Junction.

Go right here on the Ice Lake Trail #1808 and descend gently to the river. The substantial bridge that carried hikers to the opposite bank was washed out in 2011, but there is now a single log with rail crossing (2013). A relentless ascent now begins as the trail makes some wide switchbacks through shady copses of conifers and open meadows blooming with mariposa lilies, paintbrush, penstemon, groundsel, and coneflower in summer. Scented shrubs like mock orange and wormwood are also in bloom. As you rise, there will be vistas across to the high ridgeline of Bonneville Mountain. The trail now makes a series of tighter switchbacks as it ascends the ravine of Adam Creek, which displays some of the most spectacular waterfalls and cascades in eastern Oregon. Beauty Falls can be approached from the trail; Ice Falls plunges into the lush bench above Beauty Falls. You are now in an alpine zone with subalpine fir, mountain hemlock, and limber pine. The Hurwal Divide looms above the trail to the right. The trail heads across a lush meadow and crosses a creek. There are more switchbacks, and then you reach the alpine bench which leads to Ice Lake, not visible until you are almost upon it.

Most campsites will be to your left, so cross Adam Creek and look around. The popular sites are on the little peninsula that juts into the lake from the east shore. There are some sites also on the south shore, but this is mostly a swampy meadow. It is possible to scramble around the lake to take in a variety of views. To the north is the long ridge of the Hurwal Divide. The Matterhorn, with its slopes of dark limestone capped by white marble, looms to the west. In the evening and early morning, look for mountain goats that come out to graze on the high meadows. Whitebark pine, limber pine, subalpine fir and mountain hemlock dot the slopes in some places; in others, there are pocket meadows and avalanche chutes. To the south is a jagged ridge with Craig Mountain standing sentinel at Ice Lake’s southeast corner. The west shore of the lake is gentle and even sports a small beach. The south shore alternates lush bogs with large granite boulders, good jumping platforms for an icy, but private, plunge. It is reported that the brook trout fishing in the lake is good.

Many who come to Ice Lake will want to ascend the Matterhorn – see the Matterhorn Add-on Hike for a description.


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
  • 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 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon by Adam Sawyer
  • Oregon's Wilderness Areas by George Wuerthner
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill
  • 100 Oregon Hiking Trails by Don & Roberta Lowe
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Best Dog Hikes: Oregon edited by Falcon Guides
  • 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.