How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Trip recommendations, current conditions, and other trail related Q&A
theoryofmymind
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How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by theoryofmymind » July 6th, 2019, 5:11 pm

Hello. I'm planning a Monday-Friday backpacking trip with my partner to the Wallowa-Whitman NF. We've never been before, and love us some lakes. I'm a bit concerned about finding peace in the basin though, as many trip reports/trail descriptions I've seen label the area as "crowded". We're from the Portland area, so I imagine it won't be as densely packed as we're used to, but I would love the perspective of someone who's camped there mid-week in the summer. For example, how many other groups would you expect to share some of the more popular lakes (like, say, Mirror?) with on a weekday? What about the lakes that are more off the beaten path?

We really do prioritize peace and quiet over "the best" views/sites of the area. I'm not a snob for absolute solitude, but avoiding rowdy parties and large groups is my aim. Are there specific lakes/trails to avoid if we don't want to do congo-line-style hiking? It seems like there are a ton of trails around there and a myriad of loop opportunities. If anyone has any routes to suggest, I'd be very grateful :)

If it matters, we're moderately experienced, not afraid of elevation gain, but usually stick to under 10 miles per day.

Thanks in advance.

keithcomess
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by keithcomess » July 6th, 2019, 5:38 pm

I hiked the Wallowa Loop last year. While the scenery and views are magnificent, in August (at least) there was no solitude (i.e., no "wilderness experience"), campsites were in short supply rendering privacy non-existent and the area is accessible from numerous points (so there are lots of day hikers, some with "attitude" issues). Are the negatives so bad as to render it not worth visiting? I don't think so, but I do think the lake basin is overburdened.

Keith

theoryofmymind
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by theoryofmymind » July 6th, 2019, 5:52 pm

keithcomess wrote:
July 6th, 2019, 5:38 pm
I hiked the Wallowa Loop last year. While the scenery and views are magnificent, in August (at least) there was no solitude (i.e., no "wilderness experience"),
Thank you for your input. Have you by chance done anything else in Wallowa-Whitman that's less crowded?

Aimless
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by Aimless » July 6th, 2019, 7:23 pm

Almost anywhere in the Eagle Cap wilderness outside the Lakes Basin will be less crowded in August. The next-most popular lake destinations would be Aneroid Lake, Maxwell Lake, Chimney Lake, Ice Lake, Glacier Lake, and Frazier Lake. Each of these will be less crowded than the Lakes Basin, but probably still have a noticeable number of other visitors you'd share the lake with, in August.

If you would like a spectacular alpine lake almost all to yourself, you could try Frances Lake. The campsites near Frances Lake are not plentiful or obvious as at most lakes, because the shoreline in less hospitable for camping than the average lake. Part of it is lava. Other parts are rugged enough to make camping unattractive. You may have to site your camp about 1/3 mile from the lakeshore. But the scenery is jaw-dropping, and of the four times I've hiked up there, I spent the night either wholly alone, or with only one other party of campers in the vicinity. It has excellent solitude, in my experience.

Other lakes in Eagle Cap wilderness, with more campsites than Frances Lake, but pretty good solitude: Hidden Lake, Steamboat Lake, Woods Lake, Hobo Lake, Bear Lake, Green Lake, Echo Lake, Traverse Lake. Some very remote, off-trail lakes are: Cheval Lake, Catched-Two Lake.

Or you could try the Elkhorn Crest trail in the Blue Mountains. There are numerous lakes on short side trails off the Elkhorn Crest trail and the area is never crowded.

theoryofmymind
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by theoryofmymind » July 6th, 2019, 9:04 pm

That's very helpful, thank you! I will look into those options. They sound like just what we're looking for.

Thanks!

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retired jerry
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by retired jerry » July 7th, 2019, 5:19 am

I'm planning to hike through Lakes Basin next week.

Yeah, crowded, not so bad if you're hiking through. I don't know that I'll be camping there.

You can find more solitude north of Mirror Lake. Don't camp near lake.

Glacier Lake is nice. I'm going up east fork, Glacier Lake, Eagle Cap, down through Lake Basin.

Up East Fork Lostine, down west fork is a good loop. Make get to Glacier Lake, Eagle Cap

theoryofmymind
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by theoryofmymind » July 7th, 2019, 8:22 am

retired jerry wrote:
July 7th, 2019, 5:19 am

Glacier Lake is nice. I'm going up east fork, Glacier Lake, Eagle Cap, down through Lake Basin.

Up East Fork Lostine, down west fork is a good loop. Make get to Glacier Lake, Eagle Cap

I'll check those out, thank you!

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texasbb
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by texasbb » July 7th, 2019, 2:11 pm

I'll echo what others have said. If your experience base is stuff near Portland, you'll find most of the Wallowas all but deserted. The Lakes Basin in particular will be somewhat crowded, but the population anywhere off that focal point is usually pleasantly sparse. Even on the main popular lakes (Mirror, Moccasin), every time I've been there I've had no trouble getting the nicely framed pictures I want with no people or tents in them. I'm sure that's not always the case, but it's one data point.

My favorite place to camp in the main basin is Sunshine Lake. There aren't many good spots there, but if you can snag one you get a nice remote feel less than a quarter mile from Mirror Lake. And Sunshine is a gorgeous place to set up for a sunrise shot. I didn't have a wide enough lens so I stitched a couple of shots together.

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drm
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by drm » July 7th, 2019, 3:51 pm

Mirror Lake is probably the most crowded, and I'm not sure if weekend/weekday makes a huge difference for that area. I would add Forest Lakes on the south side as uncrowded, and contrary to the name, still has that Wallowas rock. Of course the best way to avoid crowds is not to camp at a lake, to camp on a stream somewhere and just visit the lakes. But that almost defeats the purpose. I would add that I think Traverse Lake has one of the better wow-factor-to-crowd ratios. The West Eagle trail has never had many people when I've been there, maybe because it is a bigger climb than many Wallowa trails.

RobFromRedland
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Re: How "crowded" is the Wallowas Lakes Basin?

Post by RobFromRedland » July 7th, 2019, 4:12 pm

texasbb wrote:
July 7th, 2019, 2:11 pm
I didn't have a wide enough lens so I stitched a couple of shots together.
I'll just say this - WOW!!!! BEAUTIFUL photo!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: WOW-What a ride!

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