Backpacking the Wallowas

by Kim on September 16, 2011 · 15 comments

Backpacking the Wallowas

Over Labor Day weekend some friends and I went backpacking in the Wallowas.  The Wallowa’s are a mountain range in northeastern Oregon nicknamed Little Switzerland or The Alps of Oregon, depending on who you google.  They’re a six-hour drive from Portland and totally, completely worth the trip.

I was giddy with anticipation at spending three nights beneath the stars. Because Brian and I spent all summer preparing and then selling the house I hadn’t been camping at all, and hiking only twice.  In my book, missing camping season in Oregon is a true sin, punishable by neighbors that drone their TV at all hours and smoke cigarettes on their balcony right next to your open window (oh, can you tell I live in an apartment now?).  Ahm, anyway.

Here’s what I loved about the Wallowas: you have to work for the views.  Day hikes in these parts are beautiful, but in order to reach the most stunning scenery you’ve got to backpack in.

So backpack in we did.  We were rewarded with stacked panoramas of rugged mountains and teal alpine lakes so clear you could see right to the bottom.

The daytime sky was a crisp, early-fall blue.

At night a million stars came out to greet us.  Eastern Oregon is sparsely populated so there is no light pollution in the mountains.  I’ve never seen a night sky like that before, stars were stacked on top of stars.  The milky way was visible and dense.  Only the freezing temperatures were enough to finally drive me inside of my tent.

I feel most alive when I’m running, hiking or backpacking through the mountains.  This world is so beautiful.  Trekking deep into the wilderness always reminds me of that.

Backpacking is about essentials.  In the mountains it isn’t important how much money you have or what kind of impressive career you’re built for yourself.  What does matter is having a shelter to keep you dry, a bag to keep you warm, food to fuel you and a body that is strong enough to carry you where you need to go.

Friends matter too.  It’s more fun to see this beautiful world with people who love the same things you do.

Wendy kept exclaiming “I can’t get over that this is always here!  Like it’s here, while we are sitting in our cubicles and going about our business.”  I know exactly what she means.  It’s always surprising to remember that places this beautiful just exist, beckoning us to explore them, sitting and waiting silently for hundreds of thousands of years until we carry our tired souls inside of them, asking to be renewed.  Wilderness like this is essential to humanity.  We can never, ever allow it to be destroyed.


Note: We found this route in the backpacking bible Backpacking Oregon.  It’s the Wallowa River Trail, a 36 mile loop with 7,100 feet of elevation gain.  If you’re planning a trip yourself and would like more details about the trail feel free to email me.  


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda Kendle September 17, 2011 at 6:53 am

What a gorgeous place – especially that very top photo with the reflections, I love it! I also miss camping – haven’t done it for three or four years I suppose even though down here in Australia the weather is often perfect for it. Soon, soon!
Amanda Kendle recently posted..Weekend Wanderings: Your round-numbered posts!


Kim September 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

We camped by that lake in the top photo and we were the only people around. It was truly amazing.


Miel September 17, 2011 at 8:49 am

Gorgeous! This is on our list of destinations in the next year. We plan to scatter our father, grandfather & grandmother’s ashes there. I’ve never been, and wanted to go for years. Very inspiring. Also great to see a group of girlfriends do it!

Happy weekend!



Kim September 17, 2011 at 9:01 am

I’d been hearing about the Wallowas for years and I’m so glad I finally made it. I want to take Brian back next summer. It is a magical place!


Matt September 17, 2011 at 9:57 am

These photos bring back lots of good memories of my summer working in the Wallowas. Incredibly beautiful area.


Kim September 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Where did you work? I bet it was a wonderful summer.


RenegadePilgrim September 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Kim, that is gorgeous! One of these days I want to get out to the Wallowas. I spent Labor Day Weekend in the Olympic NF at Marmot Pass. Spectacular views as well. You should also look into the Enchantments in Central WA. Equally stunning. I’m applying for a permit for next summer.


Kim September 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thanks for the tip, I will definitely look in to the Enchantments in Central WA, I’ve never even heard of them! Brian and I are officially kicking off our RTW trip with a road trip of the western National Parks…. so excited!!!


Ali September 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

Camping is soooo not my thing, but it looks like you had a great time. The pictures are amazing!


Kim September 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Thanks Ali. The Wallowa’s are beautiful. Highly recommended if you ever make it to Oregon!


Marla January 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I live in Wallowa Valley! I am so thankful that in 10-15 minutes I can be at a trail head and on a hike. There is no more beautiful place on earth….


Kim January 25, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I completely agree. Such an amazing, beautiful place. You are blessed!


Forrest May 9, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Beautiful! I am going to plan this trip for the summer. Do you know where I can find maps of the trail and the area?


Rick Reynolds May 12, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Wonderful, exciting post and pics! Thanks so much, Kim, and you and the rest of the community can also post/explore on our free new community site,, if you’d like. Other Wallowa posts were added recently, for instance, but none quite like this. 🙂 Keep up the great work!


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