September 14 The Wallowa Lake Tramway

Currently in Rocky Point, it is all the way up to 48 degrees F  and there is snow at Crater Lake

most perfect examples of lateral moraines anywhereBuilt in 1968, the Wallowa Lake Tramway is the steepest 4 person gondola tramway in North America. Beginning at the south end of Wallowa Lake, at 4,200 feet elevation, it rises 3,700 vertical feet to the top of Howard Mountain at 8,260 feet.  

From the top, the views are among the most magnificent in the state of Oregon.  There is a small restaurant at the summit and a few nice trails that meander around the peak for about 2.5 miles.  Most access into the breathtaking Eagle Cap Wilderness require a lot of miles of hiking and some very steep ascents to reach the high glaciated lakes.  Not so if you take the tram and access the wilderness from the top of Mt Howard.

We didn’t see any backpackers on this day, but a friend of mine used to talk about how long it took to get UP in the Eagle Cap and how great the tram was to allow high mountain hiking from the very beginning of a backpack trip.  Looked great to me, I’ll tell you! 

Wallowa Lake Tram-005 Of course, we didn’t come to backpack, just to see the views and enjoy the walk and maybe even enjoy a beer and a wild mountain berry cobbler in the restaurant.  The regular fee is $27. but for seniors it is a mere $24.  Yeah.   A bit steep, but worth every penny. It actually costs a bit more than the huge Palm Springs Aerial Tramway that we visited when we were in Desert Hot Springs a  couple of years ago.  I think that tram was a lot more vertical, but the cages were a lot bigger than these tiny little 4 person gondolas.  A different experience entirely.

It was in the low 60’s F, about 12 degrees F colder than the valley below, when we arrived at the summit, just enough that we were still ok in shorts and shirts with no jacket.  Still, it is something to be aware of if you want to spend any time at the top and have been warm and toasty down in the campground before your ascent.

Wallowa Lake Tram-024 The views really are breathtaking, and the trails to each overlook are easy enough that little kids can do it, maybe on the back of a parent some of the time, but there were plenty of families walking the trails.  I would have loved to have been prepared, and had the time and the permit to just wander off on the trail that led south into the wilderness.  Even for a day if not an overnight.  It looked so incredibly inviting.

At the north side, the Valley Overlook has views of Wallowa Lake, Joseph, and Enterprise in the valley below, and the Zumwalt Prairie to the northeast and toward Washington to the northwest.  In the somewhat smoky and cloudy skies, I could even make out the dim outline of Moscow Mountain near Moscow, Idaho.  I used to sit on that mountain and look toward the Wallowas.  I could also see where the Lewiston Hill begins it’s winding descent toward Lewiston, another place where I would look south to the magical outline of the Wallowas and the Blue Mountains.  It was nice to be here again looking north.  The last time I was in the Wallowas was in 1979, in another life completely.

Wallowa Lake Tram-021 Also at the north view was a jump-off spot for hang gliding launches.  I used to think I wanted to do that, but lately that particular item has drifted to the very bottom of my bucket list.  After looking at that drop, I sort of dumped it out of the bucket altogether.  There were lots of people taking photos, and of course, you know how it goes.  Someone walks up to a couple and says, “Do you want me to take your photo together?”  The same person taking this photo of this happy couple said it to us, but we declined.  Just how many photos of the two of us with a gorgeous view in the background can we keep anyway.  I think these shots are kind of like the shots I get of the front of my kayak on the water that my daughter always laughs at.  Water, Sky, Mountains, and oh…the pink triangle of the front of my boat.

everyone wants a photo from this spot Just a  little aside here: you know how some people have lives that are linked together through the years?  Mine doesn’t seem to do that very well, and it seems I have lived a lot of different, unrelated lives in this one.  With no real extended family, the only links that connect all these different phases of my life are with my friend Maryruth and my children, which I had when I was almost a child myself.  Maryruth and I will celebrate 50 years of friendship next month.  Maryruth and her husband Gerald, and Mo and I are all going to spend a few days together at Harris Beach.  UhOh, more Harris Beach photos will be coming up I am sure!Wallowa Lake Tram-025

While the tram ride is just a short 15 minutes, it is easy to spend a few hours wandering around, drinking in the views, and sipping a beer to celebrate once you are up there.  I am not sure I would have to do it every time I decided to visit Joseph and Wallowa Lake, but I would definitely not want to miss doing it at least once.

More photos from our day at the top of the mountain are linked here.

heading for the Valley Overlook

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

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