Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eagle Cap Wilderness-Lakes Basin

Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

Duration: 2-3 Day
Season: Summer - Fall
Distance: ~21.5 miles, Round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate

The Eagle Cap Wilderness lies in the heart of the Wallowa Mountains in Northeastern Oregon on the Wallowa -Whitman National Forest. It was the summer home to the Cheif Joseph Band of the Nez Perce tribe and was used as hunting grounds for bighorn sheep, deer and to gather huckleberries. The Wilderness Act of 1964 placed the area in the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was enlarged through the years and now totals 361,446 acres of Wilderness.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness is characterized by high alpine lakes and meadows, bare granite peaks, and U-shaped glaciated valleys. The Wilderness has an array of exquisite wildflowers, small groves of old growth forest, and a variety of interesting wildlife. In the summer months, white-tailed deer, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk roam the Wilderness. Black bears are seen on occasion eating huckleberries and cougars hide out among the rocky outcroppings. On rare occasions, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or mountain goats can be seen, not to mention the smaller mammals that inhabit the area year-round including pine martens, badgers, squirrels, and marmots. As for fowls, keep your eyes to the air for falcon, woodpecker, bald eagle, golden eagle, ferruginous hawk, or the gray-crowned rosy finch. Plants range from low elevation grasslands and ponderosa pine forest to alpine meadows. Across the meadows you might spot a variety of Indian Paintbrush, Foregt-me-nots, Columbine, Larkspur, Cow Parsnip, and Mountain Bluebells.

As for the trail, from the trailhead stay right and follow the sign marked West Fork Wallowa River Trail #1820. The first ¾ mile section of the trail is steep and junctions with Joseph Mountain Trail. After passing the Wilderness Boundary sign at ~1 mile, the remaining ~2 miles to the Ice Lake junction is less strenuous with good views of Craig Mountain and the river (Note: there are 3 good campsites with water available at the junction). It's another ~3 miles to Six Mile Meadow gaining a total of 1,200ft in elevation from the trailhead and finally leveling out ~1 mile before the meadow (Note: at Six Mile Meadow a person can usually find good access for fishing the West Fork Wallowa River for Brook and Rainbow trout). At the beginning of Six Mile Meadow, there's a trail junction where you will head right towards Horseshoe Lake on Lakes Basin Trail #1810.

Trail #1810 cuts through the trees, crosses over the West Fork of the Wallowa River climbing another 1,200ft in elevation over three miles to Horseshoe Lake (Note: there is no water available over this 3-mile climb to the lake from the meadow). Horseshoe Lake has multiple campsites and this documenter prefers to use it as a base camp to explore the rest of the Lakes Basin area or you can continue on to one of the other lakes. Either way, definitely make a visit to Moccasin Lake and Mirror Lake, it's well worth the effort.

Fishing is good in most lakes and the West Fork Wallowa River. Camping sites abound, but make sure you follow the forest service regulations and avoid camping within 200ft of the shorelines for all lakes. Bears are common in the basin, so hang your food and follow bear backcountry precautions, not to mention the squirrels and chipmunks like to get into things also. A Northwest Forest Pass is necessary for parking at Eagle Cap Wilderness Trailheads and all visitors to the Eagle Cap Wilderness must obtain a required Wilderness Visitor Permit before entering the area. Only one permit per group is necessary, and there is no fee for the permits. The self-issue Registration/Permit boxes are located at each trailhead near the information board.

The Eagle Cap Wilderness is the most heavily used wilderness in Northeast Oregon, with the Lakes Basin Management Area the most popular. With the large size of the wilderness and the extensive trail system visitors should be able to find many opportunities for solitude. To increase your chances avoid holidays, travel on a weekday, in early spring or after Labor Day.

NOTE: A ~27-mile loop trip can be made by going up the West Fork, through the Lakes Basin, over Glacier Pass (a fairly steep climb over the Pass) to Glacier and Frazier Lakes, finally returning via the West Fork Wallowa River Trail #1820.

Driving Directions: From Joseph Oregon, drive South on Highway 82 following the signs ~6 miles to the far end of Wallowa Lake. At the end of the lake, turn left at the junction in the road and follow Powerhouse Road 1 mile to the end of the pavement and parking area. A parking permit is required. The trailhead is located about 200ft up the hill and to the left of the powerhouse.

For a map, pictures and more info click on Lakes Basin

See you on the trail,

All Day Energy Runners

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1 comment:

  1. That looks like a fantastic site to travel around. I have always loved nature immersion trips.