Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Still 2 weeks left to ride the Wallowa Lake Tramway, visit Wallowa Mountains in NE Oregon

Atop Mt. Howard ... spectacular views in all directions!

Hi all,

Wendy and I took a little vacation to the Wallowas in NE Oregon last week, just as cooler fall weather was kicking in and the fire smoke from Oregon and California disappeared. That made for a perfect time in this quiet corner of Oregon, 3.5-4 hours away by freeway from Boise. 

After doing a 6-mile hike on Hurricane Creek in the Eagle Cap Wilderness on the first day, we decided to take the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard the following day. 

I've known about the Wallowa Lake Tramway for years, but I had never done it before. It's been open since 1970. Tickets cost $38 per person for adults, $28 for kids under 11. It operates only in the summer months. I thought it was well worth the expense to enjoy giant views of the Wallowas and Eagle Cap Wilderness, the Joseph Plains, Wallowa Lake and the Seven Devils Mountains in Idaho. 

The trip to the top is super quiet inside these cute, 2-person gondola cars (maybe more than 2 people can fit in the cars with small children). You quickly rise 3,700 feet in vertical gain to the top of Mount Howard (elev. 8,250 feet) in a 15-minute ride. Once on top, you can hike around the cone of Mt. Howard to four distinct viewpoints, and each one of them is totally spectacular! 

Be sure to dress warm for the top, depending on the weather and the time of day. Could be 15-20 degrees colder on top than at the base area. 

After a 2.5-mile hike to those viewpoints, you can return to the tramway summit, enjoy a beverage (including Mimosas!), a cup of soup, or a sandwich for lunch. 

Hiking trail on top of Mt. Howard is a Park Service-like well-manicured trail, good for all abilities.

I've spent a lot of time hiking into the various drainages in the Wallowas and Eagle Caps over the last 40 years, so it was cool to look deep into the interior of the wilderness and rekindle memories. Looking into the East Fork of Wallowa Creek, Wendy and I remembered a very memorable backcountry ski trip into Anaeroid Basin, where we had tons of new powder to enjoy for 4-5 days. 

The tall mountains lording over the West Fork and East Fork of Wallowa Creek made for some great backdrops for photos on the top of Mt. Howard. The southern viewpoint looking out at beautiful Wallowa Lake, the Joseph Plains and the Seven Devils mountain range in  Idaho was just as spell-binding, looking out at the patchwork quilt of farm/ranch fields below amongst all the rest. 

Nice pic of Wendy on top with big peaks in the background.

There's just two weeks left to plan a trip to the Wallowa Lake tramway to enjoy this experience.
It closes on Oct. 4. Tickets for youths aged 12-17 are $35 and kids 11 and under can go for $28. If you can't cram a trip into your fall sked, put it on the list for next year. 

There are lots of other things to do in the Enterprise/Joseph area. There's Nez Perce history as this was the home to Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Tribe. You can visit his grave site in Joseph next to Wallowa Lake, and learn about the Nez Perce War and history. You can visit large bronze statues and art galleries in Joseph.

The cute gondola cars provide fetching views of Wallowa Lake and the countryside below.

You can go hiking or backpacking in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. We did an out-and-back hike on Hurricane Creek to the "Slickrock" granite rock formations on that scenic trail. And we did an 8-mile day hike to Maxwell Lake in the Lostine River drainage. The trail to Maxwell Lake was very well-maintained, making for a pleasant approach in the first three miles, and then a steep final approach in the last mile to the lake. The deep turquoise color of Maxwell Lake was absolutely mesmerizing to me. Perfectly gin-clear pure water high in the watershed. 

Maxwell Lake with Wendy ... gorgeous lake!

Another fun activity would be the Wallowa County barn tours ... You can take a self-guided tour of 31 scenic barns in the Wallowa Valley ranch country around the towns of Wallowa, Lostine, Enterprise and Joseph. The Wallowa Valley chamber has an online tour guide and video to show you the way. 

Lodging: We stayed in a recently remodeled condo unit in downtown Enterprise. Very spiffy. The VRBO rental allows pets and sleeps up to at least 6. There are several hotels in the area as well. Both Joseph and Enterprise are centrally located to everything. See the Wallowa Chamber site for ideas and prices on lodging. In the summer, you could book a camping spot at Wallowa Lake State Park. Gorgeous location.

Food: It's nice to be able to make meals at your vacation rental, so you don't have to go out for every meal. We did dinner at two different restaurants that were notable -- Terminal Gravity just outside of Enterprise (outdoor dining available), and the Stubborn Mule Saloon and Steakhouse in Joseph. Both were excellent and very reasonably priced!   

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Cooler temps this weekend will make hiking, biking in the Snake River canyon a dandy choice!

Old homestead by the Snake River canyon trail.

Hi all, 

A cold front will pass through Idaho on Friday, bringing a 50% chance of rain that afternoon, but the rest of the weekend looks dandy, with cooler temps in the high 60s and low 70s in the mountains, and nudging 80 degrees in the valley. 

For my outdoor tip this week, I'm recommending several hikes in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. The weather in the Snake River canyon looks really nice Saturday and Sunday, with low temps in the 50s and highs around 80 degrees.

Golden eagle on the Snake River Rim ... Courtesy BLM

We are moving into mid-September by next week, temperatures are moderating into fall mode, and that means fall hiking and biking in the Snake River area and the Owyhee Canyonlands will be prime-time in the next couple of months. 

1.  Hike or bike on the Snake River canyon trail to an abandoned homestead - Distance: 4.3 miles from the east trailhead. Difficulty: Easy. You can also access this trail from Celebration Park. The trail is mostly flat and easy to walk or ride. It's sandy in places. Bring a lunch, and hang out at the abandoned homestead with a view of the Snake River. When I visited the trail, I rode from the east trailhead over to Celebration Park and went back to the east trailhead, probably closer to 8 miles or so, but still an easy ride because the terrain is mostly flat.

Directions: Drive to Kuna. Take the paved Swan Falls Road to Swan Falls Dam, south of town. Take the dirt road running along the north side of the canyon several miles to the trailhead. The dirt road ends at the trailhead. The hiking and biking trail is non-motorized.  

The abandoned homestead is located near the ruins of a mud-and-rock house once occupied by a hermit named Doc Hisom. He died at age 94 in 1944 and was buried in Canyon County. He lived on the two-room rock house in a place called "Halverson Cove" about 20 yards from the Snake River. People visited him frequently. Something to think about when you visit.

More information about Doc Hisom courtesy Boise State University. 

From Boise State Powerpoint presentation about Doc Hisom

2. Hike to Halverson Lake from Celebration Park. You can enjoy a very moderate 6-mile round-trip hike to Halverson Lake and check out the petroglyphs on the rocks at Celebration Park. The park is managed by Canyon County. Great place to take kids. Teachable moment about the Bonneville Flood by the parking lot. 

You'll walk along a sandy trail next to the Snake River for several miles and then hang a left to walk through a series of large basalt boulders to Halverson Lake, next to the Snake River rim. 

Hike to Halverson Lake features an easy-going walk along the Snake River.

Driving directions: From downtown Boise, take I-84 west to Nampa. Take the Franklin Road exit (City Center) in Nampa. Go left. Follow Franklin to the intersection with 11th Street. Turn right and take 11th into downtown Nampa. Follow signs for ID 45 south. Proceed several miles south to Walters Ferry at the Snake River. Just before the river crossing, turn left on Ferry Road. Follow Ferry to Hill Road. Go right on Hill. Follow Hill to Sinker Road; turn right on Sinker and proceed to Celebration Park. You can see petroglyphs on boulders next to the parking lot, and learn about the Bonneville Flood. The artwork on display can be seen between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

Halverson Lake

Celebration Park also is near Guffy Bridge, where you can do some hiking and exploring.

3. Explore the trails around the Guffey Bridge.

About the Guffey Bridge
(from the Idaho Heritage Trust) - The Guffey Bridge is Idaho’s largest historic artifact and was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The bridge is the only Parker-Through-Truss Railroad Bridge in Idaho. It was designed to facilitate the hauling of gold and silver ore from Silver City mines at the turn of the century. The 450-ton steel structure is 70 feet tall and spans 500 feet over the Snake River. The cost of construction and other circumstances concerning the Boise, Nampa and Owyhee Railroad precluded hauling any ore across the bridge but it was instrumental in the agricultural development of the area. The bridge was abandoned in 1947, saved from demolition in the1970s and purchased and restored by Canyon County in 1989.

Here are more details about Snake River canyon hikes from All Trails.  

- SS

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Oodles of outdoorsy ideas for the last big camping weekend of 2021 in Idaho!

Big Lookout Lake, Trinity Mountains

Hi all,

Labor Day weekend is upon us! It's the typical last hurrah of the camping season, so I'm dishing up some last-minute tips for the three-day weekend, as always. 

Before we get into the camping ideas, Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain and Tamarack Resort all have some fun stuff going on this weekend, and the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic at Ann Morrison Park runs daily through Sunday.  

Courtesy Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic

This weekend will be the final segment of Music on the Mountain at Bogus Basin on Saturday, Sept. 4, from 3-6 p.m., featuring Voice of Reason and the Afrosonics on the lawn outside Simplot Lodge. Plus you can partake in Fun Zone activities, including summer tubing, bungee trampoline, gem panning, climbing wall, mountain coaster or ride the lifts to access hiking and biking trails. 

Bogus will be open on weekends through October FYI. 
This will be the final weekend of operations at Brundage Mountain. Jeff Crosby and the Refugees will play live in the grass amphitheather in the final TGIF concert of the year Friday night. The event is free. Food and beverage available for sale on site. Also, Brundage is providing FREE lift service to retail, restaurant, service, hospitality and health care employees Friday-Monday. That's pretty cool! 
At Tamarack, they're hosting a super fun Bikes, Brews & Bluegrass event on Sunday, Sept. 5, 1-5 p.m. Ride the lift and check out the hiking and biking trails on the mountain. They've got something for all abilities, including hard-core downhillers! In addition, there will be end-of-season sales with guest shop retailers, live bluegrass music by local Idaho musicians, and up to a dozen different beers all from local Idaho breweries! Guests must be 21+ to purchase cups and tokens for beer, but otherwise it's a family friendly FREE event!
Steve fishing Rainbow Lake

Now, on to the camping tips and other Labor Day ideas ... the weather looks stellar BTW for camping, hiking and biking this Labor Day weekend, with daytime highs in the 80s in the mountains, and 90s in the Boise Valley.
  • Trinity Mountains - Go camping, day-hiking or backpacking in the Trinities. I recommend driving there via Featherville. Head for Big Trinity Lake, the trailhead and general dispersed camping area. It's definitely worth backpacking into the high mountain lakes to get away from the car-campers and enjoy some good fishing!

  • Cascade area - Stolle Meadows and Landmark are my favorite camping areas in this neck of the woods. There are tons of primitive car-camping spots in both locations, east of Cascade, off the Warm Lake Highway. I've heard there may be some construction in the Stolle Meadows area so check with the Cascade Ranger District for any closures. Plus, there are hot springs in the vicinity.
  • Lick Creek area in the Payette National Forest 
  • McCall area - Camping, hiking and backpacking in the Lick Creek area NE of McCall should be fabulous. Some of the nice mountain lakes up there include Box, Snowslide, Duck, Hum, Enos and Thirty-three lakes. Pick up a Payette National Forest map or a McCall Adventure Map to get the details for access. Also, check my blog from earlier this summer on five easy-to-access kid-friendly mountain lakes in the McCall area. 
    Stanley Lake 
  • Stanley area - I'm sure the Stanley area will be hopping with lots of campers at Stanley Lake, Redfish Lake, Pettit Lake and points along the Salmon River. Backpacking in the White Clouds should be dandy, particularly from the East Fork side, being a three-day weekend and all. Don't forget the Marsh Creek Trail as another potential destination ... great hiking and fly fishing spot. Hike up to the junction of Bear Valley and Marsh Creeks, and there's a huge glory hole right there. 
    North and Middle Forks of the Boise River ... car-camping mecca 
  • Idaho City area - The North and Middle Forks of the Boise River work great for car camping. See my post from last week.  
  • Salmon River beaches - Upstream from Riggins along the Salmon River Road are some sweet spots for camping, hanging out and swimming. 
Courtesy Winding Rivers Rafting

Also, Labor Day weekend is chock full of big sales at your favorite outdoor retailers in the Boise area, places like Idaho Mountain Touring, George's CyclesBoise REI, Greenwood's, McU Sports, Alpenglow Mountain SportIdaho River Sports, and Shu's Idaho Running Companyall have some fantastic clothing and gear on sale right now. Great deals! Go get 'em!