Great Escapes: Visit this Oregon lake
By Tim Clinton
Go ahead, make the comparison.
Wallowa Lake and the Wallowa Mountains of the Eagle Cap Wilderness that it cuts into have been called "the Switzerland of the United States," and for good reason.
The mountains drop right down to the water, just as the Alps do into lakes in the landlocked European country.
Wallowa Lake in the northeast corner of Oregon off the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway can definitely be called a present from the last Ice Age.
A retreating glacier left behind a rocky moraine that sealed off the base of a mountain valley like a dam, creating the lake.
Wallowa Lake County Park sits at this point on the north end of the lake, just one mile south of the town of Joseph.
It offers a warm beach in the summer and a sweeping first view of the lake -- or a quick only view if your time is limited.
The park has a few picnic tables, a double boat ramp and a tie-up dock, and is the site of a Fourth of July fireworks show with rockets launched from a vessel just off shore.
The more adventurous with time will find a much larger state park in a forest at the south end of the 3.7 mile long, .75 mile wide lake whose surface sits at 4,372 feet above sea level and has a maximum depth of 299 feet.
Wallowa Lake State Park boasts a large day use area, and camp sites galore. There are 121 full hookup sites, 88 tent sites with water nearby and two yurts.
Hot showers and flush toilets are available, although all water is turned off from October to the middle of May.
It also has a small outdoor amphitheater and a marina from which boaters can launch out. Some with licenses pursue the lake's rainbow trout, bull trout, sockeye salmon and lake trout.
The daily parking rate at the 216.48 acre park is $5 per vehicle.
Located nearby to the south is the tiny but scenic Little Alps Day Use Area. It is located between the West and East forks of the Wallowa River, which enters the lake at the South end and exits at the North end.
Also near the state park is a tramway ride that takes you up almost 4,000 feet to the top of 8,256 foot Mount Howard with a spectacular view of the deep blue lake and surrounding mountains.
The 2020 daily tramway cost is $36 for adults ages 18-64 and $33 for 65 and over, military with identification and students age 12-17 with identification. It is $26 for ages 4-11 and free for ages 3 and under.
In the fall is a Swiss style celebration of Alpenfest at the lake.
Star gazing on a clear night is great at the lake, thanks to the elevation and distance from any large towns or cities.
The quickest way to get to Wallowa Lake is to take Interstate 84 and take the eastbound exit onto Highway 82 at La Grande.
Follow Highway 82, part of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, through the towns of Elgin, Wallowa, Lostine and Enterprise and take Highway 351 south out of Joseph to and along the East side of the lake.
You can also go South out of Lewiston, Idaho on Highway 3 and join 82 in Enterprise. Turn East to Joseph.
Just outside of Joseph is the grave site of famous Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph.
Wallowa Lake State Park is located at 72214 Marina Lane, Joseph, OR 97846. Call 1-800-551-6949 or the park at 541-432-4185 for information or visit the park website.
Call 541-786-0425 for tramway information.