The alpine lakes of the Wallowa Mountain Range are some of the most beautiful water features of the state, in this writer’s humble opinion. And one of the best of these lakes to visit via a stunning mountain hike is Ice Lake.
It’s appropriately named, as it freezes over in its entirety during colder months, but it’s lovely to behold year-round. You’ll find it tucked under the watch of the part of the Wallowa Mountains, surrounded by hardy foliage and weather-beaten trees.
The trail up starts at the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, and wanders almost parallel to the West Fork of the Wallowa River. You’ll follow this fierce tumbling river for a while, and when snow sits across the land in heavy white folds, you’ll get treated to the sight of water-hemmed boulders jutting above the flow, capped by snow.
Roughly three miles you’ll cross a log bridge and here the land begins to rise in earnest. You can choose to take the sloped path upwards, or (in the wintertime) you can trail-break up the snowpack via a series of steep switchbacks. Leave this option to experienced navigators, as it makes for a slow and tough ascent.
Whichever path you take, enjoy the stunning East Oregon scenery. The Wallowas are amazingly picturesque in their stone cold beauty, the tree line breaks to reveal the rippling geography of the land, covered in dark, winter-tough greenery. And if you’re lucky you’ll spot elk, deer and other wildlife shyly moving through the wilderness.
If you want to enjoy Ice Lake is its full glory, I’d suggest pausing your hike and camping overnight off trail before hitting the summit. Around the 6,800 foot mark there a bench rest area that’s sheltered by trees. It’s a terrific place to camp, and the foliage will spare you from the worst of the elements. Come morning, hike the rest of the trail up to Ice Lake, and watch the sunrise strike off the clear waters. It’s a vision you won’t want to miss.
As always, pack carefully and come prepared for sudden changes of weather when hiking this mountain range. Avoid the area during storms, and be sure to understand avalanche-risk areas and snow conditions before hitting this trail when the snows arrive. Be prepared to make an emergency camp, as the sun can set swiftly behind the mountains.
-- From I-84 east take Exit 261, then turn right to take Highway 82. At the 1.6 mile mark, take a left at the traffic light and take McAlister Road.
-- Drive another 17.9 miles to Elgin and turn right at a stop sign, with markers pointing towards Wallowa, Lostine, and Enterprise. It’s another 44.2 miles along Highway 82 until you hit Enterprise.
-- From here, turn right onto River Street and drive 6.4 miles into Joseph.
-- Take the Main Street in Joseph and head onto Highway 351, for 5.9 miles. You’ll drive along the east shore of Wallowa Lake, until a signposted fork guides you to take Power House Road. The large Wallowa Lake Trailhead is half a mile down the road.
Click the Learn More button for details. Note that you’ll need to obtain a self-issue Wilderness Permit for $5/vehicle at the trailhead, unless you have a Northwest Forest Pass. Info about the pass here: http://www.discovernw.org/store_annual-northwest-forest-pass-national-forests-in-washington-and-oregon-only_09942.html