Anthony Lakes in the rugged Elkhorn Mountains of Northeast Oregon may be best known as a ski area with lifts that opened in 1963. Since then it has become a favorite year-round outdoor adventure destination, with mountain biking, camping and hiking trails that make for an idyllic summer getaway.
What’s more, Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort — located about 35 miles northwest of Baker City (5 hours east of Portland) — is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2023, and there’s now a decade-long effort underway to build more trails, add more places to stay and expand on-site patio seating that’s great for soaking up those long summer days. So load up the car, grab your day pack and roll on out to see why some locals call this “the best place on earth.”
Hike Around Oregon’s Alpine Lakes
With 26 peaks higher than 8,000 feet, the Elkhorn Mountains look like they could be on loan from Europe if the Alps were only made of granite. Strap on those hiking boots and head on out; just be sure to pick up a Northwest Forest Pass, required to park at area trailheads.
For the best hiking in the area, pack a lunch and head out on a day hike along the Anthony Lake Loop. This 9-mile trek will take you over Angell Pass and along a spectacular section of the 23-mile-long Elkhorn Crest National Recreation Trail and the Crawfish Basin Trail with a solid 1,700 feet of elevation gain. The lower sections of the route along the Hoffer Lakes can get quite buggy in early summer months, so bring your spray and keep up the pace to reach those higher, drier elevations. While you’re up there, be on the lookout for mountain goats and birds like the Clark’s nutcracker, which feeds on the seeds of those gnarled whitebark pines that scratch out a life on harsh alpine slopes and ridges.
Looking to stay out among the lupines longer? Try backpacking the entire 23 miles of the Elkhorn Crest trail; you’ll be rewarded with airy views over the lakes and valleys below.
Mountain Bike on Nordic Ski Trails
Mountain bikers love this area, and many ride portions of the Elkhorn Crest trail outside of the North Fork John Day Wilderness, but you really don’t even have to leave the resort. The 8 miles of nordic ski trails turn into rollicking single-track during the warmer months. Check out the Broadway Flow Trail, which unfurls for about 3 miles with fun, flowy turns. The Lily Pad Lake Trail and Hoffer Lakes Trail offer shorter outings that will test your technical skills.
Expert riders should head to the Dutch Flat Mountain Bike Trail south of Gunsight Mountain. It runs for 8 miles one way up to about 8,000 feet and includes a bit of everything, from tight turns and narrow lines to fast shots over pine duff. Look for at least six new trails to come online over the next few years.
Fish, Learn History and Recharge Near the Resort
Not everything at Anthony Lakes has to jolt the adrenal glands. The Anthony Lakes Picnic Area offers wonderful views of Gunsight Peak, while a boat launch makes it easy to slip out onto the lake itself in a canoe or kayak. Bring a rod and your fishing permit, and see if you can tease the rainbows into taking a bite.
For a recovery day or family road trip, take the lovely drive along the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway, a 106-mile loop that’s only open in its entirety after the snow melts, generally in mid-June. Spend a few hours at the Eastern Oregon Museum in Haines to check out displays on the resort, including an incredible “snow thrower” fashioned from scrap metal and car parts used to clear the road in the resort’s early years.
When it’s time to refuel, the Starbottle Saloon in the lower level of the Anthony Lakes lodge serves wood-fired pizzas, Bloody Marys and Dovey burgers — named after the late, great Dovey Shaw, who served on the ski patrol here for decades and skied well into her 90s. It’s open July to September and prides itself on using local ingredients like brats from Hines Meat Co. in La Grande and bacon from Hill’s in Pendleton. The hangout gets its name from the fictitious Starbottle Hotel, a location featured in the Clint Eastwood musical “Paint Your Wagon,” which was filmed in the area.
Other Places to Stay in the Area
To wake up to the best views around, book a three-night-minimum stay at Creston’s Yurt, named after Dovey’s husband— also a former patroller whom you’ll still find dancing in the saloon at 100 years old. The yurt sleeps six and sits atop the Rock Garden chairlift, so you’ll need a vehicle with good clearance to reach it or be willing to hike. If the yurts are taken, several campgrounds in the area make for great base camps, too, like the Anthony Lake Complex and Union Creek Complex, a collection of campgrounds with RV hook-up and tent sites. You can also rent the Anthony Lake Guard Station, a two-story log cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.