: Katie Falkenberg

Travel Oregon with Dan Sizer and Go Wild: American Adventures

Find adventure on a guided tour in Eastern Oregon's epic landscapes.
July 18, 2023

If you’re road-tripping to Eastern Oregon, there’s a good chance that you’re in search of alpine lakes and epic mountain landscapes in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Go Wild: American Adventures founder Dan Sizer can help you find your way. When he’s not camping or pack-rafting, Sizer guides visitors from around the world on multiday backpacking trips. They venture through trails he’s been hiking since childhood in the Wallowa Mountains or treks in the Elkhorn Mountains. We chatted with Sizer to hear more about guiding in Eastern Oregon.

Puppet boots and two hikers on a forest trail.
Dan with his sidekick Boots hike at Catherine Creek near La Grande. Photo by Katie Falkenberg

Why does Go Wild focus on backpacking trips?

Backpacking is special in that it’s not an adrenaline-focused sport like whitewater rafting or climbing. It’s also not a race. There’s not a goal to it like fishing or hunting. That’s what I love about it — it’s very slow. It’s just about being out in an undeveloped landscape. At the end of the day there’s not a ton to do, and that’s beautiful, because you end up with your feet in a creek, thinking freely when you might not have time to do so when you’re at work. 

Wanting to give people that experience was why we focused on backpacking, and realizing that experience is not as available to everyone as it was to me growing up. So by providing the gear, the guides, the safety, I wanted to make it more accessible.

people walk along trail with backpacks on and mountains and blue sky in background
Skip the stress and show up to enjoy the moment when you go backpacking on a guided tour. Courtesy of Go Wild: American Adventures

What’s unique about backpacking in this region?

The Eagle Cap Wilderness has some of the oldest mountains in Oregon. We have some really unique geology here. It’s Oregon’s largest wilderness, which makes it special. 

The communities around the wilderness are another very special thing. They’re full of people with deep connections to the land; they grew up here or graze cattle. All these little communities you travel through as a backpacker allow you to meet the people and see them care for the land.

What are your most popular trips?

In the Wallowas — one of the main areas where we’re permitted as guides — a lot of people go to the northern side of the mountain range. My favorite is the south side, where I do my guided trips, because there are fewer people that go there. Our most popular backpacking trips are at places like Eagle Meadows and the Imnaha River. In the Elkhorns and Blue Mountains, our most popular trips are base camps and backpacking trips on the Elkhorn Crest.

A group of people hike down a trail with the mountains in the distance
Guided trips to places like the Wallowa mountains are a great way to make more meaningful connections with the land, and often times involve a stewardship component. Courtesy of Go Wild: American Adventures

What advice do you have for first-time backpackers?

One of the biggest things I have heard that is intimidating about backpacking is the complete disconnection that you have to undergo. Only a handful of people know where you are, and through that you have to be totally self-sufficient. My advice is to go with a friend who has been backpacking before, or a guide. Start with an easy, short one-night trip close to home. You could also go to a workshop at a local outdoors store, like Pendleton Outfitters and Blue Mountain Outfitters.

Renting gear is helpful too, if you don’t want to buy everything at once. Eastern Oregon University in La Grande rents to community members, and we also offer a small selection of gear rentals at Go Wild.

What are some great places to try backpacking for the first time?

A couple favorites in the Elkhorns are Crawfish Lake — only about 3 miles round-trip — and Twin Lakes, which is about triple that length. Besides Eagle Meadows in the Wallowas, I also recommend Maxwell Lake, which is 8 miles round-trip.

About The

Katrina Yentch
Katrina Yentch is a freelance journalist and copywriter living in Portland. When she isn't writing, she's either napping, cooking Thai food, or planning her next backpacking trip.

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