Grant’s Getaways: Eagle Cap Excursion Train

October 3, 2014 (Updated July 28, 2017)

Fall has arrived to Oregon country, and aren’t we lucky we can meet the season when brilliant sunshine rules our days.

The view from the Wallowa Lake Tramway near Wallowa Lake State Park is a marvel! It’s a unique birds-eye view to the surrounding countryside near Joseph, Oregon. Once you are atop Mt Howard, glance to the Eagle Cap Wilderness or down to Wallowa Lake and confirm what you may suspect: when you visit Northeastern Oregon, you may never want to leave!


Folks have felt that way about Wallowa and Union counties for over a century – especially after the railroad made travel into the remote region far easier in the late 1800s. Today, the people of Elgin, Oregon hold on to that heritage and make you feel right at home when you visit the Elgin Depot and step aboard the Eagle Cap Excursion Train.

Dave Arnold is the engineer at the controls of the “GP-7 Diesel Electric” and he loves to brag: “I get the best seat in the house, and I just love the view too.”

Arnold said the train’s engine produces 1500 horsepower and travels on the historic Joseph Branch Line that was built in 1884. “It is never the same trip,” noted the longtime railroad engineer. “I think rolling along on a historic line that’s still intact is exciting.”

The Eagle Cap Excursion Train is a one-of-a-kind rail trip where the Wallowa or Grande Ronde Rivers are always by your side. It’s also a railroad saved from ruin by local folks who believed there was value in holding on to their heritage, so they bought the railroad line in 2003.

Stephen Adams, a member of the Wallowa-Union County Railroad Authority, said that the scenic qualities are only a part of the railroad’s appeal. “This is the only line in the country where a substantial amount of the track is in roadless terrain. That means this railroad is the only means for visitors to really explore this country – and we love visitors.”

The Eagle Cap Excursion Railroad runs a little over 40 miles and while the scenery is spectacular and the nostalgia is impressive, the best part is that you have a chance to go where the cars don’t roll.

Ann Warren is a volunteer for the weekend excursion rides, and said that once guests come aboard the train, they’ve little choice but to slow down, take a deep breath and savor the scenery. “Since the train moves along so slowly at 10 miles an hour, our trips last about four hours. It’s all about being close to nature and seeing wildlife: bears, eagles, deer and elk. Plus, you will turn off all your electronic devices because we have no cell phone coverage and not much radio. It’s really nice that way.”

Local professional photographer Eric Valentine volunteers his time during the fall runs to tutor the folks who bring their cameras to capture the showy colors each October. “You have so much natural beauty that really couldn’t be any finer – the rising canyon walls of the Grande Ronde River are special – make you feel small – and then the river gives us something more to shoot – and the train’s speed gives you an ever changing setting that’s breath-taking this time of year.”

It is a perfect getaway for folks who think they’ve seen it all in Oregon and yet recognize that the best travel surprises are those you least expect. “It’s a fine trip for anyone who needs a change of pace,” added Adams. “The relaxed atmosphere makes it a real pleasure to visit with your friends or family.”

The weekend trips have proven quite popular with locals and visitors alike. Reservations are advised.

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

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