If fall is coming, nobody’s told Eastern Oregon. The warm, sunny days are the perfect time to hit the trail for late season wildflower meadows, deep forests and hidden alpine lakes. Check out these gorgeous hikes in scenic wilderness areas on the east side of the state.
Just 10 miles south of the city, you’ll find a desert oasis at the McKay Creek Wildlife Refuge with plenty of space for strolling and wildlife viewing — migratory birds in particular. In the fall and winter, it’s common to see osprey nest in the cottonwoods, and bald eagles diving for prey in the reservoir lake. Bring binoculars and a bird guide book and read up on these wildlife viewing tips before you go.
You’ve seen the epic photos, now it’s time to get out to Wallowa Lake to experience it for yourself. The Wallowa Lake Trailhead leads to three hikes; for the most diversity in landscape and views, take the Chief Joseph Mountain Trail, a 6-mile out-and-back. The trail climbs through open meadows, pines and alpine firs and the occasional waterfall to enjoy. See views of Wallowa Lake and the town of Joseph; the trail ends in a meadow overlooking Wallowa Valley with Chief Joseph Mountain in the background.
Near Baker City
Mountain lakes don’t get any more scenic than the blue-green alpine waters of Baldy Lake, just below the 8,321-foot peak of Mt. Ireland at the southwest edge of the North Fork John Day Wilderness. A small primitive trailhead starts you on the 2.4-mile roundtrip trail, accessible by a rough road that deters all but high-clearance vehicles. The easier road treats hikers to a challenging 12.6 miles through a lovely forest of pine, spruce and fir.
Near John Day
A tiny dot of blue in the giant Malheur National Forest, Strawberry Lake — about 24 miles east of John Day — is worth the drive. Make your basecamp at Strawberry Lake Campground, and set off on the 4-mile, easy lollipop route up the lake and around. Push on a bit farther to add 2.6 miles to the trek and see Little Strawberry Lake, known for its abundance of wildflowers. Up for one more? Ambitious hikers can head to Slide Lake (an 8-mile round-trip with a view of Slide Falls) and Strawberry Mountain (a difficult 12.6-mile out-and-back) from the campground.
Near La Grande
Not all hikes have to be strenuous. Some can be nature walks, a chance to breathe deep and find respite. Just a few minutes from La Grande, head up to Morgan Lake and the scenic 60-acre hilltop park, surrounded by pines and willows. A popular spot for camping, boating and fishing, you’ll love it here — pack a picnic to enjoy after your walk as you soak up the beauty.
Get out east and enjoy the fall trails!