Raft, Fish and Ride Your Way Along the Wallowa River

Eastern Oregon’s Minam Store offers the nation’s first boat-to-rails excursions.
May 15, 2024

Imagine you’re floating the Wild and Scenic Wallowa River in Northeast Oregon. Forested slopes of ponderosa pine, native bunchgrasses and exposed basalt surround you. The soothing scent of sunbaked pine needles mixes with the loamy, earthen smell of moss-covered rocks along the riverbank. Your boat smoothly glides through the snow-fed river, creating a faint sound that mixes into nature’s own soundtrack of wind, rushing water and the occasional hint of its hidden inhabitants. You take a breath and think to yourself: This is what it feels like to be in nature.

Experiencing nature is a welcome embrace to your senses. In the busy, hectic world that consumes most of our day-to-day, it’s also a needed respite for the soul. Usually, being truly off the grid requires days of effort — whether on foot or boat. However, with the addition of a new rail-shuttle service to accompany its fleet of fishing boats and whitewater rafts, the Minam Store in Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa County is now able to give boaters and anglers a first-of-its-kind opportunity to experience wilderness in a single day.

From River to Rails and Back

The Minam Store is nestled at the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa rivers, approximately 33 miles northeast of La Grande and 31 miles northwest of Enterprise on Oregon Route 82. Store owners Grant and Lottie Richie bought the historic store in 2011 and have been offering visitors fly-fishing and camping gear, food and recreational trips to the region’s best whitewater and angling ever since. 

From the store, the Wallowa enters a 10-mile roadless stretch, designated Wild and Scenic, before it empties into the Grande Ronde River. Until now, the only way to access this section had been through multi-day trips. Starting summer 2024, however, weekend visitors will be able to float or fish the river in a day thanks to the Minam Store’s new rail-return offering. 

The setup is unique and may be the first of its kind in the country. After spending the day on the river, guests hop in a passenger rail car towed by a Suburban modified to run on rail tracks. The railway itself, which mostly hugs the river, is no longer active with freight. The one-hour return also gives boaters a chance to view the pristine river from a different perspective, and it’s a stark departure from the usual slog back on dirt roads and highways after a typical river trip.

Once back at the store, visitors can cap the day with a meal or beverage from the Minam Store’s food cart, which offers tasty burgers, brats, pork tacos and the best breakfast burritos in a 50-mile radius. Or grab an ice cream from the store and recap the trip from the newly converted outdoor seating area on the abandoned bridge abutment overlooking the river.

Grande Ronde River fishing trip

Fishing for Rainbows and Steelhead

With the installation of the rail shuttle, anglers short on time or who simply don’t want to commit to a multiday trip now have an option to experience some of the Pacific Northwest’s best fly-fishing on this section of the Wallowa River. The Wallowa provides spawning habitat for spring and fall chinook, summer steelhead and coveted rainbow trout. Unlike many other notable rivers for angling, the Wallowa also boasts a longer season, with the fishing still excellent long after the water levels begin to taper.

For those wanting a longer trip, the Minam Store also guides multiday trips, from single-night excursions up to four nights and five days on the Wallowa and Grande Ronde. With experienced guides and minimal crowds, anglers can expect to be in for a treat no matter their skill level.

Hells Canyon Wine & Food trip

Whitewater Rafting for All Skill Levels

The Minam Store has something for everyone when it comes to whitewater rafting. The Wallowa River’s approachable Class II rapids are family-friendly with enough excitement and splash to ensure a good time, and the new rail return means boaters can experience the thrill in just an afternoon. 

For the truly adventurous, the Minam Store offers 3- to 5-day float trips on the Grande Ronde, Lower Salmon and Snake rivers — a wild ride of Class IIIs and IVs in Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest gorge at nearly 8,000 feet.  

Gastronomically inclined boaters may also choose the Wine & Food on the River trips. Top chefs and winemakers join the Minam Store’s guides for multicourse meals and to share the backstory of each vintage along the way. Wine & Food trips are offered on the Grande Ronde, Lower Salmon and Snake river trips.

Whether you’re after the thrill of whitewater, attempting to outwit a chinook or simply want to experience the true feeling of wilderness, the Minam Store can make it happen, no matter how much — or how little — time you have.  

About The
Author

Lucas Alberg
Lucas Alberg is a native Kansan who ventured west after college and found his happy place in Oregon. He writes articles and books, plays music and loves to belt out a tune. The bulk of his free time is spent traipsing through the woods with his wife, two kids and designer mutt (aka doodle).

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