Backpack the Lakes Basin and Summit Eagle Cap

Rate this Adventure Oregon Wallowa Lake Trailhead

Added by Dan Loch

Find yourself hiking among the "Swiss Alps of Oregon" on this incredible multi-day backpacking trip. This stretch of the Eagle Cap Wilderness aptly lives up to its nickname, with beautiful valleys, vistas and alpine lakes reflecting surrounding granite peaks. Plan your hike in the fall for best chances for solitude, close encounters with wildlife, and have one of many alpine lakes to yourself.

The Location:
With 360,000+ acres and 534 miles of trails, the Eagle Cap Wilderness is Oregon’s largest wilderness area. With rugged terrain similar to the nearby Sawtooth’s and distant Trinity Alps, this park's options for adventure are endless. This wilderness area is pristine despite its high use in the summer months. Please remember Leave No Trace principles and check out potential fire limitations, camping restrictions, and other pertinent information on the bulletin board at the trailhead.

The Route:
You begin your trek at 4,645’ at the West Fork Wallowa River Trailhead, just south of Wallowa Lake. Fill out a Wilderness Permit and leave the copy in the box at the trailhead (Northwest Forest Passes are not required). The trail gradually winds through a narrowing valley, surrounded by granite peaks. The trail steadily gains elevation as it follows the west fork of the Wallowa River. After 2.5 miles, you will meet the Ice Lake Trail Junction, your first opportunity to gain access to an alpine lake. Ice Lake is a beauty, with the Matterhorn reflected in its waters, but it is a difficult out-and-back and I would allow an extra day to your trip should you decide to tackle it prior to continuing further toward the Eagle Cap or Lakes Basin.

At the 6 mile mark, the tree-lined trail opens up to Six Mile Meadow, a beautiful spot for lunch, surrounded on all sides by 8-9,000’ peaks. Here, you have a choice to continue your trek toward Frazier Lake/Hawkin’s Pass or cross the river and head up to the Lakes Basin. Either direction you choose, plan for some significant elevation gain. Your weary legs will soon be rewarded with an ice bath with 5 star views. I recommend packing a flask of whiskey, or drink of choice, to soak in the setting sun. If heading up to the Lakes Basin, I highly recommend setting up camp at Horseshoe Lake, the first of the alpine lakes for some killer views. Other than the resident osprey and black bear, I had this lake all to myself. This lake would also serve as a great basecamp if you decide not carry gear any further.

Following Horseshoe Lake, you will feast your eyes on Lee, Douglas, Crescent, Moccasin, and Mirror Lakes all within another 5 miles. Mirror and Mocassin Lakes are quite popular so I wouldn’t anticipate having either of these two lakes to yourself on a weekend as they are most easily accessed via the shorter Hurricane Creek Trail or East Lostine River Trail. From Mirror Lake, you can choose to summit the 9,572’ Eagle Cap via East Eagle Trail for sweeping views of the wilderness and best chances for spotting mountain goats or big horned sheep. Note: This will increase your elevation gain to roughly 5,000' from your starting point.

To continue on the loop head Southeast on a pack trail up to Glacier Pass and down to Glacier Lake, another gem tucked away amongst granite peaks. This is also a great spot to set up camp and explore the surrounding area including the lesser known Prospect Lake. From here, it is 13 miles back to the car. Following Glacier Lake, in about 2.5 miles, you’ll descend to Frazier Lake in another beautiful valley. Return north again on the West Fork Wallowa River Trail, descending 7 miles down to Six Mile Meadow. Should you have chosen to head to Frazier Lake or Hawkin’s Pass initially, the order of these lakes will be in reverse and you will return to this trail intersection from Horseshoe Lake. From Six Mile Meadow, it is a gradual 6 mile descent back to the trailhead.

Other Things to Know:

Wildlife:
I should also point out that I came within 15 feet of a cinnamon black bear directly on the trail (see photo), so please be weary of your surroundings and keep a keen eye for for bighorn sheep and mountain goats near Eagle Cap and Glacier Pass. Osprey, deer, elk, coyote, and cougar can also be spotted.

When to Go:
I did this trek in the fall and bumped into just 3 other backpackers during the entire 4 day stretch. During summer months, the area can be quite congested, especially at Mirror Lake and along the West Fork of Wallowa River Trail prior to Six Mile Meadow. I did wake up to a few inches of snow on two mornings, so pack accordingly (see pack list below). Check out potential trail closures from fire, snow and other pertinent information prior to your arrival with the US Forest Service.

To Get Here:
From Enterprise, OR, take Highway #82 through Joseph and past Wallowa Lake. The trailhead is at the end of the road and free parking is available at the trailhead.

Reward After the Hike:
I recommend checking out Ember's Brewhouse to grab a brew and calzone, burger, or pizza before hitting the road. If you are in the mood for breakfast or need a pick-me-up before hitting the road, check out Old Town Cafe for a good cup of coffee and hearty breakfast.

Further Maps:
Lakes Basin
West Fork Wallowa River Trail

Pack List

  • Tent (recommend 3 or 4 season depending on snow forecast
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Headlamp
  • Campstove, fuel, food
  • Camelback or similar water reservoir
  • Water filter/purification system
  • Camera and tripod
  • Hiking boots
  • Sunglasses and hat
  • GPS or compass and map
  • Knife
  • Clothing: breathable layers and be prepared for high likelihood of heavy rain, frost, and/or snow
Read More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Share

Activities:

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Autumn

Trail Type:

Loop

Distance:

30 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3500 Feet

Features:

Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Swimming Hole
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Are we missing something?

Suggest an edit

How to Get There

Have you done this adventure? Have something to add? You could be the first to leave a review!

Added by Dan Loch

More Adventures Nearby

Hike to Susan Creek Falls

Oregon / Susan Creek Falls

This hike starts at the main parking lot about a mile away from the falls. The falls are accessed via a very easy, well graded trail developed and maintained by the Oregon BLM.

Derek Mathewson
3 Saves

Hike to the Summit of Fuji Mountain

Oregon / Fuji Mountain Trailhead

Fuji Mountain has been known by mountain bikers for years, since it sits just off the circuit of popular biking routes around Waldo Lake and makes for a notoriously difficult climb on a bike.

Michael Graw
18 Saves

Hike Paradise Park

Oregon / Timberline Lodge

The hike begins at Timberline Lodge, which sits on Mount Hood at 6,000 feet of elevation.