Backpack the Lakes Basin and Summit Eagle Cap

Rate this Adventure 30 miles 3500 ft gain  - Loop Trail

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:

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

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