Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Ice Lake

Vanlife diaries #28: Eagle Cap Wilderness

Out of Washington and into new territory, we spent the week hiking and exploring through Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, stopping to restock in Boise, Idaho and then finally arrived in West Yellowstone. With autumn right on our heels, the scenery was unbelievable and the crowds were greatly thinned, which made for happy days all around!

What we’ve been up to this week

We spent the first half of the week hiking in the Wallowa Mountains, and specifically the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness. Dan had previously passed through on his road trip last year and was eager to revisit, but for my part, I had absolutely no idea that something like this even existed in eastern Oregon!

When I’d driven from the Sawtooths (in Idaho) to Bend on my own road trip last year, I swear all I saw was a desolate high desert full of dirt and colourless plants. Others have expressed a similar disbelief in the location of this tiny alpine paradise, and so it seems that Eagle Cap is one of the state’s best kept secrets, even among Oregonians. 

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Ice Lake
Ice Lake
Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Mirror Lake
Approaching Eagle Cap

We got out on 2 awesome hikes during our time camped along the sunny shore of Wallowa Lake: Ice Lake (16mi) and Mirror Lake (17mi). Both lakes had nearby peaks that we’d intended to summit, but in both cases, my pinky toe (which is recovering from a stress fracture) dictated a swift return. 

In a classic case of “should have known better”, hiking 16 and 17mi on an injury has actually not aided my recovery and after I spent the last ~5mi of both hikes crying out against terrible muscle spasms in my toe, it was decided that I will be taking an actual break for a little while to hopefully recover in time for all the 14ers we’d set our sights on in Colorado. At least we’ll always have the Wallowas, though!

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Ice Lake
Dan at Ice Lake in the Wallowas
Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Mirror Lake
Beautiful day at Mirror Lake

Our time in Eagle Cap was really the first indication that autumn is upon us, all the leaves and bushes lining the trail exploded into a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds and yellows. 

Naturally it was prime photography conditions, but even the moments not caught on film were pretty magical in this setting— a skinny dip in the lake against a sea of golden plants seemed almost fiery (despite being very icy), and the subsequent drip-dry was accelerated both by chilly wind and scorching sun. The paradox of this season is a large part of the charm, I have to say!

Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Mirror Lake
Autumn in Eagle Cap Wilderness

When we did finally roll out of Eagle Cap (after a stop for lunch and beers at Terminal Gravity in Joseph, of course), it was to tackle the long drive across multiple state lines to Yellowstone. 

We made slow work of the journey, stopping to restock on pumpkin spice everything at Trader Joe’s, load up on ingredients for several weeks of cooking, and visit Sockeye Brewing in Boise, a favourite from our time in the Sawtooths. 

More than just a quick beer, this actually marked the 50th brewery we’ve visited together since hitting the road, and if that’s not cause for major celebration, I don’t know what is— cheers to another 50!

Eagle Cap Wilderness hiking Wallowa Lake
Camping on Wallowa Lake

Where we stayed this week

Despite the fact that our time in Eagle Cap was less than a calendar week (and we actually spent the end of this week in Yellowstone National Park), I wanted to keep all our Yellowstone photos together and therefore shortened this post to only include our activities from Sunday through Friday. 

  • Boondocking on the shore of Wallowa Lake, OR (free; 12-13 Sept)
  • Boondocking in the Lostine Corridor near Eagle Cap Wilderness, OR (free; 14-15 Sept)
  • Boondocking in Meridian, ID (free; 16 Sept)
  • Boondocking near the Idaho-Montana border outside West Yellowstone (free; 17 Sept)
Eagle Cap Wilderness Wallowas hiking Ice Lake
Hiking along the shore of Ice Lake