Photos and story by JENNIFER K. BAUER
WALLOWA VALLEY — The West is smattered with towns that reinvent themselves through time, places like Sun Valley, Idaho, Bozeman, Mont., and Leavenworth, Wash., that use their natural endowments to attract new souls to remote locales.
Nestled in the northeastern most corner of Oregon, the Wallowa Valley communities of Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa Lake have remade themselves into a go-to getaway for Northwest urbanites. Located four hours from Boise and 5½ hours from Portland, area restaurants, shops and galleries reflect a metro taste for variety and novelty. While many of these have appeared over the last 15 years, other tourist draws are ancient. Ice cold blue even in August, glacial Wallowa Lake lies at the foot of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon’s largest wilderness area.
The Wallowa Valley is 93 miles south of Lewiston, a two-hour trip on steep, windy roads worth the drive because once you arrive there’s plenty to explore.
Since the 1920s, the Wallowa Lake Lodge has served as a forested getaway for visitors.
Enterprise, Joseph and Wallowa Lake are separated by a handful of miles. Enterprise serves as the business hub, Joseph is the shopping district and Wallowa Lake is the touristy retreat.
Wander Joseph’s sidewalks and you’ll rub elbows with ranchers, loggers and tattooed city slickers. Art galleries and boutique shops abound. Among them are beecrowbee, with handcrafted, all natural bath and body products. Simply Sandy’s is a home and garden shop with a trove of vintage and modern wares. At ToZion one can find boho chic clothing and handmade jewelry.
Main Street is lined with larger-than-life bronze statues marking the area as a home to a handful of successful foundries. Some, like Valley Bronze in Joseph, or Parks Bronze Foundry in Enterprise, offer tours showing the process from wax mold to final patina.
Grub and Glug
A yellow farmhouse serves as home to Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. The brewery makes 20 to 25 beers that rotate seasonally. Enter through the screened porch door adorned with bats or enjoy your victuals outdoors at picnic tables beside an Aspen-lined creek popular with visiting children and dogs. Other breweries are Mutiny Brewing Co., and the popular Embers Brew House in Joseph.
A stop at Arrowhead Chocolate Cafe in Joseph is a must for sweet-tooths. The family-run business specializes in small-batch, handmade chocolates in unusual flavors like Douglas Fir, Smoked Alder, Honey-Lavender and Single Malt Whiskey. Order a mocha and Stumptown coffee is served with a spoon of melted chocolate.
Heritage and History
Outside Joseph, at the edge of the lake, is the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Cemetery. People from around the world leave tokens at the grave relocated to the area in 1926 after being looted. The location is sacred to the Nez Perce as part of their ancestral homelands. Old Joseph’s son, Young Chief Joseph, was a key figure of the Nez Perce War of 1877.
In Joseph, the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center tells the little-known story of the multicultural logging community of Maxville, Ore. In 1923, a lumber company recruited African-American families from the South to come to Oregon and live in a camp where segregation was imposed by the company and Oregon law.
At Wallowa Lake there is mini-golf, bumper cars, bumper boats and camping at Wallowa Lake State Park. A spot should be reserved well in advance of a visit. Paddleboards, kayaks and other watercraft are available to rent at the park’s marina. The rustic but grand Wallowa Lake Lodge offers scenic views of the lake from its sprawling lawn.
Beyond the lodge, the road ends at the Eagle Cap Wilderness with nearly 500 miles of trails through peaks, meadows and more than 50 named lakes. One can hike or rent horses by the hour or day through the Eagle Cap Wilderness Pack Station.
You can get a view of the terrain by taking a gondola ride on the Wallowa Lake Tramway, a 1.83-mile trip to the 8,150-foot summit of Mount Howard where there is a bird’s-eye view of Idaho’s Seven Devils and this pretty corner of Oregon.
The seventh annual Juniper Jam, an all-day music festival featuring Jelly Bread, Simon Tucker, Marshall McLean Band, the Blackberry Bushes and many more is Sept. 5 at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds in Enterprise. Tickets are available online at www.juniperjam.com.
Oregon’s Alpenfest, billed as the only Swiss-Bavarian festival in the West, is Sept. 24-27, with beer, polka dancing, yodelers, bratwurst and alphorn contests. Events take place in Wallowa Lake, Joseph and Enterprise. Tickets and details are online at oregonalpenfest.com.