During a recent mother/son camping trip to Joseph, I was trying to do things we hadn’t done before. I had seen the Wallowa Lake Tramway before and hadn’t thought much about it figuring we ride these enough and it wouldn’t be worth the money. This year I decided it was time to give it a go and see what was up there. The base of the tramway is walking distance from Wallowa Lake State Park where we were camping, but is a very short drive from Joseph as well.
I have been in a lot of gondolas, but I don’t think I have ever been in one this old before. The operators are super friendly and explain how everything works and safety is job 1. When this tram was installed in 1970, it was the steepest vertical lift in North America. The 3700′ trip takes about 15 minutes and the views are absolutely breath-taking.
At the top of Mt. Howard we decided to start hiking the 2 miles of established trails. They are in really great shape and even though you are hiking at altitude, this is such a great hiking area for even the youngest adventurers. The trail system provides vistas of at least 3 states (Washington, Oregon and Idaho – on clear days there are some who claim they can see across Idaho’s panhandle into Montana), mountains galore, Wallowa Lake, and into Hells Canyon. It is a really amazing place and it really doesn’t matter where you start or which way you turn, everything is stunning.
One thing to be aware of though, there are very sensitive native plants hosting a vast ecosystem and various animals even at this altitude, and staying on the trails is imperative to protect them. Please respect that signage and the small barriers. I also saw a lot of people feeding the wildlife (both the gophers and the chipmunks), which I was informed at the summit was illegal by orders of the National Forest Service (the critters are cute, but need to fend for themselves).
Speaking of wildflowers! There were so many things in bloom during our July visit! We saw Pink Wild Mountain Heather, Lupine, and all sorts of other flowers that I still need to identify. My son was so inspired, he took over the camera and started taking pictures of things for me, including this picture on the right. This is a quick tip: turn the camera over to the kiddos so you can see what they see!
There is also a spot on the north side of the mountain where people like to jump off this perfectly good mountain and glide down with hang-gliders or parachutes. We didn’t see anyone doing this, but it is available. We decided to take the tram back down instead.
Before heading down we decided to stop at the Summit Grill for lunch. It really reminded me of chalets in Europe when we were hiking in the mountains and that was great. The menu was limited and staff over-taxed (they were really hustling and doing their best), but I didn’t mind as I had the sun shining on me and the views were such I could have been there all day. The Lad was itching for a game of mini-golf, (because nothing says “roughing it” like an 18-hole game of mini-golf!) and made sure we didn’t overstay our welcome.
Prices were a bit steep for the tram ride. Adults were $31 for a day pass. My son was $21 (ages 4-11). Prices for Seniors and Students are $28 & $27 respectively. Kids under 3 are free. With a day pass you can ride as many times as you wish for that day and I hear the sunsets are beautiful from there. There is a break on 2 day passes if you want to go up more. This was probably a once in a life time thing for us, but I was so glad we did it and recommend it!