Wenaha River Trail
Go where wolves roam on this exploration of the Wenaha River.
by Bill Sullivan
Where might you actually see a wolf in Oregon? Try a hike into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in the far corner of northeastern Oregon. The Blue Mountains here have huge herds of elk and a smattering of newly arrived moose – populations that balance well with wolves.
This is a spectacular place to hike. Like a jagged crack in the planet’s crust, the Wenaha River canyon zigzags from the remote village of Troy into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. A 31.4-mile trail follows the river from the start of its desert canyon to its source high in the Blue Mountains. For an easy day trip, explore the first few miles of the path.
From Interstate 84 in La Grande, take exit 261 and follow signs for Wallowa Lake 65 miles to Enterprise. At a pointer for Lewiston in the middle of Enterprise, turn left on First Street (alias Highway 3) for 35 miles to a sign for Flora. Turn left 3 miles to this interesting ghost town. Then drive on past Flora for 4.1 paved miles and an additional 7.2 miles of steep, winding, 1-lane gravel road down to a bridge across the Grande Ronde River. On the far side of the bridge, turn left on a paved road for 2 miles to the edge of Troy. A block before “downtown,” (a cafe, store, laundry, gas station, and inn), turn right toward Pomeroy on Bartlett Road. Up this road 0.4 mile, where the road switchbacks to the right, park at a pullout straight ahead beside a trailhead message board.
The Wenaha River Trail sets out through sparse ponderosa pine woods with teasels, elderberries, and salsify. In spring look for the sunflower-like blooms of balsamroot. After 0.7 mile you’ll reach the first access to the river itself, a 60-foot current of boulder-strewn whitewater. After this the trail climbs past the first of several patches of poison oak. Beware these triple-leafletted shrubs!
After 1.8 miles you’ll climb to a viewpoint above a riverbend pool where you can watch giant fish idling far below. Then the trail crosses a crude, private roadbed and climbs around a scenic cliff between layers of rimrock. White mariposa lilies dot the slope, along with Oregon sunshine and wild clematis.
In another 0.4 mile you’ll pass a sign marking the National Forest boundary—a turnaround point for casual hikers. Beyond this, the trail continues upriver 4.1 miles, occasionally ducking under cliffs, to a rock cairn at a possibly unmarked junction. Ahead the trail passes a meadow with campsites along Crooked Creek. To the left, the Wenaha River Trail dips to a 100-foot bridge spanning Crooked Creek, an excellent day-hike goal.
For more information about this and other Blue Mountains trails, check out William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.”
photo by Bill Sullivan