Breaking News
More () »

Oregon's alpine country | Grant's Getaways

Eastern Oregon is a place that will make you feel small, where you can stand shoulder to shoulder with a mountain range and vast wilderness area.

JOSEPH, Ore. — This holiday weekend kicks off camping season for thousands of folks and here’s an idea that I consider “must do”: an Oregon getaway to Wallowa Lake State Park.

When artist George Keister searches for inspiration, he doesn’t look far beyond his front step in northeast Oregon.

Keister uses brushes and oil paints to capture the special places he’s been lucky enough to visit in a career that spanned nearly four decades as a state wildlife biologist

He developed a keen eye and appreciation for the vast eastern Oregon point of view and now he paints it.

“It is all so big and seems to go on forever, but when you actually start to paint it you need some kind of relief on the canvas. I can’t just paint a sagebrush and make it too interesting – that’s often where the wildlife come in.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Keister paints the wildlife that live in the wild nooks and crannies of eastern Oregon. He said that too many people don’t make time to see the region: “Too many people think they’re in eastern Oregon when they get to Bend. In fact, they are just starting to enter it. I really like Wallowa County for that – it’s big, it’s beautiful and you have to come here, not go through here.”

One place to see and enjoy that “big…beautiful country” is at a state park that will capture your heart: Wallowa Lake State Park at the southern edge of Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon.

OPRD’S Todd Honeywell said that visitors will find plenty of recreation in a year-round campground that offers more than 200 sites for tent or trailer:

“It is a destination park!  Everyone comes here because they want to – it’s not a place you just happen to hit on your way somewhere else. Boats, fishing, water skiing – you name it, we have it on the lake.”

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

RELATED: A cool hike on a colorful trail | Grant's Getaways

Wallowa Lake State Park’s boat launch is free for anyone to use and have courtesy docks are available for boats as well.

In addition, there is no day use fee, so you’re free to come in, sit on the beach, enjoy it or go fishing.

That’s not all!  At the north end of the lake and is a 62-acre parcel of protection called the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site is a rolling grassland set amidst stunning backdrop of the Wallowa Mountains.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

RELATED: Supper in the Surf | Grant's Getaways

Pronounced Ee-weh-TEMM-lye-kinn, the name translates to "at the edge of the lake."

The property is adjacent to a Nez Perce National Historical Park, site of Old Chief Joseph Gravesite and Cemetery.

OPRD’s Madeline Lau, said that the area is the ancestral homeland of the Joseph band of the Nez Perce tribe.

It is a sacred place to the native peoples who helped secure its protection in partnership with Oregon State Parks.

“This park has a much more peaceful vibe,” said Lau. “It is meant for walking, experiencing nature and ideally – thinking about the Nez Perce history in this area and how important this land was to them.”

Nearby, another historic structure is worth your time for a visit: Wallowa Lake Lodge – the oldest private hotel at the lake that dates to 1923.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Like the nearby state park, the lodge is a convenient walking distance to varied activities that the entire family will enjoy.

Perhaps you will try something different too! It is a unique ride that offers a bird’s eye view when you go aboard the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mount Howard.

Rising 690 feet per minute, the tram ride is a thirteen-and-a-half-minute ride to the top. It climbs about 3700 feet to reach 8150 feet at the top.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

You’ll want to make time to explore the 2-mile hiking loop atop Mount Howard where there’s plenty of space to spend plenty of time and gain a peek into Oregon’s largest wilderness area.

The Mount Howard Tramway will take your breath away with mountain peaks that have inspirational names like Matterhorn, Eagle Cap and Ruby.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

Few places in Oregon allow you to stand shoulder to shoulder with a mountain range and vast wilderness area. It is the sort of place that makes you feel small!

The Eagle Cap Wilderness with bare granite peaks and forested ridges and u-shaped glaciated valleys characterize this enormous wilderness area of nearly half a million acres.

Credit: Grant McOmie/Jeff Kastner

All of it is accessible to visitors who willing to take the time and explore a corner of Oregon full of wonder and surprise.

“It is the kind of place that takes a dedicated effort to get into because we’re at the end of the road, said local resident Steve Larson. “But when folks come here – almost universally it’s ‘Oh my gosh – this is a gorgeous place.’ Because it really is!”

Watch more Grant's Getaways on YouTube:

Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November.

Before You Leave, Check This Out