The Washington Outdoor Report week of August 7

Wallowa County Fun

A gondola car on the Wallowa Lake Tramway. Courtesy John Kruse

Deer at the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Courtesy John Kruse

Bordering Washington and Idaho, Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County offers all sorts of outdoors fun. I visited there this week and had a fulfilling day and a half of outdoor recreation. I started off visiting with Brad Snook at the Sports Corral in Joseph to get a fishing report for Wallowa Lake, a beautiful body of water that sits in a glacial moraine.
Snook reported the trout fishing was going well. Rainbow trout are stocked on a regular basis and anglers were catching a good number of 12 to 13-inch trout along with the occasional 17 to 19-inch fish. Wallowa Lake is also a well-known kokanee salmon fishery. In fact, the world record kokanee, a 9.67-pound land-locked salmon, was caught here in 2010. Not long after that the population of large kokanee crashed, replaced by a huge number of small fish. Over time though, the kokanee have been getting bigger and Snook reported that a seven-pound salmon had been caught earlier this year.  Snook cautioned August is generally a tough month to fish for kokanee but the fact that there are a few giants swimming in the water bodes well for another potential record fish in the future.
I also spoke with Rob Lamb at the Joseph Fly Shoppe. He confirmed Snook’s reports about the trout fishing at Wallowa Lake and said dry fly anglers were having some magnificent days, catching and releasing up to 30 trout per outing, at the south end of the lake where the Wallowa River flows in.  
After dinner in town, I drove some 30 miles to the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Managed by the Nature Conservancy, this 33,000 acre property is known for the native prairie grasses as well as wildlife that live here. In addition to deer and elk, there are also coyotes, badgers and other animals along with a wide variety of bird species. I enjoyed a serene hike amongst the prairie grass, not hearing any man-made sound at all, just crickets and a gentle breeze blowing through the bunchgrass. As for the wildlife, they didn’t come out until sunset but when they did, I got to see deer and a small group of elk to include a spike bull that was only a hundred yards away.
After a restful night’s sleep, I went on a pleasant hike at the State Heritage Site just south of town. The trail meandered through a meadow and around a scenic pond with the Wallowa Mountains serving as a backdrop. After eating fresh fruit and a flank steak breakfast burrito at the Kokanee Inn it was off to the Wallowa Lake Tramway to meet with the general manager and co-owner, Mike Lockhart. The two of us entered an enclosed gondola car and traveled close to two miles over 15 minutes, gaining 3,700 feet in elevation until we reached the top of 8,200-foot-tall Mount Howard. We took a seat at The Summit Grill, which Mike says is the highest elevation café in the Northwest next to the tramway. It’s an open-air restaurant styled after European cafés in the Alps and the offerings off the menu are surprisingly affordable. The two of us chatted about the many upgrades made to the Tramway in recent years and how popular this tramway is, with some 30,000 visitors a year. The reason for the popularity, besides the unique way to get to the summit, becomes obvious upon your arrival. On a clear day you can see well into the three states of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, enjoying views of Wallowa Lake below and the magnificent Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness to the south and west. A well maintained 2.5-mile-long trail system with interpretive signage looping around the summit allows you to enjoy the views from different viewpoints. It’s definitely a bucket list experience! You can find out more details about the tramway at www.wallowalaketramway.com.
As for where to stay, I would highly recommend the Kokanee Inn. Located on Main Street in Joseph, the well-appointed inn has eight rooms and lots of sitting and dining areas both indoors and outside. The breakfasts are amazing, the beds are comfortable, and the amenities include the free use of a cruiser bike for guests to cycle around town or down to the lake. The owners have lots of knowledge about where to bicycle and hike and will help you find the perfect outing. In addition to this great bed & breakfast, there are a number of other lodging and camping options in the area to include the very popular Wallowa Lake State Park. Find out more details at www.wallowacountychamber.com and www.kokaneeinn.com.

John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
 

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