Trip Report: Eagle Cap Wilderness – Aneroid Lake

Wallow-Whitman National Forest encompasses many interesting areas, including Hell’s Canyon, and parts of the Oregon Trail. In the NE corner of Oregon, the Eagle Cap Wilderness in in the very heart of it all. Called the “Alps of Oregon”, it features high alpine lakes, meadows of wildflowers, and stark, white, granite ridges.

This particular hike provides a nice sampling of it all. And being rather remote, you are likely to have very little traffic, at least when compared to parts of the Cascades nearer to Portland or Seattle. With only moderate elevation and mileage it’s a relatively easy 2 night hike and certainly could be done as a 1 night hike if you were so inclined.  For a proper romp though, with time to explore the meadows, and soak in the history around Aneroid Lake, 2 nights is just right.

Do note, this hike is all between 6500′ and 8500′. While this is unlikely to be high enough to result in altitude sickness for most, it is possible. And it is certainly high enough to noticeably impact performance if you are used to hiking nearer to sea level.

Day 1: Tenderfoot Trailhead to Dollar Lake

  • Trails: Tenderfoot Wagon Road to Nooney Lakes Trail
  • 5.7 Miles
  • Elevation: +2237′ -307′

At the trailhead, don’t forget to self-register for your permit and hang the permit tag to your pack.  There is plenty of parking, but not facilities. There is only one trail option to get started on, the Tenderfoot Wagon Road.

While this is the most elevation gain of any of the three days, it is spread pretty well across the entire 5.7 miles and so a fairly gradual ascent.  Take advantage of this is take to go slow, acclimatize, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and scents of Eagle Cap.  Early on you’ll be enjoying plenty of fireweed and paintbrush.

Eagle Cap - Paintbrush and Fireweed

Eagle Cap – Paintbrush and Fireweed

Very shortly after you start you will have your first water cross as you encounter Big Sheep Creek. None of the water crossings on the trip are challenging, though several require some creative rock hopping and log balancing to avoid getting your feet wet.  For this particular cross, the log isn’t immediately obvious as it is off to the right of the trail and somewhat obscured by brush. Keep this in mind at other crossings; look for side trails as there are few places where a better crossing is just up or down stream from the trail intersection.

Big Sheep Creek Crossing

Big Sheep Creek CrossingOnce you cross the water you start a steeper climb for several hundred feet. As you come to your first break in the woods, keep an eye out for the numerous white mariposa lily (Calochortus eurycarpus). They are spectacular when in abundance as they are here, and you are unlikely too see many more of them beyond the first couple of miles of the hike.

At about 1 mile in you will reach the intersection with Wing Ridge Trail and then soon McCully Creek Trail. In both cases, keep to the left. In a few spots these lesser used trails can be unclear. Luckily that mostly isn’t the case with the Tenderfoot Wagon Road trail.

At 2.2 miles, Tenderfoot Wagon Road continues roughly south while you will now take a right and head westerly onto Nooney Lakes Trail.

At about 2.75 miles you come to an established camp site. This might be an option if you need to plan for a late arrival and only want to hike a couple of hours before setting up camp.

Continue on, mostly exposed to the sun for the remainder of the hike.

You’ll reach Bonney Lakes at about 3.75 miles, a nice spot for a break, snack, or lunch … though camp for the evening is just another 1.5 miles from here.

Eagle Cap - Bonney Lake

Eagle Cap – Bonney Lake

Coming up onto the saddle between Aneroid Mountain and Dollar Lake Peak, Dollar Lake itself won’t be visible. However, there is a rock pile and a stick, perhaps a former sign, that will indicate you are in the right area.  Look left and you should see a trail heading south west in the rough direction of the lake. There are a couple of spots just 100 yards or so from the main trail, though they are somewhat exposed. Continue on down to the lake for some larger, more established, sites.

Find a spot, setup camp, and enjoy the amazing views!

Eagle Cap - Camp 1

Eagle Cap – Camp 1

Day 2: Dollar Lake to North Imnaha Trail

  • Trails: Nooney Lakes Trail to East Fork Wallowa Trail to North Imnaha Trail
  • 6.37 Miles
  • Elevation: +1296′ -1838′

Day 2 begins with a 2 mile descent down to Aneroid Lake. This is a short and fast enough hike that you might even consider going all the way to Aneroid Lake on Day 1 and setting camp there. I was trying to balance overall miles and was considering some evening photography opportunities near Dollar Lake, otherwise I would really consider setting camp at Aneroid.

In about .8 miles you will reach the intersection with East Fork Wallowa Trail, where you will continue North towards the lake. The direction will be obvious, but make note of it for your return trek as you’ll be heading down the other path.

As you approach the lake, you will note a sign indicating that the trail in this area was constructed by the Halton Tractor Co. You are now entering an area that includes private cabins and is less than 1/2 mile you will start seeing them.

Aneroid Lake Cabin

Aneroid Lake Cabin

There is an interesting history here beginning in the 1890’s with a Tuberculosis diagnosis of a 15 year old boy named Charlie Seeber. Given only a couple of years to live and a prescription for mountain air, his family moved to nearby Enterprise, OR.  Charlie would often hike out to this area to improve his lungs. He eventually laid some mining claims in the area, but those were not successful. He found better business by these cabins to support adventurers and other prospectors heading to the area. There was even a store and the original “Store” sign can still be seen on one of the cabins. The mountain air must have been good for Charlie as he is said to have lived to be 102.

Explore respectfully as these cabins are still in use and may be occupied (at least one was during my visit).  If you visit the two story cabin that bears the “Store” sign, this was Charlie’s cabin. He lived in the upper floor.  More can be found online or in the interesting book, Take A Leap Off the Well Worn Path, an account by Dennis Lund of his time, with his wife, living at and managing the cabins at Aneroid Lake. I believe they are still the caretakers there.

After you are done exploring, head back the way you came along East Fork Wallowa Trail.  Recall that intersection where this trail meets w/ Nooney Lakes Trail. This time, stay right, continuing on East Fork Wallowa to the south. Continue heading up to Tenderfoot Pass.

Eagle Cap - Tenderfoot Pass

Eagle Cap – Tenderfoot Pass

That fantastic horseshoe moraine (I think) on the west side of the saddle features Pete’s Peak, the high point of the area at 9,656′. It is described as an easily walkable “scramble” to the top. I did not attempt it so can’t speak to the difficulty directly. Comment below if you’ve done it and let other readers know what to expect.

Within about .3 miles from the pass, you reach the intersection with Polaris Trail. Keep to the left where the trail now becomes North Imnaha Trail.

In another .5 miles you will start seeing some good flat areas for potential camp sites. During my hike, the streams were dry near the initial spots. I had to continue yet another .5 miles before coming across a good stream. Refer to the CalTopo map for the precise location of where I found a nice durable site, nestled within the cover a small stand of trees. The stream to the west was good and the one to the east was even better.

Eagle Cap Brook

Eagle Cap Brook

Eagle Cap Camp 2

Eagle Cap Camp 2

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Day 3: North Imnaha Trail to Tenderfoot Trailhead

  • Trails: North Imnaha Trail to Tenderfoot Wagon Road
  • 6.72 Miles
  • Elevation: +1022′ -2380′

Well rested from a night nestled amongst the trees and listening to the sounds of the babbling brooks coming from either side of camp, the day head is pretty relaxing. Just a small (400′) climb up to the Imnaha Ridge and then it’s really all downhill from there.

Eagle Cap: Babbling Brook

Eagle Cap: Babbling Brook

After leaving camp, you’ll descend just a bit to the intersection with Tenderfoot Wagon Road. You’ll stay left here, picking up Tenderfoot Wagon Road.  You’ll continue on Tenderfoot Wagon Road back to the trailhead.

The hike up to and along the ridge is rocky and dry but accentuated by open mountain views and sagebrush dotted with the occasional wildflower.

Eagle Cap: Hardy & Sage

Eagle Cap: Hardy & Sage

At about 3.2 miles you’ll reach a bit of a saddle, where if you continued along the ridge you would start heading up toward Mount Nebo. At this point you’ll be heading North and descending more quickly down into the forested valley. The trail here is hard and rocky and the path can seem a bit obscured.  Just keep plodding forward and looking toward your left and it will soon become obvious.

Ahead and left here.

Ahead and left here.

As you descend into the valley, you’ll welcome some increasing sun cover provided by the trees.  At the 4.3 mi mark you’ll reach the intersection with Nooney Lakes Trail, the trail you took on Day 1 to reach Dollar Lake.  Keep heading Northwest here, staying on Tenderfoot Wagon Road and continue on to the trial head, an easy 2 miles from here.

Details

Region: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Eagle Cap Wilderness
Style: Loop
Distance: 18.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 4,555
Duration: 3 Days, 2 Nights
Dogs: Yes
Permits: National Forest Pass such as the Northwest Forest Pass or the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass on your car at the trailhead. In addition, a free Wilderness Visitor Permit on your person. This latter permit is self-service/self-registered at the trailhead.
Additional Notes:
Bear canisters required at Enchanted Valley.
Date: 7/21/2021 – 7/23/2021

Area Map

Eagle Cap Overview

Eagle Cap Overview

Trail Overview

Day 1: Tenderfoot TH to Dollar Lake

  • Trails: Tenderfoot Wagon Road to Nooney Lakes Trail
  • 5.7 Miles
  • Elevation: +2237′ -307′

Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

Eagle Cap Day 1

Eagle Cap Day 1

Day 2:  Dollar Lake to N. Imnaha Trail

  • Trails: Nooney Lakes Trail to East Fork Wallowa Trail to North Imnaha Trail
  • 6.37 Miles
  • Elevation: +1296′ -1838′

Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

Eagle Cap Day 2

Eagle Cap Day 2

Day 3: North Imnaha Trail to Tenderfoot Trailhead

  • Trails: North Imnaha Trail to Tenderfoot Wagon Road
  • 6.72 Miles
  • Elevation: +1022′ -2380′

Elevation Profile (click to enlarge):

Eagle Cap Day 3

Eagle Cap Day 3

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