July 17, 2019

48 Hours in the Blue Mountains: Many Waters

userBy Gwen Dildine user0 Comment

You might not think about eastern Washington or Oregon as a go-to destination for water sports, but the land of many waters certainly has some unique opportunities to satisfy your inner rafter, kayaker, or paddleboarder. Bordered by two iconic rivers to the north and the west with the Snake and Columbia Rivers, respectively, and fed by a landscape charged with ancient aquifers and generous snow packs, it is no surprise that Walla Walla roughly translates to many waters.

Water is a precious resource that also facilitates a variety of recreation opportunities. To learn more about the water in our neck of the woods, consider reading up on our local natural history prior to venturing out. It will no doubt enrich your experience. Check out Many Waters by Robert Carson and The Blues published by the Blue Mountain Land Trust. Both of these publications capture an amazing breadth of local knowledge.

If you are local, you are probably thinking to yourself ‘just tell us how to cool off already!’ In the name of research, our family decided to get our feet wet in the sport of rafting. A number of months ago, we contacted the Minam Store and asked about guided trips. We knew we wanted to add this sport to our recreation catalog, but we wanted to learn from an experienced guide. The two closest raftable rivers to Walla Walla are the Wallowa and Grande Ronde. We actually ended up asking for a training trip instead of a guided trip. Even though both rivers are beginner floats, we just felt uncomfortable winging it with our two small children in the boat. Don’t try to YouTube Rafting 101; pay for your education. From our experience, it was worth every penny, and we will forever be grateful for the knowledge we gained. Think about the memories over a lifetime.

Your Recreation Itinerary

Prepare yourself for an adventure packed weekend. For purposes of this post, we are going to assume you are interested in our path–learning to raft or perhaps taking the family on a small guided float trip. You could easily opt for an overnight stay on the Grande Ronde River if you already have a set of oars in your garage. Going with the plan of a few hours on the Wallowa River also means there is plenty of time to explore other parts of the forest as well as enjoy a handful of communities along the way.

Friday→Camping at Minam State Recreation Area
Making the trek to Minam State Recreation Area will eliminate the morning commute to the river. In fact, the campground is next to the Wallowa River, which is a Wild & Scenic River. This designation is actually one of the reasons we all have an opportunity to enjoy the Wallowa River. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protects more than 12,700 miles of rivers and streams around the country. It was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The designation protects the rivers from damming or otherwise altering the river, bank alterations, and mineral, gas, or oil extraction thus protecting wildlife habitat as well as clean, safe drinking water.

For evening entertainment, watch boats navigate the Minam Roller near the campground. Don’t judge too much because someday that will be you attempting to show off your inner oarsman. The road to the campground is well maintained and would easily double as a worthy path for an evening stroll. The recreation area near the entrance allows hiking as well. As water levels drop, it is possible to walk the shoreline for some distance, skipping rocks and enjoying the sound of the river.

Saturday → Raft the Wallowa River, Evening in Joseph, Return to Minam

The headwaters of the Wallowa River are located in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. After meandering through the towns of Joseph, Enterprise, and Wallowa in Oregon and following HWY 82 before turning north, the Minam River joins the Wallowa River at the Minam State Recreation Area. A stone’s throw away from the confluence is the Minam Store. These folks really whipped us into rafting shape, and we thoroughly enjoyed working with them. There are a number of other outfitters in the area, so plenty of folks are able to assist with your rafting endeavors.

We started our rafting journey on the Wallowa River, upstream of the Minam Store. This ten mile section of the river follows the highway. Honestly, I didn’t even notice the highway. Admittedly, I was really focused on keeping my family out on the river (but not in it) and not in the willows and snags near the banks, which I did for the most part. Our education included safety instructions, necessary gear and how to use it, how to read the water, and basic techniques. This stretch of the river is great for parents to learn while kids enjoy a few small rapids that keep them entertained. It isn’t a huge push to complete the section in a day; in fact, we did it in a few hours. Just enough to get your feet wet; again, hopefully figuratively.

After you tie the boat up the proper way (as you will learn), celebrate your newfound skillset and consider leaving the campsite for a few hours. Head to Enterprise, Oregon and enjoy a celebratory brew at Terminal Gravity Brewing. The grounds at Terminal Gravity are really family friendly–shaded and grassy with a creek running through to let the kids run off all the energy and excitement they banked in the boat. Their food is exceptional and their beer even better.

If the family has any ounce of energy remaining, head to the Joseph City Park about ten minutes down the road. This playground is the result of an amazing display of community collaboration. As a nightcap, grab a hot chocolate and a few treats from Arrowhead Chocolates in Joseph and stroll the main street and just try to decide what to look at: the incredible bronze statues or the Wallowa Mountains. Likely, the kids are sleeping all the way back to the campground, and the adults can finally grab a few moments to gaze at the stars and quiz each other on rowing techniques.

Sunday → Hike Umatilla Rim Trail & Eat at Sister’s Cafe
In contrast to the previous day’s outing at the bottom of the canyon, spend a few hours up top. The Umatilla Rim Trail is a wonderful trail that skirts the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. Make sure to check out our detailed description of the trail, so you can pick which trailhead to start your journey. Stroll along the trail for a few miles to work up an appetite. Start making plans to return to this part of the world because a number of gorgeous trails are in the area. We know you haven’t showered in two days and everyone is ready to head home, but throw on a hat and some Lone Deodorant (plug for a local product that is likely the best deodorant in the world) and stop by Sister’s Cafe in Pendleton, Oregon. This restaurant is a recent find for us, and we love it–super family friendly, great menu, and overall neat space to unwind and fill bellies for the return trip.

Outdoor Recreation in the Blue Mountains

There are so many ways to recreate in the Blue Mountains, and we have just scratched the surface of all that is possible. This was a busy weekend complete with camping, rafting, eating, eating some more, hiking, and just a tad more eating. Part of what makes these weekends so fun is meeting other people and checking out the towns along the way. Admittedly, this is a lot to pack in a weekend, but we had so much fun and we think your family will too. As you start to head outside more and more, make sure to carve out time to enjoy the local fare and hit up an antique store or twenty!