With 715 miles of trails in the Umatilla National Forest and 2,700 miles in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, there is a trail for everyone at all ages. These two forests account for roughly 3.3 million acres of public lands across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Ranging in elevation from a few hundred feet to 9,845 feet in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, the hiking experience varies as much as the elevation. Bring the whole family on a riverside stroll or pack it in for a long weekend, whatever distance covered packs scenic vistas and magnificent displays of the intricate and complex workings of geologic time.
Protected by the Cascade and Rocky Mountains, the climate allows for an extended hiking season. Dodging the wet, marine air from the west and cold, Arctic air from the east, it is not unheard of to get a hike in each month of the year. Hiking through the seasons also means different looks at the same terrain—rivers bulge with winter snow melt as trees bud and blossom, which, in the blink of an eye, turns to trickling creeks and fall foliage.
Many animals call the Blue Mountain region home as well. Rocky Mountain elk, cougar, mule deer, moose, black bear, beaver, and coyote are just a few mammals that call this area home, along with countless other bird species, fish, and reptiles. Always practice good trail etiquette by taking precautions to protect yourself and animals from surprise meetings—let folks know where you are hiking, hike with a friend, carry bear spray, and make noise to alarm animals of your presence. Also be mindful of the season as some animals are more aggressive and or protective depending on the time of year. As the saying goes, take only memories—leave only footprints.
Explore our growing trails catalog for ideas about where to go. There is an intricate web of trails in the Blue Mountains, and some trails are maintained more often than others. We’ll do our best to describe what to expect and offer photographs of the area. We only publish posts of activities that we have done ourselves.
The Nine Mile Ridge Trail spoils hikers with magnificent viewscapes of the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness area. With two ways to access the trail, Buck Creek Trailhead as the lower location and Nine Mile Ridge Trailhead as the upper location, hikers can choose to begin the day with big views or traverse up the mountain through lush forest-filled gulches. There are plenty of places to stop under canopy and enjoy a picnic with a view. Overall, the Nine Mile Ridge Trail is an excellent way to explore the Umatilla National Forest.
If heading into the mountains just isn’t your thing, there are in-town options. The Fort Walla Walla Recreation Trail wraps behind the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center and provides just under a mile of paved trail suitable for walking and bike riding. As an added bonus, have fun learning a little about our solar system as part of the planet walk. The Fort Walla Walla Planet Walk was created by the 2007 Sherwood Trust Community Leadership Class with support from many other community organizations and businesses. Make sure to enjoy the Fort Walla Walla Museum as well. There is plenty of open space, engaging exhibits for all ages, and frequent events that highlight our local history, so become a member and go often.
The Arthur C. Rempel Nature Area adjacent to the Fort Walla Walla Museum and west of the VA Medical Center is another spot that provides an outdoor recreation experience, though surrounded by department and home improvement stores. Named for the founder of the local Audubon Society chapter and emeritus professor of biology, Arthur Rempel advocated for wildlife and habitat. The trail is roughly 1.5 miles and is still maintained by the Blue Mountain Audubon Society as well as the City of Walla Walla. Most recently, the Blue Mountain Land Trust’s Blues Crew helped spread mulch and prepare the trail for spring users. Bring binoculars and prepare to spend more time than you would expect wandering through this in-town pocket of nature.
On the other end of town, the Mill Creek Recreation Trail begins at Lions Park and ends at Rooks Park. This 1.5 mile paved trail is especially great for young kids on bikes and parents with strollers. For runners and mountain bikers, this trail connects to the Bennington Lake trail system, which can add a few miles and exceptional views of the Blue Mountains. The Mill Creek Recreation Trail passes by the Mill Creek Sports Complex and Walla Walla Community College, so depending on the time of year treat yourself to a baseball or soccer game as well.
Back on the west side of town, actually between College Place and Touchet, is Whitman Mission. A National Historic Site managed by the National Park Service, Whitman Mission offers outdoor enthusiasts another chance to connect with local history. You can actually see the Oregon trail, as in the ruts from the wagons. Walking the grounds offer guests a nice walk outdoors. Many interpretive signs enrich the experience, and in addition to its historical focus, the flora and fauna of the area are highlighted.
Plenty of opportunities to get outside exist in the valley. Use our filter feature to tailor your search and enjoy reading about all the opportunities to engage with any number of activities close to home. With many groups in town working tirelessly to add even more trails near town, check our growing catalog of hiking trails often, and consider adding Outside Walla Walla to your favorite social media hub for updates.
As a feature of every post we write, we highlight those who make that recreation opportunity possible. From federal agencies, such as the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Army Corp of Engineers; Native American Tribes, such as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; state agencies, such as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington and Oregon State Parks; to county and city parks, recreation is a core component of each respective mission. Some of these agencies offer developed and maintained trails, and others offer a more primitive and natural experience. Many restoration projects around the valley and in the mountains work in collaboration with local organizations to restore and protect habitat, species, and natural resources, to name a few. Other efforts mitigate the impact of practices humans have imparted on the land, such as dams. Know that there are many people who work tirelessly to protect our natural resources through projects, research, and outreach. We’ll do our best to highlight some of these efforts via our Adventures blog as well as post events these agencies host.
Blues Crew is a volunteer program ran by the Blue Mountain Land Trust. Their charge is to help maintain trails. Started in 2018, this group has done amazing work in a short amount of time and have ambitious plans for the future. On this particular day, our family was helping clear the North Fork Umatilla River Trail. Blues Crew is a great way to connect with those who love the land as well as give back to the community.
If we wrote about all the organizations and groups in town working to connect folks with nature and the outdoors, you would be scrolling for quite some time, which is awesome. We’ll do our best to create an exhaustive list (and this project will take time), but never hesitate to drop us an email to educate us about something worth mention. Near and dear to our family is the Blue Mountain Land Trust. I’ve volunteered with that organization for almost a decade. My family enjoys Learning on the Land events, Nature Kids programs, and Blues Crew work parties. In addition to the conservation work the organization does, education and recreation are key components of their mission. If you are looking to connect with folks who love the outdoors, there are a number of committees to engage with or events to attend. Grab a Learning on the Land booklet in early spring and start marking your calendar.
The Blue Mountain Audubon Society is another active organization in town. Anytime I login into Facebook, I’m greeted with photos from a bird walk or field trip. This group also maintains the Arthur G. Rempel Fort Walla Walla Natural Area. We enjoy looking at the impeccably well-maintained bird list on their website, and then finding that bird on our Audubon app in an attempt to educate ourselves in hopes of identifying any number of species ourselves. This group is incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated. Don’t be shy; attend a meeting and answer the call of your inner birder.
A mainstay section of each outdoor recreation opportunity we feature, permits and regulations are researched and reported on to help you get outside and return without a ticket. This is also a section based painfully on experience because for some reason we can’t remember to bring our Oregon Sno-Park permit to Oregon and vice versa to Washington. Historically, we bring the wrong one. We now have a system. Anyway, the most common permits required of our area are a Discover Pass, a Northwest Forest Pass, and an Oregon or Washington Sno-Park Permit.
A Discover Pass gives access to state parks, primitive recreation sites, water access points, natural areas, and wildlife areas. The Discover Pass is a relatively new requirement, passed in 2011, to help offset reduced state tax funding. It is a vehicle permit, so if you arrive at locations requiring a Discover Pass on a bicycle, for example, a Discover Pass is not required. The pass can be shared between two vehicles. The Northwest Forest Pass is honored at recreation sites in Oregon and Washington run by the Forest Service that require a day-use permit. This pass is also interchangeable between two vehicles in the same household. Both Oregon and Washington Sno-Park Permits allow users the ability to park in winter recreation lots. Fees go toward maintaining these areas to allow for safe access to the forest in winter.
All of these permits are available online with their respective agencies. Bi-Mart in Walla Walla sells the Discover Pass and the Northwest Forest Pass. Ranch & Home in Milton-Freewater and the Alpine Outpost in Tollgate sell Oregon Sno-Park Permits. Washington Sno-Park Permits are available online only. Buying these passes and permits isn’t just about following the rules, but also about supporting efforts to ensure these special places stay intact and open for outdoor recreation use.