In the blink of an hour, it is amazing just how different the terrain can look. Starting in Walla Walla, surrounded by rolling wheat fields, the drive south offers some of my favorite views paralleling the Blue Mountains. Passing through Milton-Freewater and turning toward the mountains a few more miles south, the road starts wrapping the hillside and climbing into the forest. The Umatilla National Forest offers a number of trails in and around the Tollgate, Oregon area. Many of those trails are the upper trailhead access points and/or connect into a quite intricate trail system.
If you are local and don’t want to camp or if you are from out of town and want to curl up in that cozy hotel bed you rented, no problem. The North Fork Umatilla River Trail is great for a day trip. It is also a trail garnering quite a bit of attention lately as the Blue Mountain Land Trust’s Blues Crew in partnership with the Umatilla National Forest has been hard at work clearing and maintaining the trail. Steve, our son, and myself enjoyed a day out on the trail working to clear an incredible amount of vegetation from the trail, actually so much we couldn’t even see the trail in some places. If you are local and enjoy the mountains, the Blues Crew is an awesome way to enjoy a community project in the wild.
So now that the trail is clear, go enjoy it! It is a magnificent trail that shows off the finest of Blue Mountain geology and the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness. One of my favorite things to do is look across to another hillside and see what color it reads―is it green forests or is it golden tan grasses? Then I look at the ground around me, and it never fails how many different colors there are whether from wildflowers or lichen or various bushes or grasses that up close turn those golden tans into purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows. We are huge fans of the A Pocket Naturalist Guide pamphlets as they don’t weigh the backpack down but still boost our IQ each time we use them.
The kids love taking those guides around to try and identify different species of trees, flowers, bugs, you name it! We purchased ours at Book and Game on the corner of First Street and Main Street in Walla Walla, so be sure to grab a few that interest you before heading out. Book and Game also has all the books referenced on our Resources page as well.