Lakes and Rivers

Phenomenal trout fishing along the Wallowa River. Photo: Cameron Scott

There are many ways to salvation, and one of them is to follow a river.

David Brower

Endless Possibilities

There are over 12 world-class whitewater and “Wild and Scenic” rivers in Eastern Oregon. Just minutes from the EOU campus you can paddle board at Morgan Lake or cool off in the Grande Ronde River. Under an hour’s drive from town you can be fishing blue ribbon trout streams, put-on for a multi-day wilderness river float, or explore crystalline high mountain lakes. In under two hours you can be to the Snake River exploring Hells Canyon, take a wilderness hike along the North Fork of the John Day River, or head up to Wallowa Lake to see one of North America’s best preserved glacial moraine lakes. If you like gorgeous alpine lakes and free flowing rivers, then Eastern Oregon is a dream come true.

Local Lakes & Reservoirs

Atop a mountain just 3.5 miles from La Grande sits Morgan Lake. The area has a whole host of recreation amenities including boat dock/ramp, picnic tables, campground, and hiking trails. The lake is only open to non-motorized watercraft, so its the perfect place to paddle board, swim, or fish. In fact, the lake is stocked annually with 20,000 finger length and some 2,000 legal size trout. Make sure any watercraft more than 10ft. in length has a valid Oregon Waterways Access Permit.

Directions: From EOU head south on 6th Street to C Street. Hang a right and go uphill to Walnut Street. Turn left keeping on this road as it turns to dirt and becomes the Morgan Lake Road. Follow this steep road up to the lake at the top of the hill.

Nestled underneath the southern end of the Elkhorn Mountains this 2,235 acre reservoir is a beautiful place to recreate. Anglers will find largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, black crappie, yellow perch, and coho salmon. Several Forest Service campgrounds dot the lake including Union Creek Campground and Southwest Shore Campground. A stellar trail network circumnavigates the lake with opportunities for hiking, wildlife watching, and mountain biking.

Directions: From Baker City head west on Highway 7 for about 17 miles. You can make a quick left turn here to access the North Shoreline Trail and Mason Dam Boat Launch or, to access the southern side of the lake, continue west another 5 miles turning left onto the Hudspeth Road.

This magnificent glacial lake near Joseph is a sight to behold. From tip to tail this lake is about 3.5 miles in length, almost a mile wide, and impounded by dramatic 900 ft. high glacial moraines. In the spring the open slopes of the east moraine are covered in spectacular wildflowers. The Wallowa Lake area was inhabited by the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce tribe and Old Chief Joseph’s gravesite sits at the toe of the lake and is a national historic site. On the southside of the lake there is a marina, state park, and small town with all kinds of restaurants, mini-golf, arcades, souvenir shops, and hotels to entertain visitors. A must do is to go up the 3700ft. Wallowa Lake Tram for a spectacular view and experience. On the northside of the lake there is a lovely city park with swim area and beach. This is a great lake to fish with record Kokanee, Mackinaw, and trout being pulled from its clear depths. You can also just sit at the park and stare up at the 9,000ft. Wallowa Mountains that surround the lake in glorious alpine splendor.

Directions: From La Grande head east on Highway 82 for 71 miles to the cute little town of Joseph, Oregon. Continue through town heading south for 2 miles. The city park, boat ramp, and swimming area are located here at the toe of the lake. To get to Wallowa Lake State Park and the Wallowa Lake Marina continue south along the eastside of the lake for 3.5 miles. From there, just follow the signs.

Local Rivers

This river contains multitudes. As a tributary of the mighty Snake River this 182-mile long river drains a large section of the Blue Mountains and the Wallowa Mountains in Northeast Oregon. Above La Grande the river is shallow and meandering. Anglers will find this upper section hosts a quality trout fishery. Boaters can put-in at Hilgard Junction State Park. The rather mellow float (Class 1 and 2 rapids) down to Pioneer Park or Riverside Park in La Grande takes a few hours and is best done from April to mid-June.

Below La Grande the river enters the Grande Ronde Valley and courses through farmland. After Elgin the wild character of the river returns as it enters deep canyon lands. Whitewater rafting and angling enthusiasts can put-in at Minam on the Wallowa River and float 10 miles to the confluence with the Grande Ronde. Below the confluence the Grande Ronde becomes a “Wild and Scenic” river for 43 miles. This roadless corridor is a gorgeous stretch of river with Class 2 and 3 rapids, lovely beach camps, great fishing, and plenty of opportunities to see wildlife like black bear, bighorn sheep, and even mountain goat.

Directions: To Hilgard Junction State Park – From La Grande head north on I-84 for 8.3 miles getting off at the Ukiah-Hilgard exit. The state park and put-in are on your left as you exit the off-ramp. To Minam Put-in – Head east from La Grande on Highway 82 towards Enterprise for 34 miles to Minam. The BLM boat launch is on the west side. On the east side of the river is Minam Store. You can arrange river shuttles and buy last minute supplies here.

The John Day, at 284 miles, is the longest free flowing river in the Northwest. This spectacular river has its origins in the alpine splendor of the Elkhorn and Blue Mountains and makes its way through drier climates and gorgeous basalt cliffs to the confluence with the Columbia River. Anglers will find superb trout fishing in the upper sections and amazing anadromous steelhead and warm water bass fishing in its lower reaches. The North Fork of the John Day offers wilderness backpacking opportunities and the Clarno to Cottonwood stretch is a multi-day, 70-mile remote canyon country float with great camping and scenic vistas. Best time to float is May through early July.

Directions: To North Fork of the John Day – Proceed west from La Grande on I-84 for 8.3 miles getting off at the Ukiah-Hilgard exit. Proceed on Highway 244 toward Ukiah for about 18 miles. Turn left at Starky and follow the Grande Ronde River Rd. up over Chicken Hill Pass and down toward the mining town of Granite for about 30 miles. At the junction with the #52 Road turn left and go south for just under two miles to the North Fork John Day Campground and trailhead. To Clarno-Cottonwood Section – From La Grande head west on I-84 for 121 miles to exit 137 and OR-19 to Condon. Continue through Mayville and Fossil to junction with OR-218. Proceed west on OR-218 to Clarno.

The mighty 1,000 mile long Snake River defines the eastern border of Oregon. One of the most scenic and wild sections of the river flows through what is known to be the deepest gorge in North America – Hells Canyon. At an average of 5500 feet deep this gorge is deeper than the Grand Canyon. Below Hells Canyon dam is a wild stretch of river where boaters can float for almost 80 miles taking on Class 3 and 4 rapids, camping on beautiful beaches, and enjoying numerous rewarding hikes and archeological sites along the way. This stretch of river requires a permit, so check in with the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area for info. Above Hells Canyon Dam the river is backed up behind three large dams. Here you will find good fishing for a variety of species including smallmouth bass, crappie, catfish, sturgeon, trout, and bluegill. The still water makes this an excellent place to paddle board and flat water kayak too. This area is open to motorized boats.

Directions: From La Grande head south on I-84 for 45 miles to Baker City. Take the exit for Halfway and Richland. Proceed east on OR-86 for 54 miles to the town of Halfway. From here continue east for another 17 miles to Oxbow. You can cross the bridge to the Idaho side and continue downriver to Hells Canyon Dam and the multi-day river trip put-in site. This is a narrow winding road for about 22 miles, although the views are stunning.