The Best Outdoor Recreational Spots Near Campus

Written by Jillian Hoefer

 Picture by Jillian Hoefer

As the days get warmer and flowers start to add cheerful splashes of color around campus, spring term is the best time of year to venture away from campus and get out into nature. La Grande and the surrounding towns offer many opportunities for students to get outside and take a break from studying. 

The Mount Emily Recreation Area

Photo by Amaya Zweygardt

One of the favorite places to hike in La Grande is the Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA). This hiking spot in La Grande offers breathtaking views of the valley below if one travels all the way to the many viewpoints at the top. The MERA has over 3,000 acres to explore either on foot, bike, or horseback. The MERA is located two miles outside of downtown La Grande, and just a short drive from campus. 

Morgan Lake

Located just a few miles outside of La Grande, Morgan Lake is a great option in the warmer months, as swimming in the crystal-clear water is allowed. There are also opportunities for short nature hikes of any desired length, as there are not specifically designated trails. There is also a pond covered with lily pads less than a mile’s walk from the parking lot. 

Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area

For outdoor enthusiasts, Ladd Marsh is a great place to connect with nature. Many different animals can be found here, including different species of birds. All the animals that can be found here are protected, but there are several different nature trails to explore. You never know what kind of wildlife you will see, including great blue herons and various species of owls. There are some restrictions for this location, so it is best to check here before your trip: https://myodfw.com/ladd-marsh-wildlife-area-visitors-guide 

The Oregon Trail Interpretive Park Trailhead

For those who have an appreciation for history and a preference for shorter hikes, you may opt to travel a short distance from campus to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Park Trailhead, 16 miles outside of La Grande. Impressions left by covered wagons can still be found here, and the hike is approximately 3 miles long. 

Catherine Creek State Park 

Located just outside of Union, Catherine Creek State Park offers a peaceful, relaxing setting. This location also boasts a creek with crystal-clear waters to wade in, fishing opportunities, tranquil picnic spots, and a 3-mile-long trail to hike. This location is temporarily closed but will open seasonally from April 22- October 19. 

Wallowa Lake State Park

If you are wanting to spend an entire day away from campus or La Grande, Wallowa Lake State Park outside of Joseph is the perfect option. Though it is over an hour drive to get there, the experience is worth the trip! There are many hiking spots near Wallowa Lake, and even a gondola which can take you to the summit of Mt. Howard. At the summit, you will find over 2 miles of trails with stunning, panoramic views.  Gondola rides can be booked in advance on the Wallowa Lake Tramway website. This activity is also seasonal, so check here before traveling: https://wallowalaketramway.com/tramway-day-pass/ 

If you are finding that you need a break from studying as midterms quickly approach, La Grande and the surrounding areas do not disappoint when it comes to connecting people with nature and the beautiful views that Oregon is known for. 

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