by Eric Johanson
Many opportunities for hiking exist in the area around Walla Walla. In town, the Mill Creek trail is located near the community college and multiple trails surround nearby Bennington Lake. A more scenic option is to make the short drive through Milton-Freewater to the South Fork of the Walla Walla River; though the hiker may not be alone as the trail is also open to horses, mountain bikes, and motorcycles. For those willing to make more of a trip out of it, plenty of hikes can be enjoyed in the nearby Blue Mountains. Examples include Oregon Butte (the highest point in the Washington Blues) and Diamond Peak. Descriptions of individual hikes can be found at the U. S. Forest Service offices in Walla Walla and Pomeroy. Walla Walla is also not located too far from the Wallowa Mountains, a popular area for hiking located in northeastern Oregon.
Babcock, Scott, and Carson, Bob. Hiking Washington’s Geology. Seattle. The Mountaineers. 2000
Bishop, Ellen Morris and Allen, John Eliot. Hiking Oregon’s Geology. Seattle. The Mountaineers. 2000
Pohs, Keith. The Wallowa Mountains. Portland. Northwest Mountain Works. 2000 (1994 Whitman graduate!)
The Walla Walla region is a good area for both road and mountain biking. Road biking opportunities exist on trails such as the Fort Walla Walla trail and the Mill Creek trail. Or, one can simply follow one of the many roads that lead out into the wheat fields for a nice quiet ride. For those wanting to get off roads, but who don’t want a drive, following the Mill Creek trail past Rooks Park leads to several single tracks that go around Bennington Lake. For mountain biking, the North and South Forks of the Walla Walla are both popular areas. An abundance of tracks exist in the nearby foothills of the Blues. For a guide to some of the best, visit Kevin Pogue’s guide to mountain biking in the Blues (http://people.whitman.edu/~pogue/bike_guide.html).
People may camp at many places in the Walla Walla area, both on and off the Umatilla National Forest. More than 30 designated camping areas are located in the National Forest alone. The most popular is Jubilee Lake located in Oregon, near Tollgate and Elgin. This campground offers 51 camping sites and facilities for boating, fishing, hiking, and other activities. Camping costs in 2000 were $14 per night. Additionally, campers may stay in non-designated sites in the National Forest as long as they possess a Northwest Forest Pass ($5 per day or $30 per season). Spots to camp outside of the National Forest include Fort Walla Walla Campground (located on Myra Road in Walla Walla), the Four Seasons RV Resort (located on Dalles Military Road in Walla Walla) and Lewis & Clark Trail State Park on U.S. Highway 12 between Waitsburg and Dayton. People may also camp in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers sites at Fishhook and Charbonneau Parks located along the Snake River.
Both the North and South Forks of the Walla Walla River offer fishing. The river is home to rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout. Jubilee Lake offers fishing for rainbow trout, which are stocked annually. Free (no license required) fishing is allowed near the campground. Anglers are encouraged to fish early in the season, as the stock may become quite depleted later on. Closer to Walla Walla, Bennington Lake also offers some fishing. For those willing to take more of a trip, plenty of opportunities to fish are available on both the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
The closest place to Walla Walla that offers good whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking is the Grande Ronde River in northeast Oregon. The river offers Class II to III conditions (depending on the water flow at the time) and a permit is not required to boat. Other rivers in the region that offer boating opportunities include the Deschutes, the John Day, and the Snake (Hells Canyon). Neither the Grande Ronde or the John Day are dammed. Guidebook: Garren, John. Oregon River Tours. Portand. Binford and Mort. 1974.
The nearest places to boat and windsurf are at the reservoirs along the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Bennington Lake allows non-motorized boating, and Jubilee Lake offers non-motorized or electrically powered boats. Both lakes provide launching facilities. The Walla Walla Yacht Club also maintains facilities at McNary Dam and Lake Wallula. For information call the Yacht Club at 509-547-4946. The Columbia Gorge, a 2-3 hour drive west of Walla Walla, is one of the most popular places for wind surfers in the world.
The Umatilla National Forest offers three main facilities for Nordic skiing, all are located in northeastern Oregon. Spout Springs, near Tollgate, offers 21 miles of trails, over half of which are groomed. This area offers opportunities for all levels of skiers, ranging from novice to more advanced. Farther south, Horseshoe Prairie offers 6 miles of ungroomed trails. North of La Grande, Meacham Divide has 12 miles of trails that are groomed from late November until March. Snow park passes (which can be obtained from the U. S. Forest Service) are necessary to use these areas.
There are two ski resorts in the vicinity of Walla Walla. Bluewood (http://www.bluewood.com/index.html) is located in Washington, 21 miles southeast of Dayton. Facilities include 2 chairlifts and 1 platter lift which access 26 different runs. Spout Springs (http://www.skispoutsprings.com/), located near Tollgate, Oregon, offers 4 lifts, servicing 11 different downhill runs. Both resorts are relatively inexpensive due to their small size and remote locations.
The Blue Mountains are a popular area for elk hunting. The season normally starts in mid to late October (October 25 in Oregon and October 28 in Washington in 2000). Hunting is big industry in the region, as in 1999 hunters spent $16.5 million in the area.
Huckleberry picking is a popular activity in the local mountains. Huckleberries ripen in mid-July and are sometimes available until as late as October. They can be found at all elevations from 2000 feet to the summits of the Blues. They are normally found in shaded areas in stands of grand fir, alpine fir, and lodgepole pine.
Five types of edible mushrooms are found in the Blues: snow mushrooms, puffballs, true morel, cauliflower, and shaggy manes. Most are found in springtime in areas such as marshes or old burns. Collecting mushrooms for resale on U. S. Forest Service lands is prohibited, but a permit is not necessary for mushrooms picked for personal use. It is very important not to pick mushrooms unless you are absolutely sure of their identity as edible species may easily be confused with toxic ones.
Two areas are recommended by the U. S. Forest Service for observing wildlife within the Umatilla National Forest. The first is the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area, located 13 miles southeast of Dayton. This is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, deer, bighorn sheep, black bear, cougar, bobcat, rabbit, grouse, valley and mountain quail, partridge, dove, and songbirds. The other area is Grouse Flats, which is 5 miles northwest of Troy, Oregon. Many of the species that can be observed at the Wooten Wildlife Area may also be viewed in this location. In addition, good bird watching opportunities exist along the Columbia River from Wallula Gap to McNary National Wildlife Refuge.
Whenever you undertake any activity that involves travel into the wilderness be sure that you are carrying the ten essentials. These are (according to the U. S. Forest Service):
1) first aid kit
3) multi-blade knife
4) compass and map
5) eye protection
6) plastic whistle
7) poncho/rain gear
8) emergency food
9) wool/poly hat, gloves/socks
10) common sense/knowledge of area