High in the mountains of northeastern Oregon lies Wallowa Lake, a ribbon-shaped body of water people have been visiting for hundreds of years to catch a respite from the summer heat.

These days, the 1,500-acre lake is the centerpiece of a state park. And while summer is still the most popular time to visit, the park is open to campers year-round and the nearby town of Joseph, Ore., is geared toward tourism throughout the year.

Wallowa Lake State Park, located about 100 miles south of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, offers a wide array of outdoor activities: camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, swimming and wildlife-spotting. And if members of your party decide they’ve had enough nature, there are also charming dining and shopping options.

The area’s most notable feature might be the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which first opened in 1970 and is billed as the steepest gondola in America. Those who pay for tickets, which cost between $30 and $40 per person, get to ride a tram car up a ridge of Howard Mountain, gaining about 3,700 feet of elevation along the way. At the top (8,150 feet above sea level) is the Summit Grill, which, like the tramway, is open from May until early October. There are also some easy-to-navigate hiking trails at the top.

Most visitors to the park will end up spending time at the lake, which is fed by glacial runoff from the surrounding Wallowa Mountains. The beautiful high-mountain setting must have appealed to the Nez Perce Tribe, which had bands that lived in the area before the encroachment of white settlers.

It’s not hard to spend money at Wallowa, between the tramway, rental options, lodging and restaurants. But those looking for a cheap and simple outing can have that too, if they pack a lunch and stick to the free amenities the park offers. n

Wallowa Lake State Park

LOCATION: From the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, travel south on State Route 129 through Asotin, Anatone and over Rattlesnake Grade. The route becomes Highway 3 at the Oregon border. At Enterprise, Ore., turn east on Highway 82, which leads to Joseph, Ore., and the park. Total drive time is about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

WHAT YOU’LL DO: Hiking, biking, fishing, boating, swimming and, if you’ve got the time, camping.

DIFFICULTY: 1 to 3 out of 5, depending on what you do. Some visitors journey here for a low-stress picnic; others work up a sweat hiking, biking or paddling.

DON’T FORGET: Water, snacks, camera, sunscreen ... and money. Even if you’re planning an economical trip, you’ll probably end up spending a few bucks.

NEZ PERCE HOMELAND: The Wallowa Valley was part of the Nez Perce Tribe’s traditional homeland and was the home of the famous Chief Joseph. Last year, the tribe acquired a property called Am’sáaxpa, or place of the boulders, that is a traditional campsite where Joseph spent time before the War of 1877.

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