Backpacking the Elkhorn Crest Trail in Oregon

We are all about finding lesser-known trails in the backcountry. So that’s why the Elkhorn Crest Trail in Oregon is high on our to-hike like this summer. With views, granite peaks, cirque lakes, mountain goats, and generally excellent mountain scenery, we’re unsure why the Elkhorn Range isn’t as popular as the nearby Wallowas. But we’re not complaining!

Elkhorn Crest Trail

Difficulty 6
MILES: 27 (32)
ELEVATION GAIN: 3,000′ (5,700′)
DAYS: 3 (3–4)

The jagged spine of the Elkhorn Range rises dramatically above Baker City and the Powder River Valley. Strangely, although countless people drive past these impressive peaks on I-84, relatively few stop to explore. This narrow range hides many of the same treasures that make the nearby Wallowa Mountains so popular (granite peaks, glacial lakes, and clear streams), but for some reason it receives only a tiny fraction of the publicity. Lovers of solitude would prefer it if it stayed that way. Unfortunately, most of this range is unprotected and therefore open to mining (once an important business in these mountains), logging, and motorbikes. A trip along the view-packed Elkhorn Crest Trail is the ideal way for backpackers to enjoy this lovely range and learn what is at stake. This relatively easy trail closely follows a high ridge for its entire length. Side trails drop to numerous lakes and meadows with scenic campsites. The trip is beautiful in either direction, but south to north is marginally easier because the start is some 400 feet higher.

Your route climbs gradually (if you start from Marble Pass) or steeply (if you start from the Twin Lakes Trailhead) along a mostly open ridge to the northwest. Views here, as well as along most of this route, are superb, as they alternate between the forested Blue Moun- tains and Sumpter Valley to the southwest, and the Powder River Valley and the distant Wallowa Mountains to the northeast. For most of the trip the trail stays on the west side of the Elkhorn Crest, so vistas west dominate.

The outstanding scenery—particularly of the picturesque basin holding the Twin Lakes, with brown and reddish peaks all around—continues along the next stretch of trail. The high point on the east side of this basin is Elkhorn Peak, an inviting mountain with reasonably easy access up its south ridge. 

For more trip ideas, pick up a copy of Backpacking Oregon by Becky Ohlsen and Douglas Lorain.

Tanya Twerdowsky

I am a Jersey girl living in Alabama who loves to run far and eat lots.

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