This Little Known Oregon Town is a Gateway to the State’s Most Epic Mountain Range

Affiliate Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. There is no additional cost to you and it helps support our future adventures.

Nestled at the end of the road deep in the northeastern corner of Oregon is a town that is equal parts authentic, charming, and touristy. Here, you’re just as likely to sit next to local ranchers at the hot breakfast spot as you are a fellow traveler.

But it is what lies just beyond the town that makes this place truly special.

Wooden city hall building in Joseph Oregon with sign and date established
Photo Credit:

The town of Joseph has a little over a thousand full-time residents. But each summer, that population swells as travelers, hikers, and adventure seekers flock to this serene area to boat on beautiful Wallowa Lake, ride the country’s steepest tram, and backpack into Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains.

Getting to Joseph is no easy feat, though, as it is a nearly 5 1/2-hour drive from Portland.

That, plus its location 90 minutes off the nearest interstate at the end of the road, means that no one just passes through the town.

Either they come there to come there, or they don’t come at all.

Exploring Joseph

Driving through the town of Joseph doesn’t take long, as its core is only a few blocks long. Don’t let that deter you from stopping, though, as it is home to a number of wonderful shops, restaurants, and local attractions.

the Blythe Cricket
Photo Credit: Roam the Northwest

If you arrive early, your first stop should be The Blythe Cricket for breakfast or lunch. The decor perfectly captures the spirit of Joseph and the food is to die for. Try the frittata, you won’t regret it!

From there, we recommend heading over to the Wallowology Natural History Discover Center. This donation-run center features information and exhibits on the geology and natural world that make up the Wallowa area.

Here, you can learn about the unique geology that formed the mountains, lakes, and plains around the area. You’ll also be able to explore hands-on exhibits about local pollinators, birds of prey, and mammals that call the mountains home.

Wallowology Natural History Discover Center
Photo Credit: Roam the Northwest

If you’re visiting with little ones, be sure to explore the play area upstairs, where kids can dress up like their favorite birds and sit in a giant nest.

Lastly, cross the street and head into the Joseph Fly Shoppe. Here, you’ll meet one of the nicest locals in the area and can say hello to their horse, which they ride to work every day from their nearby farm.

During our last visit, they lent us a fly rod and reel, got us set up with a set of flies, and gave great advice on where to try fishing to ensure we didn’t end up skunked.

Next Up – The Wallowas

Wallowa Lake in eastern Oregon near Joseph, Oregon
Photo Credit:

After you’ve had your fill of fun in town, it’s time to head out into nature and experience the most beautiful mountain range in all of Oregon.

On your way, you’ll pass by the stunning Wallowa Lake, which was formed when glaciers pushed their way out of the mountains into the valley below. On either side of the lake, you’ll see some of the best examples of glacial moraines found anywhere in the country.

If you have time, make sure to swing by the Wallowa Lake Marina, where you can rent a boat by the hour and explore the water.

Sunrise Illuminates a Panorama of Glacier Peak, Eagle Cap Mountain, and Glacier Lake.
Photo Credit:

Heading into the best the Wallowas offer requires either a trip on horseback, a multi-day backpacking trip, or (if you’re fit enough) a long day with A LOT of miles.

Those miles are worth it, though, as you’ll be treated to high alpine lakes, smooth granite peaks, and miles of uninterrupted wilderness.

If a multi-day trek isn’t quite your style, you can still get amazing views of the mountains by taking the tram up to the top of Mt. Howard. The Wallowa Lake Tram ascends 3,700 feet in just 15 minutes, and once at the top, you’ll be treated to stunning views deep into Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Eagle Cap Wilderness in Eastern, Oregon near Joseph, Oregon
Photo Credit:

On top of the mountain, you’ll also find a small restaurant with unbeatable views!

Where to Stay in Joseph

Joseph isn’t home to any big hotels or resorts, but that is all part of its charm. What you’ll find instead are historic hotels, campgrounds, state parks, and woodsy vacation rentals perfect for housing the whole family.

One of the most popular places to stay is the historic Wallowa Lake Lodge. The lodge just celebrated its 100th anniversary, and even if you aren’t staying here, it is a great place to grab a bite to eat and take in a concert on its expansive lawn that looks out over the lake.

Just down the road from the lodge is the very popular Wallowa Lake State Park. During the summertime, camping spots here are booked months in advance, so plan ahead if you want to camp or need a place to park your RV.

The park is well-run and a wonderful place to spend a night or three. You can easily walk to the lake, trails, and nearby restaurants.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest