Wallowa Lake, Oregon, USA

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Wallowa Lake is the anchor-point for recreation in Oregon’s Eastern tourism region. This well-loved lake has been a sought-after destination since before European explorers ever set sight on the beautiful expanse of water. It was here that Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce left with heavy heart to lead his people toward freedom in Canada. The name Wallowa is taken from the name of the Nez Pierce band that Chief Joseph led: the Wal-lam-wat-kain. On the north end of the lake, a monument marks the grave of Old Chief Joseph, the famed chief’s father. A mile further north, the town of Joseph memorializes the high esteem local white settlers held for the leadership of a man who made repeated attempts at peace with those who stole his people’s land. Eventually the Nez Pierce were forced to abandon their beloved Wallowa Valley. It is now loved by the more than 80,000 people who visit here each year – all of them swear they intend to come back.

Wallowa Lake is a natural lake gouged from the rock and ravines of the Wallowa Mountains during the last glacial period. The narrow lake is nearly 300 feet deep in spots. It is fed by the inflow of the conjoined East and West forks of the Wallowa River and was originally dammed with a rough wooden dam in 1880. In 1926, a modern concrete dam raised the lake level by more than 28 feet, creating a storage reservoir for both hydroelectric generation and irrigation purposes. No longer used for electricity, the lake serves as a water supply for the towns of Joseph and Enterprise and irrigates over 15,000 acres. But it is recreation that most people equate with the name Wallowa Lake.

A number of cottages and residences hug the shoreline of the west bank of the river. State highway 82/351 runs only a stone’s throw from the lake the entire length of the eastern shore. Wallowa Lake State Park lies along much of the south end of the lake, and an unincorporated village of seasonal homes lies between the State Park and the edge of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. A marina at the State Park rents all types of boats, from canoes, kayaks and paddle-boats up to 21-foot motor boats and pontoons. The marina can provide everything a visitor could want for a day on the water. There is no docking space for visitors with boats unless they are registered at the State Park campground, but a large parking area can hold boats on trailers.

Swim areas are available at both the State Park and at the north end of the lake at a small park owned by the town of Joseph. Swimming is usually limited to the hottest part of the summer due to the extremely cold water of the lake. Most residents and visitors spend their time on the water sailing, wake-boarding, water-skiing, pontooning or power-boating. Those seeking quiet shoreline pursuits can canoe and kayak at the margins watching for the eagles and osprey that live at the lake. No matter what their chosen sport, residents and visitors alike enjoy the sight of Mount Howard and Chief Joseph Mountain towering above the lake.

Wallowa Lake is a famous fishing destination for kokanee (landlocked sockeye salmon): several record-breaking fish have been caught here, only to have their title taken by yet another Wallowa-caught fish! Local legend has it that Wallowa Lake holds a ‘lake monster’ – called Wally. Fishermen privately speculate Wally is just another huge kokanee that hasn’t yet been caught. The lake also produces a good supply of rainbow trout and even a few mackinaw (lake trout). The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake regularly. Boats can put in either at the state park boat launch or the small boat ramp at the city-owned park at the north end of the lake by the dam. The rainbow trout are often caught from shore on the east side of the lake along the highway right-of-way. The entire Wallowa Valley is famous for great fishing. There is even a Steelhead Train that delivers fishermen to hot spots along the Wallowa River during the spring steelhead run.

For those seeking a chance to hike or camp in the mountains, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest provides both. Three trailheads begin at the lake: the Chief Joseph Trail, the West Fork Wallowa River Trail, and the Aneroid Trail all lead into the Eagle Cap Wilderness. This wilderness has 541 miles of trails and can be accessed from other locations as well. Some trails can accommodate everything from horseback riders to mountain bikes. There are 50 high mountain lakes in this area. A good trail guide is recommended as this is true wilderness. If hiking is difficult, visitors can still access the spectacular views over Wallowa Lake by taking the Wallowa Lake Tramway in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to the top of Mount Howard. This is a great place to enjoy both lunch at the Summit Grill and the view of Wallowa Lake and surrounding mountains from 8,150 feet.

Joseph is not only the gateway to Eagle Cap Wilderness and Wallowa Lake; it’s considered the gateway to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The HCNRA includes 215,000 acres of wilderness, three Wild and Scenic rivers, and North America’s deepest river gorge. Joseph itself holds many shops and arts activities including several bronze sculptors. Several nearby ski areas provide for downhill skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. Nearby areas offer designated trails for snowmobiling. The towns in Wallowa County hold a number of festivals and events of interest to visitors such as Chief Joseph Days, with a huge rodeo and Hells Canyon Mule Days in nearby Enterprise. It would be impossible to be bored at Wallowa Lake.

Vacation rentals in the area are plentiful, with several resorts and lodges located along the shore. Some are more technically fish camps and cater to anglers. A number of private cottages are available on the lake, often with boats included. Motels and RV camps can be found nearby as can bed-and-breakfasts. There are even a few existing cottages or cabins available for those in the market for real estate. Everyone can find just the right vacation rental here to suit their lifestyle and their budget. So make arrangements to visit Wallowa Lake on your next vacation. You’ll wonder how you missed coming here sooner!

Things to do at Wallowa Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Wallowa Lake

  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Steelhead Trout
  • Trout

Wallowa Lake Photo Gallery

Wallowa Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Associated Ditch Companies, Inc

Surface Area: 1,502 acres

Shoreline Length: 8 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,372 feet

Average Depth: 160 feet

Maximum Depth: 299 feet

Water Volume: 52,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1926

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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