Eagle Cap Wilderness, Wallowa Whitman National Forest
Photo by Zoë Symon
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A Lookingglass Lake Loop

It’s the middle of winter right now in Eastern Oregon. I’ve been looking out the window at snow and dreaming of Spring and Summer. As I think about hiking season and plan hikes for this summer, I keep looking back on some of my favorite trips from last year.

Zoë Symon       Trip Report       02/05/2019
Zoë Symon
Trip Report
02/05/2019

I’m extremely lucky to live in this part of the country. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is a vast, beautiful section of the Wallowa Whitman National Forest. It is less crowded and more remote than some of the more popular hiking areas in Oregon, and has quickly become one of my favorite hiking destinations.

Last summer, Evan and I took many backpacking trips into the Eagle Cap Wilderness, but one that stands out in particular is our loop hike of about 25 miles that took us to seven beautiful alpine lakes on the southwest side of the forest.

Day 1

This blog post could probably be titled “How To Make the Most of A Weekend”. We left late in the afternoon on Friday and the two-hour drive got us to the trailhead by 6pm. This left us with enough time to hike hard to make it to our planned campsite at Lookingglass Lake by sunset around 9:30, or at least we hoped so.

A backpacker walks on a trail through a lush green meadow surrounded by evergreen trees and rocky mountains.
Evan hikes through a meadow on the way to our first campsite.
Photo by Zoë Symon

On the first leg of the hike we crossed beautiful rivers and creeks, walked lush meadows, and climbed rocky trails through evergreen forests. Though we hiked fast, it became clear that we weren’t going to reach our planned destination.

We stepped out of a forested section and into a valley with towering peaks on either side. It was beautiful, and we decided to look for a campsite there rather than making the steep ascent and descent to Lookingglass Lake.

There was one other group camped in the area, but with such a big and beautiful area, we hardly noticed. Finding a suitable place to pitch our tent was another matter. The ground was rocky, making it difficult to pitch our non-freestanding tent with stakes. We ended up using rocks to anchor our lines, and it worked great! The setting sun was quickly turning our little valley cold, so we quickly ate dinner and climbed into our sleeping bags for warmth, occasionally sticking our heads out to look at the array of stars above.

A sunset trows shadows over a rocky green valley surrounded by tall mountain peaks.
The valley where we found our first campsite.
Photo by Zoë Symon

Day 2

Day two dawned just as beautiful as the previous day. Knowing we had a long day ahead of us, we packed and ate quickly, and made our way to the trail junction that would take us to the first 5 of our 7 lakes.

We quickly came upon a wide, shallow creek. There was no way to cross except by wading, but the cold clear water felt great on our feet. After that, we began the steep ascent to the ridge that surrounded the lakes. Though tough, the ascent afforded us some amazing views of the peaks and valleys in the area.

A wide, shallow creek runs through a green meadow.
The only creek we had to ford for the entire weekend.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A view from a ridge looks over a dense evergreen forest and a distant green valley surrounded by rocky peaks.
Views from the climb.
Photo by Zoë Symon

We walked through evergreen forests and marshy meadows, passing a few tiny lakes and ponds before getting a glimpse of our first destination: Lookingglass Lake. The large blue lake was beautiful, surrounded by rocky peaks, and we quickly descended to get a closer look. The blue water sparkled in the rising sun that was just starting to warm the rocks on the shore. We decided to take a break by the lake for a while, and enjoy the sun.

Our second destination of the day was Culver Lake, a smaller lake with more tree cover. We lounged for a bit in a lakeside lounge chair made out of branches, but left pretty quickly due to a rotting deer carcass nearby.

Our third lake was Bear Lake. Like Lookingglass, Bear Lake was surrounded by tall peaks that still showed pockets of snow on their slopes. It also offered great views of more distant peaks, and had a wide, open meadow on the shore where we rested and had another snack.

A vibrant blue alpine lake is surrounded by rocky mountain peaks.
Lookingglass Lake.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A hiker lounges by a green lake.
Relaxing at Culver Lake.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A lake reflects evergreen trees, a distant mountain, and a cloudy sky.
Bear Lake. The day had gotten a little more gray by this point.
Photo by Zoë Symon

After Bear Lake, we descended back towards our campsite from the first night, and waded back over the creek, rejoining the main trail. We continued to follow the trail, passing a couple other groups of hikers, and eventually reached the turn for our fourth lake, Eagle Lake.

The trail to Eagle Lake took us up another steep slope that skirted the edge of Needle Point, a prominent peak in the area. We couldn’t see Eagle Lake until we were right on top of it, stepping into a large area framed on all sides by rocky cliffs. Eagle Lake is also one of the few in the Wilderness that is held back by an old manmade dam.

Of all the lakes we visited on this trip, Eagle was by far the most rocky and the least green. It was almost as if we had stepped into an alien world.

An alpine lake is surrounded by rocky mountain ridges.
Eagle Lake. Deceptively small-looking. The lake is actually huge!
Photo by Zoë Symon
A hiker and a dog stand near a manmade dam and an alpine lake.
Evan and Springer stand near the dam.
Photo by Zoë Symon

We descended back and again rejoined the main trail with beautiful views of the surrounding area the whole way down. Beginning to get tired, we stopped for another snack before continuing on. Though the sky had turned gray, and a misty rain began to fall, the rest of the hike was still beautiful. We made our way to the fifth and final lake of the day, Cached Lake. There was ample flat area in the forested areas around the lake, and we quickly picked a spot to pitch our tent. The clouds stayed for the evening, and we fell asleep with a soft rain on our tent.

Day 3

Our third and final day brought us our highest point of the hike, our last two lakes, and our return to civilization. We packed up in the morning and headed out. With Cached Lake in sight, we opted to avoid the trail through a soggy, swampy meadow, and instead walked through a drier part of the woods.

Short green trees grow out of rocky soil and in between crevices on a rocky ridgeline that extends towards distant mountain peaks.
The highest point of our whole hike. Above 8000 ft!
Photo by Zoë Symon

We met back up with the trail and continued our climb to over 8000 feet. The trail after the lake quickly left water behind, and we were glad we had stocked up on water before leaving camp.

The rocky, dusty climb traveled around the sides of parks before depositing us on top of a rocky ridge that offered spectacular 360 views of the surrounding Wilderness. We took a break, soaking up sun, views, and snacks, before descending down the other side of the ridge.

We eventually made it to our next junction, and a sign warned us that the trail was not maintained for stock through Bench Canyon. The reason for this sign soon became obvious. The next section of trail was grueling, undoubtedly the most difficult part of our hike.

We made it to the top of the pass and were rewarded with a view of our sixth lake, Arrow Lake. Though the trail didn’t get as close to Arrow as it did to the other lakes, it was a quick walk over to check it out.

A backpacker holds a dog in front of an alpine lake.
Evan and Springer celebrate the end of our climb. Arrow Lake in the background.
Photo by Zoë Symon
A view from a distant mountain pass shows a lake shaped like a heart.
Heart Lake from afar. You can tell how it got it’s name!
Photo by Zoë Symon

We continued our descent back to the trailhead, making a quick detour to look at Heart Lake along the way. By the time we reached the trailhead, we were dusty, sore, and happy. We opted to take a quick dip in the cold, clear river, rinsing the dust from our feet and soaking our sore legs. The two hour drive home was a welcome chance to rest our legs and reflect on a great trip.

This was definitely an amazing hike, and one I’d like to do again. Lookingglass Lake, in particular, is one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited, and I’m excited to return in the future! There are so many great hikes to take in the Eagle Cap Wilderness. I can’t wait for summer so that we can start exploring again!

A backpacker descends on a trail through a green meadow and an evergreen forest.
Evan descends on the trail towards Heart Lake.
Photo by Zoë Symon

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About the Author
A smiling woman wearing a rain jacket and a backpack stands next to a tree.

Zoë Symon

Zoë grew up in North Carolina and first heard of the Appalachian Trail during her time in college. In 2016, she took a leave of absence from her job and thru-hiked the trail. This adventure fostered her love for the outdoors and for hiking. Currently, she explores the public lands of Oregon. In 2017 she joined the team at Atlas Guides as Creative Director. She spends her days improving experiences for all our users.