An alpine wonderland high in the Elkhorn Range of Eastern Oregon's Blue Mountains
About the Hike: Just as beautiful, but more accessible than the more famous Wallowa Mountains nearby, the Elkhorn Range boasts craggy granite peaks and high alpine lakes surrounded by wildflowers. A paved road climbs to a lovely campground and picnic area beside 7,140-foot-high Anthony Lake. From here hikers can stroll around the lake in half an hour or tackle a more demanding 8.2-mile loop around Gunsight Mountain.
Difficulty: An easy 1-mile path loops around Anthony Lake. The more difficult 8.2-mile loop around Gunsight Mountain gains 1,330 feet of elevation.
Season: Open July through October.
Getting There: Drive Interstate 84 north of Baker City 19 miles (or south of La Grande 24 miles) to North Powder exit 285 and follow "Anthony Lakes" signs 21 paved miles west on what becomes Road 73.
If you're hauling a horse trailer or backpacking equipment, plan to park in the well-marked Elkhorn Crest Trailhead lot on the left, where there's a self-pay station for the required parking pass.
If you're just out for a day hike, however, drive onward 0.3 mile and turn left at an Anthony Lake Campground sign. After 100 yards fork to the right toward a picnic area, and in another 100 yards park on the left at a lakeshore picnic gazebo. Here no parking fee is required, but dogs are allowed only on a leash.
Fees: A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park in the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead, but not at the Anthony Lake picnic area. The pass costs $5 per day or $30 per season. It can be purchased at a ranger station, an outdoor store or at a trailhead fee box.
Hiking Tips: Start at Anthony Lake's picnic gazebo, walk down to the lake and turn left along the shoreline trail. After strolling clockwise 0.3 mile around the lake you'll reach a boat ramp and face a decision. Two trails set off from the far right-hand side of the boat ramp's road turnaround - the Black Lake Trail on the left and the Hoffer Lake Trail on the right.
For the easy, 1-mile loop hike, take the right-hand trail and keep right around Anthony Lake to return to your car. To make the loop more interesting, you could detour 0.6 mile up to the lovely Hoffer Lakes.
The most spectacular loop hike in the area, however, is an 8.2-mile trip around Gunsight Mountain. Start as before from the picnic gazebo, but after walking 0.3 mile to the boat ramp, veer left toward Black Lake for 0.5 mile and then keep straight on the Elkhorn Crest Trail.
This well-graded path climbs 950 feet in 2.1 miles to a breathtaking view at Angell Pass. Continue downhill 0.6 mile to a junction in Dutch Flat Saddle, a good lunch stop. Briefly detour 100 feet left for a view of Dutch Flat Lake, a mile below.
Then return to the saddle and take the Crawfish Basin Trail downhill. This path skirts above Crawfish Meadow before ending at a dirt road. Go straight along this road 0.4 mile to a pass with a 4-way junction. Look to the right at this pass to find an unmarked trail angling downhill. Take this path to cut off the service road's first switchback. At the road's second switchback, turn right on the Hoffer Lakes Trail for the prettiest route back to your car.
Geology: The Blue Mountain range began as a volcanic island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean 210 to 270 million years ago. The Earth's crustal movement "rafted" this volcanic and sedimentary debris onto the advancing North American continent about 200 million years ago. Later bubbles of relatively light granite rose through the sediment to form the core of the range. This granite has since been exposed by erosion.
A glacier scoured out Anthony Lake's granite basin from the crest of the Elkhorn Range relatively recently, during the Ice Age 6,000-20,000 years ago. Today there are no glaciers in Eastern Oregon. Instead, subalpine firs and wildflower meadows ring the lake. Still, exposed patches of granite often exhibit "glacial polish," shiny surfaces where the weight of grinding ice has polished the rock as smoothly as a granite tombstone.
By William Sullivan