Hurricane Creek Trail in the Eagle Cap Wilderness
Hurricane Creek Trail Description:
Lance and I don’t do many day hikes during the day.
Usually, we leave at 2 or 3 p.m., make our trek to the top of a peak in time for the sunset, and then hike down in the dark. Such is life with a photographer.
But for our fourth anniversary in late August, we decided to take a leisurely trip to Joseph, Oregon, and Lance allowed me the luxury of hiking midday, when you can stretch out on a rock in the sun during lunch time and see the view on the way out.
Joseph is a small town at the doorstep of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, a span of peaks in Northeastern Oregon that has been nicknamed the Oregon Alps. It is part of the Wallowa Mountains in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Eagle Cap is built for backpacking, with most of its true gems out of reach for day hikers (or at least the kind who aren’t doing near-marathon distances). We were in that category in the spirit of our “relaxing weekend.” So the hike choices seemed a little sparse as we researched our options.
We settled on Hurricane Creek Trail, which runs up a canyon along the creek just nine miles from Joseph, where we were staying. It's a popular trail, so the parking lot at the trailhead was full by the time we got there, and we were concerned we would face crowds on the trail. That worry proved unfounded, as the trail seemed to absorb the traffic well.
The trail starts just off a parking lot, meandering through the trees along the rushing creek. Almost immediately after the trail starts, a sign marks a spur trail for Falls Creek. We had read there was a waterfall up that trail, but couldn’t remember how far it was, so we decided to wait for it on the way back. We never did end up going and regretted it later when we found out it was only a .2-mile detour.
After about a mile, the view opens up to the rocky peaks that rise on each side of the canyon. The trees peter out into meadows and then hem in again, and the trail turns sandy. The grade is fairly mellow, and we found that the miles ticked off easily.
There are several camping spots tucked in the trees along the creek between about two and three miles.
At almost mile three, the creek cuts into a deep gorge, where a couple small waterfalls tumble down steep rock sections. A spur trail juts off to the left and comes to an overlook where you can view the falls from above. We took that trail, and then tried to hike down into the gorge by scrambling along the edges, but the gorge walls eventually bottlenecked and stopped our progress.
After returning to the main trail, we found another waterfall sliding over powder blue and rust-colored rocks of Slick Rock Creek just before it tumbles into Hurricane Creek. (photo above).
This is the turn around point for many day-hikers.
We decided to press on, even while we knew we were probably not going to reach Echo Lake, which lies about 8 miles and a 3,000 foot-climb in.
Instead, we stopped in a cross-section of creeks under the shade of the trees for water and a snack, and wandered through the adjoining meadows for a few pictures. Our GPS had just clocked five miles, so we called it good and turned around there.
There is something a little anticlimactic about a hike without a photographic destination. While both the falls and the gorge were pretty, they weren’t up to Lance’s standards for stunning photo material, especially with the sun blaring down directly from above.
I imagine in the spring with everything bursting with green and caches of wildflowers, or in the morning light, this hike would have a little more sparkle. But we found ourselves a bit underwhelmed at hiking 10 miles without the splendor of a pinnacle peak or lake. It would be the perfect day hike for a family or occasional hiker looking for a taste of the Eagle Cap Wilderness without the backpacking distances and steep terrain some of the other area hikes are known for. It could also be a good backpacking option for first-timers or couples hauling toddlers.
Our perception might have been different had we made it to Echo Lake. Still, Hurricane Creek trail was a nice avenue into the outdoors on our weekend away.
Directions and logistics:
From Joseph, take Airport Lane west out of town for about two miles. Turn left on Hurricane Creek Road and follow it up the canyon. At the fork, stay right and continue about two more miles until you reach a parking lot, which is clearly marked. Parking passes are $5 and are available at the trailhead. Hiking permits are also required, but are free.
Mile Markers (one-way):
.4 miles to Falls Creek Falls
3 miles to Slick Rock Gorge
8 miles to Echo Lake
Difficulty: Easy (for the section we completed)
Beck ratings (out of a total of five stars):
Note about the ratings: In rating our hikes, we consider a few different factors such as remoteness, scenery, challenge and the dramatic nature of the main features of the hike. For Lance, his rating is highly swayed by one single factor: photogenic qualities of the trail. Alli, who just enjoys being outdoors and considers trees the view, is a bit more openminded. However, we have been on a lot of hikes, so we tend to have high standards. Also, our difficulty rating may not be accurate for those who do not hike regularly, so consider it the next category up if that’s you.