While there are a lot of Elkhorn Peaks around, this one is the highest in Oregon at 9233 feet coming in at #21 with 1860 feet of prominence. It is (from what I can tell) the westernmost 9000er in the Wallowas almost due south of the town of Lostine. While it rests on a north-south ridge with Glacier and Brown Mountains to its south, Elkhorn is actually an east/west ridge that shoots out a bit to the east from the main ridge. The north side of Elkhorn is characterized by steep granite cliffs that would make climbing it from that side quite an effort. The normal way to summit Elkhorn is up the somewhat gentler and vegetated south side which has a central scree-filled gully that can be ascended from the valley floor to the summit. There is no trail to the summit and it’s a piece of two-steps-up/one slide back art to get up it but it is never harder than Class 3 and you kind of have to work to even find that. No telling how many people do this one. There is very little sign of humans on this peak. Lots of elk sign though (mostly of the piles of “chocolate” kind). Summits have also been made up the east ridge although it’s a sketchy scree ascent as well with cliffs to get around. Looking at a map, it would also seem that one could ascend from the main ridge over by Swamp Lake Pass but I’ve read trip reports that there is a cliff that would make it difficult. Regardless, it takes an effort, but the south side of Elkhorn in the Copper Creek Valley is an amazing place full of meadows, creeks and beautiful camping spots that make it an outing worth taking on.
The rock is granite although the sub-summit to the west appears to have brown volcanic rock. This is kind of par for the course in the Wallowas where multiple geologic actions provide everything from basalt to granite to limestone to sandstone. Elkhorn sits smack dab in the middle of the Wallowas too so the views include everything from China Cap and Burger Butte in the west (actually you can see beyond them to the Elkhorn Mountains to the southwest, and yes, there is another Elkhorn Peak there too) to Krag Peak and Red Mountain down south, over to Cusick and Eagle Cap southeast, to Aneroid Mountain/Matterhorn/Sacajawea Peak in the east and up to Twin Peaks northeast. Below the north side of Elkhorn Peak is Catched Two Lake sitting tucked into the ridge that extends up to Lostine. There are trout in the streams, hawks in the trees and yes, at least when I was there, a herd of elk on the south slopes of Elkhorn. I watched a bull elk bugling with his harem of about 20 cows there.
The approach is also pretty easy. A 4.4 mile hike with only 2000 feet of elevation gets you almost to the base of the mountain where you can camp or start up. (It’s another 2000 feet up from there to the summit though.) Probably because there is no trail to the summit, this area doesn’t see the amount of traffic it could. People coming in to this area are usually on their way over the pass to Swamp Lake and the number of alpine lakes on the west side of this ridge. Or, the vast majority don’t even take the Copper Creek Trail up into this side valley as they just continue south along the mainly flat hike in to Minam Lake or to the more famous Lakes Basin region. Whatever the reason, you could end up not seeing anyone for an entire weekend like I did climbing Elkhorn. As a matter of fact, there are a number of meadows and lakes in the side valleys along this ridge a few hundred feet up off the main trail full of incredible beauty that few see because they are all huddled around Minam Lake. It’s not the “sexy” part of the Wallowas like Ice Lake/Matterhorn or the Lakes Basin area which means few people but I am telling you, it’s got the granite towers, alpine lakes and colorful stream-filled meadows you dream of. And Elkhorn is one of the big peaks in this area (and the entire Wallowas for that matter) worth the work to enjoy the summit.
From Portland (and the west), take I-84 east to LaGrande, OR. Take Highway 82 from LaGrande east to the town of Lostine, OR. In Lostine, where 82 bends left at the Presbyterian Church (it's obvious, it's a very small town), take a right on Lostine River Road and follow it south 17.7 miles to Two Pan Trailhead. The first 7 miles or so are paved, then it’s washboard gravel, then it degrades to rocky forest road. You will pass a number of campsites and horse camps. Be aware this is also the trailhead to head up the East Lostine River Valley to Eagle Cap and the main part of the Lakes Basin so it can be crowded.
From Boise (and the east), take I-84 east to LaGrande and proceed as above.
From the north (Lewiston, ID), take Highway 129 south and cross the state line to (it becomes Highway 3 in Oregon) and continue 43 miles to Enterprise, OR. In Enterprise, take Highway 82 west 10 miles to Lostine and turn south (left) onto Lostine River Road and proceed as above.
Red TapeNorthwest Forest Pass required to park at the trailhead.
When To ClimbThis will be snow-dependent. The trailhead is at 5606 feet and this area gets a lot of snow in the winter. Plus, Spring and early Summer means bugs. The best time would be August-September. Or even in to October if the weather is nice. June is going to still be snowy but you can probably get in, just prepare for snowshoeing. July is going to mean you better have copious amounts of DEET with you.
Winter months could be done if you can get in there. It would mean a long snowshoe in.
You have a lot of options here. This could be made into a dayhike (would be around 10 miles round trip with about 4000 feet of gain with the ups and downs) and you could camp at the trailhead (there are spots) or 6 miles south at Minam Lake (with all the other weekend hikers). There are also numerous campsites along the first part of the trail as well as you hike in the West Fork of the Lostine River. Just after you turn off the West Fork Trail and start heading west up the Copper Creek Trail, there is a nice meadow on the left that would work nicely as well.
Additionally, there are spots along the Copper Creek Trail between 6400 feet and especially when the forest starts thinning a bit at 7000 feet. I found an excellent spot too where you first enter the big meadows at about 7400 feet just off to the right near an old abandoned and collapsing cabin. In short, there are numerous spots with good water sources all around. I probably wouldn't go higher than 7400 feet though as you need to descend to the base of the route at 7200 feet. There was a smaller meadow near the base of the route but it might be a bit marshy for tents.
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
1550 Dewey Avenue
PO Box 907
Baker City, OR 97814
NOAA website forecast centered on Elkhorn Peak