There is nothing like the awe and grandeur that is the World Famous Swiss Alps. And for many here in America who have longed to travel and experience such, riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland has been the closest they have come. But, did you know that Disneyland is not the only place stateside where someone can experience a taste of Switzerland and the natural wonders it plays host to?
Located in the northeastern corner of Oregon, and just 324 miles from Portland, we have our own taste of the Alps in what many have coined, “Little Switzerland”, or as they are more commonly known, the Wallowa Mountains. The best way to experience the Little Switzerland as well as this part of Oregon is on a nationally recognized All-American road known as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. You could say, the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is the state of Oregon’s very own fast pass to some pretty amazing sites.
What Is The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway?
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a 208-mile horseshoe route that is in the northeast corner of Oregon. While traveling this route, visitors will have a front row seat to some pretty incredible scenery. The route itself is a loop that encircles the Wallowa Mountains. When planning this trip, however, you will want to make sure you are prepared to travel many stretches that will go for miles without gas or other services.
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway can be broken down into three different segments along with one side trip. These segments are:
Grande Ronde Valley to Wallowa Valley
Wallowa Mountain Loop
Hells Canyon and the Snake River (side trip)
Pine Valley to Baker Valley
When traveling through the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, prepare yourself. The scenery will leave you posting pictures to Instagram and Facebook non-stop. That said, you’d better warn your followers.
What Makes The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway So Scenic?
Two of the highlights along this All-American Road is of course, the Wallowa Mountains and the scenic byways namesake, Hells Canyon.
The Wallowa Mountains
The Wallowa Mountains, located in northeastern Oregon, are a mountain range that stretches 40 miles. The highest peak is just over 9,800 feet and is known as Sacajawea Peak, which also makes it the sixth highest peak in Oregon. Ironically, the Wallowa Mountains also has another peak, which many say rivals in height of that of Sacajawea. This other peak’s name is, are you ready for this? The Matterhorn.
To experience the Wallowa Mountains firsthand and to provide you with a real taste of Switzerland, ride the gondola up 3,700 feet from Wallowa Lake Village to the peak of Mt. Howard.
The Wallowa Mountains have also been named as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders.
Did you know that Hells Canyon is America’s deepest river gorge? At 7,993 feet, this 10-mile-long gorge is located along the borders of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The gorge itself was carved out by the waters of the Snake River and the geologic history of the rocks there began 300 million years ago.
Wait, did we just say 300 million years ago? We sure did. But it was only a mere 6 million years ago when the Snake River began to carve its way through Hells Canyon.
The earliest known settlers of Hells Canyon were the Nez Percé tribe.
Of certain, there is more to this part of Oregon than these two incredible sights. The small communities you will find along the route have plenty to offer as well. Here are two of many:
A commonplace to gear up for the trek along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is in a town that was names Rand McNalley’s 6 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America, Baker City. While in Baker City, with its late 19th century architecture, visitors experience a taste of pioneer history in the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
Joseph is literally a front row seat to getting lost in the awe and wonder of the “Wallowas” and their Swiss Alps like peaks. Wallowa Lake, which is just six miles south of Joseph is a popular State Park which offers yurts, cabins, and tent sites. Your access to the gondola ride up Mt. Howard can be found here as well at the Wallowa Lake Tramway.
Planning A Trip To Eastern Oregon
If you are planning a trip to eastern Oregon to experience Little Switzerland as well as all the other amazing sights along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, be sure to take the time to make stops in the small communities along the way and show some support by stocking up on local produce, food and supplies for your big Oregon’s Little Switzerland.