New 530-mile trail highlights the rugged beauty of northeast Oregon

BY MARK MORICAL The Bulletin (Bend, Ore.)



The Gazette, Colorado Springs


Northeast Oregon boasts some of the most magnificent granite peaks and rugged river canyons in the West. Now, a 530-mile route allows hikers to experience the most beautiful terrain in the region. Blue Mountains Trail stretches from the Wallowa Mountains, to Hells Canyon, the Elkhorn Mountains, the North Fork John Day Wilderness, the Greenhorn Mountains and the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Blue Mountains Trail was established in 2021 by the Greater Hells Canyon Council (GHCC). According to a news release, the route is “an invitation to experience and protect the unparalleled cultural, historical and ecological splendors of Northeast Oregon.” Renee Patrick, an experienced long-distance hiker who covered the route solo in 2020, hiked almost 600 miles to explore what became the 530mile trail. She is a triple-crown through-hiker, has worked to develop the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail for the Oregon Natural Desert Association for the past eight years, and this year launched a long-distance trail consulting business. “I think backpackers have a unique connection to the land because we spend so much time living and walking through places like the Wallowa Mountains, along the North Fork of the John Day River and through the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness,” Patrick said. “A conservation organization creating a trail to help connect the recreation community to the environmental issues facing this corner of Oregon shows incredible vision and creativity. I’m excited to be a part of the effort.” Resources are available from GHCC to plan short day hikes, backpacking adventures or even a thru-hike. Patrick said it was hard to pick her favorite section of Blue Mountains Trail. “I think of all the different high alpine, granite landscapes,” Patrick said. “Definitely the Wallowas, the Elkhorns are stunning. We really don’t have these types of mountain ranges in other places in Oregon. But then I really enjoyed the hike along the North Fork of the John Day River. It’s an undammed river. It’s the longest un-dammed river in Oregon. It’s getting face to face with a lot of these natural processes.” After Patrick’s solo hike, the GHCC sorted through the data and came up with the alignment of the trail that made the most sense. “The idea is to just use what’s existing, not really build new trail,” Patrick said. “Because there’s so much there that can be improved.” Seasonal considerations for the route include high snowpack well into the summer and high water along the John Day River that must be crossed. “The Wallowas have a lot of snow through summer,” Patrick said. “It’s ideally a late summer/ fall hike. There’s definitely sections that can be enjoyed any season for day hikes. If you like snow, there’s lots of chances to cross-country ski or snowshoe along the trail. Because the route is so new, there’s a lot of work to be done to really flush out all the hike options.” Patrick said the route allows hikers to experience some of the lesser-known areas of Oregon, including the Greenhorn Mountains and the North Fork of the John Day. “It’s a way to look beyond two or three spots,” Patrick said. “There’s areas for shorter hikes. The through-hikers are the minority. It’s more for day hikers, weekend trips, and getting people familiar with the region and caring about what happens to it.”