Wallowa Lake Tramway: First-Hand Guide

Taking the Wallowa Lake Tramway to the top of Mt. Howard and Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains is a unique experience in a supremely stunning area of the country.

Prior to our trip, we simply had no idea just how majestic the “Oregon Alps” would be. The drive in treated us to a sweeping panorama of jagged alpine peaks. As we approached, the snowcapped mountains quickly closed in all around.

To really appreciated the grandeur of the Wallowas, however, you really have to ascend to the top of them.

And that’s where the Wallowa Lake Tramway came in!

Wallowa Lake Tramway Mt Howard summit map

The Wallowa Lake Tramway is the steepest vertical gondola ride in North America, stretching from the small village only minutes’ walk from Lake Wallowa and the State Park, up to 8,150 feet to the summit of Mt. Howard.

The tramway takes 15 minutes, gaining 3,700 feet in elevation along the way, with breathtaking views all the way up.

Once at the top, there is a small network of trails that wind around the summit offering even more incredible views of the mountains and surrounding countryside.

Wallowa Lake Tramway

Amazingly, the highest point visible looking up from the lower tramway station is only about a third of the total distance traveled up the mountain (see diagram above).

Wallowa Lake Tramway view

That, of course, is Wallowa Lake, in all its glory.

Wallowa Lake Tramway view

The photos might not do the ride justice. But trust me, it’s a steep climb.

Wallowa Lake Tramway Oregon Alps in clouds

On this particular Memorial Day weekend, we hit the snow line about two-thirds of the way to the top.

After grabbing some coffees at the Summit Deli we set out, on foot, to explore the summit…though riding around this rig probably would have been a lot more fun.

Oh, and on this particular day, the cafe only accepted cash and was out of a few menu items (like the mouthwatering-sounding pulled-pork sandwich) — so just keep that in mind as a possibility for your visit. We are, after all, on the top of an 8,000-foot peak in a remote corner of the state.

We didn’t end up getting any food, but the hamburgers did look quite tasty.

Wallowa Lake Tramway Mt Howard summit

Ground squirrel sightings abound on the summit of Mt. Howard.

snow on the summit of Mt Howard Wallowa Lake Tramway

In late May, most of the trails were still covered in snow, as you might expect in Oregon at 8,000 feet.

views from summit of Mt Howard Wallowa Lake Tramway upper station

But there were quite a few clear spots, and even more great places to pause and take in the view.

Wallowa Mountains Oregon Alps
Wallowa Mountains Oregon Alps
Wallowa Lake Tramway upper station Mt Howard summit
Mt Howard summit view
Mt Howard Wallowa Mountains view

We saw just as much active wildlife on the summit as we did at lake-level, including this passing doe who didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry.

For Memorial Day Weekend, we were surprised to find only a handful of others on the summit taking in the incredibly vistas.

Mt Howard upper station Wallowa Lake Tramway

After a few hours on the mountaintop, the fog rolled in and obscured much of the view from the summit.

Apparently, the weather is very changeable on Mt. Howard and it is not uncommon for visibility to be quite good one moment and extremely limited the next.

There is a board listing current conditions at the bottom of the tramway (lower tramway station), which is helpful for planning your ascent.

For example, when we arrived, summit visibility was “good.” When we returned to the parking lot after heading down the mountain a few hours later, summit visibility was listed as “poor.”

Tickets for the Wallowa Lake Tramway are not cheap, so best to check out the conditions ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Fortunately, tramway tickets are good for unlimited trips the entire day.

Have You Taken the Wallowa Lake Tramway?

What was your experience like? Tell us in a comment below!

Wallowa Lake Tramway
20 Jul 2020
25 May 2015

2 thoughts on “Wallowa Lake Tramway: First-Hand Guide”

  1. Great photos and info! Thank you. My son and I are headed that way in two weeks.

    • David Baxter (AwayGoWe)

      Thanks Brian. Enjoy!


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