The Eagle Cap Wilderness is part of Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, a magnificent range of evergreen forests, wild rivers, alpine meadows and granite canyons.
The first human occupants of the area were ancestors of the Nez Perce tribe, whose local history can be traced to around 1400 A.D. The Native Americans hunted bighorn sheep and deer, and feasted on huckleberries that dotted the hillsides in summer.
The Eagle Caps are home to four wild and scenic rivers, and wildlife ranging from mountain goats and bighorn sheep to black bears and mountain lions.
Settlers moved into the Wallowa Valley in about 1860. In 1873, the Wallowa Valley was partitioned, with half of the land reserved for the settlers and the other half for the Nez Perce. Only two years later, the government banned the Nez Perce from the valley. After Chief Joseph’s famous surrender, 418 Nez Perce were imprisoned and sent by train to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In an editorial from the period, The New York Times decried the war as a “gigantic blunder and crime” by the U.S. government.
The railroad came to the area in 1908, and a logging boom soon followed. The tiny community of Minam, located at the confluence of the Minam and Wallowa Rivers, was home to several busy sawmills, a school and a store. A splash dam 35 miles up the Minam River allowed workers to release huge torrents of water, sending logs hurtling down to the mills.
The Eagle Cap was designated as a wilderness area in 1940. Congress placed the area in the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964. The famous Wilderness Act sought to preserve areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
With subsequent boundary changes, the area grew to 361,466 acres, making it by far the largest wilderness in Oregon. The Eagle Caps are home to four wild and scenic rivers, and wildlife ranging from mountain goats and bighorn sheep to black bears and mountain lions. The wilderness holds more than 100 lakes, including the highest lakes in Oregon, and has approximately 534 miles of hiking trails.
The Minam River Lodge, located in the heart of this spectacular wilderness area, is a private inholding that originally was a homestead.