Wallowa Lake Pack Station is run by Brian Sanders in Joseph, Oregon, who has been an outfitter for several years.



Wallowa Lake Camping & Outfitting

Wallowa Lake Pack Station Operates At The Base of the Wallowa Mountains Where Horses Transport Campers Throughout The Eagle Cap Wilderness

In the beautiful Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]

The Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon is 361,446 acres of vast, remote, rugged landscape. Set within the Wallowa Mountains, the wilderness rests under the cover of towering peaks and is dotted with alpine lakes and meadows. The Eagle Cap Wilderness is the largest in Oregon and teems with incredible wildlife.

In Joseph, Oregon, at the base of the Wallowa Mountains, Brian Sanders owns the oldest pack station still operating in Northeastern Oregon, Wallowa Lake Pack Station. An outfitter by trade, Sanders and his small but dedicated crew offer a wide variety of guided rides across the wilderness.

Sanders is also the owner of three other outfitters, all operated under Oregon Backcountry Outfitting. He bought the Wallowa Lake Pack Station earlier this year.

“I have been an outfitter for several years,” Sanders explained. “But I never had a lot of summertime activity. So when the opportunity came up to buy this pack station here at Wallowa Lake, with the foot traffic and the tourist activity through the year, it was just a no brainer for me to say, ‘Okay, that’s my summer time gig.’ So I bought it, and here we are.”

The Wallowa Lake Pack Station is now open May through September.

“What we do here is give rides, provide services for people who want to go into the wilderness,” Sanders said. “Obviously, you’re not allowed to take bicycles or other kinds of motorized equipment out there. So the only way to get camping gear or yourself out there is horses and mules.”

Sanders offers rides of all sorts: from rides for children on a horse guided by a wrangler to week-long camping trips by a high-altitude late. There are one-hour rides, two-hour rides, half-day rides, full-day rides, and a variety of camping ventures to choose from. If a client comes to the Wallowa Lake Pack Station with an alpine lake or other remote location in mind, Sanders is happy to accommodate them by hauling and dropping their gear. For someone new to the wilderness, guided camping trips are available.

“We have full service, deluxe camping trips where we take all the equipment. You just take your own personal equipment,” Sanders said. “It’s all inclusive. You ride in there on horses; we pack all the gear on mules. You get there, you have a cook, you have a guide, you stay there for 2 to 5 days, however long you’d like to stay, and take the whole family."

Horseback riding up the mountains [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]
Wrangler adjusts bridle on one of the horse at Wallowa Lake Pack Station [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]

The land which Sander’s guides cover is made up of both private land and federal public land. Many of the one- and two-hour rides are kept to the private land as a way to minimize the human impact on the wilderness. Longer rides, camping trips, and hunting trips are taken further into the wilderness, on land owned by the United States Forest Service. But in all cases, the focus for Sanders and his crew is to preserve the natural beauty of the land. Sanders and his crew must abide by a long list of rules and regulations provided by the Forest Service for maintaining the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

“You basically try to leave as little impact as possible,” Sanders explained. “Don’t go around creeks and streams with stalk. Don’t leave or burn trash. Many of the lakes have restrictions about how close to the lake you can have a campfire. You stay out of the marshy areas with human traffic or livestock. When the livestock is grazed, you put up a small electric fence that is away from areas that are marshy and soft. You can’t tie them to trees; you have to use high lines for your livestock so they can’t paw and uproot or damage root systems or other vegetation…. We have to use hand saws for clearing trails out. You don’t go cutting stuff down. If you do have campfires you find dead fallen twigs, you don’t go breaking things off trees.”

There are even regulations for the proper way to get rid of human waste. The rules and regulations are imperative to the preservation of the wilderness.

“Overall, there are a lot of things that play into it, and there’s a lot to think about,” Sanders said. “You just think about the big picture. At then at end of the day, anything that causes noticeable impact [on the land] is probably the wrong thing to do.”

To ensure that all regulations are adhered to, Sanders has chosen his employees carefully. While some of the team have been with the Wallowa Lake Pack Station since before Brian took over, much of his crew are people he’s worked with at his other outfitters. He knows them well and trusts their wilderness preservation ethics.

All rides have their own vistas and travel rugged mountain trails on experienced horses [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]
The Eagle Cap Wilderness is the largest in Oregon filled with incredible wildlife [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]
Horses all together inside the paddock [Photo Credit: Oregon Backcountry Outfitting]

Clients are also educated about the appropriate protocol for enjoying the wilderness. This is an important step, as guests to Wallowa Lake Pack Station come from all walks of life--some are experienced campers, while others are unfamiliar with livestock and a remote landscape.

“[Guests] really come from two different worlds,” Sanders said. “For our horseback rides--one hour two hour types--we get a lot of foreigners, and we get a lot of young girls that just want to go ride a horse. Outside of that we have a lot of people that come from the west side of the state and want to escape on vacation and go into the mountains. But maybe they’re not in the physical condition to carry a 45-pound backpack and climb 9 miles up 3,000 feet to go to a high lake, so they prefer that we just drop their gear, and then they take horses to the camp.... They can still experience all the beauty of it without the work.”

Visitors to the Wallowa Lake Pack Station will be grateful for the dedication, hard work, and thorough knowledge of Sanders and his crew. Through their efforts, the wilderness can be appreciated but also protected, so many people can enjoy the Eagle Cap Wilderness for years to come.

“We want everyone to enjoy the forest,” Sanders said. “We want to help them do that, but we don’t want to abuse it...So, it’s best to go with an outfitter because we’re professionals. [We] leave no trace and no impact on the land. We understand what our responsibilities are to preserve the wilderness as it is.”

Kailyn Clay 

 A graduate of Trinity Christian College in English & Political Science, Kailyn  has written for                       Brilliance Publishing & GEMS' Girls Clubs among others. She enjoys hiking and cooking. 

Grande Hot Springs RV Resort

Make Sure To Stay At: 

Grande Hot Springs RV Resort, where you stay in the scenic Grande Rhonde Valley of northeast Oregon. Facilities include grassy, pull-thru sites, 30 & 50 amp service, tent sites, sparkling clean restrooms & more.

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