The last stop on our road trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park was a spot in the northeastern corner of Oregon known as the “Little Switzerland of America.”
Brian heard about Joseph, Oregon, from one of his customers who takes his RV there to escape from Portland. Soon after he told me about it, it was featured in one of my AAA travel magazines and looked every bit as amazing as his customer had described. It wasn’t exactly on our route from Boise, Idaho to Quincy, Washington, but it was close enough! We added it to our itinerary, booked an AirBnB for the night, and arrived in the early afternoon for what ended up being a fun half-day of exploring.
Terminal Gravity Brewing
Along the way we stopped in Enterprise – the last ‘big’ city before Joseph – to check out Terminal Gravity Brewing. We arrived just in time for a late lunch and managed to miss the crowds – the place was starting to get busy just as we were wrapping up our visit.
The atmosphere was awesome – we sat in the shade of our private picnic table umbrella enjoying the trees and creek running through the property, as well as the beer and nachos we shared for lunch.
Our favorite part of the visit was meeting the resident cat, Hops, who took over unoccupied tables at his leisure. If you ever find yourself in Enterprise, you have to add this stop to your list!
Wallowa Lake Tramway
I had a decent list of things to do in Joseph, but we were able to quickly narrow it down thanks to the amount of time we had and the activities we felt comfortable doing (and that were available) due to COVID-19.
We ended up prioritizing riding the Wallowa Lake Tramway 3,700 feet to the top of Mt. Howard (using the disinfected, private gondola for two!) and hiking the trails around the summit. Built in 1970, this is the steepest tram in North America!
There were several loop trails around the summit, and I think we completed them all! We initially attempted the East Peak Trail to Aneroid Peak, but once we started slogging through the melting snow/ice, we decided we didn’t have the right gear for the job.
Instead, we stayed on the maintained paths, admiring the views of the mountains and Wallowa Lake and enjoying the antics of several deer, chipmunks, and even some Columbia ground squirrels.
One viewpoint was a launching spot for hang gliding and paragliding, and someone had recently jumped – we could see her/him gliding around the side of the mountain. It was mesmerizing watching them slowly loop around in the air, gliding and up and down on the currents. What a beautiful day and incredible views for that activity!
Downtown and Around
The drive into Joseph is beautiful – you head straight for the mountains through the woods and open farmland and plains.
The downtown area is very walkable, with restored buildings, lots of shops and restaurants, and some interesting places to stay. We grabbed some dinner at Ember’s Brew House – it was ok, but the service wasn’t great and the atmosphere didn’t hold a flame to Terminal Gravity.
I knew there were some local artists’ work on display, but I was completely shocked to find out that one artist who had completed many of the beautiful murals around town was Gene Hayes! We tried to find all of his work – it ranged from western scenes to signage for the local lodge.
In addition to its murals and art galleries, Joseph is known for its sculpture walk. Seven monumental bronze sculptures line the streets as well as many other smaller pieces that have since been donated.
The cowboy on the bucking bronco in front of the mountains is one of the iconic shots featured on all of Joseph’s tourist information so we had to time the lighting just right to recreate our own version!
Traditional Tipi with a Twist
The craziest part of our visit was our AirBnB – a traditional tipi with a twist! The property is a few miles from downtown and the owners have set up several interesting places to stay on site – the tipi, an old caboose, a 1980s camper, and a yurt!
The property is lovely with some shared amenities like a firepit as well as an outdoor bathroom and shower. (It was cold in the morning so we didn’t brave using the shower – it sounded fun, though!).
While the tipi didn’t look glamorous from the outside, it was really nice inside – string lights and flicking candles, a small fireplace/heater, and beautiful Pendleton blankets that made it cozy and warm. Once you were inside it was fine, but I pretty quickly tired of pulling my shoes on and off and crawling in and out of it every time I forgot something or had to use the outhouse!
Brian had brought along his tripod and a few different camera lens and stayed up to take pictures of the stars. It was a clear night and we were a good distance from light pollution, but it was a near full moon! I think his shots are beautiful, but I know he was hoping for brighter stars – maybe next time!
I would love to go back to Joseph again, especially post-COVID-19. There were tons of trails through the mountains, kayaking and other water activities on Wallowa Lake, what I imagine to be a lively downtown, and much more.
As I always say – we’ll be back!