Bonny Lakes Trail

Hike Rating: Moderate
Hike Length: 7.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,300’
Trailhead Elevation: 6,490’
Best Season: July through September,
   once Spring runoff has subsided
Driving Access: Any vehicle, with care

Plus Points
• A scenic trail up a gentle, glaciated canyon to a pair of picturesque alpine lakes
• The hiking route is entirely within the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area
• A nice mix of forest, riparian meadows, rocky basalt outcrops and grand alpine views
• Striking red basalt bluffs along the skyline, on both Imnaha Divide and Aneroid Ridge
• Wildflowers into mid-August, including mariposa lily, monkshead, paintbrush, wild onion
• Evidence of glacial activity, from the U-shaped valley to glacial polish on basalt benches

Minus Points
• The four stream crossings can be treacherous before Spring runoff has subsided
• Mosquitos can be bothersome in the upper lake basin, so be sure to pack repellent
• Later in the season, the trail gets heavier use by backpackers and equestrians

Download (PDF, 644 KB): Photos of Bonny Lakes Trail
Download (PDF, 793 KB): Topo Map for Bonny Lake Trail
Download (PDF, 880 KB): Road Map for Bonny Lakes Trail

Trail Notes
Map of the Bonny Lakes Trail
From the Tenderfoot Trailhead parking area, the trail quickly enters the Wilderness Area and descends about 200 yards to its first crossing of Big Sheep Creek, amid a riot of pink fireweed. Look for a safe crossing on logs here. Past the stream, the trail climbs north up the hillside, through burned snags and a forest recovering from the massive 1989 Canal Burn.

At about 0.4 miles, the trail leaves the burned area and begins a long, gradual ascent west along the north side of the canyon. Along this stretch, one has good views to the southwest of Mt. Nebo and the striking red and black basalt ridges of the Imnaha Divide. The trail proceeds on a good grade, through a mixed forest of douglas fir, larch and a few beetle-killed lodgepole pines, interrupted at intervals by dry, open sagebrush slopes.

At 1.1 miles, the trail crosses the North Fork of Big Sheep Creek and comes to a signed trail junction about 50 yards past the crossing. Follow the main trail leading west, as it passes the first of many wet meadows and side creeks in the upper canyon. At 2.0 miles, one comes to the second crossing of Big Sheep Creek, again on downed logs across the rushing stream. Past the crossing, the trail climbs southwest along the bed of an old wagon road through thick forest to another trail junction at 2.3 miles. Bear right (northwest) at this junction, following the sign for "E. Fork Wallowa River."

At 2.8 miles, the trail crosses Big Sheep Creek for the third (and last) time, again on downed logs. The creek spreads into several channels here, so one may have to hunt upstream for the best crossing logs. Past the creek, the trail climbs steeply over a series of columnar basalt benches, which show signs of glacial polish. This is the steepest section of the hike and among the most scenic. Above the rock benches, the trail levels out and winds through wet meadows along the creek, with wildflowers into mid-summer (including mariposa lily, purple monkshead, paintbrush and pink wild onion).

The trail meets the lower Bonny Lake at 3.9 miles, a shallow gem near a large willow marsh, all set beneath picturesque alpine peaks. Look for branching whitebark pines here, along the lakeshore and on hillsides around the basin. This first Bonny Lake can make a nice hike and lunch destination — but if one wants to explore further, there is a second, higher lake to the east. To reach it, follow the trail around the east side of the first lake for about 200 yards to the inlet stream. Instead of crossing it, follow the creek upstream for another 200 yards to the second lake. Return as you came.

Road to Trailhead
From Hwy 82 in Joseph, OR, turn east at the sign for Imnaha and drive 8 miles to the Wallowa Mountain Road on the right (south). Follow this paved road (which becomes Road 39 at the Forest boundary) for 12.2 miles to the concrete bridge over Big Sheep Creek. Just south of the bridge, turn right (west) onto dirt Road 100. Coming from the south on Road 39, this turnoff is about 52 driving miles north of Halfway, OR, and about 2.9 driving miles north from the Lick Creek Campground.

Follow Road 100 west for 3.1 miles to its end at the Tenderfoot Trailhead. Road 100 is a bit rough, but it can be traveled by any passenger car. A self-issued Wilderness Permit is required for this hike, available at the trailhead bulletin board.

Camping Options
The nearest camping area is the Lick Creek Campground on Road 39 (the Wallowa Mountain Road), just 2.3 driving miles from the trailhead. This is a pleasant campground, featuring 12 sites spread out along Lick Creek, with 5 sites for tents and 7 for camping trailers of most any size. A few sites are right next to the creek, with others within easy walking distance. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. There's a vault toilet, but no drinking water or trash pickup. Camping fees were $6.00 per night in 2014.

For tent campers, there are a few dispersed campsites along Road 100, in the last mile to the trailhead. These are grassy pull-offs along the road, with no water, sanitation or amenities. Be aware that camping is prohibited at the nordic shelters found 0.8 miles from the trailhead, as these are on a private lease permit from the Forest Service.

Agency Contact: Wallowa-Whitman Natl. Forest, Eagle Cap District, (541) 426-5546

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, but the authors do not guarantee that it is either current or correct. The reader assumes full responsibility for any use of this information, and is encouraged to contact local public land agencies to inquire about current conditions before traveling.

Page last updated: 12/10/14