This particular trip provides a variety of nice scenery, from high desert plateaus and expansive vistas, to twisty river-carved canyons. It can be done in a long day; I recommend 2 days to allow time to stop and smell the roses along the way.
I rode it (this time) in early May; in a normal-precipitation year, even that might be too early, as there is some high country along the way. (There were some shady spots in the high country, where the snow was still right up to the edge of the highway.) It was a perfect time of year to go, however, as everything was vibrant green. (Autumn is also a nice time - although the foliage is dry, the fall colors can be spectacular.)
(I actually rode from my "home base" of Boise, but I'm dealing with the "loop" from Ontario, Oregon, on the Idaho/Oregon border.)
(Click HERE for a larger-size view of the map. You may also need to maximize the size of your window.)
Notes and recommendations:
- As you ride northwest on I-84 from Ontario toward Baker, get off the Interstate just past the big cement plant, and take "Old Highway 30" from there on into Baker. The going is a bit slower, but it is ever so much more enjoyable on a motorcycle to enjoy the slower pace, the twists and turns of the old-school 2-lane (which you'll almost certainly have to yourself), and the rural scenery along the way.
- Once you get to Baker, take State Highway 203 east out of town toward Medical Springs, and follow it on through to Union, and then LaGrande. Again, it's not as direct or quick as I-84, but the scenery is so much better and the ride more enjoyable. (A confession: I always avoid the superslab whenever possible.)
- Out of LaGrande, you take State Highway 82 northeast toward Elgin, and then toward Enterprise and Joseph. As you approach Enterprise, on the south you will enjoy views of a spectacular snow-capped mountain range.
- I'd recommend you gas up in Enterprise or Joseph before proceeding; it's a long poke before you'll get to the next gas station.
- I'd also recommend a little side trip out of Joseph down along Wallowa Lake. At the north end of the lake is the grave of Chief Joseph, the famous chief of the mighty Nez Perce Indians. (The Joseph/Enterprise area is where the tribe spent their summers. Chief Joseph's history is interesting; he did everything he could to get along with paleface; the way he was treated in return will make you embarrassed to be caucasian.) The lake is beautiful; interestingly there are some tourist-trap type attractions at the south end, pretty much a long ways from anywhere.
- Depart out of Joseph heading east on the Imnaha Highway. Watch for the "Wallowa Mountain" loop (to Copperfield); it's easy to miss. It is a narrow, twisty mountain road... don't get too distracted by the high-country scenery. From there it's high forest until you start dropping down toward Hells Canyon. (They say it's the deepest gorge in North America, and I s'pose it is when measured with an altimeter... but it's not a precipitous dropoff like Grand Canyon.) You will be amazed how much it warms up as you drop... it's downright toasty down there in the summertime.
- When you get to State Highway 86, turn left toward Copperfield, which is on the banks of the Snake River, deep in the Canyon. (There is a sweet and reasonably-priced RV park / campground down there, owned and maintained by Idaho Power.)
- From Copperfield, you head upstream (south) toward Brownlee Dam; just downstream from the dam you'll cross over into Idaho and start ascending the other side. They call it "Highway 71," but it's a mountain road... not quite as narrow as on the Oregon side. The next stop is Cambridge, a sleepy farming/logging/hunting community. If your tank is dry, you can get gas there... if you can go another 30 miles, gas up in Weiser instead.
- From Cambridge, head southwest on Highway 95 to Weiser. Full services are available in Weiser; also if you happen to pass thru in mid-June, you might find yourself in the midst of one of the most awesome fiddle festivals anywhere... Weiser's claim to fame.
- Take Highway 95 on south to Ontario to complete the loop... or if you're westbound, you can jump back over to I-84 via Highway 201.
(For photo set / slide show, click HERE.)