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April 3, 2013

Full-On Fun In Halfway

Nothing halfway about snowmobiling in NE Oregon

Lane Lindstrom


Our journey to Halfway started with a rather innocuous e-mail. We often get letters and e-mails about riding in various places around the West, but this e-mail wasn’t anything like that.

Panhandle Snowmobile Club president Whitey Bloom sent us an e-mail telling us about how his snowmobile club redid its trail map. The redo was because SnoWest Magazine readers were somewhat less than complimentary about the local snowmobile trail map in our annual Top 15 Trails in the West survey and the Panhandle Snowmobile Club wanted to change that. So the club redesigned its trail map.

That piqued our interest. Halfway, tucked away in the northeast corner of Oregon, has always kind of been on our radar as one place we’d like to snowmobile but we just never made it happen.

Boy were we missing out. A bit off the beaten path—definitely a bonus—Halfway is a great place to snowmobile.

Our first day of riding the Halfway area, named the Pine District (after the Pine Ranger District of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest) on the trail map—was a mix of groomed and ungroomed trails, wide open meadows and hillsides, some hillclimbing, tree riding and ridge running.

Incredible Boondocking

The incredible thing about the boondocking here is the trees are almost perfectly spaced to pick your way through. The riding may not be as technical as tighter-spaced trees, but you could find sections where it was tougher to navigate if that is your preference.

Speaking of trees, there’s a fairly decent-sized burned-out section—the last forest fire went through in 2006—in the area we rode that may not be real technical but it’s real fun. The burned-out areas aren’t the only wide open riding spots in the area, as there are plenty of open meadows and hillsides where you could open up the throttle. Then again, the burned-out areas might be just a little more fun as the burned snags give you some obstacles you have to negotiate as you make your way around. The burned-out sections were an especially fun part of the ride on the first day.

Our general route on the first day—general because we boondocked most of ride, only touching groomed trails going out and coming back in—had us leaving from the Clear Creek sno park, located about seven miles north of Halfway. From there it was a short ride along the groomed trail before peeling off and heading off on an ungroomed trail to open hillsides and meadows with a drainage or two here and there.

We also did a little climbing and playing by the appropriately named Lost Lake. It’s a short but steep climb out from the lake. From there it was to the Russel Mountain (7,508 feet) lookout and then on towards Deadman’s Point.

Seeing Far And Near

The snow was deepest and most powdery back in by Russel Mountain, the furthest most point we rode from the sno park. The truth of it is you can’t legally ride any farther north in this area because the lookout sits on the border of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Farther to the east, over near Duck Lake, you can ride farther north, actually even connecting to the Wallowa trail system that leads toward Joseph. That trail system leads to a couple of overlooks into Hells Canyon, an especially scenic—and deep—chasm between Oregon and Idaho.

A word of caution about the Russel Mountain lookout. You can climb to the top where there are some terrific views of the entire area, but just know it’s quite a climb up the wooden steps and second, it’s not exactly the safest thing to do. The steps were covered with snow and ice and the walkway on top, while fenced, was also full of snow and not easy to get around on. This is one of those disclaimer moments: climb the steps at your own risk. It’s a long drop to the ground.

From Russel Mountain we headed west, first to Deadman’s Point, then to the Clear Creek cabin, on to Table Top (from here are awesome views of the mountains in the Eagle Cap Wilderness) and then dropped down to Cornucopia, an old ghost town dating back to around 1884. At times, particularly near Deadman’s Point, we were skirting the Wilderness boundary, which follows some ridgelines, taking in views of the rugged Wallowa Mountains. Deadman’s Point was one of our stops where we got some impressive views of various peaks in the Wilderness.

From Cornucopia, where many of the original town’s buildings are still standing, we headed back to the sno park along a tight, twisty groomed trail.

Looking at the trail map—which is a good one by the way—and tracing our route for the first day, it was obvious we barely rode but a few miles of the nearly 280 miles of groomed trails in the Pine District. We didn’t even touch the eastern part of the riding area, nor the western part of the trail system. We mostly stuck to the middle portion.

As we had to hit the road about mid-day on our second day of riding near Halfway, we zipped up the groomed trail from the Clear Creek sno park and rode/played on the ridge between the Clear Creek and East Fork drainages. The riding was similar to the day before—open hillsides, meadows and drainages—and it was just as fun to blast up the hills and play in the trees. The open stretches of the ridge also offer magnificent views of the surrounding mountain peaks in and out of the Wilderness.

It was too bad we didn’t have more time to explore the other areas around Halfway. There is a lot of country to ride and play, from gentle hills to challenging chutes.

So, with map in hand, we’ll be back someday.  

 

Halfway

 

Elevation 2,500-8,000

Snowfall 100-250 inches

Groomed Trails 280 miles

Full Service Town Halfway

Nearest Airport Boise (181 miles)

Getting Started Hells Canyon Chamber of Commerce 541-742-4222 or www.hellscanyonchamber.com

Getting There Halfway is on Oregon Highway 86, 55 miles east of Baker City in the eastern part of Baker County.

Getting Around BYOS (Bring your own snowmobile). The closest snowmobile dealerships are in Baker City.

Bedding Down There is about a half dozen lodging facilities in and around Halfway and Richland. We stayed at the Pine Valley Lodge as well as the Halfway Motel & RV Park. The Pine Valley Lodge (541-742-2027 or http://www.pvlodge.com/) is locally owned and actually includes three buildings that have accommodations: the Lodge, the Blue Dog and the Shack. In all there are eight rooms in those three buildings with each room having its own personality, complete with handmade furnishings and antiques. All three buildings are old homes dating back to the early 1900s but have since been modernized while still keeping their historic and rustic feel, including wood floors. There are private baths in most rooms. We stayed in a room in The Lodge, the biggest of the three homes. It was very comfortable and cozy. A deluxe continental breakfast is served each morning, which was better than many breakfasts you might have at other sit-down restaurants. We also spent a night at the Halfway Motel & RV Park (541-742-5722), which is a traditional motel located on the south end of Main Street. A total of 26 rooms are spread out in two buildings. The “modern” units include 18 rooms with queen beds and two super singles with a fridge and microwave. The “rustic” units have eight older, smaller rooms with either queen or double beds. We stayed in one of the modern units which was clean and quiet. If you’d rather sled right from your room, the Cornucopia Lodge (800-742-6115 or http://www.cornucopialodge.com/) is a good option. Located about 12 miles from Halfway, the Cornucopia Lodge offers a room in the main lodge building as well as one- and two-bedroom cabins. Prices at any one of these three lodgings is very reasonable.

Eating Out

There are a small handful of restaurants in Halfway. We ate most of our meals at Wild Bill’s & Co. (541-742-5833), where the food was home cooked and plentiful. Another good option is Stockmen’s (541-742-2301). 


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