Spring Through Fall
If you're interested in bird-watching, head out to the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, 59116 Pierce Rd. (tel. 541/963-4954; www.dfw.state.or.us), 5 miles south of La Grande off I-84 at the Foothill Road exit (exit 268). March through May, the refuge has lots of waterfowl, and in summer the wetland is home to sandhill cranes, geese, ducks, avocets, black-necked stilts, and numerous raptors. Also keep an eye out for elk. The best way to visit this area is by walking the 1.25-mile nature trail east of I-84 near exit 268.
The hot springs of this region have been attracting people since long before the first white settlers arrived, and you can still soak your sore muscles in thermal waters at Lehman Hot Springs (tel. 541/427-3015; www.lehmanhotsprings.com), which is in a remote forested setting near Ukiah, 38 miles west of La Grande on Ore. 244. Here you'll find a large, hot swimming pool, perfect for an afternoon of lounging around. There are also two smaller and hotter soaking pools, as well as an unheated swimming pool. Also on the premises are campsites and some rustic accommodations, and nearby are hiking, mountain-biking, cross-country-skiing, and snowmobiling trails. In summer the springs are open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 10am to 8pm, and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 9pm (other months closed on Wed). Admission is $9.
In summer there are plenty of nearby trails for hiking or mountain biking. My favorite trails are those that radiate out from Anthony Lake, high in the Elkhorn Mountains 45 minutes from Baker City. These trails start at an elevation of over 7,000 feet and meander through open forests with views of craggy granite peaks. The 8-mile loop hike from Anthony Lake up the Elkhorn Crest Trail to Dutch Flat Saddle and back to Anthony Lake via Crawfish Basin Trail makes a good day hike. By the way, the campground at Anthony Lake might just be my favorite campground in the state. Contact the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest's La Grande Ranger Station, 3502 Ore. 30, La Grande, OR 97850 (tel. 541/963-7186), or the Whitman Ranger Station, 3285 11th St., Baker City, OR 97814 (tel. 541/523-4476), for more information. On the Internet, visit www.fs.fed.us/r6/w-w.
With the highest base elevation and the most powderlike snow in the state, Anthony Lakes (tel. 541/856-3277; www.anthonylakes.com), 45 minutes west of Baker City, is a good little ski area -- small, but with a nice variety of terrain. Daily lift tickets are $39. You'll also find good, groomed cross-country ski trails here, and the area is very popular with snowmobilers.
Winter is also the best time of year to see some of the region's Rocky Mountain elk. Every year December through February, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife feeds a large herd of elk at the Elkhorn Wildlife Area, 61846 Powder River Lane, North Powder (tel. 541/898-2826; www.dfw.state.or.us), about halfway between La Grande and Baker City. You can usually see between 100 and 150 elk. Between mid-December and the end of February, T & T Tours (tel. 541/856-3356; www.tnthorsemanship.com) takes visitors out to the feeding area by horse-drawn wagon. Tours last about a half hour and cost $7 for adults and $5 for children. To reach Elkhorn, take exit 285 off I-84 and follow the WILDLIFE VIEWING signs.