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Panoramic View from the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve

A rock cairn near the top of Harsin Butte on The Nature Conservancy Zumwalt Prairie Preserve. Wallowa Mountains.

Spring into Fall is a wonderful time to visit the Zumwalt Prairie in Northeastern Oregon. The Nature Conservancy owns a considerable tract of land on the Zumwalt Prairie in Wallowa County and makes some of it available to the public. This particular public access point is the trail to the top of Harsin Butte. Although the trail map indicates the trail is less than a mile in length, there’s a 700 foot elevation change over that short distance!

We took an afternoon and drove out to the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve entrance (about a 30 minute drive from Joseph over paved and gravel roads) then continued onto the preserve. Passenger cars can make this trip carefully–lower clearance cars might want to think about visiting in a different vehicle. Here at the Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfast we keep plenty of maps of the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve and send many of our guests out for excursions on this beautiful landscape.

Wildflower on the Zumwalt Prairie

The trail is fairly evident to start with but turns into more of a “scramble” to the top of the butte. We saw evidence of elk bedding down among the trees along the hillside. Because it was late May, wildflowers were starting to pop up here and there. The lichen on large rock outcroppings glowed in shades of yellows, oranges and greens.

Once reaching the top there’s a panoramic view of both the Wallowa Mountains (pictured here) and of the Seven Devil Mountains in Idaho on the far side of Hells Canyon.

Lichen on rock on Harsin Butte with the Zumwalt Prairie below.

In total we were about four hours door-to-door from the Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfast in Joseph, making this a very enjoyable day excursion with plenty of time left for more exploring. Is it worth the trip? Absolutely! In the Wallowa Valley you can easily see the Wallowa Mountains, and the Seven Devils off in the distance. But from Harsin Butte on the Zumwalt Prairie, the views are such that it’s easy to forget there is any civilization nearby.

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