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What to do near Wallowa Lake – Day trip along the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Harl Butte Historic Fire Lookout on the Hells Canyon Scenic BywayIt’s nice to find things to do near Wallowa Lake when you’re on vacation in Eastern Oregon.  With Highway 39 closed near the junction of Highways 39 and Oregon 86, you can still reach most of the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road (Highway 39) from the Joseph Oregon side.

Even the Bronze Antler Bed & Breakfast innkeepers get to enjoy the sights around here every now and then!  Bill & I recently drove out to Harl Butte off of Highway 39.  There’s an historic fire lookout there.  When we arrived we were surprised to find not only the historic building but an individual manning the lookout as well.  From his vantage point he could see into the Imnaha River drainage, plus from his location you could see the fire lookout tower at Hat Point and across Hells Canyon into Idaho.

What impressed us most was the hand-stacked volcanic rock wall surround the lookout site (he told us a previous lookout had spent 10 summers erecting the wall).  Someone obviously had a lot of time on his hands in between watching for lightning strikes and monitoring fires in Northeastern Oregon and across Hells Canyon in Idaho!

Harl Butte is about 1 1/2 hours from Wallowa Lake.  When planning your Eastern Oregon vacation, consider adding it as an out-of-the-way place for vast beauty.  We keep maps here at our Eastern Oregon lodging to get you there and back again.  Hope to see you soon!


  1. Candy Myers says

    Wow- what route did you take to get from Joseph to Harl Butte, we heard road 39 is closed, did you go past Salt Creek summit and Lick Creek campground? We enjoy going over there but this year we heard it was closed….appreciate your response.


  2. My parents lived in the Harl Butte fire tower in 1949 or 50 during their first year of marriage! The orginal building that they lived in was rebuilt in 1954.

  3. Inez Eggers says

    I have no idea the route we took from Joseph to Harl Butte but in the summer of 1949, as newly weds,my husband and I were assigned to the Harl Butte Lookout tower. It was quite an exciting experience. Since I am originally from South Carolina the rangers could not always understand my southern drawl and would often me to put my husband on the radio for interpretation when i was making a weather report.

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