Umatilla National Forest

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The Umatilla National Forest, located in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington and northeast Oregon, covers 1.4 million acres of diverse landscapes and plant communities. The Forest has some mountainous terrain, but most of the Forest consists of v-shaped valleys separated by narrow ridges or plateaus. The landscape also includes heavily timbered slopes, grassland ridges and benches, and bold granite outcroppings. Elevations range from 1,600 to 8,000 feet above sea level. Changes in weather are common, but summers are generally warm and dry with cool evenings. Cold and snowy winters and mild temperatures during spring and fall can be expected.

The Forest is administered by the Forest Supervisors Office in Pendleton, Oregon, along with four Ranger Districts located in Pomeroy and Walla Walla, Washington, and Ukiah and Heppner, Oregon. The actual on the ground management of the forest resources is accomplished at the Ranger District level by the District Ranger and staff, while the Forest Supervisor oversees management and administration. The Forest is challenged daily with protecting both the productivity and the aesthetic values of the land. Managing to provide many resources, benefiting many people "for the long run" is the key principle guiding the Umatilla Management Team.

Forest History
Umatilla is an Indian word meaning "water rippling over sands." Explorers Lewis and Clark passed this way in 1805, and Marcus and Narcissa Whitman crossed the Forest in 1836 to establish a mission near Walla Walla, Washington. Thousands of emigrants followed the Oregon Trail westward, and many remained in Blue Mountain country.

The Umatilla National Forest is composed of what were originally three separate forests: The Wenaha National Forest was established in 1902 with headquarters in Walla Walla. It covered the portion of the present Forest lying north of the Old Oregon Trail.

The Blue Mountain National Forest, with original headquarters in Sumpter, Oregon, was comprised of what is today's North Fork John Day Ranger District. In 1908 it was renamed the Whitman National Forest, and headquarters were moved to Baker, Oregon.

The Heppner National Forest was originally composed of what is now the Heppner Ranger District. It was first established in 1903 with headquarters in Heppner, Oregon, and renamed the Umatilla National Forest on July 1, 1908.

In 1911, the Whitman National Forest, originally the Blue Mountain National Forest, was transferred to the Umatilla National Forest. The Wenah National Forest was consolidated into the Umatilla National Forest in 1920 with headquarters in Pendleton, Oregon.

Points of Interest

Fremont Powerhouse - During the gold mining boom of the early 1900's, the Fremont Powerhouse, Olive Lake, and an 8-mile wooden pipeline were constructed to provide power to the Red Boy gold mines. The Fremont Powerhouse was constructed in 1908 and produced electricity for the town of Granite and surrounding residences until 1956. In 1959, it was donated to the US Forest Service and listed in the National Register of Historical Places. The Powerhouse is located on Forest Road 10 approximately 40 miles east of Dale, Oregon, and 5 miles west of Granite, Oregon.

Blue Mountain Scenic Byway - The Byway is a relaxing scenic alternative to I-84. It is a stretch of state, county, and Forest Service roads that provides an alternate route for freeway travelers between Arlington and Baker City, Oregon. The drive is 130 miles long and takes you through some of the most beautiful country in Oregon, taking in portions of the Umatilla National Forest and near Granite, Oregon, linking up with the Elkhorn Scenic Byway on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The route is paved with two lanes and is open during the summer and fall, generally from June through November.

Vinegar Hill/Indian Rock Scenic Area - This scenic area is located on the southernmost portion of the Umatilla National Forest adjacent to the North Fork John Day Wilderness. It covers over 25,000 acres, including the highest elevation point on the Forest: Vinegar Hill at 8,100 feet. The major attraction of this area, aside from hunting opportunities, is the splendid 360-degree vista available from several high elevation view points. Hiking in grassy, open alpine areas and subalpine trees provides a scenic and unusual contrast from the adjacent forested areas.

Ray Ridge Viewpoint - Located just south of Misery Spring Campground on Forest Road 025, off Forest Road 4030, on the Pomeroy Ranger District, this view point offers an unobstructed view of 95 percent of the Wenaha -Tucannon Wilderness. Also visible in the distance are the Eaglecap Mountains in Oregon and the Seven Devils Peaks of Idaho. The ridge is generally accessible by vehicle from July to early November. Snowmobilers enjoy the view during the winter months.

Stahl Canyon Overlook - On the Heppner Ranger District, Forest Roads 21 & 25 offer a scenic loop drive with a variety of scenery and panoramic views. The overlook, located on Forest Road 21, offers a panoramic view of the canyon and beyond to the northwest. Big game uses this canyon as a travelway, and raptors are often seen soaring overhead.

Whitman Route Overlook - Retrace the steps of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and learn about their historic, rugged journey across the Blue Mountains at the Whitman Route Overlook. The view from the overlook offers a spectacular view of Meacham Canyon and the Hell Hole Roadless area. The overlook can be easily reached from Interstate 84 by taking the Mt. Emily exit, traveling 9 miles north on Forest Road 31, and making a left turn on Forest Road 3109. The site is located near Sacajawea Springs.

Table Rock Lookout - At an elevation of 6,250 feet, Table Rock offers spectacular and unmatched views of the surrounding terrain. To the west is the Mill Creek Watershed, municipal water source for the City of Walla Walla, Washington, and eastward lies the Wenah-Tucannon Wilderness. On the narrow ridgeline separating these two rugged areas is the Kendall skyline Road (Forest Road 64). Although a challenging drive and not suitable for passenger vehicles, the Kendall Skyline Road may be accessed from Dayton and Walla Walla, Washington, and from Tollgate, Oregon. The lookout, built in 1949, is located on Forest Road 475, just off of the Kendall Skyline Road.

The Big Sink - Located on the Walla Walla Ranger District roughly two miles southeast of Jubilee Lake is an area known as "The Big Sink." The area is accessible on foot from Forest Road 63. When one looks closely, it is an interesting geological formation that looks as though a large piece of the earth simply sank into the ground. It is an area of curiosity and puzzlement and has been the source of rumors and stories for years, including many local Indian legends. To enhance the mystery, compasses do not always work correctly in the area, causing much consternation to hikers and hunters passing through the Wilderness.

Three designated wilderness areas exist on the Umatilla National Forest: the Wenaha-Tucannon, the North Fork Umatilla, and the North Fork John Day. These areas are unique because they are unlike many wilderness areas. The Umatilla's wilderness radiates down into steep gorges and canyons from high plateaus instead of upward to high peaks and alpine lakes. This unusual terrain offers a unique wilderness experience.

Recreational Opportunities
Many year-round recreation opportunities exist on the Umatilla National Forest, including hiking, horseback riding, camping, skiing and of course hunting and fishing. Approximately 35 percent of the Forest's annual recreation use occurs during the big game hunting seasons, while camping is the second most popular recreational activity accounting for 20 percent of the total recreation use. Sightseers may drive over 5,167 miles of forest roads, hike or ride over 715 miles of trails, float the Grande Ronde River, enjoy the most popular snowmobiling areas in Oregon, and select from over 20 campgrounds throughout the Forest.

Camping and picnic sites, designed to blend with the forest environment, are located away from traffic and commercial development. The length of a stay at any one site is limited to 14 days on a first-come, first-served basis. All campgrounds are located where there is fishing, hunting, or other outdoor activities nearby. Campfire permits are not required, but may be restricted during extreme fire danger.

In several of the larger campgrounds, where more facilities and services are provided (Jubilee Lake, Bull Prairie, Woodward, and Target Meadows), a fee is charged for overnight use. Campgrounds do not have electricity, showers, or sewage disposal. Waste disposal dump stations are located at Bull Prairie and Tollgate Guard Station.

During the winter months, skiing is a major sport on the Umatilla. Spout Springs Ski Area is located near the Tollgate area in northern Oregon, and Ski Bluewood is 20 miles south of Dayton, Washington. Cross-country skiing is also a popular sport with many marked ski trails on the Forest.

Over 250 miles of groomed snowmobile trails exist on the Umatilla National Forest with abundant opportunities for all. Trails are groomed in cooperation with local snowmobile clubs. Snowmobile clubs have also worked in partnership with the Forest Service in construction of two snowmobile warming shelters on the Forest. One is located at Ruckle Junction and the other at Mt. Misery.

Hunting is by far the most popular recreational activity on the Forest, and supports one of the largest Rocky Mountain elk herds in the nation. Many hunters have been hunting annually in their favorite spot for several generations. Archery season begins in late August, followed by general deer and elk seasons in October and November. Special hunts continue until Christmas time.

Since the days when the American Indians were the only forest users, fishing has been an important and relaxing activity. Fishing opportunities abound throughout the forest with both lakes and streams available for variety. Many lakes and streams are stocked frequently with rainbow trout during the season. Steelhead and salmon are also present during their migration periods in many of the major rivers.

Olive Lake, covering 145 acres, is the largest lake on the Forest. Bull Prarie Lake, 24 acres; Jubilee Lake, 97 acres; and Penland Lake, 70 acres, were developed cooperatively by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA Forest Service.

Collecting forest products is also a popular recreational opportunity. Firewood cutters, mushroom pickers, and berry-pickers spend their weekends in the Forest gathering products to bring warmth, food, and enjoyment all year long. Many families traditionally bring a picnic lunch and participate in these activities together.

Many forest visitors travel roads throughout the Forest enjoying the scenery and searching out breathtaking view points. Each Ranger District has at least one well-maintained gravel road into the heart of the Umatilla National Forest. Several state and county roads also traverse the Forest, including Oregon State Highways 204 and 244, and US Highway 395. I-84 crosses the Blue Mountain Summit at an elevation of 4,193 feet and dissects the Forest into southern and northern halves. The Blue Mountain Scenic Byway traverses the entire southern half of the Forest.

Around The Forest
The Umatilla National Forest is divided roughly in half by Interstate Highway 84. The north half extends into Washington and is bordered partially on the west by the Umatilla Indian Reservation and on the southeast by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The south half is bordered on the east by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and on the south by the Malheur National Forest.

The Forest is accessible from Pendleton, Ukiah, Heppner, La Grande, Weston, Elgin, Meacham, Fossil and Dale, Oregon. The far northern portions of the Forest can be reached through Walla Walla, Dayton, Pomeroy, Asotin, and Clarkston, Washington. Within the Umatilla there are three wilderness areas: the Wenaha-Tucannon, the North Fork Umatilla, and the North Fork John Day. Once you exit the forest, you will find nearby Malheur, Ochoco, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. Just south of the forest is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. To the west lie the Deschutes, Fremont, Winema, and Umpqua National Forests. To the east, on the border of Idaho, lies the Hells Canyon National Recreational Area. Also located nearby in Idaho is Payette National Forest.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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