The Grande Ronde River slices through the landscape of northeastern Oregon. Its headwaters lie in the Blue Mountains, southwest of La Grande, Oregon, and it flows northeast until joining the Snake River upstream of Lewiston.
At 182 miles long, the Grande Ronde is speckled with put-in and take-out spots that afford a wealth of paddling opportunities. Boaters looking for a multi-day, wilderness trip usually opt for the Minam-to-Powwatka Bridge section. (Note: The first 10 miles of this section are on the Wallowa River, until its confluence with the Grande Ronde.)
A gravel road parallels the Wallowa River for 2 miles downstream of Minam, after which the road ceases and the river is hemmed by a little-used pair of railroad tracks. The tracks end at the confluence of the Wallowa and Grande Ronde rivers. Less than two miles downstream of the confluence, the Grande Ronde is classified as a Wild and Scenic River, a protective measure bestowed by Congress in 1988. Wild and Scenic status, which is essentially a wilderness designation for rivers, extends 44 miles downstream.
A float from Minam to the Powwatka Bridge begins in a sub-Alpine vegetation zone, but conditions become hotter and drier as the river winds through a deepening basalt canyon. The sub-alpine eventually gives way to a ponderosa pine and grassland zone that continues to the bridge.
Though obscured by trees in its upper reaches, the canyon’s geological heritage is bare as the vegetation thins out. For mile after mile, the canyon’s walls are striped with tiers of basalt, each perfectly level and parallel with the others, like a volcanic layer cake.
Born of fire, carved by water, the Grande Ronde River canyon offers peaceful respite in an increasingly hectic world.
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