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La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley


Trying to get to the Summit Spring, Point Prominence and Mt. Harris Lookouts!

It was the middle of July and we thought that for sure we could get to the lookouts above the Grande Ronde Valley. With my brother, Jim, riding along on this trip we took off toward Summit Spring Fire Lookout. We made it to the road that took off to the lookout, but it was too overgrown to even get close, so we continued on the road toward Point Prominence.

We didn't make it to Point Prominence on this road either! There was more snow and mud than we expected, and we had to turn around. But we did get to try out the winch!

And along the way on the trip, we also had a chance to look out over the valley and see how the beauty of the area brought early settlers to the Grande Ronde.


Summit Spring Fire Lookout

Summit Spring Fire Lookout was built in the 1930s but is now gone, with only the foundation remaining. There is a geocache at this location - if you can get there!


Geocache: This Ain’t No Cache and Dash! GC1CTP5

45.286865, -117.The following quote is from www.geocaching.com:

"I was on my way to WR7X's Point Prominence Lookout cache (never actually made it though) when I came across this viewpoint on my topo map. The Summit Spring fire lookout was built here sometime in the 1930s but is long gone. When you get to the cache location, you'll be able to see the foundation of the old lookout. The view from this spot looks west out over the valley and south. This spot is labeled "Vinny Viewpoint" on the topo map, although the source of that name is unknown. To get here, start at the trailhead coordinates near the campground and follow the trail up the hill. When you get to the coordinates listed below, turn left and follow the spur trail up. (This spur trail is hidden by a fallen tree, but it is there!) You'll reach a big sloping meadow and if you go just a little further, you'll reach Vinny Viewpoint and GZ. A big thanks to just peachy for this detailed description!


Yes, there's other ways to get to this one, but I'll let you figure that part out if you must. There's no getting around at least a short hike to this one, though. Additionally, expect snow on the ground until mid-July. I know what guidebooks say about the area... something like Late May - Late October. This year just isn't cooperating with those guidebooks! My lone encounter with civilization was a 20-person scout group hiking up from the snowline with plans on camping at the campground. It was 32 degrees and snowing hard when we parted ways. Should be interesting for them with 3-foot drifts even at the lower elevations."


Repeater: Mount Fanny 147.260 K7RPT


Point Prominence Fire Lookout

Once we got turned around, we headed back to Cove to try a different approach to Point Prominence. That road was great, and because the lookout is staffed in the summer, we thought we would have no trouble getting all the way to see the lookout and the views over the Minam River - but we were wrong! The gate was locked, and we had to turn around --again! We could see the lookout from afar but just couldn't get to the actual site!


Point Prominence Fire Lookout was built in 1931 and had a 30-foot tower with an L-4 cab on top. The new lookout was built in 1954 with an L-4 cab on top of an 82-foot timber tower. It was built 1/8 mile east of the original location.

Elevation: 6,745 feet

45.371782 -117.702025


Geocache: Point Prominence Lookout GC13N7R

Located at 45.371883, -117.703833

Quote from www.geocaching.com:

"Point Prominence, 6745', in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, was first used for fire detection in 1931 when a 30' pole L-4 tower was constructed on the summit. In 1954, the present 82' treated timber L-4 tower was built about 300' east of the highest point of the mountain, presumably to optimize the view into the Minam River drainage. It continues to be staffed every summer, usually from late June through mid-September. No views can be had from the base of the tower, but for those who wish to keep their feet on terra firma, you can walk out to a point east of the lookout and get a stunning view into the Minam River or wander over to the west at the actual summit and look down to La Grande. If the lookout is occupied during your visit, please let the attendant know you are there (they may not be able to hear you drive up due to the incessant wind), there should be a sign posted asking you to yell up for permission to climb (during and after lightning storms or periods of extreme fire danger visitors may not be allowed up). Note for 2020: due to the COVID-19 pandemic, visitors will likely not be permitted inside staffed lookouts to protect the safety and wellness of the person on duty. The entire 360-degree view opens as you top the last staircase, with the Minam River and Eagle Cap Wilderness encapsulating the eastern half of the visible area. Mt Fanny can be seen to the south, the Elkhorns and Tower Mtn. to the southwest, La Grande and Mt. Emily to the west, and the length of the northern Blue Mountains from northwest to north. Another point of interest while at the lookout is to check the inside of the outhouse, it has a lot of good "bathroom reading" penciled on the walls, from poetry to quotes to jokes. Now for the warnings! Point Prominence is best accessed from the north off Forest Road 62. This last 1.6 miles to the summit is very rocky with short, steep pitches. 4WD is highly suggested, especially 4-Low when headed back down. The road should be snow-free from late May through mid-October. You are seeking a lock-n-lock style plastic container with logbook, writing instruments and trades. Be careful with the native camo so as to not crush the container (that means you, cache-n-dash!). Also be sure to log the two benchmarks up here."


Repeater: Mount Fanny 147.260 K7RPT

Repeater: Mount Emily 145.150 K7UNI


Mount Harris Fire Lookout

Even though we had no luck at the first two lookouts, we were undaunted and headed to the Mount Harris Fire Lookout. The road was good! Yes! No mud or snow! Yes! We thought we had it made - and then we came to another locked gate two miles before reaching the lookout. Once again, we had to turn around!


Mount Harris Fire Lookout was built in 1930 but the current lookout has been severely vandalized and from information we could find, it is no longer staffed. The original lookout was on top of a 30-foot tower, which was replaced by a 40-foot tower and cabin in 1957.

Elevation: 6,071’

45.440446 -117.893125

Geocache: Rocks on Harris GCPX0J

e. 45.444483 -117.896483


Quote from www.geocaching.com:

"This geocache requires a short walk from the road which is up steep terrain, and the road requires plenty of vehicle clearance at least if not 4WD. Don’t take pretty vehicles on this one, the brush will scratch them up.


This is a more difficult geocache, at least for this area. You will need at least 2 1/2 hours from La Grande Oregon roundtrip. You will also need a vehicle with good clearance and be prepared to squeeze through brush on the roadside. We used a 4WD pickup put didn’t have to put it in to 4WD. This cache will offer some unique views of Elgin and vicinity and of La Grande and parts of the Grande Ronde Valley. The rest of this description will give you directions from La Grande.


Travel north on State Hwy 82 towards Elgin after you go past Conley turn right on Market Lane. Take market Lane until it gets to Lower cove road about 5 3/4 miles. At Lower cove road turn left onto Grays Corner Road. Travel about 1.5 miles then turn right up the hill. At the next intersection take the left-hand branch in the road. At the next intersection stay on the main road to the left. At the next intersection go off of the main road to the left again. This is where the better clearances are needed. At the next intersection stay to the right. (The left here takes a short diversion to the lookout tower. Well worth the time.) Next you will reach the top of the mountain and start down. As you start down you will notice a road branching off to the left. Park here as vehicles are not allowed past this point. Take a short walk up this side road to its dead end. At this point you can look west towards an out cropping of rocks. Take the short hike to the top of these rocks. You are on your own from here."


Repeater: Mount Fanny 147.260 K7RPT

Repeater: Mount Emily 145.150 K7UNI


The Details

STARTING POINT: La Grande

DISTANCE FROM STARTING POINT: Round trip from La Grande was approximately 100 miles

TIME TO REACH: Round trip should be 5 hours, but it took us longer because of road conditions

ROAD SURFACE: Paved and dirt roads, but Summit Spring to Prominence was impassable due to snow

WHEN ACCESSIBLE: Summer

FEES: None

RECOMMENDED VEHICLES: 4WD

PET FRIENDLY: On leash recommended, but off leash is allowed

WHEN WE WENT: Mid-July 2022


I'm Here - Now What?

  • Bring your dog

  • Hiking - wear good walking shoes

  • Photography

  • Wildlife and plant viewing

  • Picnicking

  • Geocaching

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