Burger Pass

  • Difficult
  • 8.8 miles round trip
  • 2440 feet elevation gain
  • Open mid-July through October
  • Use: hikers, horses

This path through volcanic ash to an alpine viewpoint might be the dustiest trail you’ve ever hiked. But at Burger Pass, in a quiet corner of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, you can stand on the dividing line of a mountain range with two very different personalities. To the east, the Wallowa Mountains flash white granite snowpeaks in the sun. To the west, the range is a brown basalt tableland.

The dust on this trail is a result of the Wallowas’ schizophrenic geologic past. The range began as a string of Pacific Ocean islands nearly a billion years ago. Currents in the Earth’s molten mantle gradually “rafted” the islands eastward and scraped them off onto the North American continent. Later additions to Oregon’s shore left the Wallowas inland, and erosion wore the islands down to their granite roots.

About 17 million years ago the continent buckled, allowing volcanic eruptions to roar up out of cracks in the ground near the Grande Ronde River. Enormous floods of basalt lava buried most of Eastern Oregon and Washington. But then the Wallowas rose again. During the Ice Age, glaciers wore the basalt off the higher, eastern half of the mountains, exposing the white granite underneath. Today Burger Pass balances between the granite peaks and the basalt tablelands. The dust of the trail is volcanic ash sandwiched in between.

If you’re driving here from La Grande, …

… To the right, remnant lava layers stacked atop Burger Butte resemble a gigantic Big Mac.

Other Options

Beyond Burger Pass the trail …

This chapter taken from the book 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon.