You probably don’t know about this lift, even though it has the largest vertical rise of any gondola in North America. Yes, more vertical than if Vail had a top-to-bottom lift and more than the (much newer) gondolas at Revelstoke, Kicking Horse, Silver Mountain and Aspen. You wouldn’t know how cool this lift is from the tiny ticket booth and parking lot, or from the tramway’s Facebook page, which lists it as “permanently closed.” Despite all signs pointing to a lackluster roadside attraction, the Wallowa Lake Tramway, as it’s known, is incredible.
Situated at the far shore of its namesake, past the end of an abandoned railroad and at the dead-end of a 13-mile road, it feels like a trip to the Alps with high mountain peaks all around. Opened in 1970 after two years of construction at a cost of $700,000, the tramway was conceived as the launch point for a large ski area, so the cabins have ski racks. Although skiing never materialized, nearly fifty years later the gondola serves as a scenic throwback for the lucky few who venture six hours from Portland or 4.5 from Spokane or Boise (the local Lions Club opened a ski area nearby called Ferguson Ridge in 1983.) Those who trek to the Wallowas are rewarded with a 3,700′ vertical lift to 8,256′ Mt. Howard with monster mountain views along the way and a shimmering blue lake below.