North Powder River


The North Powder River is located in northeast Oregon in Baker County. It originates on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, high on the Elkhorn Ridge of the Blue Mountains, and flows generally northeast for 24 miles until it joins the Powder River. The North Powder River Valley is a glaciated valley characterized by craggy mountain tops reaching above the timberline. From its headwaters at nearly 7,900 feet, this small alpine stream is fed by waters from Meadow, Little Summit, and Summit Lakes.

The river’s name is derived from the Chinook words “polallie illahe,” which translates as “sandy” or “powdery ground” and is an apt description of the soils along the stream.

The North Powder River drainage is included within the ceded boundaries of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). The area was utilized in prehistoric and historic times by members of the CTUIR for fishing, hunting, and religious purposes. The corridor was also periodically and seasonally visited by small groups from other tribes, including the Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock, and Northern Paiute. Native Americans still travel to the area to hunt, fish, camp, and gather, continuing the traditions established prior to Euro-American arrival.

The primitive road paralleling the stream is a portion of a route to early-day mining camps. This road was originally constructed in 1864 by the Dealy Wagon Road Company as one of the earliest routes across the Elkhorns to Bourne and Sumpter. As this was a difficult route, it was not heavily used, and easier alternate routes were constructed elsewhere. Historic references can be found to its early use, including by Native American travelers.

Visitors can access the river with four-wheel drive vehicles, mountain bikes, on horseback, or on foot on Forest Service roads and hiking trails. Popular activities include camping along the river at dispersed campsites, hunting, exploring the historic wagon route, and sightseeing.

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Designated Reach

October 28, 1988. From its headwaters in the Elkhorn Mountains to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest boundary.

Outstandingly Remarkable Values


The North Powder River drainage offers a diversity of semi-primitive recreational opportunities. Recreation use in the corridor begins in late spring and continues into the late fall hunting seasons. Visitors come to the areas primarily to hunt for big game, fish, camp, ride motorbikes, drive four-wheel drives or ATVs, sightsee, view wildlife, hike, backpack, horsepack, and mountain bike. The river is too small for boating. The steepness of the canyon precludes a significant amount of winter activity, but some snowmobiling and cross-country skiing does occur.


The North Powder River has exceptional scenic features with minimal visible human modifications. The Elkhorns are characterized by jagged peaks, cirque basins, subalpine lakes, precipitous streams, and deeply incised glaciated valleys. The North Powder River drainage is exemplary of the semi-primitive and undeveloped high mountain valleys of the surrounding region. Even though the drainage has attracted some human interest in the past, human-caused changes to the landscape are barely noticeable. The overall lack of visible cultural modifications may be one of the most significant attributes of the river corridor.

Managing Partners And Contacts


Scenic — 6.4 miles; Total — 6.4 miles.
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