Tombstone Lake Trail #1943 - Eagle Cap Wilderness, Union, Oregon

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7.88 miles (12.68 km)

Total Elev. Gain:
2,722 ft. (830 m)
Total Elev. Loss:
-3,062 ft. (-933 m)

Max Altitude:
8,153 ft. (2485 m)
Min Altitude:
6,101 ft. (1860 m)
by Brian Sather — Updated 5 months 3 weeks ago · Posted Tue, Aug 15, 2017
The trail climbs wickedly right away on both ends of it, after you have already traveled several miles on other trails just to get on it, so by the time you get to Tombstone Lake you'll be digging your own grave. Once you set up camp though, you'll be over it. The lake is actually a series of lakes with interesting peninsulas and rock formations. It is a very nice alpine lake well worth the trip. Tombstone is definitely the prize, as the trail ignores Diamond Lake and completely disses Olive Lake. There some awesome waterfalls at the end of the trail though, more on that later. The trail starts off 7.5 miles into the Elk Creek Trail #1944, just after crossing Elk Creek after you've dropped down from Burger Pass. It starts off with a series of quick switchbacks along the creek that flows out of Tombstone Lake and then levels out to cross it in an avalanche ravaged basin under Granite Butte. From there it takes a more leisurely approach to the lakes with long sweeping traverses in denser woods. As the trail wraps around the ridge you soon come to an unmarked side trail that is a way to get down to Diamond Lake, a less picturesque option with steep banks on all sides making access difficult. This trail is really steep and then steeper and you don't get a lot of options to get along the shore. You don't get much visibility of the lake off the trail either. For most, the goal will be to forge on to Tombstone Lakes not too far ahead. At Tombstone, the trail drops right along the shore for a short distance. The basin with the lakes has distinct glacier features, probably from not too long ago. It is a cool mix of terrain. There are plenty of camping options. You can leave the trail to the right and hop a stream between the main lake and smaller ponds below to get to the other side or you can go up further along the shore. There are plenty of tributary streams running off the steep banks around the lake and the snow sticks around for a long time in this basin. The trail quickly departs from the lake and enjoys some switchbacks through talus fields and awesome old trees including live big whitebark pines. Eventually it takes a long sweep across the rocky steep walls to reach the pass. After the pass, there is a barren descent through much rock along the flank of an unnamed (but should be) peak that is one of the highest in the Wallowas. The trees are live through this area but as you get farther down you enter the burn from the Trout Creek Fire. Soon you arrive at a nice open meadow where the trail disappears a bit and crosses the a fork of West Fork Eagle Creek which doesn't flow too well late in the year. It should be a decent camping spot. No campfires are allowed within a half mile of Tombstone Lake, but I sure saw a lot of recently fire rings around it. After the meadow the trail heads over for some switchbacks near Olive Lake, but the trail doesn't go by it. From there you are descending with many switchbacks and heading toward a visually interesting tour of water features. First, you can see Echo Lake across the valley. It's a really nice perspective on this high mountain lake. You also get to see the falls coming from the lake, of which you never see on the West Eagle Trail on the way to Echo Lake. Farther down, the trail makes a point to do several switchbacks right against the creek you have been following as it cascades through a narrow chute for a ways. Then the trail heads over to another switchback right up against a cascade coming down from Olive Lake. You have a couple creek crossings before you head directly for the intersection with the West Eagle Trail that comes up from West Eagle Meadow. Left goes to Echo and Traverse Lakes and right goes to the trailhead 3.1 miles away. It was a tough decision on what direction to feature this trail, because either way has some benefits if your goal is Tombstone Lake and the distances are about the same. The reason I chose the Burger side was because there are more trail options and water options along the way if you decide to bail on the effort to Tombstone. The trail also seems to get more use on this side and is better maintained. Coming up from West Eagle side offers a more barren and rocky experience and going over the pass is beautiful. There is a nice meadow before you go over the pass that has some water and would be good camping. Either direction, the trail will be a great experience and if you want to use this trail as part of a loop, there are a few options for that too. The Wallowas don't offer many waterfalls that are visible from trails. As a day hike, from West Eagle Meadow this trail coupled West Eagle Trail might have the best waterfall per mile viewing experience. The tour would involve hiking 3.1 miles up the West Eagle Trail where just before the junction with the Tombstone Trail you will have your first visible falls to the right. Then you hike about a mile up this trail and experience the switchbacks where you will come in contact with trail-side cascades and falls for about a half mile. Then, you can start looking at the falls from Echo Lake across the valley and turn around anytime. That would be some good water action for a 8-9 mile round trip day hike that isn't too strenuous compared to some of the other trails with falls in the Wallowas. Trail Notes
  • 0.0 mi. Start from the Elk Creek Trail just after crossing Elk Creek at the bottom of a lush wet meadow.
  • 0.5 Stream crossing.
  • 1.7 Side trail to Diamond Lake (elev. 7,274')
  • 2.1 Tombstone Lake (elev. 7425')
  • 3.6 Pass (elev. 8,153')
  • 4.9 Arrive at high meadow (elev. 7,520')
  • 5.5 Echo Lake visible to east.
  • 5.8 Good place to head west up to Olive Lake.
  • 6.5 Start several switchbacks along cascading creek.
  • 6.7 End of switchbacks along creek (elev. 6,647')
  • 7.1 Switchback at the cascading creek from Olive Lake (elev. 6,431')
  • 7.2 Creek crossing
  • 7.7 Echo Lake branch of West Eagle Creek crossing.
  • 7.9 Trail junction with West Eagle Creek Trail (elev. 6,101')

 Diamond Lake access trail — 45.141180, -117.483070
 Cascades Along Trail — 45.115700, -117.470430
 Olive Lake cascade — 45.113000, -117.470260
 Echo Lake Falls — 45.118120, -117.463840
 Falls visible from West Eagle Trail — 45.106670, -117.459390
 Echo Lake visible — 45.118010, -117.473140

Tombstone Lake

Some erosion control.
Tight switchbacks.
Trail follows the creek with switchbacks up a spine.
Creek crossing.

Avalanche debris zone.

The side trail left, to Diamond Lake.
Trail isn't official or maintained and heads straight down to the lake.
Approaching Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake

Trail along the shore as it arrives a the main water body at Tombstone Lake
A campfire ring at Tombstone Lake, on a peninsula between lakes.
View from the other side.
One of the smaller lakes down lower with China Cap reflecting.
Tombstone Lakes
Interesting land feature on the west side of the lake where avalanche debris piles up.
Tombstone Lake from the west side.
View from the south end, between the upper lake and lower.
Upper most lake is an interesting feature.
Trail climbing away from the lakes.
View of Tombstone from up higher with China Cap in the background.
One of the tightest, shortest switchbacks I have ever seen.

View from the pass of the lake and China Cap ridge.
Another view from the pass.
Someone pieced together the fires prohibited sign.
South side of the pass.

Approaching the high meadow.

The high meadow where West Eagle Creek starts.
The trail as it approaches the meadow if you're coming up from West Eagle Meadow.

A couple small meadows are below the high one. Here the trail gets really deep.

Trail begins to get overgrown in spots.
First switchback along the cascading creek.

Echo Lake falls.
Switchback with cascade coming from Olive Lake.
Creek crossing

West Eagle Creek crossing.
Just about at the end of the trail.