Clinging to the eastern flank of the Blue Mountains, the Mt. Emily Recreation Area boasts a trail system that’s like an ice cream store – so many flavors, and all of them good. And like your favorite sweet shop, you’ll want to come back time and again, just to work your way through all the options before settling on your favorites. With 28 named trails, it’ll take you a while – but you’ll enjoy tasting them all.
This particular route gives you a nice cross-section of what the system has to offer; once you’ve navigated this, you’ll have a general feel for the network, the topography and the trail conditions. It would probably take you several days to cover all the trails – but that’s a nice challenge, right?
For this route, use the Upper Igo trailhead, directly on Igo Lane, off Mt. Glenn Road just outside La Grande to the north. Be sure you have an accurate navigation resource, because this ride is going to include a bevy of trails, not all of them screamingly obvious as you’re riding by.
Is it any surprise, given the name of the trail system, that your ride is going to start with a lung-stretching climb? Pace yourself, because you’re going to be nearly a mile high in elevation, six miles from now when you reach the apex. Start from the trailhead on Hot Shot, but you’ll stitch together a patchwork of trails and gravel roads to get to the top.
We don’t really have to point out the views you’ll enjoy on the way up, because there’s no way you’re going to miss them. It’s like a switchback highway up the side of a mountain – every turn seems to give you a new and breathtaking view (insert gasping-for-air joke here). The Grande Ronde River valley spreads out below you to the north, east and south, a huge expanse that you’ll feel like you can see every detail of from up here. If you stop for a photo or a break, see if your eye can trace the river’s path through the valley below.
Your target is the top of Caffeine Trail, which provides a perfect place to pause for those views before you start the wild ride of your descent. Dig into countless berms (just look at all the squiggles on the route map!) as you take a clockwise trip on the MERA Loop Trail, the main component of this route. Then it’s a left onto Sasquatch, where you’ll initially earn some more elevation – which you can promptly cash in for a plunge back down to MERA Loop. As you’re up here on the playground, don’t forget to take in details; the vegetation, the wildlife… even the smells are markedly different here from where you see far below you.
Be on the sharp lookout for Ricochet Trail on the left; this segment bumps up the challenge a bit, with a sinuous chain of turns that will keep your attention and surge your adrenaline. Ricochet will drop you onto the lower leg of the MERA Loop; head to the right and descend to Rock Crusher, the home leg of the ride. Like so many of your favorite routes, everything that has come before pales slightly in comparison to the exhilarating finale. Test your technical skills across rocky roll-overs and squeeze through tight gaps as the pace slows but the fun doesn’t.
Rock Crusher brings you back to the Igo Trailhead. Now you’re faced with a dilemma: explore, or come back for more later? Either way, end your day in historic downtown La Grande, where you can refuel with some hearty Mexican at La Fiesta, sample some local brews and food at Side A Brewing, try an off-the-beaten path Mediterranean café in Yia Yia Nikki’s, or go full-on Western at the Dusty Spur. You can also check out some valley-level nature at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, or even stay overnight at the historic Hot Lake Springs Resort. You can’t see and sample it all on one trip, but that’s OK – you’re pretty likely to be back.
Spring through Fall, although the dry climate frequently extends the season in either direction.
Mt. Emily Rec Area Loop