If Winter is Around the Corner…Don’t Go Swimming in Wallowa Lake

One of my very favorite places to visit is Wallowa Lake. Whether it is summertime, when the place is buzzing with activity, the spring, when the snow is still on the ground, the dead of winter, when the entire lake sometimes freezes over, or in the fall, when the crowds have gone and peace and quiet once again descends on the area.

For those of you who have never been to Wallowa Lake I urge you to go. It is such a unique place and every season is so different from the next, that no matter when you go it will be a unique experience.
For those of you who have only visited in the summer, I highly suggest going in late fall or early winter. The lake, always a beautiful sight to see, is amazing when the nearby mountains are covered in snow.

Any time of year there is plenty to do while visiting Wallowa Lake. The nearby shops are always enjoyable to visit, and the restaurants offer a variety of delicious dining opportunities. Mini golf, para sailing, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and hiking are some of the most popular activities to explore while at Wallowa Lake.

The Wallowa Lake Tramway, which first began in 1970, will take visitors 3700′ to the top of Mount Howard.

The Wallowa Lake Lodge is an excellent place to turn in for the night after an active day around the lake. Built in the early 1920’s Wallowa Lake Lodge offers 22 rooms and also has eight cabins on the property.


Last fall, Mark, Hannah and I decided to take the boat to Wallowa Lake. Hannah wanted to swim one last time before winter, and I thought it would be great for Mark to drop us off at one of the many floating docks that are on the lake.

Now I’m not sure if these docks are for public use or not. I always thought they were, but when I came home and told my son about our adventure, he assured me these docks were privately owned. So if that is the case then I assure whoever owns this dock we lounged on, we did not in any way cause any damage, and we really appreciate you letting us borrow it for that hour.

Now it would seem that Hannah and I would have a great time swimming, and visiting, and just hanging out together on this day, but we didn’t! Furthermore, that lake is so dang cold I don’t know how I didn’t come out of it without frostbite for as long as I was trapped in that lake! Yes, trapped! I was trapped in Wallowa Lake, while Hannah stood on the dang borrowed dock laughing her head off at her mother, who was freezing her fanny off!

It all started off so great. Mark dropped us off at the dock and sailed away, he most likely was looking forward to some peaceful fishing.

Hannah and I started talking about getting in the lake. We knew it was cold, which meant the only way to go swimming was to jump right in. There was no getting used to it little by little, because we were in who knows how many feet of water, we could not see the bottom at all. The dock sat about two feet above the water, which let us dip our feet in, but that was about it. We knew it was all or nothing.

Hannah began explaining to me that the way she gets used to water is she jumps in and makes sure her head goes under, because once her head goes under she is instantly used to it…..uh huh!

I decided to go first. Now if it was twenty years ago, you bet I would have dove in, head first, but I’m not that skinny little, in shape, young lady I once was, so I scooted to the edge of the dock and began lowering myself in, then took the plunge.

Oh….my….gosh!!! I have never felt anything so cold in all my life. It sucked my breath away in an instant, to the point I could barely talk. All the while Hannah is screaming at me “Put your head under. Put your head under.” I wanted to smack her. I tried putting my head under, but the life jacket I had decided to put on at the last second before entering the water, prevented me from doing so. By this time Hannah is dry, warm, and dying laughing. I reach for the dock, because I have decided that this isn’t any fun, I don’t want to swim anymore and I’m getting out. Only…..I can’t get out. The dock is to tall and there are no foot holds to help a person, who is in the beginning stages of hypothermia, climb back up onto the dock. As a suggestion to the people who own these docks, who are probably young, skinny and in shape, maybe you should put a ladder on the dock just in case some chubby ol’ lady decides to go swimming from your dock in September and can’t get back on the dock….Just a thought.

“I can’t get out Hannah, call your dad,” I tell Hannah.

“I don’t have cell phone service,” she says, still chuckling.

“No, just yell, ‘Hey Dad’!”

So she yells, he asks if he needs to hurry. I tell her to tell him no, he doesn’t need to hurry. Well he took that as he could just finish fishing.

By this point I’m just not a happy camper, oh and Hannah decided to jump into the lake too. So now she too is stuck in the lake and cold, but still can’t stop laughing at her mother who I’m sure was turning blue by this time.
Finally Mark arrives at the dock and saves the day.

The bruises I got from being dragged up onto the dock lasted for more than a month. I told my story for two weeks. Hannah laughed every time she thought of her mother stuck in Wallowa Lake for at least three days, and the Pendleton Whiskey I drank after my ordeal, was gone in minutes.

So if you go to Wallowa Lake remember, the water is cold, the docks might not be for public use and the memories you make will last a lifetime.

146 thoughts on “If Winter is Around the Corner…Don’t Go Swimming in Wallowa Lake”

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