Twin Lakes Overlook & Elkhorn Peak
Difficulty: Moderate- Hard. Trail is long, but not difficult. Adjust your turnaround point based on your group
Length: 6 miles round trip (9 miles RT if you go all the way down to Twin Lakes)
Elevation Gain: Approx. 600 feet to Twin Lakes Overlook or 1000 feet to
Location: Marble Pass Trailhead (Baker City)
Notes: Rough access road- only suitable for high clearance vehicles. No services
We began our adventure at Marble Pass trailhead. This is the start of the 24 mile Elkhorn Crest Trail. The trail is very exposed and at high elevation, so make sure you come prepared for the weather. There is very little shade, no water and no shelter from any wind. The views are breathtaking along the trail, so even if you can't go very far it is a fun adventure! We opted to leave our dog at home for this hike due to the lack of water. This section of trail is not dangerous, but I wouldn't let kids or dogs wander off trail.
Views down to the Sumpter Valley below. Throughout the first mile or so you get alternating views down towards Sumpter and down towards Baker Valley. There was a slight haze from wildfires the day we went, but we were still able to spot Phillip's Lake, Sumpter, Baker City and our house at the base of the Elkhorns.
Views down to Baker Valley. Again a bit smoky, but still beautiful! If your group is only up to a 3 mile adventure, you still get plenty of amazing views along this trail.
Our first view of Twin Lakes! You get a nice view around mile 3 at which point you can turn around or continue another 1/2 mile or so to the turnoff and then switch back down a mile to the lakes. This is a popular stopping place for backpackers and would be a doable day hike for older kids.
At this point we began our off-trail scramble up to Elkhorn Peak. It was a very steep (but not technical scramble) to the summit and I wouldn't have been comfortable letting my younger kids do it. However, on the way down we realized if we had turned off sooner, we could have gone a much easier route that the whole family could have done. You will turn off before seeing Twin Lakes, but you can see them from the summit of Elkhorn Peak.
If you would like to scramble up to Elkhorn Peak, I would recommend turning off 2.6 miles past the trailhead and beginning a gradual ascent. If you are going off-trail, make certain you know where you are going, have a map & compass, are comfortable with the terrain and closely supervise children. It's not technical, but it is steep and reckless behavior could have very serious consequences.
I marked our off-trail ascent in blue (this was not fun...) and our very easy descent is circled in black. Due to the lack of trees, it was pretty easy to see where we were headed. I also had a map with GPS on my phone to double check as needed.
Elkhorn Peak Summit. I'm honestly not 100% certain we were at the true summit or possibly just south of it, but either way the views were amazing!
Panoramic view from the top. You can see down to the valleys on both sides of the Elkhorns, Goodrich Lake & Twin Lakes
Goodrich Lake & Baker Valley. This is one of the main reservoirs for Baker City, so public access is not allowed.
There isn't much vegetation up there, but we did still have some fall color in September.
With a gradual descent on the way down, it was a quick hike back to the car. Our total hiking time was 3 hours including a stop at the summit, a stop for lunch and very slow progress scrambling up to the peak. If you stay on trail and turnaround after you get a view of Twin Lakes, you could do this hike in 2.5 hours including a snack stop (assuming you are only hiking with bigger kids).
Getting There: From Baker City take Pocahontas west out of town until you reach Mill Creek Lane. Go straight on Mill Creek Lane for a short distance and then turn left onto Marble Creek road. The first 15 minutes or so of the drive are suitable for passenger vehicles (the road was recently graded). Once you reach the gravel pit, the road becomes very rough in sections and you will have about a 30 minute drive up to the Marble Pass trailhead. Ignore any turn-offs along the way and just stick to the main road. Do not attempt this drive without a high clearance vehicle. 4-wheel drive is recommended. Our 4WD truck made it up there without any issues. In total, plan on about an hour drive from Baker City. Ask around before heading up, to make sure snow has melted. Some years, the road may not be clear until mid-July.
You can also access the trailhead from the other side of the mountains, it is an equally rough and long road and a bit harder to tell which way to go.