The Elkhorn Crest Trail follows the granite spine of the Elkhorn Range, a range of the Blue Mountains found in Northeastern Oregon. The geology is notably different than the popular volcanic hikes found in the Pacific Northwest. Water sources and flat campsites are limited along on the trail, so it is a good idea to plan on visiting the many lakes along the way.
Half a mile from trailhead, keep left at a junction for Anthony Lake and stay left again at the fork for Black Lake. After gradually climbing through the forest for about a mile, the grade increases as the trail ascends toward Angell Pass. The greatest climb of the trek is in the these first 2 miles, and the trail gains about 1,400 feet. From here, descend about half mile to the Dutch Flat Saddle to find a four-way junction. Over the ridge to the left is Dutch Flat Lake, which can be reached in just a mile by following the steep trail down.
To continue on the Elkhorn Crest Trail, stay straight and follow the contours along an open slope for 1.9 miles to Nip and Tuck Pass. Here the trail passes through the granite ridge crest to the junction for Lost Lake and Meadow Lake. For a detour to the shallow lakes, go left and continue through the switchbacks down through the remains of a forest fire. Lost Lake can be found after descending 1.3 miles, and Meadow Lake, which is stagnant and less appealing, is reached after 2.5 miles.
If you choose to continue on the Elkhorn Crest Trail, keep straight at the junction for 3.4 miles around Mount Ruth to Cracker Saddle. The trail leaves the North Fork of the John Day Wilderness, and you may see motorized traffic. This junction can be a little confusing. The Peavey Trail heads down to the right, and an unknown trail continues slightly right for half a mile before it disappears. Another trail slightly to the left on the other side of a rock pile descends before it disappears right before a fence. Avoid all of these and turn left to follow what seems like a jeep road. After a couple hundred yards, keep right at the fork to the crossing of the actual jeep road. This rugged, steep road provided access to the mining town of Bourne before the town was abandoned. Find the Elkhorn Crest trail just on the other side of the road; it is marked with a sign pointing to Twin Lakes. Just beyond the sign the trail forks left for 1.5 miles to Summit Lake or right to continue to Twin Lakes and Marble Pass.
Summit Lake is just about the same size as Anthony Lake, but it is rarely visited aside from the families of white mountain goats that live in the cliffs on the far end of the lake. From its deep, clear water to the towering mountain peaks surrounding it, the serene beauty of Summit Lake is incredible. Enjoy a night or two here in one of the campsites around the lake before heading back to the Elkhorn Crest Trail. It is a 10-mile hike back to the trailhead, or you can continue on to Twin Lakes and Marble Pass.