In the far northeast corner of Oregon, just a stone’s throw from Idaho, the small town of Joseph sits at the base of the snowcapped Wallowa Mountains like a tiny oasis of culture and cool. Ringed by vast acres of working livestock ranches and serving as a pit stop on the way to the untamed Eagle Cap wilderness, it offers an irresistible blend of Mayberry-like charm with echoes of the rough-and-tumble Old West. There’s not even one stoplight in town, but there’s a craft distillery, a hip hotel, artisan chocolates, and a dedication to the arts not usually seen in cities 10 times the size, let alone a hamlet of 1,000 people.
But this unexpected blend of rugged and refined is what makes Joseph the ideal spot for couples wanting to infuse their nuptials with their love of the outdoors—and a wild corner of the Pacific Northwest. Whether it’s a big destination wedding or a small elopement, a bachelorette party or honeymoon, this quaint town’s combo of rustic beauty and cultured amenities checks all the boxes.
“It’s such a beautiful place,” says Beth Gibans, proprietor of Backyard Gardens catering in Joseph. “Couples are attracted to the beauty and want to share it with people, and having an outdoor wedding here is a great way to do that.”
Gibans herself is a prime example of Joseph’s country-life/city-tastes kind of spirit. The former Portlander is a vegetable farmer by day and full-service caterer by night, in demand around the region for her exquisitely seasonal plates featuring ingredients from her own farm and family-owned ranches nearby.
She can even serve as a de facto one-stop shop, able to arrange bouquets and boutonnieres from flowers in her garden, provide bar service, and even make the cake. Her husband, Leon Werdinger, is a professional photographer. “We’ve tag-teamed on a few weddings,” she says.
In her 16 years of catering, she says she’s noticed almost all local weddings forgo the overly formal and instead embrace rustic charm. “We have working ranches and the rodeo, and people are drawn to that. You’ve got brides with their cowgirl boots on under their dresses.”
And the ruggedly breathtaking, Alps-like scenery usually plays a big role in setting the scene. “So much of the draw here is the outdoors. It’s a beautiful place.”
Her favorite venue is also one of the most popular: the Wallowa River Camp vacation rental—five acres of prime location, right on the river and a short walk to town with incredible mountain views and enough room to sleep 28 people. “I’ve done more weddings there than any other location. Even I got married there.”
It helps that the owner, Cindy Brink, is a wedding planner. “I love helping couples any way I can,” says Brink, who’s a veritable encyclopedia of resources. For cakes, she recommends Sugartime Bakery, owned by Eva Herold, in nearby Enterprise. “Eva does a beautiful job and it’s her passion. She can do whatever you want. The sky’s the limit as far as designs.”
For flowers, she says Enterprise Flower Shop is known for its tight, elegant bouquets, while Wendy Stewart at Bee Charmed gift shop next door is known for her looser arrangements. Eastern Oregon Rentals in La Grande has all the tables, chairs, and tents you could possibly need. But if you’re looking for a DJ, you might have to bring your own.
“We don’t have any local DJs,” says Brink. “Sometimes a couple will bring a DJ from their town and will compensate for the lodging. Or a lot of times they make their own playlist.”
In addition to her own venue, Brink has helped plan weddings all over the area, from old historic barns and quaint lodges to a big event space called the Thunder Room on the rodeo grounds. “It’s a Quonset hut, but we decorated it super fancy.”
Since most ceremonies take place outside against the stunning backdrop of mountains, canyons, lakes, and fields, both she and Gibans warn that Joseph’s alpine climate can be unpredictable, even in the summer.
“Most weddings here happen from June to September, and in any of those months you can have gorgeous days that are really warm and pleasant and some that really aren’t,” says Gibans. “If it’s an indoor/outdoor wedding, you want to make sure you can accommodate everyone indoors if you have to.”
Brink says she recommends renting propane heaters for those early June weddings, and when renting tents, be sure they have the option of dropped walls. “We can get summer storms, and if the wind and rains start, you have that protection.”
Another important consideration: lodging. There aren’t any big hotels, so guests are often spread out in smaller inns, B&Bs, and vacation rentals. And keep in mind the town’s population swells considerably each summer.
That’s because no matter what your age or ability, there’s always something fun to do. “You can rent SUPs and kayaks and pedal boats at the marina on Wallowa Lake,” says Gibans. “There’s also the Rail Riders, where you can tandem bike on the railroad tracks, which is a pretty neat experience for kids. And there are so many trails to hike, you can go for an hour or go all day.”
Less action-packed activities include art walks, exhibits, and classes, a museum brimming with Native American and pioneer history, rides on the impressively steep Wallowa Tramway, and of course shopping and eating. “Terminal Gravity Brewing on a summer evening is a great place to gather,” says Gibans. The town is also a great jumping-off point for day trips through some of Oregon’s most beautiful areas and scenic overlooks, including historic Imnaha and the Zumwalt Prairie Preserve.
“Even though it gets busy in the summer, there’s still that feeling of being off the grid,” says Brink. “Being surrounded by the mountains and trees and water provides an enveloping feeling of intimacy.” Basically making it the perfect locale for connecting with the one(s) you love. “It’s perfect for reconnecting with friends and family.”