A Traveler’s Guide to Eastern Oregon

Are you thinking about Oregon for your next contract? The Eastern Oregon Region is the perfect place for you! Visit a side of Oregon that offers more than you ever imagined. There are more roads to travel, more trails to trek, more rivers and lakes to kayak, canoe, or float. Enjoy the welcome of small towns and unexpected roadside attractions. Make friends in places you’ve never heard of before. Revel in the solitude and majesty of a landscape that is as overpowering as it is inviting. Where crashing rapids, chirping birds, howling coyotes, and desert winds are somehow peaceful.

There are four smaller regions within Eastern Oregon. There is Southeast Oregon, Northeast Oregon, the John Day River Territory, and Oregon’s Rugged Country. Each region has something unique to bring to each visitor! The Southeast Oregon region offers the amazing spectacle of mass avian migrations at the Malheur Refuge to the roiling waters of the Owyhee River canyon to Steens Mountain and its deep glacier-carved gorges, the region is a playground for adventurers and explorers. Grab hiking boots, binoculars and a camera. Bird watchers, hunters, anglers, explorers and hikers will all feel at home in this vast solitude of landscape that has changed little over the last millennia. Oregon’s Northeast corner has many faces. Most think of the extreme landscape—tall mountains, deep canyons, fast rivers and broad, flat valleys. In between, visit mixed forests, lush farmlands and rocky hills covered with sage and bunchgrass. Lively, art-centric towns draw culture-seeking tourists as well as those looking for fun at a slower pace, with a view. Native American heritage is an important part of this landscape. Winter, summer and months in between, outdoor recreation is everywhere you turn. Farm trails and plenty of homegrown foods and flavors abound. In the John Day River Territory, you will discover some of the richest fossil beds in the world, several state parks and two scenic bikeways in this riverine region. Gaze upon hills hued in nature’s most brilliant colors, made from layers of ash and clay laid down over millions of years. Named after one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the country, the John Day River Territory is home to spectacular geography and friendly people. Oregon’s Rugged Country celebrates agriculture, outdoor adventure and a rich history. Follow a food trail to see fertile farms that produce everything from wheat to watermelons. The Rocks District AVA grows some of the best grapes in the Northwest, and hops for craft brews and grains for spirits also spring from this soil. In Pendleton, a rich Native American heritage meets cowboy and ranching culture, and wool and whiskey have grown to commended brands. Did we mention a nationally acclaimed rodeo? Umatilla National Forest is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Miles of rolling hills call for cyclists and riverfront adventure along the Columbia River.


Eastern Oregon is booming with culture and diversity. Eastern Oregon is bounded north-south by the Wallowa Mountains and the Alvord Desert, and east-west by the Snake River Valley and the Ochoco National Forest. The region’s ten counties are home to a range of peoples, including the Nez Perce, Burns Paiute, Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla Indians; Hispanic communities from Milton-Freewater to Nyssa; descendants of Chinese and Japanese settlers from John Day to Ontario; and Europeans from the Scotch in Althena to the Basques in Jordan Valley. At the Oregon-Idaho state line, the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario celebrates the confluence of these diverse worlds. Eastern Oregon also celebrates the Latino and Mexican culture of the area and at many points during the year, cultural celebrations flourish on the streets of eastern Oregon communities.


Eastern Oregon is the least visited area of the state, yet it rivals the coast or the Cascade regions with its own beauty. Crackled deserts, soothing hot springs, towering snow capped mountains, deep blue lakes, and wildlife galore can all be seen in this part of the state. Eastern Oregon is also home to the Blue Mountain Range. This northeastern Oregon mountain chain is part of the Columbia Plateau, which extends into southeastern Washington. Lava flows cover much of the surface, and the upper, wooded slopes have been used for lum­bering. Today, recreation and livestock grazing are the principal economic uses. The highest elevation is Rock Creek Butte, located on the Elkhorn Ridge a few miles west of Baker City. In southeastern Oregon, there is Steens Mountain. This is a massive, 30-mile-long mountain in the Alvord Valley, featuring valleys and U-shaped gorges that were cut by glaciers one million years ago. Located in Harney County in southeastern Oregon, it is 9,773′ in elevation.


Compared to the climate of Western Oregon, the climate of Eastern Oregon is a drier continental climate, with much greater seasonal variations in temperature. Unlike the Willamette Valley, Eastern Oregon receives a significant amount of snow in the winter. The summers are short, hot, dry, and mostly clear and the winters are very cold, snowy, windy, and partly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 28°F to 90°F and is rarely below 15°F or above 99°F.


Steens Mountain and Alvord Desert– In the southeastern corner of the state, Harney County’s hiking trails, secluded hot springs and camping await at the magnificent Steens Mountain. Bring a picnic and spend a morning driving the Steens Loop Tour Route to make sure you don’t miss a thing, including the Kiger Gorge.

Owyhee Canyonlands– Cut by just three paved roads, the Owyhee Canyonlands are considered one of the largest expanses of undeveloped land in the lower 48 states. The Owyhee River shaped this terrain into stunning canyons amidst colorful remnant volcanic features, rock formations and rolling sagebrush hills. Or hit the open road and tour the high desert of Malheur County — Oregon’s largest and most remote county — by motorcycle or car. To see another side of the canyon, come back for a guided rafting trip down the Lower Owyhee Canyonlands when conditions are right in the spring.

Oregon Trail Wagon Ruts– Walk the 4.2 miles of developed trails at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker County to dive deep into Oregon’s pioneer history. The 500-acre site includes hands-on exhibits telling the story of Oregon Trail pioneers, explorers, miners and settlers of the frontier west. See remnants of a historic Flagstaff gold mine, actual ruts carved by pioneer wagons, and imagine what it would be like to travel along the majestic but perilous historic trail route. Afterwards, embark on a pedal-powered journey on the world-class mountain bike trails near Baker City.

Hardman Ghost Town– A few dozen wooden structures still stand in the Morrow County ghost town of Hardman — a former stopping point for stagecoaches that was formed when two 1870s-era towns called Raw Dog and Yellow Dog merged. Surrounded by rolling fields, the town includes an old lodge listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and most of the structures have been restored to their original clapboard. See more ghost towns in the Eastern Oregon towns of Sumpter and Galena, as well as throughout the state. These time capsules of Oregon’s past hold secrets of the speculators, gold miners, traders and Oregon Trail pioneers who once called them home.

Wallowa Mountains– There aren’t enough words to describe the wild beauty of the Wallowa Mountains. Surrounded by the remote Eagle Cap Wilderness and its pristine alpine lakes, the Wallowas are known as “Little Switzerland.” This corner of the state is the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce tribe, who called the Wallowa Valley the “beautiful valley of winding waters.” Outdoor adventurers can soar on the Wallowa Lake Tramway or hike to the top of the 8,255-foot-tall Mt. Howard, then pedal through pristine countryside on the Joseph Branch Railriders. Art lovers will discover Joseph’s bronze statues, cute shops, museums and artisan chocolatiers. History buffs will photograph 31 beautiful barns on the self-guided Wallowa Barn Tour or stop into the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in downtown Joseph to learn the little-known history of the region’s Black loggers in the early 1900s. The Wallowas offer both family-friendly trips and challenging treks in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, like the 10-mile out-and-back Hurricane Creek Trail with waterfalls, wildflower meadows and creek crossings.

Anthony Lakes– If you’re looking for the soothing power of water, the Anthony Lakes area — halfway between La Grande and Baker City in Union County — includes 15 lakes and marshes in the Blue Mountains. At over 7,100 feet above sea level, it keeps cool in the summertime heat. The gathering place is Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, which has the highest base elevation of any ski area in Oregon and is beloved for its family-friendly skiing in winter. In the summer, the Anthony Lakes area is a top spot for camping, hiking, fishing and mountain biking with views of the Elkhorn Mountains. Cyclists will love the 8 miles of spectacularly scenic singletrack trails with steep climbs and rocky descents. The new 2.5-mile Broadway Flow trail is more beginner-friendly, with flowing downhill and banked turns. Hike along portions of the gorgeous Anthony Lake Shoreline Trail, less than a mile, and make sure to bring a picnic.

Is Eastern Oregon calling your name? Pamela’s List can get you a top-paying contract and have you out there in no time. Before you know it you could be exploring this beautiful state and getting paid top dollar. Why wait?

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