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North America > United States of America > Pacific Northwest > Oregon > Eastern Oregon

Eastern Oregon

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Eastern Oregon is the eastern portion of Oregon which is arid and sparsely inhabited. Much of it is desert and semi-desert. It covers between a third and a half of the state's land area. There are several mountain ranges running through this area (i.e.: Blue Mountains) which rise up substantially from the surrounding plain and which are forested with stands of Ponderosa Pines and Larch.

Cities[edit]

Map of Eastern Oregon


  • 1 Baker City — a small city on the I-84 between Pendleton and Ontario with a number of nicely restored heritage buildings.
  • 2 Boardman
  • 3 Enterprise
  • 4 Fossil — the site of only public fossil field in the U.S.
  • 5 Hermiston
  • 6 Huntington
  • 7 John Day
  • 8 Joseph — a town on the Hell's Canyon Scenic Highway with many shops, galleries and little cafes.
  • 9 Kimberly
  • 10 La Grande — a small city on the I-84 between Pendleton and Baker City, one of the starting points of the Hell's Canyon Scenic Highway route.
  • 11 Lakeview
  • 12 Milton-Freewater
  • 13 Ontario — the last city in Oregon on the border with Idaho on the Snake River.
  • 14 Pendleton — on the I-84, noted for its woolen mills and yearly Pendleton Roundup.

Other destinations[edit]

  • Hells Canyon - the part of the Snake River on the border between Idaho and Oregon. Parts of the River in this area are still wild but much of it is a series of reservoirs created by power dams. One part of the Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon but getting to the overlook is generally only possible during the summer because some access roads are not maintained during winter.
  • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument - Within the John Day Valley are fossil beds. These sedimentary rock layers preserve a 40-million-year record of plant and animal life.
  • Nez Perce National Historical Park - Since time immemorial, the Nimiipuu or Nez Perce have lived among the rivers, canyons and prairies of the inland northwest. Despite the cataclysmic change of the past two centuries, the Nez Perce are still here.

Understand[edit]

Several of the counties here are classified as "Frontier" counties, for good reason. The "Old West" is not necessarily gone in many places of this region. "Cowboys and Indians" are not some play characters in movies or dime novels, but real folks making a living in this beautiful and uncrowded landscape. Much has been modernized-- you won't find gunslingers walking about town with pistols strapped to their hips and horses are kept at the ranch, not ridden to town-- but the attitudes of individualism and mutual respect continue.

Get in[edit]

Get around[edit]

This is a big area transversed by I-84 and numerous U.S. Highways. Most off-the-beaten-path attractions (which most are) must be accessed by the many scenic roads running through the high plains and mountains of the area. Private vehicle is practically the only way to travel in the area, but cycling could be enjoyable (and physically demanding) on many of the smaller highways.

U.S. Route 26 is located in the northern part of Eastern Oregon and runs from the coast to the Idaho border.

U.S. Route 20 travels east-west through the center and south part of the state, providing access to Burns and its attractions until it crosses into Idaho.

U.S. Route 395 makes its way roughly NNE through Oregon and passes from the OR-CA state line to Idaho, passing through Lakeview, Riley, and John Day on its way.

See[edit]

  • Oregon Trail - visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Centre located on a hill 6 miles (10 km) east of Baker City on the Hell's Canyon Scenic Highway. This is a National Historic Site and is well worth a visit.
  • Owyhee Uplands
  • Oregon Badlands Wilderness
  • Fort Rock and Christmas Valley
  • Frenchglen. The center of the Peter French ranch. Peter French was a huge cattle rancher in the late 1800s. Peter French ran his cattle on much of southern Oregon's range land and also created much of the meadow land around Frenchglen. Peter French also had the Roundbarn [dead link] built to break his huge string of horses. Dick Jenkins offers tours of both the Steens and of the Roundbarn.
  • Leslie Gulch
  • Succor Creek
  • The Honeycombs
  • Steens Mountain. 9773-ft peak. From the west side, the summit is reached starting at an elevation of about 3,500 feet and going up a gentle slope of over 20 miles. On the east face, however, the elevation drops off to about 5,000 in only 3 miles. The view to the valley floor of the Alvord Desert nearly 5000 feet below is quite incredible and awe inspiring. The Steens are a geological hotspot as well, offering up a cross section of the earths crust. Kiger Gorge gives onlookers the view of the earths different layers due to the carving out of the valley by massive glaciers that have long since disappeared.
  • Diamond Craters, near the small community of Diamond. The remnants of caved-in lava tubes. Throughout the county are old Indian camps where numerous artifacts may be found. Observe these, but don't take them with you (if caught you can receive prison time).
  • Vale Murals.
  • [dead link] Malheur County and Eastern Oregon Wildflowers.

Do[edit]

The three rivers that border Sherman County provide world class recreation. The Columbia River to the north provides world class wind surfing and kite sailing. The moderate wind speeds and large swells on the river can provide for some interesting viewing of these activities. On days when the wind is not blowing the wide river provides great water skiing and personal watercraft riding. Fishing is also popular on the Columbia. Depending on the time of year, the Columbia provides excellent walleye, sturgeon, steelhead, and salmon fishing.

To the west lies the wild Deschutes River. The Deschutes is famous for fly fishermen to test their luck at landing salmon, steelhead, and trout. It was once rumored that Tiger Woods even made the trip to test his luck. If fishing isn't exciting enough for you, then the white water rafting might be what you are after. The ever-changing rapids provide dangerous yet exciting fun. Even if you're car camping off the I-84, Deschutes State Park, east of The Dalles is a fine place to stay (especially in low season) and there are trails leading up the River for miles with opportunities for bird-watching.

The John Day River to the east provides steelhead fishing in the colder months and great bass fishing in the summer time. The lower John Day also allows for water skiing.

Eat[edit]

All of the many cities and small towns have at least some cafes and restaurants if you're not cooking for yourself.

Drink[edit]

Like other Oregonians, those in the vast East like their booze, but remember they may be a bit more conservative about it that those in the Willamette Valley (Portland, Eugene, etc.) and that you will have to go a bit further to get it. Most towns with more than 500 people have at least one bar, usually two; the smaller outposts, such as Paulina, may have one, but don't stake your last dollar on it.

Unless you are in a larger Eastern Oregon town, count on a more limited selection than what is usually available elsewhere in the state and more beer-only establishments.

Stay safe[edit]

Eastern Oregon is very sparsely inhabited, especially in the southeast counties. Always make sure your vehicle is in good working order and that you carry extra fuel and food. Help can sometimes be a long way away and cell-phone services is spotty.

The high-desert environment is one of extremes: autumn and winter can bring harsh snowfalls, while daytime summer temperatures can easily reach ninety degrees or more with considerable drops at night. Of course, altitude variances compound the issue: it could be 80F and sunny June day in Burns (4147' / 1264 m) yet snowing on Steens Mountain (9733' / 2967 m) - a major regional attraction - some seventy miles away. Always check the weather conditions of where you are and where you are going frequently, and carry layers of clothing so that you can adapt to any sudden changes.

Yes, there are rattlesnakes. No, they won't hurt you if you don't bother them. Same goes with the rest of the wildlife, to which the same usual rules apply: don't feed them, don't approach them...just leave them alone.

Be aware of hunting season if you plan on tromping around by foot and dress accordingly.

Go next[edit]


This region travel guide to Eastern Oregon is an outline and may need more content. It has a template, but there is not enough information present. If there are Cities and Other destinations listed, they may not all be at usable status or there may not be a valid regional structure and a "Get in" section describing all of the typical ways to get here. Please plunge forward and help it grow!