When you need to get away from it all, Eastern Oregon is where you need to go. Taking up the entire eastern half of the state, Eastern Oregon is huge and sparsely populated, a place to slow down, stretch out and take a deep breath, to let your mind expand to match the vast, wide-open landscape.
Eastern Oregon’s remote, Wild West feeling, pioneering heritage, rugged natural beauty, rural towns full of authentic Americana and down-to-earth people provide the perfect antidote to the stresses and closeness of urban living. A high desert region of sagebrush plains interspersed with small mountain ranges, large lakes and unspoiled rivers, the region is a popular outdoor recreation destination. But because it’s farther from Portland and the cities of the Willamette Valley, it’s much, much less crowded than the other tourist destinations in Oregon.
The Painted Hills are one of the most fascinating geographical aspects of Eastern Oregon. Layered with reds, coppers, ochres and emeralds, the mountains reveal millions of years of history. Other natural wonders here include The Wallowa Mountains, Hells Canyon, Alvord Desert, John Day River Territory, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Strawberry Mountains and Umatilla National Forest, among many others.
Eastern Oregon is considered cowboy country and is home to numerous cattle, sheep and bison ranches, along with vineyards, farms and orchards. Farm loops, farm stands and you-pick farms are in abundance here.
The Towns and Counties of Eastern Oregon
It’s not all rugged ruralness and agricultural land here, though. In the towns of Eastern Oregon you’ll find shops, cultural offerings, outfitters, restaurants and accommodations to suit all your travel needs. Chefs take advantage of the local bounty and serve regionally sourced fare, and there are plenty of breweries, this being Oregon after all. This site offers the information you need to enjoy this area to its fullest.
The largest towns in Eastern Oregon are Hermiston and Pendleton, both at about 17,000 people, though Hermiston is slightly larger. Pendleton prides itself on its Western heritage and is home to the world-famous Pendleton Roundup rodeo. La Grande, Ontario, Burns, Fossil, Joseph, Mitchell and Baker City are a few of the other towns. But people tend to think of Eastern Oregon in terms of counties and regions: Umatilla and Morrow counties in Oregon’s Rugged Country; Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam and Sherman counties in the John Day River Territory; Baker, Union and Wallowa counties in the Northeast; and Harney and Malheur counties in the Southeast.
What To Do in Eastern Oregon
Open roads with very little traffic beckon motorcyclists, bicyclists and roadtrippers to Eastern Oregon. Four Scenic Bikeways and four Scenic Byways offer hundreds upon hundreds of miles for paved-road wandering. The annual Pendleton Bike Week is the largest bike rally in the Pacific Northwest.
Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, off-roading, whitewater rafting, boating, birding, skiing and even kitesurfing (in the John Day River) are other popular activities in Eastern Oregon. Visiting working ranches for a taste of cowboy/cowgirl life is also an option here. Exploring pioneering heritage is a popular activity, especially as the Oregon Trail marks 175 years in 2018. Visitors can explore Native American history through museums, powwows and festivals and attend all sorts of annual events and fests celebrating the wonders of this region.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do people make a living in Eastern Oregon?
The major industries here are timber, agriculture, mining, transportation/warehousing and tourism.
What is the climate like in Eastern Oregon?
Eastern Oregon is dry and warm. Some parts of Eastern Oregon receive fewer than 10 inches of rain per year, which classifies those areas as desert. The area gets a significant amount of snow in winter on the mountaintops.
What is the Oregon Trail?
The Oregon Trail was a 2,000-mile wagon route from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. It was used by thousands of American pioneers in the mid-1800s to emigrate west. Though an arduous journey, the trail, along with the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, hastened the settlement of the American West. The trail is still visible in Eastern Oregon. One is the Blue Mountain Crossing west of La Grande, where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the pioneers. Another spot is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City. At this museum you can learn all about the trail and see actual wagon ruts made by the pioneers.
How far is it from Portland to Eastern Oregon?
To reach Pendleton from Portland by car, it takes about three hours. To reach Hermiston also takes about three hours. To reach Baker City it would take more than four and a half hours.