The Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip

The Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip

The car came to a slow halt as we sat in disbelief. We had already spent the first day carefully driving our poorly equipped sedan on primitive, rocky roads, but now we faced the hardest obstacle so far. A giant pool of water covered the road from end to end. Backtracking would cost us many extra hours of driving, and going forward potentially meant we’d have to be rescued. There was no one else in sight! After getting a closer look, we found an edge of the pool that was shallower, and we slowly maneuvered the car forward. Little known to us, we would be coming up on some of our favorite photo spots from the trip!

Eastern Oregon blew us away. It felt like the Iceland of America combined with the wild west. After our epic road trip down the Oregon Coast, we were itching to explore another area of Oregon. Since we weren’t familiar with Eastern Oregon, we had a similar plan on tackling it in a week.

The Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip - All the Best Places to Visit in Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.com

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Let me start off by saying, we DO NOT recommend trying to explore all of Eastern Oregon in one week. Eastern Oregon is truly a beautiful and rugged place, and we found so many hidden gems, but we regret spending so much time in the car getting from place to place. Don’t forget to read all the tips at the bottom. This part of Oregon is not the easiest part to navigate through, but luckily, you can learn from our mistakes!

MAIN REGIONS OF EASTERN OREGON

Eastern Oregon can be broken up into four main regions. You should spend at least a week in the larger regions, whereas you can get away with spending a few days in other areas.

  • John Day River Territory is home to the Painted Hills. Find beautiful landscapes, ancient fossils, and friendly towns.
  • Southeast Oregon is made up of the high desert country, rolling hills, and surreal landscapes. There are moments that feel like you’ve left the planet.
  • Northeast Oregon covers Hells Canyon and the Wallowas. Huge mountains and deep canyons make this a spectacular place to explore.
  • Oregon’s Rugged Country takes you through the Blue Mountains and back to the Columbia River.

Eastern Oregon Regions // localadventurer.com

JOHN DAY RIVER TERRITORY

This region is anchored by the John Day River but is best known for the Painted Hills, a popular photography spot. As one of the nation’s longest free-flowing river systems, you’ll find amazing scenery and recreational experiences, like whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, fossil hunting, stargazing, horseback riding, and more.

We only spent 1 day in this region. We saw all three units of John Day Fossils Bed National Monument. It was doable but 6-7 hours that day starting in Portland. We also didn’t get to enjoy any of the longer hikes at the Clarno and Sheep Rock units and simply stopped to snap a few photos.

Recommended Length of Stay: 2-3 Days

Painted Cove Trail, Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.comPainted Hills Overlook Trail, Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.com

Things to Eat, See, and Do:

Where to Stay: Victorian Lane B&B – a cute bed & breakfast with amazing hosts and beautiful views.

SOUTHEAST OREGON

Southeast Oregon doesn’t look or feel like the Oregon we’re used to at all. We found ourselves in awe of the unique landscapes found in this region. It’s also home to a ton of ranches, and driving around feels like you’re in the wild west with landscapes similar to Norway and Iceland.

We spent two days in Southeast Oregon, and it was definitely our favorite area on this trip. As you can see on the above map, it’s a massive area to cover. We spent one day driving over 10 hours just to see as much as possible.

Recommended Length of Stay: 7-9 Days

Alvord Desert + Our Favorite Eastern Oregon Destinations // localadventurer.comSuccor Creek State Natural Area + All the Best Things to Do in Eastern Oregon + Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.com

Things to Eat, See, and Do:

Where to Stay: Historic Hotel Diamond – they serve a community dinner each night that is delicious! Hotels in Ontario – there are a ton of options and it gives you a great home base if you want to be in a larger city with amenities.

NORTHEAST OREGON

The landscape changes once again heading into Northeast Oregon. You see the Wallowa mountain range, deep canyons, and rivers. You can drive the five officially designated scenic routes in this area, including the Hells Canyon All-American Road. Did you know that Hells Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America? It has a max depth of 7,993 ft (2,436 m) vs the Grand Canyon at 6093 ft.

We spent 3 days here and barely scratched the surface. The Wallowas are beautiful, but we underestimated how wild it is! There wasn’t much information online, and because we didn’t bring any guidebooks, we were unprepared to navigate unmarked trails in the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. Lesson learned! Bring a map and guidebook.

Recommended Length of Stay: 7-9 Days

Wallowa Lake + All the Best Places to Visit in Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.comHells Canyon + Best Eastern Oregon Destinations // localadventurer.com

Things to Eat, See, and Do:

  • National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
  • Hells Canyon Dam + Hells Canyon Creek Visitor Center (on the border of Oregon and Idaho) – a great look from the river level. There are some great pullouts on the way here too for photos.
  • Hells Canyon Overlook – short turn out that lets you see the canyon from the top. The wildflowers are pretty, but you can’t see the canyon well because of the depth.
  • Eagle Cap Wilderness (the Wallowas) – full guide coming soon! There are a ton of hikes out here. It’s more a backpacker’s paradise since there aren’t as many amazing day hikes. Falls Creek Falls is a short one we did.
  • Wallowa Lake (the Wallowas) – more crowded area with a lot of family activities. It looks amazing when the water is still. You get a perfect reflection of the mountains.
  • Terminal Gravity (Enterprise)
  • Arrowhead Chocolates (Joseph)
  • Stein Distillery (Joseph)
  • Embers Brewhouse (Joseph)

Where to Stay: Cornucopia Lodge has beautiful tucked away cabins in the woods. We saw so much wildlife here. It’s a great home base on the southern side of the Wallowas. Belle Pepper’s B&B is just a block away from downtown Joseph. This is a great spot to use as home base to explore the north side of the Wallowas.

OREGON’S RUGGED COUNTRY

Bordered by the beautiful Blue Mountains and Columbia River, this area is home to farmers, ranchers, and cowboys. There are some great cities to visit along the way or you can enjoy the scenery as you pass through features that the pioneers of the Oregon Trail first saw.

We didn’t spend much time in this area since we were so exhausted from driving, but we had previously made trips out.

Recommended Length of Stay: 3-4 Days

Things to See:

MAP TO HELP YOU GET AROUND:

LOCAL TIPS:

  • Before your trip, visit TripCheck to see weather conditions and make sure roads are open.
  • Do yourself a favor and get a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We made it in our Nissan Altima, but there were some really hairy situations and we had to drive uber slow. A 4 wheel drive will make the trip more comfortable, quicker, and less stressful.
  • Fill up your tank any chance you get. Gas stations can be far and few between, and if you’re driving during late hours, most of them will be closed.
  • If you’re using Google Maps, pull up directions when you have a connection and don’t close the app. That way, you can still have it pinpoint where you are even when you lose connection.
  • Don’t trust your GPS. Google Maps took us down a few wrong paths. It was still helpful to have but use some common sense and verify with another map. If you think the road doesn’t look right, ask around (if you can find someone.. the area was really empty) or turn back.
  • For the Wallowas, bring a map, compass, and most hikers we met had this book.
  • Between the Wallowas and Portland, the Wallowa river wayside doesn’t have much of a view but is a great spot to have lunch on their picnic tables or get a quick bathroom break in.

WHAT TO PACK

  • Road Map: You won’t always have cell coverage. Our Rand McNally came in really handy.
  • Bring bug spray. The mosquitoes ate us alive especially near Diamond Craters and Diamond. I think at one point, I had 100 on my leg that I kept swatting away but wouldn’t move. They are hungry and do not mess around.
  • Hiking Shoes are always handy in such diverse terrain.
  • Bathing Suit if you’re going to soak in the hot springs.

MORE RESOURCES

CHECK OUT OUR VIDEO

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All the Best Things to Do in Eastern Oregon + Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.comThe Ultimate Guide to Eastern Oregon + All the Best Stops // localadventurer.comThe Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip - Best Stops, Places to Eat, Accommodations, and more // localadve

The Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip - Best Stops, Places to Eat, Accommodations, and more // localadveThe Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip - All the Best Places to Visit in Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.comThe Ultimate Guide to Eastern Oregon + All the Best Stops // localadventurer.com
Pillars of Rome + All the Best Things to Do in Eastern Oregon + Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.comThe Ultimate Eastern Oregon Road Trip - All the Best Places to Visit in Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.com
Alvord Desert + Our Favorite Eastern Oregon Destinations // localadventurer.comSteens Mountain, Eastern Oregon (photo: BLM) // localadventurer.comSuccor Creek State Natural Area + All the Best Things to Do in Eastern Oregon + Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.com
Falls Creek Falls, the Wallowas + All the Best Things to Do in Eastern Oregon + Tips for Your Visit // localadventurer.comHells Canyon + Best Eastern Oregon Destinations // localadventurer.comWallowa Lake + All the Best Places to Visit in Eastern Oregon // localadventurer.com

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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust

“Meet

ESTHER + JACOB

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 50 travel blogs in the world. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They move to a new city every year and currently live in Portland, Oregon.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Jordan Valley Oregon is also worth a call our. The area still has basque sheep herding families and a pelota fronton.

    In mid May they have the big loop rodeo. This is a much more old west rodeo than you will find anywhere else. Big loop roping is astonishing to see (the idea is to make a loop big enough to rope the entire horse and bring it to a stop.

    1. We’ll have to check it out next time we’re there!

  2. I lived in BakerCity back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I loved it.

  3. What time of year did you go on Eastern Oregon Road Trip

  4. Great post! Can’t wait to visit some of these places!

  5. Thanks for the awesome wanderlust inspo! I’d love to road trip across the US – maybe one day!

    I hope you have a great Wednesday!
    Michael

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michael! We loved road tripping around Oregon, but there is so much to see all over the US. :) If you need more tips, we’ve done cross country road trips a handful of times, so let us know!

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