This last week I had the opportunity to adventure for a full week with my long-time friend Shaylene Reynolds (check out her fine art and instagram, her art is jaw dropping) from Dallas, Texas. The trip was full of unexpected turns and subprime weather but we explored some beautiful new country in Northeast Oregon. For the full photo album click here.
Originally we planned to head straight North to the Northern Cascade National Forest, a spot regularly quoted as one of the best kept secrets of the West Coast. However, Mother Nature had other plans and after a day of heavy rain up in Mt. Hood National Park and a big storm system moving across Washington, we threw our plans out the window and headed East in search of drier weather.
Our attempts to flee the rain would ultimately prove futile, even with the use of radar and hours of daily driving, but the rain did prove fortuitous on two fronts.
First, after a dry, hot summer in Oregon, most of the major forests were on fire and the smoke in Bend had reached the level of burning eyes and soaring throats, making prisoners of even the most adventurous. With the rain quenching nearly all the fires in the Pacific Northwest people once again could venture outside their homes (or tents).
Second, while camping proved to be damp and chilly, we were pushed to explore the Northeast corner of Oregon, a region I may not have otherwise ever visited.
Eastern Oregon is know as high desert in the minds of most, but the Northeast corner was full of surprise to this otherwise dusty preconception. We found a landscape dotted with lush forest mingling with high meadows, bubbling hot springs and mountains of legitimate fortitude.
After a night in La Grande, Oregon (population 13,048) we headed south on I-84 down to Baker City (population 9,769), stopping to take photos on a section of the historic Oregon Trail near Haines. Here we found a landscape more French Alps than a dry desolate desert.
From Baker City we cut West on Oregon State Road 7 and 26, winding our way through Prairie City (population 909) and settling in Malheur National Forest, just South of John Day (population 1,713). Here we spent a damp and windy two nights camping off Canyon Creek Road, up a Forest Service road and spent an afternoon hiking in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.
We ended the trip with a relaxing three hours drive meandering down OSR26 passing by John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills (which we failed to stop for! I will have to go back another day) and Ochoco National Forest before reaching Sisters, Oregon to end our trip.
Northeast Oregon Travel Recommendations
La Grande, Oregon - Population 13,048
Not the most exciting town itself but a great launching pad into the surrounding mountains. It does have a Starbucks with good wifi if you need to grab some coffee and do a little work.
Grande Hot Springs RV Resort
Just 10 minutes from La Grande, the Grande Hot Springs RV Resort is actually quite cool with sweeping views, hot springs and the best showers in the region. If you are just passing through or camping elsewhere, you can get showers for $5 per person.
Joseph, Oregon - Population 1,054
We didn't make it up this way but people keep saying it's a hip little town with parallels to Sisters, OR. If you are in the area should be worth the one hour drive up from La Grande.
Haines & Baker City, Oregon - Population 410/9,769
The I-84 corridor from La Grande to Baker City is gorgeous. Take OSR30 from North Powder to Baker City if you have an extra few minutes, gets you closer to the mountains and is just a short detour in the same direction.
John Day, Oregon - Population 1,713
Probably the least exciting town we went to but the surrounding Malheur National Forest is incredible. Lots of sweeping high-meadows. Good camping down Canyon Creek Road about 15-20 minutes South on OSR395. A decent little coffee shop in town called Corner Cup had good wifi, coffee and tea.