The regional distinction covers half of the entire state, extending from about midline to the east where it borders Idaho, from its northern border with Washington to the south where it meets Nevada. Approximately half the land is covered by National Forests and State Parks, so overall population density is low in Eastern Oregon.
Historical Columbia River Highway
The nearest airports to get to fly into and explore the area are in Portland, OR, or Boise, Idaho. The route from Portland heads east along the Gorge, one of Oregon’s 7 Wonders. Take I-84 to get to your destination in the shortest time, but the more scenic way is the Historical Columbia River Highway.
The route, America’s first designated scenic highway, twists and turns for 115 km from Troutdale to The Dalles. Stop at one or all of the scenic viewpoints and admire the natural beauty of the mighty Columbia River. Five waterfalls can be easily accessed within just a 13 km stretch of the route, allowing the opportunity to get out for a little hike and feel the mist from the cascading water.
To explore the area further, plan an overnight stay in Hood River. Known for consistent windy conditions, walk along the waterfront park and marvel as the kite surfers and windsurfers swoop back and forth across the river. A couple of the town’s many craft breweries, Pfriem and Ferment Brewing, offer great views of the river, serving not just great beer but good food incorporating local products.
In season, drive country roads on the 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop to visit farm stands for local produce and stop to admire the snowy peak of Mount Hood, home of North America’s only year-round ski destination, Timberline resort.
Plan a Stop in Pendleton, Eastern Oregon
East of The Dalles, I-84 continues to travel along the gorge, but the landscape consists of much more flat and barren farmland until it descends into the coulees of the Blue Mountain range and the city of Pendleton.
Home to the annual (2022 was the 112th) September Pendleton Round-Up, when the population of the town swells from 18,000 to 70,000 for a week of western heritage celebration. The “Real West” motto permeates the town year-round, with bronze statues, and makers selling hats and boots lining the historic downtown center streets.
Chow down on local beef at one of the town’s iconic steak houses, Hamley’s Saloon, or Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s, both in operation for over 50 years and full of history. Don’t miss stopping in at Rainbow Cafe, a tavern open since 1883, you can still get a full meal under $20, and where your whiskey will be served as a “Linda pour”!
Pendleton Woolen Mill
Also located in Pendleton is the Pendleton Woolen Mill. In addition to cattle for the beef, sheep also graze the surrounding farmland, supplying wool for the famous Pendleton blankets. The mill is not just a manufacturing factory, but a tribute to the preservation of history.
Founded in 1863, the company has been run by the same family for six generations, producing not just blankets, but other quality fabrics and furniture. Dying materials follows a sophisticated, computer-controlled process to ensure consistent colors without imperfections.
The company is vertically integrated to control quality at every step of production, giving it the reputation of being one of the top mills in the world, with price tags for blankets reaching up to $500. As well, Pendleton Woolen Mill offers tours plus onsite shopping.
Enjoy the Mountain Ranges of Eastern Oregon
East of Pendleton, the landscape changes again as the road gains elevation into the mountains including the Blue, Elkhorn, and Wallowa ranges. The associated parks, including the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests are where nature enthusiasts come to hunt, fish, hike, and camp throughout the spring, summer, and fall months.
The major city servicing the area is LaGrande, a population of 13,000, and the base for local expert guide companies like GoWild Adventures. They offer a variety of packaged backcountry trips or create a custom adventure based on your abilities, interests, traveling companions, and budget.
From mules packing your gear in, tents with cots and sleeping bags provided, and gourmet local meals prepared over live fire, experience the backcountry in style, or choose a little more rustic backpacking or even pack rafting adventure!
Local guides know not just the rules and permits required to have a memorable experience, but are knowledgeable in the geological, ecological, and topographical details of the parks, incorporating nature talks, foraging lessons, and historical stories (and maybe even a little folklore) to each trip.
Eastern Oregon a Year Round Destination
Eastern Oregon is a year-round destination, also offering a multitude of winter activities, from skiing at Anthony Lakes to snowshoeing and snowmobiling trails in various locations. No matter the park, mountain, or season, come prepared to enjoy the rugged outdoors responsibly and sustainably, as the people who call it home are passionate about maintaining its natural beauty for generations to come.
About the Author
More Things to Do in Oregon
About the Photo
The photo in the header above is of the scenic 35-mile long Hood River Fruit Loop and Mount Hood in Eastern Oregon, USA. Photo by the author, BJ Oudman.
About the Author
BJ Oudman is a Canadian travel writer who has visited 25+ countries.
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