Eastern Oregon is completely different from the Oregon that is west of the Cascade Mountains. Words that describe it are desert, cattle ranches, wheat ranches, pine forests, wilderness, remote, sparsely populated to unpopulated, and in parts extremely rugged. You can drive for miles in some areas and not see another car, a human being, or a house.
It is a huge area. I am guessing it covers 40 percent of the State of Oregon. I have found that people from European countries have a difficult time gaging the size of Oregon. In square miles, Oregon is close to the same size as England.
Lakes and reservoirs provide opportunities for camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and more. You will find the same in the mountain ranges such as the Elkhorn Range, the Strawberry Mountains, the Wallowa Mountains, the Blue Mountains, and in the southeast the Steens Mountains.
In the Wallowa Mountains is Wallowa Lake and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Wallowa Lake is a prime place for fishing, water skiing, camping, and hiking. Three trails take off from the lake into the Eagle Cap Wilderness where you can enjoy both day hikes and overnight backpacking. This area is also popular for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.
This is where Chief Joseph began his famous trip of desperation to keep the U. S. Army from putting the Nez Perce tribe on a reservation in Idaho. The town of Joseph, Oregon is named after him.
The pioneers drove their covered wagons across this sometimes very inhospitable terrain on the Oregon Trail and signs of the trail are still visible.
The discovery of gold in Eastern Oregon played a big part in its settlement. One example of this is the town of Sumpter, Oregon where gold was discovered in 1862 and was mined until 50 years ago. There is still plenty of gold there waiting for someone to take it out of the ground.
The Snake River forms the border between Oregon and Idaho. Over eons of time the river carved out Hells Canyon which plunges more than a mile below the west rim on the Oregon side. This area is a designated wilderness area where no motorized vehicles are allowed--not even bicycles. There are 360 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding. The Snake River is popular for whitewater rafting and there are camping areas which offer no modern conveniences.
Wildlife abounds in the Hells Canyon corridor. You may see deer, cougar, bear, river otter, elk, geese, or Peregrine Falcon. The river is home to rainbow trout, salmon, crappie, bass, and catfish.
But you don't have to be in the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area to see wildlife. It can happen anywhere in Eastern Oregon. Now wildlife can also include rattlesnakes. You don't need to be overly concerned about this but you do need to be aware.
There are three hydroelectric dams on the Snake River:
The reservoirs of these dams provide opportunities for recreational boating, fishing, swimming, and camping.
The Blue Mountains in the northeast provide places to hike, camp, motorbike, horseback ride, fish, and hunt. In the southeast, the most unpopulated area, are the rugged Steens Mountains. Around the John Day area you will find the beautiful Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Beds.
This is high desert country and it has snow in the winter. You can ski at Anthony Lakes and there are lots of places for cross country skiing and back country skiing.
You don't have to camp in order to spend the night. There are towns and they do have hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and there are also vacation rentals available.
The major towns in Eastern Oregon are:
To get an idea of size of Eastern Oregon and where things are located take a look at this Map of Eastern Oregon. The map is centered on the northeast part of the state. It shows the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area in green.
The early pioneers to the Oregon Territory passed through Eastern Oregon on the Oregon Trail on their way to the Willamette Valley. Today travelers can follow the route of the trail or close to it and actually see the ruts in the soil left from thousands of covered wagons.