The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail was one of only two ways to travel to Oregon one hundred and fifty years ago. It was a six-month journey and fraught with danger yet thousands of people made the trip each year. Their experiences have been romanitcized by Hollywood and novelists.

These pioneers traveled west to what they were told was "the promised land." There were no travel directories with pictures although there were published accounts of what the Oregon Territory was like. Often these accounts stretched the truth quite a bit. The emigrants were looking for free land and a better life. They were willing to risk the dangers. They were willing to sell everything they owned, leave their families and friends, and head off on a trip into the unknown.

Wagon ruts outside Baker City (Rachel-Micha Photographer)

The dangers they faced were:

  • illness
  • accidents
  • starvation
  • indian attack
  • drowning

When these people finally reached the last leg of their journey which began at the Snake River on what is now the Oregon-Idaho border, they were tired, their animals were worn out, their food stocks were low, their wagons were showing the wear and tear, and they still had what is often considered to be the most difficult part of the journey ahead of them. Many had already lost family members along the way and many would lose family members on the remainder of the trip. If it was in September when they reached this point, they were under pressure to reach the Willamette Valley on the west side of the Cascade Mountains before the winter snows began.

Mural in Vale, Oregon (Photographer: Mary Harrsch)

By the time the wagon trains reached what is now the Oregon/Idaho border they had been following the Snake river in Wyoming and Idaho for hundreds of miles and had crossed the river several times. The last crossing was after they left Fort Boise in Idaho. The exact site is just south of Nyssa, Oregon.

Today's modern highways and roads follow quite closely the route to Fort Vancouver and Oregon City. It makes an interesting trip to follow the route. In many places you can see the ruts made by the thousands of wagons and in some places you will see the graves of those who almost completed their journey but sadly didn't make it.

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (Photographer: Baker County Tourism)

There are informative interpretive kiosks along the way where you can stop. The town of Vale has beautiful murals illustrating life on the trail. The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is just five miles outside of the town of Baker City, Oregon where you can see living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, and several miles of interpretive trails for you to walk and take pictures.

Points of Interest Along the Oregon Trail

Begin Your Journey in Vale, Oregon

Walk around the town and see the many beautiful pioneer life murals.

Visit the Rinehart Stone House. This stone house was built in 1872 and was a rest stop for travelers. Today it is a museum with pioneer artifacts, photos, and interpretive exhibits. It is open from March 1 to October 30 Tuesday through Saturday, from 12:30 pm to 4:00 pm.

Travel North on I-84 Towards Huntingdon

Farewell Bend State Park (Photographer: Baker County Tourism)

Stop at Farewell Bend State Park. This is where the wagon trains left the Snake River forever. The pioneers stopped here for a rest. Today it is a popular campground on the Banks of the Brownlee Resevoir. There are historical markers, interpretive displays and you can actually see wagon ruts here.

Here you can take the old Highway 30 into Huntingdon, an old railroad town, or continue on on I-84. On I-84 is the Weatherby Rest Area where there is an Oregon Trail Interpretive Kiosk. It was near here that the wagon trains traveled through Burnt River Canyon which was a very rough section of the trail. It took them four to five days to get through it.

Travel North on I-84 Towards Baker City

Photographer: Baker County Tourism

Baker City is an historic gold rush boom town and makes an interesting place to spend the night. While you are there visit the Baker Heritage Museum at 2480 Grove Street Baker City. It is open late March through October seven days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Also visit the Adler House Museum, a restored house built in 1889. The furniture, light fixtures, and artwork are original to the house.

From Baker City Drive Five Miles East on Highway 86 to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

Here you will see living history demonstrations, music, films, lectures and four miles of interpretive trails. On Labor Day, 2008 there will be special Wagon Encampment. The center is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

From here drive back to I-84 and turn north towards La Grande.

Take Exit 248 to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing.

For those pioneers who floated down the Columbia River on the last leg of their journey, the Blue Mountains were their last truly difficult part of the trail on land. At the park you can walk along a paved trail from where you can see some of the best preserved sections of the Oregon Trail.

Drive North on I-84 Towards Pendleton

Emigrant Springs State Park is where the wagon trains paused to replinish their water after crossing the summit of the Blue Mountains.

Pendleton is the center of cattle ranching and is known for its annual Pendleton Roundup in September.

The Oregon Trail from here follows the Umatilla River to the Columbia River.

Barlow Trail (Photographer: Donnie Kolb)

The wagon trains reached the Columbia River where The Dalles, Oregon is today. It was here they began the terrifying journey of floating on rafts down the Columbia to Fort Vancouver. After 1846 they had the choice of the river trip or taking the Barlow Trail Toll Road which took them south of Mt. Hood and then west to Oregon City.

The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is located in Oregon City. The center has exhibits on the Oregon Trail journey and what life was like at the end of the trail.

It is important to understand that there is more than one route of the Oregon Trail. There were cut offs to California and shortcuts from the Snake River to the Willamette Valley. Also there was the Applegate Trail from Oregon City to southern Oregon. The main trail went north and then west to The Dalles and this route was the most used.

The Oregon Trail