The Oregon Trail
By Lynn Curry
Every USA road trip is unique, each with its own amazing sights, sounds and stories to tell. Perhaps none has left such a lasting impact on American history as the 2,000-mile journey west on the Oregon Trail. From 1843 to 1884, thousands of American pioneers made the trek in search of a new home and bright future.
Today, you can walk in those covered wagon ruts, discover resident Native American cultures and see the same untouched terrain—from sagebrush deserts and snow-rimmed mountains to wild rivers and broad valleys. Let’s set out on the Oregon Trail.
Experience life as a pioneer.
The Oregon National Historic Trail is well marked with many historic sites worth seeing. Visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center, and hike over four miles of original wagon trails. With life-size covered wagons, trail scenes and artifacts, the interpretive displays and simulated wagon train will make you feel like true pioneer!
Enjoy stunning scenery and a taste of the Wild West.
Westward, the roadway climbs into the Blue Mountains where Emigrant Springs and Deadman Pass hint at what came before freeway travel. Stop at Poverty Flat viewpoint to take in the amazing scene below: an expansive plateau all the way to the Columbia River.
Before you reach the town of Pendleton, visit the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute to see the living culture of several Native American tribes, including a village of 2,000-year old dwellings to tour. Pendleton, famous for its Roundup rodeo held every year since 1910, has plenty of tasty restaurants and a downtown reminiscent of the Wild West.
See remarkable sights on and off the beaten path.
If you want to wander off the beaten track, this region is threaded with scenic byways. Travel through rustic towns, like Condon and Heppner on the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. Dig deep into the past on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, gateway to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
If you’d rather stay on the main trail, see the National historic sites in the charming town of Echo, and visit the Maryhill Museum of Art with eclectic collections and lush gardens.
Savor all there is to see and do.
As the basalt cliffs rise around you like castles, enter the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the canyon through the impassable Cascade Mountains. Hood River is the Gorge’s most popular town, full of quaint shops and restaurants with award-winning wine lists.
From Hood River, you can take the alternate Oregon Trail route that climbs Mount Hood. Explore the valley’s fruit orchards, berry farms, vineyards and alpine vistas into the Mt. Hood National Forest filled with trails for every interest. Wine enthusiasts will want to stop in Willamette Valley, known for its Pinot Noir. Wineries, craft-breweries, restaurants and artisanal eateries add flavor to your drive from Salem to Portland.
No matter where your Oregon Trail itinerary takes you, you’re sure to discover many hidden gems, local charms and interesting stories along the way.
Use our new mapping feature to chart your own course along the Oregon Trail or follow our featured itinerary. Discover America will be traveling the Oregon Trail in May on our own journey west. Stay tuned for more news and tips on discovering the USA from the open road.