Driving the American West: Northeastern Oregon

Portion of a mural outside York’s Covered Wagon in Baker City

The three main towns of northeastern Oregon — Baker City, La Grande, and Pendleton — made me feel like I was visiting another time, just dropping in via Volkswagen.

In this rugged slice of the country, the Gold Rush, fur trade, and Oregon Trail feel both quietly alive and properly labeled. Its towns are small, friendly places to lose yourselves for a while, reconnecting to America’s pioneering spirit and gentle sense of humor.

Just when Boise had shown me that southern Idaho isn’t all scrub grass, cows and windmills, it was time to push on to northeastern Oregon. Surprisingly easy, it took less than an hour. 

I stopped in Baker City on the recommendation of my dear friend Jessica, who lives in Portland and wanted to make sure I saw the very best of the I-84 as I made my way to her house. La Grande was little more than a pause on my way, but their visitors center has some great outdoor-mounted maps that show off the best of the area, including the Oregon Trail. I visited Pendleton because I was then in the market for a new blanket; the dowdy factory store didn’t end up sparking my fancy, but I was thrilled to discover the country’s oldest cowboy outfitter right in the heart of downtown. 

Here’s what I saw on my few hours’ journey through the northeast of Oregon. I’d love to go back and stay awhile, especially when the cold passes on and sunshine returns.

This is how you know you’re not in Idaho anymore

On the way into Baker City, this old house and its setting looked just like winter settling in for a spell

I fell in love with the colorful shopfronts in downtown Baker City

The 1903 Baker City Hall, with its copper roof, is one of the most distinctive buildings in the downtown historic district

The Geiser Grand Hotel, opened in the 1880s, was called “Queen of the Mines” during the Gold Rush era, when it was the fanciest hotel between Portland and Salt Lake City

The sign in this Baker City antique store celebrates the idea of making your own hours

Possibly the cutest kitchen and gift store in the West, downtown’s Bella Main Street Market makes a great cup of coffee for the road

This Victorian house just off Main Street is home to a bank…which makes me feel resentful that my own bank isn’t in a Victorian house

The most patriotic train engine in America, parked right outside the American Legion

Outside York’s Covered Wagon, an outdoor/sporting goods store, you’ll find an ox team and a map of the post-Gold Rush Ghost Towns of Baker County

A stuffed baby elk stands in the lobby of La Grande’s Union County Visitors Center

Outside the Union County Visitors Center in La Grande, there’s a handy map of the Oregon Trail

A little snow and fog on the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains tells you it’s either winter…or spring

When you’re in eastern Oregon, horses sometimes…happen

The Hamley & Co.”cowboy outfitter” store, open since 1883, is so large that this full-size statue doesn’t interfere with inventory

Saddle, anyone?

Hamley & Co. created these custom boots for the Pendleton Round Up, the area’s biggest annual rodeo event (held in September)

This big mosaic boot stands proudly outside of Hamley & Co. in downtown Pendleton

The Hamley empire also extends to grub, with this adjacent coffee and wine shop, as well as a steakhouse down the block

Wool blankets at the factory that gave Pendleton, Oregon its name



Baker City, Oregon
Bella Main Street Market
York’s Covered Wagon
Ghost Towns of Baker County
Geiser Grand Hotel

La Grande, Oregon
The Oregon Trail

Pendleton, Oregon
Pendleton Woolen Mills
Hamley & Co.
Pendleton Round-Up


  1. Melanie,

    So glad you enjoyed your drive through NE Oregon and your visit to Baker City. Nice post and great photos.

  2. I’ve stayed twice in the Geiser Grand. It’s such a great old hotel… I’m glad you enjoyed Baker City!

  3. I want to visit Hamley & Co. It looks like a fun place for a cowgirl to shop.

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