Baker City, located in Eastern Oregon not far from the Idaho border, has an interesting history that comes alive at many local attractions. While the Oregon Trail passed nearby, it wasn't until the 1860s that settlement really began. It was the gold rushes of 1861 and 1874 that turned Baker City into a thriving town, with amenities for the rich and the trying-to-be rich, for cowboys and ranchers and dance hall girls. Memories of this boom time are found in the Geiser Grand Hotel, the downtown historic district, and the grand old homes. Located in a fertile river valley and surrounded by mountains and forests, Baker City offers visitors a number of ways to enjoy the views, from scenic train rides to scenic drives.
Here are my recommendations for fun things to do during your visit to Baker City, Oregon.
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Located along Highway 86 as you approach Baker City from the east, just the site of this fantastic interpretive center gives you a taste of one of the Oregon Trail's milestone experiences. Inside the visitor center you'll find fascinating exhibits on Oregon Trail and local pioneer history along with a theater and gift shop. Spend some time hiking the facility's trails, exploring the outdoor covered wagon encampment, taking in the beautiful yet daunting mountain views, and checking out miles of actual preserved Oregon Trail.
This stunning downtown Baker City hotel was built in the 1880s and fully restored in 1997, continuing to provide food, accommodations, and special event space. Whether you are an overnight guest at the Geiser Grand, or not, the hotel's stained-glass skylight, crystal chandeliers, and mahogany woodwork are worth checking out. You can just stop by to wander the lobby and mezzanine, enjoy a drink at the historic 1889 Saloon, or a fine meal at the Geiser Grill.
In addition to the mining booms, it was the railroad access that made Baker City a population hub of the region. A bit of the local railroad system remains in operation as the Sumpter Valley Railroad, providing scenic steam train rides through the valley. Passengers board the narrow-gauge railroad at the McEwen Depot south of Baker City. The locomotive and its passenger cars run between McEwen and Sumpter, a 40-minute, 6-mile trip each way. The Sumpter Valley Railroad runs on weekends and holidays during the summer months.
Formerly called the Oregon Trail Regional Museum, the Baker Heritage Museum exhibits and interprets local history and culture in the huge 1920 Natatorium building. Pioneer and homestead era history is covered, along with mining, ranching, and farming. The region's natural history, including geology and wildlife, is also featured; their collection of rocks, fossils, and mineral specimens is amazing.
Yet another historic building - this time the grand old Carnegie Library - has been re-purposed to the benefit of Baker City citizens and visitors. Now devoted to both the visual and the performing arts, the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center exhibits the work of local and regional artists. Various performances are scheduled throughout the year, including plays and literary events.
Scenic Drives from Baker City
- Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
Among the most dramatic and scenic country in the West, Hells Canyon on the Snake River is deep and wild and off the beaten path. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a long loop with several offshoots. The main loop, which includes lengths of Interstate 84 and Oregon State Highway 82, is mostly an easy drive along a paved road, but sections include rough forest service road. If you want to take the side trips towards actual views of Hells Canyon, the road can be more primitive, so be sure to check the local conditions just prior to your trip.
- Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
This more local drive out of Baker City takes you to old mining towns, historic sites and through stunning lake and mountain scenery.