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. The gold rushes of 1861 and 1874 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 elegant Geiser Grand Hotel, the downtown historic district, and the grand old homes, museums, and other sites. 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 beautiful drives.
Located along Highway 86 as you approach Baker City from the east, the open high desert with rolling hills, site of this fantastic 500-acre interpretive center, gives you a sense of what pioneers on the Oregon Trail would have seen. The Oregon Trail was a road carved out of the dirt by wagon wheels stretching 2170 miles from Missouri to Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Inside the visitor center, you'll find fascinating exhibits on the Oregon Trail and local pioneer history, along with a theater and gift shop. Spend some time hiking the facility's 4 miles of trails, exploring the outdoor covered wagon encampment, taking in the beautiful yet daunting mountain views, and checking out actual preserved Oregon Trail ruts of pioneer wagons.
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 in an elegant setting. Whether you are an overnight guest at the Geiser Grand Hotel or not, the building'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 some food and drinks along with live music at the historic 1889 Cafe, or dine at the elegant Palm Court.
In addition to the mining booms, railroad access 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 the former mining town of Sumpter, about two hours round trip, which includes a layover in McEwen or Sumpter. The Sumpter Valley Railroad runs on certain weekends and holidays during the summer months and also offers special events.
The Baker Heritage Museum exhibits and interprets local history and culture in the huge 1920s Natatorium building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The pioneer and homestead eras are 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. The museum is open seven days a week.
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. The center offers painting, drawing, collage, ballet, and other classes for kids and adults as well. Admission is free, but the nonprofit organization appreciates donations.
Among the most dramatic and scenic country in the West—a lovely display of rivers, mountains, valleys, and more—Hells Canyon on the Snake River is deep and wild and off the beaten path.
The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is a 218-mile loop with several offshoots that can lengthen the journey. The main loop, which meets with Interstate 84 at La Grande and Baker City, is mostly an easy drive along a paved road, but sections do include rough forest service road.
If you want to take the side trips towards the actual views of Hells Canyon, the road can be more primitive, so be sure to check local conditions prior to your trip. The byway passes through 11 communities where you can stop for food, shopping, galleries, and lodging.
This more local drive out of Baker City is a 106-mile loop that takes you to historic sites and through stunning lakes, as well as the Elkhorn Mountains. It's a great way to learn about the natural resources, history, and geology of the area; especially interesting for travelers are the historical narrow-gauge railroad grade and the former gold mines.
There are many places to stop for a picnic, camping, hiking, boating, skiing, and other recreational activities. If you are driving in winter conditions, check the weather before heading out and note the scenic byway is not snowplowed between Granite and Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort.
The Chinese cemetery provides a unique way to learn about the cultural history of Baker City. The Chinese were important workers in building the railroads and in the gold mines. In 1900, Baker City's Chinese population reached its highest number: 264 citizens. You won't see grave markers, but there are areas where people were buried. (The remains have been sent back to the families of the departed in China.) A pagoda, a stone prayer building, and signs detailing the history of the Chinese in the city are found at the cemetery.
Enjoy a Craft Brew
One of Oregon’s award-winning breweries, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub and Tap House are located in the heart of downtown Baker City. They serve a range of pub grub and small-batch, hand-crafted beers. The pub is located in one of downtown Baker City's historic brick buildings.
Take the First Friday Art Walk
Baker City, Oregon’s historic downtown is one of the largest and most intact turn- of-the-20th-century business districts in the Northwest. With beautifully restored buildings, many businesses have moved in providing a thriving downtown district bustling with activity and full of locally-owned shops, restaurants, galleries, and artists' studios. You can join in to celebrate the arts on the First Friday of every month. Galleries and local shops showcasing local and regional artists and their work are open in the evening with special exhibits.
Bundle Up for a Winter Sleigh Ride
Enjoy winter in eastern Oregon touring the snowy streets of historic Baker City riding in an authentic horse-drawn sleigh (carriage if there is no snow).
Tours leave from the Historic Geiser Grand Hotel each Saturday evening mid-December through February from 7:30 till 9:30 p.m. $24 per person includes a hot drink afterward in the 1889 Cafe. For more information and to reserve a ride, contact the hotel.
Tour the Leo Adler House
Tours are available of this beautifully preserved 1889 Italianate estate once owned by a local Baker City philanthropist who made his fortune in the publishing business. The downstairs parlor has been restored using elegant period wallpaper and the furniture, artwork, and light fixtures are original. The house is open limited days and times from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Have Fun at the Miner's Jubilee
Baker City, in its early heyday, was a gold mining town. Today that heritage is celebrated with a fun 3-day annual event taking place in July, the Miner's Jubilee. Mining demonstrations, a carnival, kids' events, parade, a food court and bronc- and bull-riding make this annual festival fun for the whole family.
Enjoy Christmas Magic
Christmas is a wonderful time of year to visit the Baker City area. Sumpter and Baker City are touted as two of the “Most Enchanting Christmas Towns in Oregon.” Baker City's historic downtown shops are ideal for Christmas shopping and are decorated with lights.
In early December, join the locals to watch the Twilight Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting. Approximately a week later, the town of Sumpter hosts their Christmas Parade and Tree lighting along with a Christmas Bazaar and special events 406 on the Sumpter Railroad.
Taste Your Way Around Downtown
The Taste of Baker City, always the Saturday of the first full weekend in October (Friday Saturday Sunday) from 4 till 7 p.m., is your opportunity to taste your way through the streets of beautiful historic downtown Baker City. You'll get an official "tasting spoon" and once you've enjoyed one taste from at least six different blocks, enter to win one of several prizes
Local restaurants and participating businesses offer sample size bites of their most popular recipes in exchange for "Taste Tokens" which are sold to participants for $1 each.