Nothing says summer like a good old-fashioned road trip. And if you’re already in Oregon for the FMCA Convention in August, drive the Elkhorn Scenic Byway (Route 7) in eastern Oregon. The 106-mile paved loop route is filled with ghost towns, gold mining history, and gorgeous scenery! Photographers and history buffs alike will be delighted with the diverse route that winds through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Elkhorn Mountains, and passes beautiful lakes and rivers. Gas up the rig, pack the gold pan, and grab your camera!
Most drivers choose to begin and end the Elkhorn Scenic Byway loop in Baker City. Whet your appetite for the area’s golden history with a walking tour of the downtown area, officially recognized as a National Historic District. Many turn-of-the century Victorian buildings have been carefully restored, including City Hall and the famous Geiser Grand Hotel. The city’s gold rush heyday was in the 1860s, so don’t miss the interesting collection of nuggets at the US Bank on Main Street. The whopping 80.4-ounce “Armstrong Nugget” unearthed in 1913 by George Armstrong is on display during regular banking hours. You can also visit the Chinese Cemetery on the edge of town and learn just how important this group was in the building of railroads and gold mines in Baker County.
Westward Ho! Between 1841 and 1850, nearly 100,000 pioneers outfitted their covered wagons and set out over the Oregon Trail—the mightiest westward migration in American history. The summit of Flagstaff Hill, six miles east of downtown Baker City, overlooks a well-preserved segment of the Oregon Trail where modern-day pioneers can trek in the original wagon wheel ruts. Talk about walking in someone else’s footsteps! The dust and sagebrush are real enough, but listen closely and you just might hear braying oxen and creaking wagons (or is that just the wind?!). The outdoor wagon encampment and mining site, as well as the extremely realistic dioramas inside the Interpretive Center, bring trail scenes to life. The Interpretive Center also houses a large theater for live performances depicting days gone by. You’ll leave the Center with a better understanding and appreciation of the hardships and triumphs experienced by the Oregon Trail emigrants.
Check back for parts 2 and 3 and 4… this summer road trip is just beginning to roll!
Driving Directions Option I:
• The 106-mile Elkhorn Scenic Byway starts and ends in Baker City, Oregon.
• Drive the route clockwise, taking SR 7 south out of Baker City and follow along the beautiful Powder River.
• After about 10 miles, SR 7 swings and goes west.
• At Granite, take Forest Road 73 north.
• After about 10 miles, the Elkhorn Drive Connects with the Blue Mt. Scenic byway at the North Fork of the John Day Campground. FR 73 will run east for about 30 miles.
• Take SR 30 south to get back to Baker City.
Driving Directions Option II:
• Start on SR 53, also named the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. At the junction with SR 73, turn and go southeast several miles to the town of Granite.
• Drive through Granite. Continue east and through the town of Sumpter until the byway leaves the National Forest and turns north.
• Drive through Baker City on US 30, passing through Haines until you reach North Powder.
• Drive west along SR 53 until you return to your starting point at the junction with SR 73.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com