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.01of 15
Experience the Oregon Trail
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.
Wander the Beautiful Geiser Grand Hotel
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.
Ride the Sumpter Valley Railroad
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.
Visit Baker Heritage Museum
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.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
Peruse Art at the Carnegie Art Center
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.06of 15
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway
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.07of 15
Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
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.