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Painted Hills

Road Trip along the Grande Ronde Valley to the Elkhorn Mountain Range

Anthony Lake and Elkhorn Mountains
Written by Oregon Media

Road Trip along the Grande Ronde Valley to the Elkhorn Mountain Range

Grand Ronde River Travel the beauty of the Grande Ronde Valley, journey south through Oregon Trail country, and land in the territory of the Elkhorn Range

Named by an early French settler for its dramatic beauty, the city of La Grande lies east of the Blue Mountains and south of Pendleton. The Grande Ronde Valley was a waypoint on the Oregon Trail, and the Grande Ronde river is still a sustaining force for the community. Long before the pioneers, the Nez Perce and other local tribes made this rugged, stunning valley home.

a college town

Today, with a population of just over 13,000, La Grande, a charming small town, is home to Eastern Oregon’s only four-year university. Explore the Eastern Oregon University campus, including the Nightingale Gallery, featuring year-round exhibits of works made by students and regional artists. See the Italian Renaissance Revival Grand Staircase, which rises five tiers up a hillside. Catch numerous theater performances throughout the year at the McKenzie Theater.

Local Arts and Crafts

Close to downtown La Grande is the Arts Center East, in a converted Carnegie Library, where artists and art enthusiasts find haven, taking in year-round gallery shows as well as classes. The center is a hub for the arts in Northeast Oregon, and a stop on the Art Trail of Northeast Oregon. Nearby is Boylan Studios and Birddog Glass, which share a renovated 1920s service station. Witness the creation of blown glass or take a class in the studio, and then take home a paperweight or ornament for a special souvenir. The blacksmiths at Northwest Skillet Company create artisan cookware from copper and carbon steel. Visitors are welcome to their studio by appointment. At the Potter’s House, watch live kiln firing in action, and then purchase raku and stoneware momentos.   

Beef and Brew

This is ranching country, so of course beef is on the menu. The Hines Meat Company offers an old-fashioned meat counter and a window to the cut-room. Find Hines Meat Company’s meats cooked to order at Side A Brewing, which brews craft beer to couple with their delicious menu, featuring a wide variety of locally-sourced produce and baked goods. Mamacita’s International Grill, as the name might imply, offers international flare on their fare, including Wagyu beef. The Landing features a large variety of locally sourced food in a great environment. The Cafe at the Marketplace offers rooftop seating with great views.

Mount Emily Recreation Area Outdoor Adventure abounds

La Grande is surrounded by natural beauty and the opportunity to play outdoors. Vast national forests, rivers and mountains make up the city’s backyard. From the waters of the Grande Ronde River to the peaks of the Blue Mountains, it would take a lifetime to explore all of the wild country this region has to offer.

Natural Areas in All Directions

Just north of La Grande is Mount Emily Recreation Area, a nationally acclaimed motorized/non-motorized park with nearly 100 miles of trails, an abundance of birds and wildlife, a world-class archery range and free camping at Fox Hill Campground. In the warmer months, enjoy hiking, backpacking and mountain biking. Winter months bring backcountry skiing or snowshoeing. All year, enjoy all-terrain vehicle activities including snowmobiling, four-wheeling and dual sport biking.

Morgan Lake is just to the west of La Grande, located atop a mountain and perfect for rainbow trout fishing, camping, picnicking, paddle-boarding and gentle nature walks. South of town is Ladd Marsh Viewing Area, boasting over 6,000 acres of wetlands and uplands for viewing and wildlife preservation. The annual Bird Festival in March offers a week of activities for novice to expert birders. Ladd Marsh offers some areas for game hunting as well, in season.

On the Water

Itching to do some fishing? Visit the La Grande shop Alpine Archery and Fly for the hottest flies and current information on local waters. Head to the Grande Ronde River for more than twenty miles of waters perfect for fishing. The river is famous for white water rafting and kayaking, too—grab gear and a guide at Oregon Whitewater Adventures.

Rafting the Grande Ronde River a Two Wheeled Tour

The Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway stretches 134 miles from La Grande to Baker, making a figure eight, with the city of Union in the middle. Remote open road, fragrant sage in the air and wide-open skies define this cyclist’s dream route, which passes by clear streams, serene farmlands and sweeping sagebrush rangelands

Soak It Up, hot springs style

After a day of exploring, hiking or cycling, kick up your feet and relax at The Lodge at Hot Lake Springs, south of La Grande. A gathering place for its natural hot waters for hundreds of years, the property has recently been renovated to include modern lodging, five lakeside soaking pools, natural beauty in every direction, and plans for onsite pubs and restaurants. Nearby is the Grande Hot Springs RV Resort, which offers RV and tent sites, yurts for rent, and two mineral soaking pools of its own.

On to Union

Grande Ronde Goat Dairy The smell of fresh mountain air is abundant in Union County. Continue your journey between La Grande and Union by immersing yourself in the bounty of this rich agricultural region. The Union County Farm Trail offers fresh, healthy food, charming animals, friendly farmers and beautiful scenery.

Union county Farm trail

Charming Cove is just off the beaten path, on Highway 237. Attend the Eastern Oregon Beer Festival on the fourth Saturday in June, followed by the Union County Farm Trail Farm Crawl, held the fourth Sunday in June. The people of Cove grow apples, prunes, cherries and berries, and the town is home to Nella Mae’s Farmstand, where you can grab some of each.

Call in advance to visit the Grande Ronde Goat Dairy to experience a working dairy farm. The Platz Family Farm offers fresh produce from tomatoes to strawberries to corn. Cat’s Paw Farm in Union hand-crafts goat milk soaps, yarn and fiber products and provides chicken eggs, duck eggs, and meat chickens. Explore the farm loop on four wheels or two and bring along cash, as many farm stands are self-serve. The La Grande Farmers Market is another seasonal delight come summertime.

A Nod to the Past

In Union, the Union County Museum is a glimpse of life into the rugged West. Meet the pioneers who explored, logged, chased bandits, drove cattle, plowed soil, dug for gold, sold calico and made this place home. The Historic Union Historic Union Hotel Hotel is a vintage 1921 hostelry with rooms themed to various historic figures. Explore the historic building or relax in the parlor with other travelers.

A Scenic 18 Holes

Union is home to Buffalo Peak Golf Course, a challenging 18-hole, inland links-style course owned and operated by the county. With spectacular vistas of three mountain ranges and the majestic Grande Ronde Valley, it’s a round of golf you won’t forget.

North Powder and Anthony Lakes

South of Union where Highway 237 intersects with Interstate 84, you’ll find North Powder, the access point for the Elkhorn Mountains and year-round outdoor adventure. The Anthony Lakes area to the west of this small town comprises fifteen lakes and marshes nestled in and around the mountain peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains.

Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort Winter at Anthony Lakes

Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, nineteen miles west of North Powder, is a destination for fun and adventure in all seasons. Winter brings everything from alpine and Nordic skiing to snowshoeing, yurt camping and snowmobiling. With thousands of acres of lift-accessed terrain, 900 vertical feet of downhill and thirty kilometers of groomed Nordic trails, this is a ski outing not to be missed.

Anthony Lakes ski area boasts the highest base in Oregon at 7,100 feet. Light, dry powder is the norm, lines are short and the parking lot is rarely packed. Beginners will appreciate the magic carpet and the family-friendly atmosphere. More advanced riders will revel in 80 percent intermediate and expert terrain. Everyone will appreciate the majestic beauty of the mountains and forest.

backcountry Snow Cat Tours

Book a Snow Cat Tour through the resort for a full or half day of powder skiing in the surrounding backcountry. The cat carries up to twelve people. Access 2,000 acres of steeps, bowls and glades, covering 1,000 to 1,700 vertical feet per run. Lunch and snacks are included in this guide-led adventure.

Anthony Lakes Resort

Lodge Life

The full-service lodge at Anthony Lakes includes a café, bar, retail shop and rental shop. Order a regional micro-brew and locally sourced foods at Starbottle Saloon. During the winter season, the lodge is open from Thursday through Monday. Every Thursday, lift tickets are half price. In the summer, the Starbottle is open Friday to Sunday.

Summer at Anthony Lakes

During the summer and shoulder seasons, Anthony Lakes is a wonderland for mountain biking, hiking and backpacking. The guides at Range Tour & Shuttle Co., near Baker City, are singletrack experts who work in partnership with the Forest Service, BLM and the resort to cultivate the best trails. Pedal payoffs include panoramic views of Hoffer Lakes, Anthony Lake (yes, there is an actual lake), and Lee’s and Lakes Lookout peaks. The Broadway Flow downhill mountain bike trail is the resort’s newest treasure, with three miles of downhill and banked turns, with options for all riders. In March, don’t miss the Snow Blast, one of the largest fireworks displays in Eastern Oregon.

Stay Close to the anthony lakes Action

If you can’t bear to leave the powder or the mountain bike trails at Anthony Lakes Resort behind for the night, book a yurt just a quarter of a mile from the main lodge. The yurts sleep five to eight people and are fully outfitted with a wood stove for heat (including cut and split firewood), kitchen basics, lanterns, bunks, a table, games and access to an outhouse.

Haines Stampede Rodeo A Respite in Haines

Haines, the “biggest little town in Oregon,” sits just north of Baker City. In July, visit the Haines Stampede Rodeo, with rodeo royalty, cowboy breakfast and a beer garden. Fourth of July fireworks are on the docket, too. In August, attend the demolition derby. The Eastern Oregon Museum is located in the historic Haines High School Gymnasium and includes the the historic Union Pacific Train Depot. Interpreting the city’s mining, farm and ranch, and boomtown history, the museum also hosts a popular annual quilt show.

Road Trip Dining

Haines Steak House

Located in the city of Haines where there is “whiskey in the water and gold in the streets,” the Haines Steak House is known for its famous slow cooked, tender and delicious prime rib and cast iron branded steaks. You can’t visit cattle country without enjoying a great steak here, near the beautiful Elkhorn Mountain Range en route to Baker City.