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Painted Hills

Road Trip through Rich Agricultural Land

Hat Rock State Park
Written by Oregon Media

Road Trip through Rich Agricultural Land

Journey from the banks of the Columbia River to the rich agricultural land of the Umatilla River basin on this tour, which takes in scenery galore and plenty of local tastes and sips from wine to watermelons.

Boardman sits on the mighty Columbia River, home to a significant port on this major waterway. Start your day at the Port of Morrow for a self-guided tour of the busy industrial area. For a scenic stroll, find the Port of Morrow Riverfront Center to walk the Boardman Marina Walking Path. At the marina, take a dip in the protected swimming area, picnic in the park, play disc golf at the Sailboard Beach Disc Golf Course, or let the kids romp at the playground. In the summer, catch the annual Walleye Fishing Tournament or the come-one-come-all July 4th community celebration and parade.

Eat (local), Drink (local) and Be Happy (like a local)

This is rich agricultural country, so it’s no surprise to discover incredible local foods and drinks around Boardman. Visit Burnt Field Brewing and Pizza for a craft brew and a brick-oven-baked slice. Ordnance Brewing makes beers with grain grown right near the taproom. The classic stop C&D Drive-In and Bakery stands out by the tall vintage sign out front that declares: “Eat!” For more than four decades, C&D has been serving baked goods, deli sandwiches, fresh baked pizza and lots of burger options including a fresh and tasty elk burger. Looking for fresh hashbrowns and all the breakfast fare to go with them? Hit the Sunrise at Boardman Café. For a longer stay in Boardman, grab lunch or book a cabin at the River Lodge, Cabins, and Grill, with rooms right on the Columbia River waterfront.

experiential learning at the sage center

The pride and joy of Boardman is the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center, a visitor’s center opened in 2013 by the Port of Morrow. SAGE provides free educational tours to students and provides visitors the opportunity to experience this region’s agricultural, industrial and transportation heritage and future. Soar over Morrow County to explore some of the best farmland in the country on a simulated hot air balloon ride. Watch a potato turn into curly fries. Try your hand at milking a cow or driving a tractor. Browse the gift shop and finish your visit with a scoop of delicious Tillamook ice cream. The SAGE Center hosts an annual event, the Harvest Festival, in October with foods, crafts and activities.

Swing a Club, Spot a Bird

Don’t leave the area without partaking in a little more recreation. The Marker 40 Golf Club in Boardman is a public course known for its friendly atmosphere and fun course. Between Boardman and Irrigon, take a tour of the Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge and McCormach Slough. Here, stop to see mule deer, burrowing owls, herons and many more birds on this vast preserve that includes almost every habitat type found in the Columbia Basin. Stretch your legs before continuing on your road trip adventure.

Watermelon Festivals and More

The communities of Irrigon and Hermiston are an agricultural dream, known specifically for growing one very large fruit—the watermelon. Each town has a summer festival devoted to that very delicious piece of produce. Watch, or join, a watermelon eating contest if you’re in town.

  Hermiston is home to Purple Ridge Lavender, Vazza Farms (famous for honey) and K&K Blueberries, among other agricultural delights. Veg Out brings many local flavors and farm products together in salads, wraps and soups at their small but friendly downtown restaurant.

  Neighbor Dudes Tap House is a friendly Hermiston joint brought to you by the same folks as Ordnance Brewing. This is where the locals meet up, to enjoy plenty of local brews on tap.

Hats Off to Nature and History

Between the two cities is Umatilla, home to the McNary Dam. Visit the Umatilla Museum to learn of the rich history of the region, including the construction of the dam in 1947. Visit McNary Beach to glimpse the dam and walk the Lewis & Clark Commemorative Trail, a six-mile gravel trail to Hat Rock State Park great for hiking, walking, cycling and horseback riding. Hat Rock was the first distinctive landmark passed by the Lewis and Clark Expedition on their journey down the Columbia. The park is a desert oasis surrounded by rolling sagebrush hills and outcroppings of basalt, with boat ramp access to the river, which is noted for walleye, sturgeon, and other fish. Waterskiing, jetskiing, swimming, and boating are popular here, as well as picnicking and nature trails. Up for a round of golf? The Big River Golf Course is an 18-hole course situated along the beautiful Columbia River.

Downtown Echo Farm-to-Table in Hermiston

On your way into Hermiston, stop at Bellinger Farms, a fourth-generation farm offering fresh produce and a farm to table restaurant called The Gathering Place, renowned for a delicious seasonal menu. In Hermiston, grab lunch at Nookie’s, a favorite eatery paired with Hermiston Brewing Company for no-frills vibes and custom craft beers. Laid-back pub Hale’s Restaurant and mother-and-daughter run Delish Bistro are two more refreshment options—grab a waffle cone full of house-made gelato at the latter before you head south to Echo.

Wine and Dine Time

Echo Ridge Winery Perched with a birds-eye view of the Columbia River to the north and the Umatilla River to the east, the community of Echo is a cutting-edge farming community that has focused significant—and successful—effort on growing wine grapes. Sip at Echo Ridge Cellars, a family-run business that produces 1,000 cases of cabernet franc and sauvignon, syrah and merlot each year, which can be enjoyed within the newly repurposed lap-wood grain elevator as their tasting room. Next visit Sno Road Winery at their tasting room in a beautifully restored historic building in downtown Echo, where they pour wine made from grapes grown on their historic Echo West Ranch outside of town. From the winery, access the 25 miles of Red 2 Red Bike Trails, where mountain bikers traverse a steep sagebrush landscape on the hillside along agricultural fields and vineyards above the Umatilla River. If golf is more your style, take a swing at the challenging yet scenic nine-hole municipal Echo Hills Golf Course, where inexpensive rates and easy access add to the attractions of the rolling course.

By bike or by car, don’t miss River to Hills Farm Loop. This 60-mile loop follows segments of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the Oregon Trail, traveling through the communities of Boardman to Hermiston, to Echo and back through to Heppner to give you an up-close-and-personal view of agriculture, along with tastes of spirits, pickles, wine, watermelon and smells of lavender. Irrigon, Umatilla, Hermiston and Echo sit along this farm tour.

Impressions of Oregon’s Pioneers

Echo Historical Muesum Downtown Echo boasts the Echo Bank Building & Historical Museum, constructed in 1920 in the Roman Classical style of the 20th century with an exterior glazed terra cotta and brick and an interior featuring marble flooring and iron-banking teller’s cages. Peek inside for exhibits on history and heritage.

It’s amazing to consider that evidence remains of the pioneers who came by wagon train in the late 1800s. There are several places around here to see the ruts made by the wheels of the covered wagons that traveled The Oregon Trail. Near Echo, find ruts at Fort Henrietta Park where the trail crossed the Umatilla River. Echo Meadows reveals ruts by way of an interpretive sign and trail. At Stanfield Rest Area, read about the struggles encountered by pioneers on the long journey west.