Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
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This 100-mile loop skirts ghost towns, historic gold mines and gold mining cabins, with the enchanting beauty of the Elkhorn Mountains as a backdrop.
In the late 1800s, Baker City was dubbed the Queen City of the Mines. Indeed, many who traveled on the Oregon Trail came west to seek their fortune mining for gold in the Baker City area. While the mines in the Elkhorn Mountains eventually stopped producing, agriculture and the arrival of the railroad helped Baker City outlive many similar boom towns. You can tour the city’s downtown to see fine examples of Victorian architecture, including the famous Geiser Grand Hotel. A five-pound gold nugget is on display at the U.S. Bank on Main Street. To begin your Byway tour, head south on Oregon Route 7.
Taking the Powder
Soon, the Byway turns west and joins the Powder River. During good water years, the Powder is an excellent fishery for stocked and native rainbow trout. A halfmile long paved trail offers river access. Further west you’ll reach Phillips Lake, which is a popular boating and fishing spot. Nearby, the Mowich Look Wildlife Viewing Area is a good place to spy a variety of wildlife including osprey, bald eagles, deer and elk.
Beyond Phillips Lake, a side road leads to the Sumpter Valley Railroad Park where the restored narrow gauge “Stump Dodger” train takes passengers to the town of Sumpter. The Dodger runs three times daily on weekends and holidays throughout the summer months. The Elkhorn Drive continues west, past fields of dredge tailings (the earth disturbed by mining), to Sumpter. With a population of 130, Sumpter is a shadow of its glory days when miners produced over $10 million in gold ore, and the town had 15 saloons, three newspapers, and an opera house. Though the business district was destroyed by fire in 1917, gold was extracted from the area until 1954. The gigantic floating dredge is now an Oregon State Park. You can learn all about this huge gold mining machine, along with the stories of mining and the Sumpter Valley Railroad at the park headquarters located in Sumpter.
Gold in Granite
Leaving Sumpter, the Byway climbs to take in dramatic views of the Elkhorns, eventually reaching Blue Springs Summit (5,864 ft.), a popular snowmobiling area in winter. Ten miles down the road, gold was discovered in Bull Run Creek in 1862, and the town of Granite sprang up. For 80 years, boisterous Granite produced gold and some legendary characters like Skedaddle Smith, One-eyed Dick, and ’49 Jimmie, whose only companion was a rooster with whom he shared all his meals. Their stories live on in Granite’s abandoned buildings. Before you leave town, be sure to gas up, because no services are available until you reach Baker City.
Climbing Elkhorn Summit
From Granite, the Byway turns north onto Forest Road 73. Look for rock “walls” made by early Chinese gold miners along Granite Creek, as they set aside larger boulders in their search for gold. The Elkhorn Byway soon meets up with the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway at the North Fork John Day Campground. The “Wild and Scenic” John Day River is recognized for outstanding fisheries, water quality, scenery, recreation, wildlife, and historical values, and is a popular destination for outdoor people. The Byway turns east and climbs to its apex at Elkhorn Mountain Summit (7,392 ft.). The jagged granite peaks in view here form the backdrop for the Anthony Lakes Recreation Area.
The Lake District
Within a few miles of each other, Grande Ronde Lake and Anthony Lake offer picturesque settings for hiking, camping and fishing, plus cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in winter. The Anthony Lake area is also home to a downhill ski resort that’s served up great powder since 1933.
From Anthony Lake, the Byway descends abruptly, capturing superb views of the Baker Valley and the distant Wallowa Mountains. When Forest Road 73 ends in the valley, head south to Haines, the “biggest little town in Oregon.” Visit the Eastern Oregon Museum, which features an extensive collection of pioneer antiques. Continue south on U.S. Route 30 to reach Baker City.
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Is any of the information on this page incorrect?
Keep in mind many of the routes listed here travel through remote areas where gas stations are few and far between. And since road and weather conditions can be hazardous, even into summer, we urge you to call 800-977-6368 or check Trip Check before starting out.