: Rob Naughton

The Fastest Way to Slow Down in Pendleton

July 15, 2019

Did you know you could zip from the city life of Portland to the Wild West of Pendleton in just an hour? The legendary Northeastern Oregon city is the prime destination for a weekend-size slice of the good life — and thanks to reasonably priced daily air service from Portland International Airport to Eastern Oregon Regional Airport, you can be sipping spirits and browsing handmade cowboy boots and Western wear in no time. Here’s everything you need to know to make a quick getaway.

Book early to snag a $59 one-way flight from to Portland to Pendleton, just an hour of flight time. Courtesy of Boutique Air

Getting to Pendleton

Situated on Interstate 84 at the foot of the rugged Blue Mountains, Pendleton is a quintessential road-tripping destination. The scenic drive from Portland takes around three hours and offers plenty of eye candy along the way. But there’s a faster, more convenient and stress-free alternative to driving: Boutique Air offers hour-long flights three times a day from Portland to Pendleton aboard their eight-seat aircraft, with views of the beautiful Columbia River Gorge from above. 

While it may sound luxurious, the cost of flying is comparable to the cost of making the round-trip by car. Book early to snag a fare as low as $59 one-way.

More reasons to fly: There’s no cost for checked and carry-on luggage, so you can bring that guitar, golf clubs or extra bag for those Pendleton blankets you may fall in love with. If you’re coming from Portland, take note: You can skip the lines at Portland International Airport (PDX) by checking in at the separate Boutique terminal (which offers free parking!). Upon landing in Pendleton, the friendly staff at Boutique Car Rental will help you get on your way in no time.

The city's most famous tradition, the Pendleton Round-Up & Happy Canyon Hall of Fame, marks 50 years in 2019. By David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Pendleton at a Glance

Once you arrive in Pendleton, here’s what to explore when it comes to the city’s vibrant maker culture, food and drinks and outdoor scene — whether you have a weekend or a week. 

Wild West Heritage

Soak up Pendleton’s classic Old West flavor with a visit to the Pendleton Round-Up & Happy Canyon Hall of Fame, which offers free admission throughout 2019 in honor of its 50th anniversary. Other musts include the Heritage Station Museum, with its engaging exhibits on everything from the railroad to the Oregon Trail, and the wildly colorful 90-minute “Red Light District” excursions led by Pendleton Underground Tours. A self-guided stroll along the Pendleton Bronze Trail provides a look at more than 20 larger-than-life sculptures depicting the city’s rich history. You’ll find regional artwork and can listen to live music at the Pendleton Center for the Arts. And just outside town, the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute presents fascinating interactive displays that shine a light on the region’s Native American culture and 10,000 years of human history.

From hearty steaks to homestyle breakfasts, Pendleton has a full array of dining including Virgil's at Cimmiyotti's.

Cowboy Cookin’

Pendleton has long been known for its hearty, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. Fuel up in the morning with hearty fare at the bustling Roosters Country Kitchen or Rainbow Cafe, the oldest saloon in the city. Old-school restaurants, such as Hamley Steakhouse and Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s, serve prodigious portions of expertly prepared beef along with plates to share — try the jalapeno bacon-wrapped shrimp with their famous Gun Smoke cocktail. More casual notables include the Saddle Restaurant, known for chicken-fried steaks, and excellent Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian bowls at Moe Pho Noodles & CafeIf you’re in town on a Friday late afternoon from May through October, peruse the stalls at the Pendleton Farmers Market, where you’ll find local blackberries, honey, beef jerky and more. Take your pick of craft spirits here: Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery produces top-notch vodka and whiskey (whether you spell it ‘whiskey’ or ‘whisky,’ it’s all good here.) And craft brew pioneer Prodigal Son Brewery earns raves for its luscious nitro stout and seasonal hazy IPAs and sour beers (which pair perfectly with Pendleton Sunshine chicken wings and fries with fry sauce).

Pendleton shop owners have been making traditional Western wear here for decades. Pendleton Hat Company owner Perk Perkins, by Joni Kabana

Made in Pendleton

The maker spirit has thrived in Pendleton for centuries. Don’t miss the world-famous Pendleton Woolen Mills, which has been producing its iconic bold-print blankets and other fine textiles here since 1863; on weekdays, you can take a free tour of the historic blanket mill. Another local treasure, Hamley Western Store still crafts its handsome saddles much in the same fashion as it did in the 19th century. In fact, Pendleton abounds with artisan-owned businesses — including Staplemans Boots & Leather, Pendleton Hat Company and Montana Peaks Hat Company — that create high-quality leather boots, cowboy hats, belts and buckles, saddles, and other fine gear and apparel. 

 

Fishing at McKay Creek Reservoir by Trini Hank

Outdoor Adventure

You needn’t travel far to soak up Pendleton’s dramatic natural scenery. Start with a walk along the Pendleton River Parkway, which fringes the Umatilla River for three miles. Nearby, you’ll find countless recreational pursuits, including hiking in a number of pristine landscapes, including a stretch of the Oregon Trail that’s preserved at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Park, the migratory bird-watching habitats of McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and the rugged basalt-rock and sagebrush terrain of Hat Rock State Park, which the Lewis and Clark expedition passed by. There’s also cycling along uncrowded Scenic Bikeways, and fishing for salmon and steelhead in the nearby Columbia and Umatilla rivers or trout in the stocked lakes and ponds.

 


If you go:

Pendleton hosts many noteworthy events and festivals throughout the year, including Pendleton Whisky Music Fest in July, the famed Pendleton Round-Up in mid-September, Oktoberfest Pendleton in October. Lodgings include a range of historic properties such the Working Girls Hotel; comfy international chains; scenic campgrounds such as Pendleton KOA; and other excellent options. During large events such as the Round-Up, lodgings fill quickly so start looking to book about a year in advance.

About The
Author

Andrew Collins
Andrew Collins divides his time between Oregon and Mexico City and writes about the Pacific Northwest for a variety of outlets, including Fodor's Travel Guides and his own website, AndrewsTraveling.com. He's the editor of The Pearl magazine and teaches food- and travel-writing classes for Gotham Writers Workshop. Andrew spends his free time road-tripping, hiking, and winery- and brewery-hopping around the state with his partner (and fellow travel scribe) Fernando Nocedal.

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