: James Stolen

A Grand Time in La Grande

May 22, 2018

What’s grand about La Grande? The scenery, for starters. About midway between Pendleton and Baker City on Interstate 84, this friendly town is nestled between the majestic Blue and Wallowa Mountain ranges, along the ancestral home of the Nez Perce people. It’s also home to Eastern Oregon University and a vibrant arts and outdoors scene — yet tucked away so it still feels like a secret. Here’s how to explore La Grande in a weekend.

About midway between Pendleton and Baker City on Interstate 84, La Grande is surrounded by the majestic Blue Mountains. (Photo credit: James Stolen)

Eat like a local

Quench your thirst in a historic firehouse. That’s right — at Side A Brewing you can enjoy your Oregon Fog (hop-heavy hazy IPA) and grass-fed beef burger while brushing up on local fire history.  The downtown brewery takes up part of the historic La Grande Firehouse, along with a vintage fire truck, historical photos and artifacts that are part of the Eastern Oregon Fire Museum. The owners are passionate about sourcing top-quality ingredients from as close by as possible, including Hines Meat Co. and Kneads Bakery in La Grande; 6 Ranch in Enterprise; and Jen’s Garden and Sweet Wife Baking in Baker City.

Find more quintessential Eastern Oregon fare within walking distance. At Ten Depot omnivores delight in locally sourced meats, while vegans love the lentil pecan burger. Head to Joe & Sugar’s Cafe for brunch specials and to-go sandwiches that taste great from the trail. Dogs and hungry book lovers are welcome at JaxDog Café & Books. Other noteworthy eateries include Local HarvestGolden Crown and Yia Yia Nikki’s, to name a few.

At Side A Brewing you can enjoy your hazy IPA while brushing up on local fire history. (Photo credit: Side A Brewing)

Play outside

Just across the street from Joe & Sugar’s is Blue Mountain Outfitters, a one-stop shop for adventure — or as the owners like to say, the place to help you “do cool stuff in Eastern Oregon.” More than just new and used gear (clothing, shoes, camping and climbing equipment and more) for sale, they’ve got maps of the area; a borrowing library of books about local trails, hot springs and other attractions; and U.S. Forest Service recreation passes for purchase for nearby forest areas and trails. Mountain and river lovers know that La Grande is an ideal basecamp to big adventures in the Blue Mountain Scenic Corridor and State Park, Anthony Lakes, Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

The 182-mile Grande Ronde River skirts La Grande as it weaves through the Blue Mountains. (Photo credit: James Stolen)

Outdoor adventure is close to home too. Hop onto the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway from La Grande. Just two miles north of town, Mt. Emily Recreation Area (MERA) is ideal for nearly every type of on-the-ground fun — miles of singletrack and double-track for mountain bikers; trails for hikers, equestrians and wildflower photographers; dedicated routes for ATV and ORV use; plus cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails in winter. Spring Mountain Climbing Area is a climber’s paradise, with half- to multi-pitch routes, high elevation and shady areas for sunny days, secluded crags and unbeatable vistas. Along the Grande Ronde River, Hilgard Junction State Park offers camping and rafting access. To the south, Morgan Lake is a serene 60-acre lake ripe for fishing, stocked annually with rainbow trout (no motorboats allowed). Visit Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area in spring for the best wildlife viewing, timed perfectly with an annual bird festival.

MERA is home to 31 miles of mountain bike trails. (Photo credit: James Stolen)
Spring wildflowers bloom along the trails of Mt. Emily. (Photo credit: James Stolen)
Spring Mountain is considered one of the best climbing crags in Eastern Oregon. (Photo credit: James Stolen)
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See the sights

Block out time to drive the Grande Tour Route, a scenic 80-mile loop from La Grande to the little towns of Cove, Union, Medical Springs and back. It passes the iconic Hot Lake Springs, 8 miles southeast of downtown La Grande, where you can take a mineral soak, tour the bronze casting facility, learn about the native culture dating back to the 1800s and even stay at the Hot Lake Springs Bed & Breakfast, with access to special soaking tubs. Afterwards consider a detour to the Cove-Union Farm Loop for fresh produce and behind-the-scenes tours (call ahead).

Pack a picnic for a journey to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing, just outside of downtown La Grande, where you can walk through Ponderosa pines on miles of paved trails next to wagon ruts that are some of the most well-preserved remnants of the Oregon Trail.

Take a mineral soak at Hot Lake Springs, located 8 miles southeast of downtown La Grande. (Photo credit: Hot Lake Springs)

Enjoy the arts

Did you known La Grande is a haven for the arts? It’s featured on the Northeast Oregon Arts Trail for good reason. The Grande Ronde Symphony Orchestra is the oldest continuously running community orchestra in Oregon, dating back to the 1940s. It’s a collaboration with Eastern Oregon University students and musicians, who rehearse and perform orchestra, chamber series and symphonic concerts for the public year-round. EOU students also take the stage at the McKenzie Theatre; while La Grande Shakespeare Co. brings the bard to Eastern Oregon. Every October, downtown La Grande is abuzz for the Eastern Oregon Film Festival.

For visual arts, the Art Center East downtown is one of several downtown spaces that make for lovely souvenir shopping. The vibrant gallery hosts free exhibits and community events that showcase artists from Northeastern Oregon.

The Eastern Oregon Film Festival features three days of independent film, music and celebration. (Photo credit: James Stolen)

 

When you go

For something rustic, pitch a tent at a campsite at Spring Creek Campground, just off the highway, west of town. For a more boutique experience, stay in the heart of downtown at The Landing Hotel, with an on-site wine bar. The La Grande Inn and the Historic Union Hotel (with 15 uniquely themed rooms) are also local favorites. For more options, see the Union County lodging page.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

Featured in this story

Side A Brewing
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Kneads Bakery
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Ten Depot
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Joe & Sugar’s
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Yia Yia Nikki’s
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Blue Mountain Outfitters
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
The Wallowas
Blue Mountain Scenic Corridor and State Park
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway
134Mi, Challenging
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Mt. Emily Recreation Area
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Hilgard Junction State Park
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Morgan Lake
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Grande Tour Route
Hot Lake Springs
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Cove-Union Farm Loop
Northeast Oregon Arts Trail
Baker City, Eastern Oregon
Art Center East
La Grande, Eastern Oregon

Where to stay in La Grande

Hot Lake Springs
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Spring Creek Campground
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
La Grande Inn
La Grande, Eastern Oregon
Historic Union Hotel

Trip Ideas

  • Grande Tour Route
    Eighty miles/129 kilometers of big mountain views and small ranching communities await on this peaceful tour through the Grande Ronde and Powder river valleys, an easy detour off Interstate 84. More
  • Encounters at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area
    An artist's brush is like a treasure hunt where each stroke is a revealing clue that can lead you somewhere new. For me, it was a chance encounter with wildlife artist and La Grande resident, Jan Clark,... More
  • Eastern Oregon Lake Hikes
    If fall is coming, nobody’s told Eastern Oregon. The warm, sunny days are the perfect time to hit the trail for late season wildflower meadows, deep forests and hidden alpine lakes. Check out these gorgeous... More

Ask Oregon

What hikes near La Grande do you suggest?

The city of La Grande is home to a lot of great hikes, including the Mount Emily Recreation Area (MERA). At 3,669 acres, MERA is one of the most elite trail systems in Eastern Oregon — plus it’s only two miles from downtown La Grande. If you have a day to spare, I highly recommend traveling a…

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