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Haven’t heard of Baker City, Oregon? It’s located along Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon near the Idaho border. With tons of fun things to do, it’s worth adding a stop to your Pacific Northwest United States road trip.
Baker City was called the “Paris of the Northwest” back in the late 1800s when the city was the center of the Western gold rush that lasted well into the 20th century. Now, the town features numerous attractions, a stunningly beautiful downtown and great cuisine that spans from ranch-grown beef BBQ to Chinese.
Where is Baker City?
Historic Baker City is a charming small town nestled in the Baker Valley. With the Blue Mountains all around, this beautiful town has long been a part of Oregon state history. First, as the major Eastern Oregon city along the Oregon Trail and later as a gold boom town. Now, it’s a scenic city rich with history, amazing food and wonderful people. It is the county seat of Baker County.
Located 5 hours east of Portland, Oregon, Baker City sits close to the Idaho border. Boise is roughly 2 hours away. Let’s explore Baker City!
5 Things to Do in Baker City Oregon
1. Gold Rush History at Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area
Our first stop in the Baker City area was at Sumpter, which is up in the Elkhorn mountains above Baker City. Sumpter, now a very small town, was once a boomtown as a gold rush hit in the late 1800’s. At its peak, Sumpter was home to 4,000 people. We were in Sumpter to see the Sumpter Valley Dredge, a giant machine that separated gold from rock and dirt.
As the Powder River was rich with gold, the Dredge operated throughout the Sumpter Valley. At the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, our kids were able to pan for gold with a State Park Ranger and we were able to be a part of a led tour that highlighted the valley’s history, geology and mining legacy. The Heritage Area is definitely worth the 30 minute drive up from Baker City as the scenery is beautiful. This site is seasonal so be sure to check hours before driving up.
2. Explore the Outdoors in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
Baker City makes the perfect jumping off point for outdoor enthusiasts. The 2.4 million acre Wallowa-Whitman National Forest extends from mountains (the Blue and Wallowa) all the way down to the Snake River on the Idaho border. This vast area includes many sites of natural wonder including Hells Canyon. If you think the Grand Canyon is the deepest canyon in the United States you’ve been lied to. Hells Canyon is actually 2000 feet deeper!
3. Travel Back in Time at the Baker Heritage Museum
To fully immerse yourself in Baker City heritage, we recommend a visit to the Baker Heritage Museum. The collections focus on a 100 year period between 1860 and 1960 covering topics ranging from Native American artifacts to wildlife to logging to Chinese heritage in Baker City.
4. Walk the National Historic Oregon Trail
Being right on the Oregon Trail, Baker City is home to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. The Center is 10 minutes out of Baker City. It overlooks the Baker Valley and provides a glimpse at life on the trails using interactive displays, movies and more. Our children, aged 6-10, all walked away with a taste of what it was like to be an Oregon pioneer in the 1800s.
Run by the Bureau of Land Management, the site spans 500 acres. You can see remnants of the old Flagstaff Mine and actual ruts in the ground made by gold-seeking pioneers.
5. Visit the Cornucopia Oregon Ghost Town
Located near present day Baker City is the ghost town of Cornucopia. The town was platted (planned) in 1886. It is located east of Baker City and due north from Halfway Oregon. The Great Depression dramatically dropped the population of this mining town from over 700 down to just 10. Then it made a comeback in the early 1940’s before World War II closed it down again. It’s remained a ghost town up to the present time.
If you plan to head out here know that though it looks close on a map the drive is close to 2 hours. It is a great add-on to a Baker City trip though, especially if you plan to stay a night in the Cornucopia Lodge. They have private cabins and offer extras like horseback riding. This trip is best geared towards families with older kids who want to snap a photo for Instagram. There are several buildings still standing including the Cornucopia Jail, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Where To Eat in Baker City Oregon
Due to COVID-19, we highly recommend verifying hours before heading to any of the below restaurants.
Barley Brown’s Brew Pub
If you’re familiar with Oregon beer and brewers, you might be familiar with Barley Brown’s. The Baker City brewery features amazing beers and at their brew pub in downtown Baker City – yummy, family friendly dining. We sat outside and had a wonderful meal. Portions are large and well-priced.
D&J Taco Shop
Our family loves tacos – and Baker City has a great little corner taco shop. We each had either chicken or steak tacos. It was a fantastic meal that was quite affordable. The shop itself is small but they offer carryout and outdoor dining.
Sweet Wife Bakery
Located one block off Main street in historic Baker City is Sweet Wife Bakery, a family-owned bakery that’s as cute inside as the treats are yummy. We had sweet treats and an iced coffee and enjoyed talking to the owner and socializing with others on an evening stroll.
Make Baker City Oregon a Road Trip Stop
Baker City, Oregon should definitely be on your list of family road trip stops. We found the city to be charming, fun and easily accessible for families. In fact – we’re already planning on visiting next summer!