The Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway
This 106-mile loop is a voyage through gold booms, ghost towns and the
enchanting natural beauty of the Elkhorn Mountains.
A. Baker City
the late 1800s, Baker City was dubbed the Queen City of the Mines. Indeed,
many who pushed west on the Oregon trail stopped short of the Willamette
Valley in the Baker City area to mine gold. 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 turn-of-the-century
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.
B. 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 half-mile long paved trail offers river access. The river empties
into 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 four 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. A 2.4 million pound dredge that dates back to
1935 is on display in a park at the edge of town; it's rumored to be haunted
by a ghost.
D. Gold in Granite
Sumpter, the Byway climbs to take in dramatic views of the Elkhorns, eventually
reaching Blue Springs Summit (5,864 ft.), a popular snowmobiling venue.
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, as no services are available
until you reach Baker City.
E. Climbing Elkhorn Summit
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 its apex at Elkhorn Mountain Summit (7,392 ft.). The jagged
peaks in view here form the backdrop for the Anthony Lakes Recreation
F. The Lake District
Within a few miles of each other, Grande Ronde Lake and Anthony Lake
offer picturesque settings for 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.
G. Historic Haines
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" (pop. 370). Visit the Eastern Oregon Museum, which features
an extensive collection of pioneer antiques. Continue south on U.S. Route
30 to reach Baker City.