Maybe you’ve played or heard of The Oregon Trail computer game, developed in the 1970s and enjoyed by children and adults alike through the ’90s. The game let players take on the role of an Oregon Trail traveler in the mid-1800s, in a stimulation that required hunting for food, crossing rivers and completing other tasks to complete the trip successfully.
In real life, the Oregon Trail was an important wagon path spanning more than 2,100 miles from its starting point in Independence, Missouri, to its destination in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Oregon Trail contains rich American history, which you can still experience today in places like Baker City, Oregon.
Here’s more about the Oregon Trail, and how you can explore it near Senior Lifestyle’s Settler’s Park community.
History of the Oregon Trail
The first Oregon Trail wagon train left in May 1843, and the journey took around 6 months to complete. Many parties were lucky if everyone in their group survived, as around 10% of settlers died along the way.
The trail took settlers through states including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho. Along the way, settlers might encounter hazards such as river crossings, pestilence and diseases such as cholera and dysentery, and risk of food shortages and starvation. There were also skirmishes with Native American tribes and environmental hazards to navigate along the way.
Why would travelers face these extreme dangers and risks? Many were looking for more economic opportunity, while U.S. politicians also encouraged Western expansion. More than 400,000 pioneers braved the journey.
Baker City is one of the best places to experience the spirit of the Oregon Trail, as Oregon Trail travelers went through the area on their way to the Willamette Valley. If you’re interested in learning more about the Oregon Trail, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is an Oregon Trail museum Baker City providing living history demonstrations, exhibits, interpretive programs and more.
From the center atop Flagstaff Hill, you can still see nearly 7 miles of preserved ruts left by the Oregon Trail settler wagons, with the route extending south across Virtue Flat and north crossing the Baker Valley. From here, settlers could see the Blue Mountains, a sign they were close to ending their journey in the Willamette Valley.
While the Oregon Trail Baker City museum is temporarily closed through spring 2023 for major building renovations, you can start planning your visit now for when it reopens. Here’s what to expect on a visit to the Baker City Oregon Trail Museum and other ways you can explore Oregon Trail history around Baker City.
Ways to Explore the Oregon Trail
Visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is the best place to go for a full immersive experience of what life was like on the trail. Sitting on 500 acres, the center includes:
- Film presentations
- Flagstaff Gold Mine historical remains
- Gift shop
- Interpretive programs
- Life-size diorama displays and exhibits that explain the history of travelers, indigenous people who lived along the route, fur traders, missionaries, explorers and miners
- Live theater, amphitheater and living history presentations
- More than 4 miles of interpretive trails to hike
- Multimedia presentations
- Outdoor covered wagon encampments
- Special events
- Views of the historic trail route and real-life ruts created by pioneer wagons
While entry to the museum is temporarily closed, visitors can access the historic ruts off Highway 86 daily. Call 541-523-1843 for more information on that access.
See a National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center Road Performance
The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center has a summer performance series and other events and programs throughout the year. In 2022, the center brought performances to various locations around Baker City, to venues like the Crossroads Carnegie Arts Center and Geiser-Pollman Park.
Check the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center’s events and programs page to see what’s offered.
Visit the Baker Heritage Museum
While the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is closed, it moved a temporary Oregon Trail exhibit to the Baker Heritage Museum in Baker City. Formerly the Oregon Trail Regional Museum, the museum includes a two-story interpretive collection of Baker County’s history, dating back to the 1860s when settlement in the area picked up steam.
At the museum, you can also find a 1,350 square-foot rock, gem and mineral exhibit, as well as a Lapidary Room workroom. You can also find artifacts including regional Native American artifacts and stone tools, historical Baker City artifacts and Baker City logging, ranching and mining industry displays.
Stop By the Oregon Trail Motel and Restaurant
You won’t have to sleep in a wagon when you visit the Oregon Trail Motel Baker City. The motel’s modern-day accommodations are on the Powder River, a spot the Oregon Trail passed through. You can even book a room with a riverside view – no need to cross your oxen over the river to get where you need to go.
Guests get access to a free breakfast buffet. The Oregon Trail Restaurant next to the hotel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu full of American favorites like burgers, grilled cheese on Texas toast and the Oregon Trail Specialty: a 14-ounce ribeye.
Drive Through the Hells Canyon Byway
Oregon Trail settlers passed through the Hells Canyon Byway, which ends in Baker City. The byway spans more than 200 miles and features stunning views of rivers, mountains and valleys along the way. The full drive takes around 7 to 8 hours to complete, making it a fun day trip from Baker City with plenty of food, shops and galleries along the way.
Find a Home Near Oregon Trail Historical Sites
Senior Living has a community in Baker City called Settler’s Park. This Assisted Living and Memory Care center is close to Oregon Trail attractions like the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Visitors who come to visit loved ones in Settler’s Park have plenty of historical sites to explore nearby.