The town of La Grande isn’t the end of the Oregon Trail. But its setting—perched against the Blue Mountains, with the Grande Ronde River tumbling from the foothills—is so lovely that some 19th-century pioneers who went on to the Willamette Valley later returned here to homestead. Today, La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley of eastern Oregon are a fine place to take a break from the brisk pace of Interstate 84.
La Grande’s former fire station, situated on the corner of Elm Street and ashington Avenue right next to the town’s visitor center, serves as the new Eastern Oregon Fire Museum. A half- dozen spiffy vintage fire trucks are on display, including a restored 1939 Seagrave ladder truck and a 1925 Stutz engine that’s one of only nine such models ever built.
Enjoy a stroll and glimpse sandhill cranes on a new mile-long trail at Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area, seven miles southeast of La Grande. Follow State Route 203 to Peach Road. (541) 963-4954.
The popular eatery Foley Station is upscale enough for a special occasion but casual enough that you can drop in on a whim. For breakfast, sample one of several creative Belgian-style waffles. (Mine—piled high with Cuban bananas and accompanied by homemade spiced honey and fresh lime—smelled almost too good to eat.) Lunch and dinner choices include locally raised organic beef and lamb from the Double Diamond Ranch. After your meal, stop by some of the downtown district’s shops. You’ll find works by local artists at Fitzgerald Flowers and Marie Josephine Mercantile, yarn galore at Quilt Therapy, and bird-watching gear and advice at the Bobolink.
For a taste of the pioneer migration, walk the trails at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing, northwest of town. See faint traces of wagon tracks, then record your impressions of frontier life in the Continuing Oregon Trail Story journal, which is left out for visitors during the summer.
If you’re planning to travel east after your visit to La Grande and want to stay off the interstate a bit longer, consider the two-lane alternative, State Route 237, just east of town. Treat yourself to a soak at Cove Warm Springs Pool, then drive eight miles to Union, where the Union County Museum now houses the exhibit Cowboys Then & Now. And if, like the pioneers, you feel compelled to linger in the Grande Ronde Valley, the Union Hotel has 15 stylishly renovated rooms that began catering to guests back in 1921.
Photography by David Jensen
This article was first published in March 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.</p>
Area code is 541 unless noted. Pick up AAA's Oregon & Washington TourBook and map. Or contact Union County Tourism, (800) 848-9969, www.visitlagrande.com. Area code is 707 unless noted.
TO DO AND SEE
Eastern Oregon Fire Museum 102 Elm St., 963-8588, (800) 848-9969. Oregon Trail Interpretive Park at Blue Mountain Crossing $5 per vehicle. Exit 248 off I-84, 963-7186.
Foley Station 1114 Adams Ave., 963-7473, www.foleystation.com.
Union Hotel $39–$99. 326 N. Main St., Union, 562-6135, (888) 441-8928, www.theunionhotel.com.