Plan Your Trip: Journey Through the Wild West
There’s a place where cowboys and Native Americans aren’t just characters in old western movies; where cattle drives, campfire stories, and endless star-studded skies are part of everyday life. Here in the John Day River Territory, we live history every day, and we’re eager to share it with you. So pack your spurs and hit the road for a chance to experience the Wild West as it really was.
Here's a sneak peek of what you'll see:
The adventure begins in Sherman County, a series of family farms and friendly communities sprinkled throughout the hills overlooking the mighty Columbia River.
Start the day with a hearty country breakfast and a homemade cinnamon roll at Moro Cafe and Bakery. While you’re in Moro, mosey on over to the aw
Spend the morning learning about the lives of early pioneers and explorers, hardy people whose work ethic and grit have been passed down to today’s generation of local family farmers. Special exhibits for little buckaroos include tracing Native American petroglyphs and milling bags of flour.
From Moro, take Highway 97 north to Biggs Junction and follow I-84 east to Arlington, a peaceful riverfront community and important shipping port for farmers’ crops. Stop by the River’s Edge Deli for a filling wrap or fresh salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic by the water in the lush Earl Snell Memorial Park.
Head south from Arlington on Highway 19 and be on the lookout for the Oregon Trail Historical Marker. More than 150 years ago, wagon trains rumbled through these hills as early settlers made their way west from Missouri to the Willamette Valley.
Back on Highway 19, you’ll pass century-old farms withfields that change from earth to emerald to amber as the seasons progress. Notice the region’s newest crop: windmills, whose clusters of white pillars and massive turbines rise up in all directions.
Highway 19 makes a winding descent into the green Rock Creek Valley. To the right, you’ll see Crum Mill, one of Gilliam County’s oldest buildings. During the late 1800s, wheat farmers from miles around brought their crops here to be milled into flour.
Continue along Highway 19 until you reach charming Condon, whose historical Main Street District resembles a Norman Rockwell painting.
Stop in at Country Flowers for a treat from its old-fashioned soda fountain. You’ll also find unique, locally-crafted gifts and an Eastern Oregon branch of the famous Powell’s Bookstore.
Save part of your afternoon for a visit to the Gilliam County Historical Museum (Highway 19; Open: May 1-October 31, Wednesday-Sunday, 1pm-5pm). An authentic one-room schoolhouse and brothel-turned-barbershop are just a few of the century-old buildings that make up the Museum’s collection and provide a glimpse into the lives of early settlers here.
Visit the Round-Up Grill for a cold brew and homestyle dinner and bunk down for the night at the beautifully restored Hotel Condon or the clean and comfortable Condon Motel. If you’re visiting over the weekend, catch the latest box office hit at the historic Liberty Theatre.
Day 2: Condon to John Day
Begin the morning with a cowboy-style breakfast at Nana's Cafe or opt for a more modern latte at Country Flowers. Before you leave town, be sure to stock up on lunch supplies at one of the two markets in town or order a picnic lunch from Sandi’s Soups & Catering.
Also, unless you’re traveling by horseback, it’s a good idea to fill up your gas tank here too.
From Condon, follow Highway 206 towards Heppner and take a right down Lonerock Road. The road leads to a beautiful valley and the quaint community of Lonerock, a once booming pioneer town. Look for the huge rock -- the town’s namesake -- next to a sparkling Methodist church, which dates back to 1898 and is still used for weddings and other special events.
There are several historical buildings dating back to the late 1800s, including a jail (1891) and a schoolhouse (1881). Be sure to check out the community’s unique post office too.
From Lonerock, follow Buttermilk Canyon Road and take a right on Hale Ridge Road. Hale Ridge Road turns into Hardman Ridge Road and leads to the ghost town of Hardman. Along the way keep your eyes peeled for real life cowboys hard at work; this area is filled with century-old working cattle ranches and farms.
Heading south from Hardman on Highway 207, the scenery changes dramatically from sagebrush-filled canyons and big skies to dense forest. Follow the switchback road until it intersects with Highway 19 near Spray, a western community known for its annual Rodeo, which attracts cowboys from miles around each Memorial Day weekend. Spray also offers visitors food, lodging, and the peaceful Riverfront Park for swimming and relaxing in the John Day River.
Continue along Highway 19 until you reach the tiny outpost of Kimberly and Thomas Orchards, a sweet, juicy stop for travelers. Bushels of fresh cherries, peaches, pears, and other fruits are available throughout the growing season (April to October) at the Orchard’s Fruit Stand.
Turn left and follow Highway 402 as it passes through sprawling cattle ranches and the friendly communities of Monument and Long Creek. Take Highways 395 and 26 to John Day, the largest town in these parts.
Spend the afternoon at the Grant County Ranch & Rodeo Museum (241 E. Main Street; Open: May 1-September 31, Thursday-Saturday, 10am to 4pm). The Museum’s collection includes saddles, bits, spurs, ropes, tools and an extensive photo collection that tells the story of the American cowboy in this rough and rugged landscape.
For dinner, wrestle up a thick steak, fresh salads, and hand-dipped ice cream at the Outpost Pub and Grill and stay overnight in John Day.
Day 3: John Day to Fossil
Start the day with a down home breakfast at The Squeeze In Restaurant and Deck.
Then mosey over to Canyon City and the Grant County Historical Museum (101 S. Canyon City Blvd (Hwy 395); Open: May 1-September 30, Monday-Saturday, 9am-4:30pm). With more than 3,300 vintage photographs and interesting exhibits, the Museum tells the story of the 1860s Gold Rush, which led Canyon City to become the largest city in Oregon for a time. The Museum also contains Native American artifacts, a collection of beautiful gemstones, and exhibits documenting the rugged pioneers who settled here.
Before leaving Canyon City, stop by Oxbow Trade Company (303 S. Canyon City Blvd (Hwy 395); (541) 575-2911; Call in advance for tours), which builds and restores horse-drawn wagons and coaches and offers tours of their facility.
Return to John Day and follow Highway 26 east to Dayville. Pose for pictures outside the town’s miniature Western storefronts then head across the street to the Dayville Cafe, which serves up hearty portions and thick slices of homemade pie.
Continue along Highway 26, slowing down for Picture Gorge. From the outside, it looks like a geological wonder, a deep crevice slicing through jagged rocks, but the real treasure lies on Picture Gorge’s walls: sacred, centuries-old pictographs. The pictures, depicting humans, animals and geometric designs, were painted by Native Americans using pigment made from local minerals.
Continue through Picture Gorge and turn right on Highway 19 toward the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Stop at the Cant Ranch (Open: Monday-Thursday and alternate Fridays; 9am-4pm), an oasis in the surrounding jagged canyons and rugged landscape. The homestead harkens back to the early 1900s when wool and sheep were booming industries in the area. The white, two-story home James and Elizabeth Cant used to entertain guests and educate local schoolchildren is now a wonderfully preserved museum, which provides visitors with a glimpse of ranching life here in the 1900s.
Continue along Highway 19. You’ll pass through the communities of Kimberly, Spray, and Service Creek until finally reaching the town of Fossil, nestled in the beautiful Butte Creek Valley.
Pop into RJ’s for a succulent steak, cold brew, and friendly conversation with the locals.
Then, for an authentic cowboy experience, stay at Wilson Ranches Retreat, a friendly bed and breakfast located on a 9,000 acre cattle ranch. Spend the evening marveling over Eastern Oregon’s unmatched sunsets and starry nights; the same ones that have welcomed pioneers and dreamers for more than 150 years.
Day 4: Fossil to Shaniko
Take advantage of Phil and Nancy Wilson’s famed “pioneer hospitality” with a hearty country breakfast. Then set off on your own Wilson Ranches adventure. You can choose from horseback riding, fishing on the John Day River, hiking, even a real life cattle drive or just spend the morning taking in the peace and serenity of this beautiful place.
Before you leave Fossil, visit the Historic Wheeler County Courthouse, Fossil Museum anOne-Room School House. Then wander down Main Street and stop in at the Fossil General Mercantile (1883) for your day’s provisions. Be sure to check out the quilt display and some of the memorabilia from the store’s early days.
From Fossil, follow Highway 218 for one last stop on our Wild West Adventure: Shaniko, a living ghost town. Once the largest inland wool shipping center in the world, today Shaniko is a link to the Wild West through its gorgeous historical buildings, can-do pioneer spirit, and annual events celebrating the region’s rich western heritage.