Located along Route 86 approximately six miles northeast of Baker City, Oregon, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center showcases the pioneer history of the American Northwest, featuring living history demonstrations, exhibits, and interpretive programming on a 500-acre site.
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Originally laid throughout the early 19th century, the Oregon Trail spanned 2,170 miles from the Missouri River area through Oregon’s Willamette Valley. While not a road in the modern sense, the trail consisted of parallel ruts comprising a trade and travel route for pioneers and entrepreneurs on foot and horseback. Its eastern section stretched across what is now Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming, while its western route comprised much of the future states of Idaho and Oregon. The trail connected with the 1843 California Trail, the 1847 Mormon Trail, and the 1863 Bozeman Trail. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, more than 400,000 pioneers traversed the route, looking to settle in the American Northwest for the purposes of farming, mining, ranching, and business creation. Following the creation of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, use of the route declined substantially, but the trail served as the outline for a number of modern roads and highways, including Interstate Highways 80 and 84.
The idea for the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center dates back to 1984 and the creation of the Oregon Trail Advisory Council, spearheaded by then-Oregon Governor Victor Atiyeh to oversee preservation and development related to the historic route. In 1990, the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council nonprofit organization was founded to oversee activities related to the trail’s upcoming sesquicentennial celebration, including the creation of several interpretive centers along the trail’s route. The Baker City location was chosen due to the area’s existing commitment to historic preservation projects, which included a restoration of the city’s historic Sumpter Valley Railway and the incorporation of more than 110 downtown buildings into a National Historic District. Planning for the center began in 1987, with funding accumulated through the late 1980s for the development of a five-acre site as a living history center. In May of 1992, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center opened to the public.
Permanent Attractions and Exhibits
Today, the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center encompasses a 500-acre area six miles outside of Baker City, located along Route 86 on Flagstaff Hill. The site is owned by the United States Bureau of Land Management, operated in conjunction with the Oregon Trail Preservation Trust and the Trail Tenders nonprofit organization. A variety of programming is offered at the center, including museum exhibits, living history demonstrations, and interpretive programming and special events, along with outdoor spaces for hiking and exploration.
The 23,000-square-foot Interpretive Center showcases a number of museum exhibits, featuring life-sized dioramas, wagon replicas, and a collection of artifacts related to the settlers that traveled along the Oregon Trail. A permanent exhibit gallery immerses visitors in the experience of pioneers traveling the route and focuses on the environmental challenges faced by travelers and their interactions with indigenous tribes. The process of homesteading and the early days of settler life in Oregon are also explored through exhibits, as well as the mining of the area and the establishment of the United States’ General Land Office and the Bureau of Land Management. Interactive displays and short multimedia films are featured throughout the gallery, which takes approximately one hour to tour. Special rotating exhibits are also featured at the Flagstaff Gallery, focusing on cultural and historical topics and figures related to the Oregon Trail.
A variety of daily interpretive programming is offered at the site, including living history demonstrations and performances bringing the spirit of pioneer living to life for visitors in the modern day. Programming includes Campfire Conversations and Evening Chats with staff interpreters, demonstrations of pioneer-era skills and trades, and narrated experiences of women and children who traveled the route. A Wagon Encampment area offers six full-scale replica covered wagons and provides a view of the Trail from the top of Flagstaff Hill. Lectures, films, and musical performances are also showcased throughout the year at the Center’s Leo Adler Theater. More than four miles of hiking trails are also provided throughout the site, including areas showcasing original ruts from the Trail.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to standard admission, group tours of the Interpretive Center are offered for small groups and organizations of 10 or more participants, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school students. A variety of special event programming is offered at the Center throughout the year, including a Labor Day weekend Wagon Encampment reenactment event, a Meet the Pioneers event over Memorial Day weekend, and an annual 5K/10K Run to the Ruts event in June. The Center also participates in the National Public Lands Day celebration every September, encouraging volunteers to help with park conservation efforts.
22267 OR-86, Baker City, OR 97814, Phone: 541-523-1843