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Oregon State Route 86

 


Stretching roughly 70 miles between the state border with Idaho at the Snake River to the county seat of Baker County, Oregon at Baker City, Oregon Route 86 traverses some of the best countryside that northeastern Oregon has to offer. Part of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway and also known as the Baker-Copperfield Highway, OR 86 ascends from the deepest gorge in North America, past a plethora of hills to the fertile valleys where Halfway and Richland are located. Settlers first became attracted to the area when gold was struck in the southern region of the Wallowa Mountains back in the 1860s, and stuck around to make a living in forestry or agriculture.

Further west, OR 86 follows the Powder River and crosses plateaus with a more high desert terrain complete with sagebrush. As the highway draws closer to Baker City, OR 86 crosses the historic Oregon Trail, and if you look closely enough, you may even spot some old wagon ruts from the days of yore. Another one of Oregon's mountain ranges, the prominent Blue Mountains, comes into view before OR 86's journey draws to a close at I-84.

This photographic journey along OR 86 will go from east to west from the Snake River to Baker City.

OR 86 begins as it crosses the Snake River at the small community of Oxbow, Oregon.

The Oregon-Idaho border is also the border between the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones.

OR 86 begins to ascend the hills with the Pine Creek at its side. The highway will follow Pine Creek for most of the distance between Oxbow and Halfway.

Ponderosa pines dot the landscape. While this is a semi-arid landscape, it is still plenty green at the beginning of June.

A pull-off at the side of OR 86 affords a great view of Pine Creek and the surrounding hills.

Hang it in the Louvre!

Climb those hills.

Turn right to drive up the heart of the Wallowas, Imnaha and Joseph. There is also an overlook along the way where you can see the Hells Canyon.

"Whoa, we're half way there! Whoa, livin' on a prayer! Take my hand, we'll make it I swear!" With apologies to Bon Jovi, maybe I shouldn't quit my day job and just keep on driving.

Sweeping curves amongst the hills on our way to Halfway.

Our first look at the mighty Wallowas, one of the seven wonders of Oregon. With their jagged peaks, it's no wonder why they're called the "Alps of Oregon".

Meanwhile, there's plenty of land for pasture along OR 86.

As we get closer to Halfway, we're in a valley and agriculture is an important part of the local economy.

The small town of Halfway is actually located just off of OR 86. Halfway is a jumping off point for outdoor activities including backpacking, llama excursions, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fishing, hunting and other Hells Canyon adventures.

Keeping on OR 86 westbound here, but Halfway is a good stopping point along the way. On to Richland and Baker City!

Leaving Halfway and starting to ascend upon the next set of hills that OR 86 crosses.

The rolling hills in the distance are quite scenic.

But you can also see into the valley below.

Reaching the summit of 3.653 feet above sea level. I believe this is the highest elevation along OR 86, but barely as the highway is also at over 3,600 feet above sea level just east of Baker City.

Starting our descent towards Richland, but there's still some grassy plateau to contend with.

But then, the scenery along the road going westbound becomes decidedly more scenic.

The farms around Richland are coming back into view.

A view of the bottom of the valley from OR 86.

As we get closer to Richland, there's a few trees along OR 86 as well.


Entering Richland, Oregon. Richland is known as the Banana Belt of Baker County, Oregon due to its mild temperatures and sunny skies. Richland is also close to the Powder River arm of the Brownlee Reservoir, which goes into the Snake River.

Downtown Richland.

Leaving Richland and encountering a pony truss bridge along the way. OR 86 has traveled mostly south from Halfway and mostly southwest from Oxbox at this point, but the highway travels more west between here and Baker City.

Starting to ascend hills once again. OR 86 will be following the Powder River for a while and the road follows the river bed at the bottom of the hills.

There's not much traffic on OR 86, but I followed this trailer for a while.

Eventually, the trailer turned off and I had OR 86 to my lonesome again. I really enjoy these long, quiet drives, and we don't get this as much in Upstate New York where I live.

View of Hole-in-the-Wall from the Hole-in-the-Wall interpretive site, which is a pull-off along OR 86. This was a site of a massive landslide in September 1984 where a stretch of OR 86 was buried underneath for some time.

A further explanation of the aforementioned landslide. Click on the picture to learn more.

Despite the history of landslides in this area, OR 86 is mighty scenic along the gorge of the Powder River.

Pretty views and a random mailbox make up this portion of OR 86.

While the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway is north of 200 miles, the entire length of OR 86 makes up part of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.

As we get closer to Baker City, the farms reappear as we've entered another valley.

Plus we get our first view of the Elkhorn Mountains in the distance. Like the Wallowas that are visible from OR 86 near Halfway, the Elkhorns are part of the Blue Mountains, which contain the second highest group of mountains in Oregon.

But as OR 86 veers away from the valley of the Powder River, the terrain becomes hillier again, plus a bit more arid. 

Ascending to the crest of the hill.

And down the hill.

Seeing for miles and miles along OR 86.

There's those Elkhorns again. This was the last group of mountains that pioneers along the Oregon Trail had to pass before reaching the Columbia River Gorge and the Cascades.

Turn right for the National Oregon Trail Historic Interpretive Center. Closed for renovations at the time of writing this article (January 2023), the 23,000 square-foot interpretive center first opened in 1993 atop Flagstaff Hill and overlooks nearly seven miles of well preserved Oregon Trail ruts that extend across Virtue Flat southeast of Flagstaff Hill. The interpretive center includes a museum and exhibits related to the Oregon Trail.

After passing by the the National Oregon Trail Historic Interpretive Center, we finally reach the fields and farms just to the east of Baker City, one of the most historic towns in eastern Oregon. In 1900, it was the third largest city in Oregon and was once one of the only cities between Salt Lake City and Portland hosted traveling theater and opera performers. While Baker City is not quite as populated as some other cities around Oregon, it now boasts a health population of just over 10,000 people.

OR 86's western end is at I-84, with the downtown of Baker City just a few miles ahead.

OR 86 was just a fun drive, but now this journey must end.


How to Get There:



Sources and Links:
Corco Highways - Oregon Route 86
Hells Canyon Scenic Byway - Route Information
TripCheck - The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

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