Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sumpter, OR: Historic, Beautiful and Wild!

Our drive from Burns to Sumpter was gorgeous. Heading North on hwy 395 we passed through the Divine Canyon Scenic Corridor where jagged lava spires skirted in Ponderosa Pine followed us through the curves. Turning East on hwy 26 at John Day we passed through rolling green hills edged with snow capped peaks. Then North on hwy 7 into the trees again we rolled into the historic gold mining town of Sumpter.

Downtown Sumpter, OR.

Sumpter is tiny, about 200 people live here, and many of the buildings on Main St. wear For Sale signs. It's on the Elkhorn Scenic Byway and nestled against the Elkhorn Mountain Range. There's plenty of mining history to explore here and outdoor recreation in many forms: primarily ATV and snowmobiling, but hiking, biking, boating, fishing and birding are also easily accessible. There's a hotel in town, a couple of restaurants and a bar, where we enjoyed live music by The Channel Cats on Saturday night.

We spent four nights at Sumpter Pines RV Park, a great little full hookup park in the pine trees, with excellent 4G Verizon signal. ATVing is big here in the summer, and we were happy that there were not a lot of them around stirring up dust during our stay. We even attended the owners birthday celebration, good folks run this place.

Just down the street from the RV park is the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Historic Site. This enormous dredge used the Powder River to turn over massive amounts of rock and soil in search of gold from 1935 - 1954. It was the third dredge to work the area since the turn of the century, so a huge swath of the Powder River basin was damaged in the hunt for gold. Fortunately nature is making a comeback, deer are abundant, beaver are working the creeks, and fishing is good.

The dredge dug its own pond as it performed its job of scooping up the riverbed,
sorting out the possible gold, and eliminating the excess rock out the back.

Each of the 72 scoopers weigh 1 ton!

Large rocks were conveyed up this boom and deposited back into the river basin.

Row upon row of stone piles now make up the Powder River basin.

The friendly ranger and host at the Dredge Visitor Center tipped us off to the Twin Lakes Trail. At 7.5 miles RT and with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain this was a pretty strenuous hike, but so worth it! Gorgeous forest, tumbling creeks, expansive vistas, snowy peaks, luscious green meadows criss-crossed with myriad snow melt streams, patches of snow, a lovely cirque lake and the potential to see mountain goats.

We searched valiantly for mountain goats, saw lots of goat droppings, but the only goat we saw was a skeleton. The lower lake sits at about 7,500 feet and was fully engulfed in snow and mostly covered in ice, quite a beautiful sight indeed!

Lake Creek was flowing strong.

This beautiful meadow laced with streams sat below the lake basin,
which is just over the hill and shrouded in clouds.
Behind the clouds were jagged, snow capped mountain peaks.

Signs of spring were emerging all over the meadow.

Behind us the views opened up to the Sumpter Valley.

Ahead of us the approach to the lake basin became a little treacherous.
Once we realized exactly where the lake had to be we avoided the snow
and walked across the soggy meadow because the snow was quite slippery!

The lake basin was a vision in white.

The only mountain goat we saw on this hike...
Perhaps a bear or a mountain lion dragged it into the trees?

For our last adventure we drove up to the almost ghost town of Granite, OR, then a few miles further to the Granite Creek trail head. This 7.2 mile RT trail goes into the magnificent North Fork John Day Wilderness, always in sight or earshot of Granite Creek. Except, we didn't make it the whole way, after an incredible wildlife sighting we decided to turn around when we came to some very heavy brush...didn't want to run in to another bear! We were plenty happy with about 4.5 miles and a bear family sighting!!!

Gorgeous trail along Granite Creek.

I stopped to take a picture of some flowers on the hillside above us and this family strolled into the picture!
Mama was quite large and the two cubs quite small...and only about 75 feet above us!
Talk about an adrenaline rush...

We're heading North tomorrow. One last thing...Thanks Amanda for your How To Grill Pizza Blog Post! You inspired me to try something new and it was delicious!

Grilled pizza!


  1. Thanks to Roads Less Traveled, I found your great blog. Glad you're enjoying this amazing lifestyle! Lynda

    1. Thanks for reading Lynda, and now I know your blog too!

  2. I think I would need a beer too after seeing momma and baby bears. And the pizza looks great.

    1. Yeah, it was pretty scary, and beer worthy!

  3. Can't say I'm a big fan of dredging. But then as now, some people will do anything for money. Feeling sorry for the poor Powder River. Wonder what it looked like before it was so altered. But WOW those look like great hikes. Snow in the middle of June in Oregon. Goes to show I know nothing about Oregon so I'm following you closely. I can't believe a grizzly family walked into your picture. That must have been a real rush. Good plan not to push your luck.

    1. Hopefully we have learned from our past how terribly we have abused mother nature. (Though that isn't entirely true, we still abuse mother nature, just in different places and ways...)

      Those were actually black bears. In the West the sun is so strong that black bears are often shades of brown to mitigate the intensity of the sun. Yes indeed, it was incredibly thrilling AND scary!

  4. That lake basin is so beautiful! I'm surprised at all the snow in June but glad to see summer taking its time in an area we hope to visit this time next year :-). What a wonderful bear sighting and glad they just kept moving as you did. Now you know you can take pictures when you aren't breathing!!

  5. WooHoo!! Great bear shot! What a thrill that must have been. Great part of Oregon that we're going to have to see soon.

  6. Wow! That's a lot of snow. It looks pretty- but cold! I can't believe you had a bear sighting that close. I would have been terrified. Thanks for the shout out for the grilled pizza recipe. It looks delicious! I love fresh corn on pizza. Yum!

  7. Wow, what a gorgeous spot you found there! I didn't get to see any of the John Day wilderness, or the eastern side, for that matter. I swear, I could spend the entire summer just exploring this gorgeous state! What a GREAT bear family shot! This Goldilocks would have had some knocking knees for sure!

  8. Snow in June! I would love to take your hikes. This is part of CA that I only hear by name but never been there. That's a thrill to see those bears but really scary too!

  9. What a "cool" hike!! I love the lake still covered with ice and snow. What a great find on your other hike to see mama and her cubs. Super photo:)

    Pizza on the grill is so good!!! Yours looks yummy!

  10. What great hikes! Love all the snow. And what a thrill to see the baby bears with mama. I would have turned around too!

  11. Isn't that a most beautiful part of the country??

  12. Gotta love a hike that starts in sun and ends up with snow and fog. Bonus - bears?? Exciting, but scary!

  13. Thanks for the link to the Road Less Travelled - adventurous day hikes. Not sure how adventurous I am, but I've bookmarked it for when we go across to Oregon and Washington. Always looking for new ideas - being on the road full time takes a lot of planning, especially when you aren't familiar with the country.

    1. Agreed! Right now we are in a place with very few developed trails and very few resources from the local visitor center. I am having a heck of a time figuring out what to do each day...lots and lots of research!