Roughly a hundred and fifty years ago, an isolated water spring was a popular camping spot for travelers on the Oregon Trail. Today, Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is a popular camping spot for travelers on Interstate 84. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Those 19th-century campers found shelter from the world among the same old-growth trees that you park your RV underneath today. That’s a pretty cool feeling.
There’s more to do here than soak up the history. There are a number of hiking trails to explore on foot or on horseback. Alternatively, you can just blaze your own trail, like so many of those early pioneers did. The first covered wagons parked here around 1812. During your trek, enjoy all the vibrant life that the forest has to offer. Heavy winter snowfalls often transform Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area into a winter wonderland. It’s almost like a different park altogether.
This park has about a dozen hookup RV sites and many more primitive sites. At least some of them are open all year long. So, whatever time of year you are on the Oregon Trail, er, Interstate 84, you are always welcome at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area.
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is about halfway between Portland and Boise along Interstate 84. Just like they have been for thousands of years, the forests in Eastern Oregon are very dense, and the trees are very tall. But even in this remote part of the state, Interstate 84 is a wide and well-travelled highway that’s a solid route in all weather.
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is not far from Meacham, which is itself a tiny little piece of Oregon Trail history. The town has gas, groceries, and a couple of nice lunch counter-type restaurants.
There is not a whole lot of parking in this state park, but most people come here so they do not have to drive for a while. So, that makes sense.
If you’re searching for a place to relax and rejuvenate in Oregon’s Blue Mountain country, look no further than the Pendleton KOA. The campground is just down the road from the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute and the Wildhorse Resort & Casino. The Columbia River, a popular waterway for paddling, boating and fishing, is only a few minutes away. Additional local attractions include the Pendleton Woolen Mills, the Children’s Museum of Eastern Oregon, The Underground tour and several western museums. The campground is fully serviced and well maintained. Amenities include Wi-Fi, cable TV, a full kitchen and more.
Pull off the highway and stay at one of the park’s 16 hookup sites or 32 primitive sites. Some RVers also park their rigs in the huge and flat community building parking lot for an overnight stay. All the hookup sites have water, electric, and sewer lines. Five remain open during the winter, but the water line shuts off. Use a drinking water spigot or the restroom and shower area. Other campground facilities include a summertime equestrian camp and a number of rustic cabins. An RV dump station is located at a nearby highway rest area.
When workers built Interstate 84 in the 1950s, they continually stumbled across Oregon Trail relics. Some of these pieces of history are preserved at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area. Ask park rangers to point out the 19th-century wagon ruts that still pierce the ground. More recently, at least in historical terms, Civilian Conservation Corps workers developed much of this park in the 1930s. Their handiwork included some typical architectural styles of the time as well as some cool stone monuments and fixtures.
This area is relatively flat, but there are some slightly rolling hills here and there. That’s ideal winter tubing terrain, especially after a particularly heavy snowfall. It’s always fun to slam into trees at relatively low speeds and feel the snow dump all over you. Please don’t tell our parents about this activity. They would ground us for sure. Post-snowfall is also a good time to strap on your snowshoes and walk the trails. The quiet atmosphere and the crunch of the snow is too good to pass up. Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is also a hub for other winter activities, such as a Nordic ski course and many miles of snowmobile trails.
Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is one of the few state parks anywhere with a full-size basketball court. There’s also a large open area that’s ideal for a pickup game of football. Or, you can check out the baseball field. There’s something very invigorating about playing baseball in fall and winter. We can’t quite put our finger on it. Other activities include horseshoe pits, the ever-popular Frisbee throwing, and perhaps one of the most extreme hide-and-seek games ever played in the history of mankind.
There is something incredibly nice about picnicking underneath a towering tree. The tables closer to the highway have a little bit of a pulse to them, while the ones in the back part of the camp are incredibly serene. While you’re enjoying your meal, check out some of the frequent summertime Oregon Trail travelling exhibits. The President Warren Harding plaque is a nice photo op as well. Most of the picnic areas have barbecue grills or fire rings as well as drinking water spigots.
Thankfully, the decades-old conflict between environmentalists and loggers is pretty much over. Modern techniques allow both endeavors. The rough, forested terrain around Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area means that there are lots of mammals around. Look for small furry ones, like porcupines and rabbits, in the forest undergrowth. Ringtail raccoons like this area as well. In the higher elevations at the edge of the park, there are usually hoofed mammals, like bighorn sheep. A few mountain animals, like large cats, may be around as well. Bears sometimes like to come down and forage around vacant campsites.
The park’s designated nature trail is wide, well-marked, and mostly flat. There are a few inclines here and there, but that’s why they call it hiking. Mountain bikes and horses are welcome on this trail as well. There are some interactive signs here and there which point out historical facts and also interesting things about the environment. Feel free to deviate from the trail if you want. You may encounter a forest creature, but they are as frightened of you as you are of them.