One of Eastern Oregon’s best kept secrets is the bounty of talented chefs and excellent eateries hidden away in its small towns. Eastern Oregonians know that food tastes best where it’s grown, and that it’s worth traveling off the beaten path for the perfect steak dinner or an expertly brewed pint. Discover these local culinary gems and meet the farmers, ranchers, brewers and winemakers who are the secret behind Eastern Oregon’s bounty.
The Cattle Country Farm and Fork Roadtrip highlights Eastern Oregon’s cattle country, in the southeast corner of the state. You’ll experience the rich legacy of ranching here through a tour of cattle baron Peter French’s vast domain, cattle drives and ranch chores at a working cattle ranch, and home-cooked meals fit for a cowboy.
Begin your roadtrip in Burns with a visit to the Harney County Historical Museum. Peruse the museum’s collection of photographs, clothing and other relics depicting pioneer life here in the 19th Century.
History buffs should also mosey over to the Harney County Library’s Clare McGill Luce Western Room, which houses an extensive collection of rare books, oral histories and publications detailing the history and settlement of the region.
From Burns, travel south on the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway, Highway 205, to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the Pacific Flyway, the Refuge is a stopover point for more than 300 species of birds who rely on the secluded marshes for resting, breeding and nesting habitat. Visitors can download a free, self-guided audio tour, which describes the history, landscape, flora and fauna found throughout the refuge.
The tour includes a stop at the Sod House Ranch, the one-time northern headquarters of the sprawling French-Glenn Livestock Company. Eight of the original ranch buildings are still standing in the shade of towering, century-old cottonwood trees.
Follow the Diamond Loop Route to the tiny community of Diamond.
Enjoy a lovingly-prepared, family-style dinner at the Historic Hotel Diamond, which also features eight well-appointed rooms and a wide, wrap-around porch perfect for slowing down and savoring a sunset.
Start your day at the historic Peter French Round Barn, a relic of the region’s cattle ranch legacy. Constructed from stone and juniper, the unique circular structure was built by “Cattle King” Peter French to break horses during the harsh Eastern Oregon winters. The barn, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is remarkably well-preserved and provides a glimpse of the vast cattle empire French amassed here during the late 1800s.
Don’t miss the nearby Round Barn Visitor Center, which houses an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts, as well as an assortment of books, artwork and one-of-a-kind gifts. Dick Jenkins, a third-generation rancher, offers fascinating driving tours detailing the lives of early homesteaders and buckaroos in the region.
Make your way back toward Diamond and the Kiger Mustang Viewing Area, two miles east of town. The band is considered one of the most pure herds of Spanish mustangs remaining in the west. Take your binoculars and watch the beautiful horses in their natural habitat.
Then check in with the trail boss at the Steens Mountain Guest Ranch. Plan to spend several days on this working cattle ranch, which offers guests a chance to live like an authentic Eastern Oregon buckaroo. Ride the range on a cattle drive, learn how to break a horse, and help the cowboys mend fences and other chores around the ranch. There is even a ‘cowboy cheffery’ class, where you can learn how to whip up hearty, cowboy-approved dishes.
From Diamond, head west along Diamond Lane then south on the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway, Highway 205, to Frenchglen, a wayside on the edge of the spectacular Steens Mountain Wilderness Area.
Stop by the Frenchglen Mercantile for snacks and fuel for the journey ahead.
From Flenchglen, visitors can reach the 10,000 foot summit of Steens Mountain via the unpaved 59-mile Steens Mountain Loop. Considered the largest fault-block mountain in the Northern Great Basin, the mountain’s four distinct gorges – Little Blitzen, Big Indian, Wildhorse and the oft-photographed Kiger – were created by glaciers slicing through layers of the hard basalt rock.
Stand atop the rugged east face of the mountain and marvel at the cracked earth of the Alvord Desert, a full vertical mile below, stretching to the horizon. Take a picnic and spend the morning hiking, mountain biking, and photographing the beautiful wildlife and rugged landscape.
Follow the loop to Highway 205 and continue south toward Fields. Be on the lookout for herds of pronghorn antelope roaming the vast playa to the west and raptors gliding with the Steens Mountain’s changing currents to the east.
Cap off your trip with a burger and a frosty milkshake at Fields Station. The tiny white-walled outpost keeps a running tally of the hamburgers and milkshakes sold there each year.