Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Sumpter, OR

  • Published 2023/03/08

Go to Sumpter, Oregon, for a place where history, nature, and charm all come together!

There’s something about Sumpter that makes it feel like a planet away from the other cities in the state.

The city gets its name from the cannonball-shaped rock that reminded a resident of Fort Sumter during the American Civil War.

In the early 1860s, a spherical rock in the vicinity reminded inhabitants of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, because it looked like a cannonball.

Sumpter offers hiking trails, flea markets, a historical museum, gold dredges, a steam railroad, and a rich history of gold mining.

Here are the best things to do in Sumpter, OR:

Ride a Train along the Sumpter Valley Railroad

A steam locomotive at Sumpter Valley Railroad

Wasim Muklashy /

A trip to the Sumpter Valley Railroad in northeast Oregon is a must during the summer.

Embark on a journey through picturesque Sumpter Valley’s historic heartland aboard antique trains and learn about the region’s gold rush history.

The whole family will appreciate this pleasant journey back in time without leaving the safety of the present day.

The tracks of Sumpter Valley Railroad

Wasim Muklashy /

On some weekends and significant holidays, the Sumpter Valley Railroad is open.

McEwen-to-Sumpter round-trips typically take around two hours, stopping at either McEwen or Sumpter.

Some weekends, the railroad runs 45-minute round-trip excursions from Sumpter depot to McEwen.

Throughout the season, try to catch several special events.

Body of a steam locomotive at Sumpter Valley Railroad

Wasim Muklashy /

Learn Local History at the Cracker Creek Museum of Mining

Sumpter’s mining heritage has been preserved, interpreted, and restored via an outdoor self-guided museum.

The Oregon State Parks Dredge Heritage Area is just across the street, illustrating how they dredged gold from local rivers and streams.

On the other hand, the dredge only retrieved a fraction of the gold extracted from the underground mines.

The Cracker Creek Museum of Mining commemorates the history of these mines and the people who worked there.

As you approach Sumpter from Baker City, you’ll find the museum grounds on the east side of the roadway.

You can also find various outdoor equipment on exhibit, with accompanying signs explaining what they are and how miners used them.

There are no admission fees, and the museum is open to the public.

It also provides guided tours for those who like to take things at their own pace.

Tour the Fremont Powerhouse

The North Fork John Day drainage was a lively gold and silver mining area in the late 1800s.

Mining towns sprang up all over the place during the gold rush, only to be abandoned as mining activity dwindled.

Graveyards and dilapidated structures fill Granite, a neighboring ghost town where prospectors and pioneers lived.

Mining companies in the area began to see their profits drop around 1903, so they sought to reduce costs by building a cheaper power source.

As a result, in 1908, the Fremont Powerhouse was constructed and put into service.

They built two dams across Olive Lake.

Water from the lake reached the powerhouse via an eight-mile-long wood and steel pipeline, generating much-needed energy.

In 1992, a significant snowfall caused a substantial piece of the structure to collapse.

From 1999 to 2005, Oregon National Guard members, under former Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Batty, rebuilt the powerplant and cottages.

You may find images and antiques from a bygone period in the building’s powerhouse.

When he’s on-site, the local caretaker provides tours.

Cruise the Elkhorn Scenic Byway

Elkhorn Scenic Byway is one of the most breathtaking highways in Oregon.

It’s a 106-mile journey through gold rushes, ghost villages, and the Elkhorn Mountains’ breathtaking natural splendor.

West of Sumpter, the Elkhorn Drive travels across dredge tailings (the ground disturbed by mining).

Today, Sumpter has a population of only 130.

However, it was once home to 15 saloons, an opera theatre, and three newspapers when miners generated over $10 million in gold ore.

Despite a devastating fire in 1917, the industry continued in the region until 1954.

Immerse Yourself in Nature at McCully Forks Campground

This campground lies in the forest beside a tiny creek at the Elkhorn Drive Scenic Byway base.

The campground’s eight modest sites include a table and fire pit amid a dense forest.

Near the entrance is a pull-through parking spot.

However, this site lacks tree protection and is not part of the main camping area.

Campers must pay the fee at a self-pay kiosk upon arrival.

Beyond the kiosk, the road splits into two directions, taking campers to either side of the stream.

The left fork appears to go to calmer spots since the right split is an access road to the forested backcountry.

Even though camping is allowed all year round, the campsite may be closed owing to seasonal cold conditions.

The best time to visit is from May through September.

The gravel road that runs through the grounds is well-maintained and suitable for many vehicles.

Spend Time with Your Family at the Sumpter Stockade Motel

Amid the Blue Hills, Sumpter Stockade is a well-known tourist spot in Eastern Oregon.

Located in the heart of historic Sumpter, this hotel looks back at its rich gold and lumbering past.

You can find every contemporary convenience in this replica of an 18th- to the early-19th-century fort.

Its distinctive chambers harken back to the era of the miniature gauge railroad and gold panning along the surrounding river.

In the nearby national forests, you can try many seasonal activities, including snowmobiling, flea markets, bonfires, Christmas train excursions, and a parade.

Likewise, you can try superb fishing and hunting.

Don’t freak out if you wake up to find a doe and her fawns at your door.

Explore the Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area

A structure at Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area

TFoxFoto /

This park is in Sumpter Valley, Oregon, at the base of the Elkhorn Mountain Range.

It has a fantastic piece of mining machinery as its centerpiece.

The Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge, essentially a ship on land, stripped the valley in quest of gold, generating mountains of waste.

This was the third and last Sumpter Valley Dredge.

Equipments on the ground of Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area

Paul W Harvey IV /

From 1935 until 1954, it operated practically non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The dredge is reported to have retrieved about $4 million in gold throughout its existence.

From May through October, the dredge is open to the public.

Take a self-guided decks tour or join a ranger-led adventure on weekends.

The park’s marshes are crisscrossed by 1.5 kilometers of paths.

Interior the structure at Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area

Paul W Harvey IV /

Stop by one of the many observation platforms to see how the valley has changed over the past half-century.

Park rangers offer gold panning demonstrations on the weekends.

Visitors are welcome to try gold panning as well!

Visitors can pay a nominal charge to buy gold flakes they find while panning.

The waters of Sumpter Valley Dredge Heritage Area

Paul W Harvey IV /

Step Back in Time at Sumpter Municipal Museum

Completed in 1899, the historic mercantile structure that houses this museum is known as ‘The Sumpter Supply.’

It has served the town in many capacities, including a grocery, gas station, bar, and liquor shop.

The Sumpter Municipal Museum and the Baker County Library are now in the same facility.

The museum displays Sumpter’s Gold Rush mining, wood, and railroad items.

The Baker County Library and the Oregon Trail Regional Museum have donated many high-quality photography collections to fill out a vast picture archive.

Enjoy Various Activities at Sumpter RV Park

Go to the Sumpter RV Park to find a tiny town with diverse activities.

The park has a lot of trees providing much-needed shade on hot days, making it feel more like a rural area.

As expected, the amenities are beautiful, spotless, and comfortable.

Take your family gold prospecting, gold panning, boating, riding ATVs, and hunting for a fun-filled family vacation.

Sumpter RV Park provides something for everyone, no matter your interests.

Browse Different Displays at Sumpter Flea Market

Since its humble origins in the 1970s, the Sumpter Flea Market has expanded significantly.

As a result, the Sumpter Flea Market has become one of the Northwest’s most famous flea market events and the largest in Eastern Oregon.

Flea market sellers have staked out their territory throughout Sumpter’s old town by renting spaces from private property owners and businesses.

Spend an entire weekend visiting the town and experiencing its rich history while browsing for unique goods and treasures.

The Sumpter Flea Market may find antiques, handmade crafts, apparel, artwork, movies, western gear, music, and accessories.

Bring a few trinkets back with you.

Grab a Bite at Elkhorn Saloon & Restaurant

Check out this pub if you’re in Sumpter Valley Dredge.

It’s not uncommon for clients to request hamburgers, fried zucchini, and small tacos.

You won’t soon forget how good French beer tastes.

Thanks to its cozy atmosphere, it’s easy to relax and enjoy yourself at Elkhorn Saloon.

This establishment has received excellent marks because of its kind and friendly service.

Marvel at Artworks at Lynn Bean Gallery

Do your love artworks inspired by the Wild West?

Check out the humble Lynn Bean Gallery at Sumpter.

Lynn began her work as a fashion illustrator in Flint, Michigan, before moving to San Francisco, California.

In 1979, Prineville’s Ochoco Mountains motivated Lynn Bean to become a wildlife photographer when she spent time at a secluded ranch.

Numerous exhibitions, galleries, gift stores, and well-known journals like Horses in Art Magazine showcase Lynn’s diverse work.

Find her work at the Lynn Bean Gallery; the Kestrel Winery in Prosser, Washington; the Birdnest Galley in Gig Harbor; and the Gilbert District Gallery in Seaside, Oregon.

Go on an Adventurous Ride along Blue Mountain OHV Trail #O-1972

Sumpter’s trails offer a glimpse of outdoor charm that’s unique to the city.

Blue Mountain OHV Trail #O-1972 is only one such example.

Spanning over 50 miles, this OHV trail gives you access to the grasslands and green-filled habitats within Sumpter.

Along the route, pass by open ponderosa pines and glistening streams.

Come by during the open season in May with your treasured vehicle and get ready for a ride of a lifetime.

To access Blue Mountain OHV Trail #O-1972 from Sumpter, head over to Blue Mountain Sno-Park.

Find Solace in Camping at Gold Rush RV Park

Gold Rush RV Park is your best bet for a bit of an unbridled nature stay.

This RV park at the northern section of Sumpter offers full hook-ups and power-only sites.

If you prefer to maintain a semblance of primitiveness, why not try a tent?

Bring the whole family over–even your dog–for a singing session by the campfire or a hangout at the picnic tables.

Whether you only wish to stay for the night or longer, you have a place in this well-rounded campground.

Reserve your spot at Gold Rush RV Park on New Street as soon as possible!

Experience Living Inside a Tipi at Sumpter Traders Outpost

One of the most unique experiences you shouldn’t miss out on while in Sumpter is renting a tipi.

And you can do so at Sumpter Traders Outpost.

This art and antique shop feature a rustic mural at the side of its building.

But what makes this facility a step up from other attractions in Sumpter is its tipi rental offerings.

The site has four tipis with stunning textile weavings on its interior.

The campsite offers fire pits and onsite showers.

Sumpter Traders Outpost is adjacent to Cracker Creek Museum of Mining on South Mill Street.

Start a Self-Guided Tour All Over Historic Sumpter

Sumpter’s historic allure is more prominent with the establishments and buildings included in the Historic Sumpter tour.

This tour takes you back to the 1890s to 1930s Sumpter during the golden era of the city.

Though the downtown area of the city suffered a fire in 1917, its buildings continued their legacy afterrenovations.

One such historic building is the Black Market, which was once the office of the Sumpter Townsite Syndicate’s Engineering Department.

The Waite Wade House and Ed Hibbs’ House are also structures of great significance to Sumpter’s history.

There’s more you can find within Main and Granite Streets.

Historic Sumpter’s buildings are mostly private properties, so remain on the road when you check them out.

Enjoy the Nature Scenery at Whistle Stop RV Park & Powder River Event Center

Whistle Stop RV Park & Powder River Event Center may look like your usual campground in Sumpter.

But it’s not!

This seasonal dry camp RV park features scenic vistas of Powder River.

It also has access points to the famous ATV and walking trails of the city.

With stunning rocks and an ideal snowshoeing site, this park makes for a peaceful stay within nature.

Whistle Stop RV Park & Powder River Event Center is on Sawmill Gulch Road.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Visit Whitney Ghost Town

Just 17 minutes away from Sumpter, Whitney wasn’t a mining camp, but they surrounded it.

History has it that the place was all about the loggers.

The winter of 1919-1920 saw Erma Cole working as an assistant principal in Whitney.

She claims the temperature fell to 55 degrees below zero for a brief period before warming to 50 degrees below zero.

There’s a steep canyon between Sumpter and Whitney, so they built the narrow gauge Sumpter Valley Railroad.

Even though Whitney is now a ghost town, several weathered structures remain.

These include a towering sawmill the height of a three-story building.

See the Preserved Structures at Bourne Ghost Town

Bourne, Oregon, is a 23-minute drive from Sumpter, Oregon.

The town of Bourne has a smattering of abandoned cabins, some of which are still occupied.

Senator Jonathan Bourne, Jr. of Portland, owned and controlled two mines nearby.

He gave the town its official name of “Bourne,” which it retained until 1895 upon constructing a post office.

According to Howard Brooks, the mines along the North Pole Columbia Lode at Bourne produced around $8,000,000 in gold and silver from 1894 to 1916.

Go Trekking through the Elkhorn Crest Trail

One of Oregon’s best singletrack trails, the Elkhorn Crest path follows a high route across the Elkhorn Mountains.

With a total length of 23 miles, the Elkhorn Crest Trail weaves its way through and around the John Day Wilderness North Fork.

It’s in Baker City, Oregon, 35 minutes away from Sumpter.

On your journey, you’ll find the Rock Creek Butte, Gunsight Peak, Elkhorn Peak, and Angell Peak.

Elk, mountain goats, and deer live in the Elkhorn Crest area.

Hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and trail runners flock to this path every year.

You may even ride the initial stretch from Anthony Lakes till they reach Angell Pass.

Another option is the loop from Baker City, over Marble Pass, along the Elkhorn Crest path, and back down into Baker Valley via Summit Lake on trail 1635.

Final Thoughts

If you’re interested in the early history of gold mining and the gold miners, Sumpter is a must-stop.

There are other historical and natural attractions to explore to suit your interests.

Start planning your Sumpter trip today!

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