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Explore The Old West In Oregon’s National Parks

Folks of a certain age may remember playing the old, low-graphic desktop computer game “The Oregon Trail,” named after the pioneer voyage westward in the mid-19th century by explorers and settlers.

Gen-Xers and millennials likely recall plodding along with a pixelated covered wagon, stopping to hunt herky-jerky, bouncing buffalo, deer, and rabbits, and changing that darn wagon wheel every few minutes or so. But it was all worth it when your wagon train finally reached the great Pacific and you were a winner. 

Perhaps this memory has colored the collective imagination regarding breathtaking Oregon. A special state in a unique region of the U.S., the 33rd state contains multitudes.

With a landmass slightly larger than the United Kingdom, its expansive territory boasts deep, dense forests, the mighty Snake and Columbia Rivers, and its heights reach from the Pacific Ocean shores to the over 11,000 feet of Mt. Hood.

Oregon provides what any nature lover is searching for and then some!

Below are some of the Beaver State’s must-see spots for the wild at heart:

Oregon National Historic Trail: Far from an animated game on a 90’s desktop computer screen, these days, it’s almost impossible to imagine the harsh existence of daily life in the Old West, particularly as a traveler on the Oregon Trail. Imagine striking out from Independence, MO, with all your earthly possessions and family for a four-month, 2,000-mile trip through thoroughly untamed wilderness. It’s hard for the 21st-century mind even to fathom. Besides the fear of the unknown, one had to face constant hardship of weather, sickness, and hunger. The legacies of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail survive today along this National Historic Trail site.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site: The story of this legendary outpost is, in many ways, the story of the Pacific Northwest. Sitting on the north banks of the Columbia River, this fort, and the national park that sits in its place today, has seen the years come and go and the world change all around it while standing stalwart, marking a long ago, rugged moment in time. A fur trading post and an arm of the Hudson Bay Company trading operation, the fort was established in the 1820s and named for Captain George Vancouver. This outpost was vital to the region’s local trading and trapping economies. Later it would be home to a famed “Buffalo Soldier” regiment of Black American soldiers following the Civil War. As if that weren’t enough, Fort Vancouver and later Pearson Airfield became a crucially important hub for military air defense and experimentation in the 1930s. There are limitless opportunities to learn more about the region’s history and the fort at this national park.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Nez Perce National Historical Park: One of the more storied, dignified, and tragic tales of the American West and the people who lived, thrived, and were later displaced there can be found at this national historical park. For thousands of years, the rich and beautiful land of this region of Oregon was cared for and inhabited by the Nez Perce Tribe. Their resilience and adaptability throughout the centuries is a uniquely American tale. This park preserves the legacy of the people who lived, fought, and died here and the lessons of the past we must never forget. Please stop in and learn more about these indomitable people, who they were, and what they mean today.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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