As Oregon celebrates 175 years of the Oregon Trail, Peter Ellegard takes a road trip through “The Beaver State”, where he discovers fascinating history, spectacular vistas and an endless array of wineries, breweries and cuisine
Standing under a giant framework representing a covered wagon, it’s hard to imagine the hardships endured by hopeful pioneers who embarked on the gruelling five-month trek to reach this point.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Oregon Trail, the 2,000-mile route from Missouri that followed rivers and crossed plains and mountain ranges to the vast emptiness of what was then Oregon Country.
An estimated 200,000 settlers packed their possessions into carts to join snaking wagon trains on the trail between 1843 and the 1870s, before railways made the epic journey easier. One in ten died, mostly from accidents and disease.
In historic Oregon City, where their journeys culminated, the End of the Oregon Trail is a fascinating museum that vividly tells the stories of those who left their homes on the east coast to stake a claim on their piece of the promised land.
Married settlers were offered a square mile of free land by a government keen to populate the region, before Oregon gold strikes in the 1850s lured more emigres.
Today, Oregon – dubbed “The Beaver State” after its official state animal – is being discovered by increasing numbers of British visitors. Their journey is far easier, especially since Delta began operating direct summer-season flights between Heathrow and Portland last year.
What awaits them in this unsung part of the Pacific Northwest? A state of incredible diversity encompassing spectacular natural beauty, one of America’s top wine-growing regions, lively, walkable towns and cities boasting an outdoor culture, and craft breweries and urban wineries galore.