Today's Stop on the Land Use Trail: Grande Ronde Valley

Throughout the summer, we'll be featuring stops on our new Land Use Trail. Today, July 18: Grande Ronde Valley. Surrounded by the awe-inspiring Blue Mountains and enriched with Oregon Trail and Native American history, the valley is among the state’s most important agricultural areas.

About: The name Grande Ronde means “great circle,” and this productive area, the second largest enclosed valley in the world, does indeed contain much of Union County’s economy, including nearly $100 million in annual agricultural sales, a figure that has doubled since 2001. Small towns like Cove, Island City, and Union, and the county seat, La Grande, depend on this economy to support local businesses, while visitors since the days of the Oregon Trail have marveled at the valley’s unique beauty.

Key Fact: The valley is part of Basalt flood eruptions, which caused the floor of the valley to sink into the Columbia River Plateau nine million years ago.

Another Cool Fact: During the Oregon Trail when settlers came from the east, the Nez Pierce, Cayuse, Walla Walla and Umatilla tribes would buy the settlers’ famished oxen, and then sell them fresh and strong oxen from settlers from the year before. With access to plush pastures in the Grande Ronde Valley, this was a very lucrative business for the tribes of the valley.  

Visit: La Grande, the county seat, has a charming downtown and the campus of Eastern Oregon University, and is known for its attractive parks. Getting off the beaten track to Union is a great idea—its well-preserved Victorian homes and the famous Union Hotel a worth a trip. Simply driving or bicycling the valley, especially in the summer months when the wheat is high, is excitement enough.

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Going to the Grande Ronde Valley this summer? Share your photos with us! We'll pass them on.

See the whole Land Use Trail, featuring exceptional Oregon natural places, communities, and working lands from every corner of our state.

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Text by Nathen Lamb, Communications Intern