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Sumpter Valley Dredge Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

The Dredge, Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area (bobcat)
Cracker Creek, Sumpter Valley Dredge S.H.A. (bobcat)
Open-air museum, Sumpter Valley Dredge S.H.A. (bobcat)
Lupine carpet, Sumpter Valley Dredge S.H.A. (bobcat)
The loop around the Sumpter Valley Dredge site (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Sumpter Dredge Trailhead
  • Ending Point: Sumpter Valley Dredge
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 35 feet
  • High Point: 4,415 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: May 1st to October 31st
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

Prospector Billy Griffin had tried his luck in California and southern Oregon, but by late 1861, he had drifted over to the vicinity of today’s Baker City, and there struck pay dirt. The discovery of major placer gold deposits in Sumpter the next year initiated a gold rush that soon saw 10,000 individual claims filed in the Powder River/North Fork John Day area of eastern Oregon. Small operations had played out by the beginning of the 20th century, but in 1913, the Sumpter Valley Dredging Company of Portland, Oregon, moved in the first of its three industrial dredges that completely transformed an eight-mile section of the Powder River valley. The dredge that you see today was constructed from the remains of the first dredge, and operated for 20 years until 1954; the 24-hour clank and rattle of the dredge buckets were just normal background music for Sumpter residents in the first half of the 20th century. When the company retired the dredge, it was in debt, but over the years this third dredge produced about 4 ½ million dollars in gold, worth about $160,000,000 at 2017 prices! Trails lead among the dredge channels and rock piles, now overgrown with willows and cottonwoods, and up to a viewpoint of the dredge itself. You can also visit the terminal for the Sumpter Valley Railroad, now a tourist train, and the dredge is open all day for inspection during the visitor season.

Walk behind the visitor center, which is where gold panning lessons are given, and pick up the South Trail heading to your left along an old dredge channel. Now that the landscape is reverting to nature, willows and cattails verge the ponds, blackbirds tinkle their territorial calls, ducks scud across the still water, and you may spot a local mule deer hanging out in the shade. Cross a footbridge, and wind through the rock piles (dredge tailings) until the Powder River appears on your left. At a junction, you can go left on the McCully Creek Trail. Cross a footbridge over the Powder River, and hike under cottonwoods until you reach this spur trail’s end at the McCully Fork.

Return to the junction, and continue on the South Trail, getting views of Elkhorn peaks. Past a small footbridge, you’ll arrive at an outdoor display of rusting machinery from the former placer operation. Past this point, you’ll arrive at the Sumpter Valley Dredge, and go left to an interpretive sign which explains its anchoring feature.

Take the North Trail from here to a junction with the Dredge Overlook Trail: This will lead you up to a shady side-on view of the 1,240-ton Sumpter Valley Dredge, from the bucket line of 72 one-ton buckets on the bow to the processed gravel conveyor in the stern. Return to the North Trail, and continue up along Cracker Creek, with ground squirrels scuttling away at your approach and swallows dipping and soaring above your head. Walk up a slope of ponderosa pine, and keep left at the junction with the Ridge Trail, which follows one of the tailings ridges. Wind down through shady pines, and come to the end of the Sumpter Valley Railroad, which once ran between Baker City and Prairie City. Pass the railroad station: A steam train runs six miles between here and McEwen on some summer weekends and holidays; at other times, the station will be closed. Cross the park entrance road, and continue down past a restroom to the Sumpter Valley Dredge itself.

You can explore the ground floor of the dredge on your own although a free guided tour will tell you much more. Machinery inside the dredge was all made in the United States, including the Bingham water pumps from Portland. The electricity-powered motors were serviced by a 19-mile cable. Conventional sluices were used to separate out the heavy metals, which were then dumped in amalgam barrels; these had paddles lined with mercury to bond with the gold. Such dredges were employed not only in other parts of Oregon's gold country but in the Sierras of California and along the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in Canada and Alaska.

Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Open May 1st to October 31st
  • Dredge open for self-guided tours 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Park closes at 7:00 p.m.
  • Picnic area, vault toilets, interpretive signs, visitor center
  • Dogs on leash


Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan

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Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.