Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Art, Archaeology & History Sites & Museums

One of the three coterminous states bordering the Pacific Ocean, Oregon was historically home to a number of indigenous groups, among them the Chinook, Tillamook, Nez Percé, and the Modoc. Their lifestyles were reflective of the diverse environments in the state, which range from forested mountains to open river valleys. Spanish and English sailors navigated Oregon’s coast in the 16th century, although it would only be in the early 19th century that Europeans, largely in the form of fur traders, arrived overland from the east, along what is known as the Oregon Trail. The 1830s saw the growth of European American settlement, with Oregon becoming a state in 1859, after which the area’s indigenous  communities were forced onto reservations.

Archaeology & History Sites in Oregon

Abert Lake Petroglyphs

Part of the broader East Lake Abert Archaeological District, the Abert Lake Petroglyphs are to be found in Oregon’s Lake County. Depictions include geometric shapes, anthropomorphic images and various motifs that were pecked into basalt boulders by native peoples of the region. Although archaeologists are not sure about the precise age of these engravings, it is thought they are about 10,000 years old. They are attributed to the Great Basin cultural tradition. Their precise location is not publicly advertised.

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

The Oregon Trail was laid out as a route from the Missouri Valley through to the West Coast in the first half of the 19th century. Near the designated end of the trail, the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Centre provides visitors with information about the history of the trail, the town of Oregon City, the Tumwater Chinook and Clackamas Indian people, and the settlement in Willamette Valley. Through the use of film and interactive exhibits visitors get to experience Trail era activities.

Fort Astoria

Established in 1811, Fort Astoria – located in the modern city of Astoria – initially served as a fur trading port. The Pacific Fur Company established the site at the mouth of the Columbia River and maintained it until folding amid the War of 1812. At this, the North West Company took ownership and renamed the site Fort George. Although since destroyed, an explanatory plaque and partial reconstruction remind visitors of the fort’s existence.

Fort Rock State Park

Out of the flat high desert rise towering rocks in a near circle formation, which some have likened to a fort. Today this area is a popular hiking spot. In prehistoric times it was a shallow sea, and the circular rocky formation was an island inhabited by indigenous communities. Archaeological excavations in the late 1960s in one of the caves recovered grass sandals dating back around 9,350-10,500 years ago. Guided tours to the cave are possible by booking in advance.

Greaser Petroglyph Site

In a boulder field overlooked by the Warner Valley Rim is the Greaser Petroglyph Site. Here a range of geometric shapes, animal and anthropomorphic images have been engraved in to the basalt boulders. The age of the images is not certain, but thought to be around 12,000 years. The site, covering about 3.6 ha), is located on land managed by the Bureau for Land Management.

Museums & Art Galleries in Oregon

Columbia River Maritime Museum

The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria focuses attention on the waters of the Columbia River and the Pacific Northwest Coast. The museum first opened in 1963 and has occupied its present location since 1982. Displays explain the realities of sailing in these treacherous waters, with a focus on the activities of the coast guard. One of its best-known exhibits is the Lightship Columbia, a floating lighthouse from the 1950s.

Fort Rock Valley Historical Homestead Museum

The Fort Rock Valley Historical Society established the open-air museum in 1988. Situated in the valley’s dramatic, treeless environment, it preserves a range of historic structures that have been brought here for their preservation, among them homestead cabins, a school, and a church. The interiors have been furnished with historically authentic material, giving visitors the impression of life in the valley as it appeared in the early 20th century.

High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum is a vast attraction that covers both human heritage and the natural environment of Oregon’s high desert region. With over 18,000 artefacts in its collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions as well as permanent displays that deal with all aspects of the communities who have lived in the area throughout time. A series of dioramas tells the stories of the earliest inhabitants, the Oregon Trail, as well as the ordeal Native peoples have endured from the 19th century onwards. Popular highlights include a vintage fire truck, a stage coach and a 1914 Model T Ford.

National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center explore the history of the early European American pioneers who followed the Oregon Trail to colonise this part of North America during the 19th century. It tells the stories of explorers, settlers, and miners, as well as the indigenous communities the Europeans came into contact and interacted with. The facility is currently closed for renovation, check the official website for temporary arrangements.

Oregon Historical Society Museum

Showcasing the history of this west coast state, the Oregon Historical Society Museum in Portland opened in the late 19th century. Since then its collection has expanded and it has repeatedly moved premises. With over 85,000 objects in its collection, it details the broad history of the state, from the pre-Columbian societies that lived here through to the area’s annexation by the U.S. One of its noted displays is the Portland Penny.