When it comes to sparkling outdoor gems in our area, few can compare to Bates State Park, nestled in the Blue Mountains of eastern Grant County.

In addition to spectacular scenery and recreational respite, this peaceful park near Austin Junction offers visitors a step back in time to the history of the once-thriving lumber town of Bates. During a weekend — or longer — stay, you’ll feel as if you are really “away from it all,” yet the park offers plenty in the way of comfortable amenities.

Bates State Park, in the shadow of Dixie Butte, offers an abundance of weekend enjoyment right within its 131-acre boundaries — three miles of trails to trek, wildlife to view and solitude to savor. Two tranquil creeks — Bridge and Clear — flow nearby the park, whose majestic centerpiece, Bates Pond, remains from the town’s lumber mill.

The park makes a great camp base for adventurous jaunts in just about any direction, such as a drive on County Road 20/Middle Fork Lane, along the lazy and winding Middle Fork of the John Day River. Bates is also surrounded by three wilderness areas — Strawberry Mountain, Monument Rock and North Fork John Day.

The nearby hills were prime gold mining area, and the remnants of several old towns — Galena, Susanville, Greenhorn and Whitney — are also available for investigative exploration just a short drive away.

Two nearby bicycle routes, the Old West Scenic Bikeway and the TransAmerica Trail, also make Bates State Park popular with cross-country cyclists.

The park, which opened in 2011, is one of the newest in the Oregon State Park system. Its very existence is due in great part to the perseverance and hard work of many former Bates residents who were determined that the memory and history of the close-knit mountain community not be lost.

Interpretive signs throughout the park depict and describe the logging history and lifestyle of the company lumber town that operated from 1917 into the 1960s.

Residents, friends and family members continue to gather at the site for biennial reunions.

Bates State Park has 28 primitive campsites for tents or self-contained RVs, three of which are accessible to those with disabilities. There’s a hiker/biker camp area with six sites and electric plug-in access. No reservations are needed; campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Other features include fire rings, picnic tables, potable water, a day-use area with a covered shelter and vault toilets.

All you need to bring is food, a book and of course, a camera.

The park is open from May 1 to Oct. 31.

For more information, visit oregonstateparks.org.

From Prairie City, head east on Highway 26 about 15 miles. Turn left on State Route 7, and left again just past mile post 1 onto County Road 20/Middle Fork Lane. The entrance to the park is about a 1/2 mile ahead on the left.

For those traveling from the Dale/Ritter area, it’s about 40 miles from the junction of County Road 20 and Highway 395 down to the state park. County Road 20 is paved and easily accessible in good weather.

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