Geography of Union County, Oregon

Union County, located in northeastern Oregon, is characterized by its diverse geography, stunning natural beauty, and rich history. From the rugged peaks of the Blue Mountains to the fertile valleys and meandering rivers, Union County offers a picturesque landscape shaped by its geography, climate, and waterways.

Geographical Overview:

According to Collegetoppicks, Union County is situated in the northeastern corner of Oregon, bordered by Wallowa County to the east, Baker County to the south, Grant County to the west, and the state of Washington to the north. It covers an area of approximately 2,038 square miles (5,280 square kilometers) and is home to a population that values its rural character, outdoor recreational opportunities, and vibrant cultural scene.


Union County experiences a semi-arid climate, characterized by hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. Summers are typically warm, with average high temperatures reaching the upper 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit (around 31-34 degrees Celsius). Winters are cold, with average lows dropping into the 20s to 30s Fahrenheit (around -6 to -1 degrees Celsius), and occasional snowfall.

Precipitation in Union County is relatively low, with the majority of it falling during the winter months in the form of snow. The region receives an average of 20-25 inches (51-64 centimeters) of precipitation annually, with most of it coming from winter storms originating in the Pacific Ocean.

Blue Mountains:

The Blue Mountains, also known as the Elkhorn Mountains, dominate the landscape of Union County, rising to elevations exceeding 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) above sea level. These rugged peaks are part of the larger Blue Mountains Range, which extends across northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington.

The Blue Mountains are characterized by steep slopes, deep valleys, and dense forests of pine, fir, and spruce trees. The range is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with opportunities for hiking, camping, hunting, and wildlife viewing. The Anthony Lakes Ski Area, located in the northern part of the range, offers downhill skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing during the winter months.

Rivers and Creeks:

Union County is crisscrossed by several rivers and creeks, which play a vital role in shaping the landscape and providing water for irrigation, wildlife habitat, and recreational activities. The Grande Ronde River is the largest river in the county, flowing through the eastern part and serving as a major waterway for fishing, rafting, and kayaking.

Other notable rivers and creeks in Union County include the Powder River, the Catherine Creek, and the Wallowa River, each of which contributes to the county’s natural beauty and recreational opportunities. These waterways are popular destinations for fishing, canoeing, and picnicking, allowing visitors to explore the scenic landscapes and diverse ecosystems of Union County.

Lakes and Reservoirs:

While not as abundant as rivers and creeks, Union County is home to several lakes and reservoirs that offer opportunities for water-based recreation. The largest lake in the county is Phillips Reservoir, located near the city of Baker City. Covering an area of approximately 2,235 acres (905 hectares), Phillips Reservoir is a popular destination for fishing, boating, and camping.

Other notable lakes in Union County include Unity Reservoir and Wolf Creek Reservoir, each offering its own unique attractions and recreational opportunities. These bodies of water provide scenic backdrops for outdoor activities such as hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife photography, allowing visitors to connect with nature in a tranquil setting.

Parks and Natural Areas:

Union County is home to several parks and natural areas that showcase the region’s diverse landscapes and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, which covers a portion of the county’s southern and eastern areas, offers hiking trails, camping facilities, and scenic overlooks that highlight the beauty of the Blue Mountains and surrounding wilderness.

Other natural areas in Union County include the Catherine Creek State Park, the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area. These protected areas provide habitat for a variety of plant and animal species, as well as opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.

Agricultural Land and Open Spaces:

Agriculture plays a significant role in the economy and landscape of Union County, with vast expanses of farmland and ranches spread across the rural countryside. The fertile valleys and plains are ideal for growing crops such as wheat, barley, alfalfa, and various vegetables, while ranches raise cattle, sheep, and other livestock.

In addition to agriculture, Union County is home to preserved open spaces and conservation areas that protect the region’s natural beauty and wildlife habitats. The county’s rural landscapes offer opportunities for outdoor recreation and ecotourism, allowing visitors to experience the tranquility of the countryside and connect with nature in a meaningful way.

In conclusion, Union County, Oregon, offers a diverse and scenic landscape characterized by its rugged mountains, meandering rivers, and serene lakes. Its semi-arid climate provides distinct seasons, each with its own attractions and recreational opportunities. Whether exploring the Blue Mountains, fishing along the Grande Ronde River, or hiking through the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Union County invites residents and visitors alike to experience the beauty and outdoor adventures of northeastern Oregon.