Go West on the Oregon Trail: A Game-Style Guide to Oregon Road-Tripping

If you’re planning on taking the Oregon Trail, check out our guide to driving in Oregon for the modern road tripper — and the gamers who control their fate.

Oregon Trail

If you’re between the ages of 21 and 35, you probably remember Oregon Trail®. This strangely hypnotic computer game, which had you guide wagon-covered pioneers across the West, dominated the 90s and had every trailblazing tween asking the same hot-button question: “Grandpa, feel my forehead — is it the typhoid fever??” 

Now, we don’t much travel in wagons anymore. And we’re not as concerned with snake-bitten oxen as we are with flat tires. But this game did teach us one thing about road tripping that stands true today. Exploring Oregon can be really fun!

So in the spirit of Go West Day (July 13) — and to celebrate Lewis and Clark, the original Oregon Trail pioneers — we proudly launch Oregon Trail 2.0: an updated guide to Oregon driving for the modern road tripper…and the gamers who control their fate. 

Level 1 — choose your ride

Good beginner choice

The VW Eurovan. With 18–22 mpg, front-wheel drive, and a V6 engine, it’s sensible for highways but rugged enough to power through Western wilderness.

How to get a high score

Show culinary flair. These vans come with ready-to-use kitchens, so be ready to use them.

Possible pioneer peril

Boredom. Long driving stretches can get mundane no matter the era. But unlike the Conestoga wagons of yore, this van’s got an MP3 hookup so you can at least play some tunes.

Level 2 — chart your trail

Good beginner choice

Classic Oregon Trail® began in Missouri. But for 2.0, let’s cut out all the dust-bowliness and get right to the goods. Start in Ontario, Oregon. Ontario, on the state’s eastern border, provides quick access to Interstate 84, which you can follow throughout the state.

How to get a high score

Give your fellow road trippers variety. Include the metropolitan and natural sides of Oregon — with urban havens like Portland and scenic wonders like the Painted Hills or the Columbia River Gorge.

Possible pioneer peril

Getting lost. It’s not as problematic as it was in way-back pioneer days (when GPS meant turning to a fellow passenger and asking “Dear God, you do know where the North Star is, right?”). But it’s still no fun, so visit Oregon.gov for useful travel info. 

Level 3 — set your pace

Good beginner choice

Find a comfortable speed. This means resisting the urge to leave the controls on “Grueling” like so many misguided players from years past.

How to get a high score

Stay within legal speed limits. The posted speed on most Oregon interstates is 65 mph.

Possible pioneer peril

Cruise control. While great for setting a comfy pace, cruise control can lead to trouble (and should be avoided) on the often-slick Oregon roads.

Level 4 — find sustenance

Good beginner choice

Trade rabbit pelts for doggy bags. Put down your gun and try eating in restaurants instead. Besides, unlike pioneer days, you now need a license to hunt in Oregon.

How to get a high score

Keep full by sampling some of Oregon’s top-rated restaurants — BlueHour in Portland, Norma’s Ocean Diner in Seaside, or the Painted Lady restaurant in Newberg.

Possible pioneer peril

Food coma. But hey, it beats diphtheria. You and your fellow travelers should all make full recoveries (just be sure to pull over if you start to get too sleepy).

Level 5 — finish strong

Good beginner choice

Utilize Mother Nature.

How to get a high score

Go river rafting. Aside from honoring classic “OT” (which also finished with a rafting voyage), this is great way to do something quintessentially Oregonian. Visit www.oregonriver.com for help making plans.

Possible pioneer peril

3D boulders. Somehow, they’re much harder to dodge than the 2D ones.

“Congratulations! You have reached the Willamette Valley!”

Find out more about driving in the Beaver State, including what types of car insurance drivers in Oregon must carry.

Related link

Read up on the Oregon Trail — both the beloved video game and the historical passage

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