Pete French Round Barn & Diamond Loop Byway

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We’ll talk about a few places on this page, but they’re all part of the same scenic drive: the town of Diamond, Happy Valley Road, and the historic Pete French Round Barn.  You’ll find them all on the Diamond Loop Scenic Tour Route, and if you’re venturing into the Oregon Outback, you’ll want to visit them all.

My Visit

After driving for miles and miles, I finally rolled into the town of Diamond.  I figured I’d go shopping at the Safeway, and maybe swing by TGI Friday’s for dinner.

Just kidding.  You’re not going to do any of that in Diamond.  This “town” is the very definition of a wide spot in the road.  There isn’t much here.  Heck…

… there aren’t even very many people here.  The sign proclaims a population of “5”, reduced from “7” at some point in the past.  Although, I think I also see a very faint “3”, so perhaps things are starting to boom again.

The one thing I didn’t photograph in Diamond is, arguably, the only thing in Diamond.  At the welcome sign, take a left, and you’ll come to the Hotel Diamond.   Built in 1898, the hotel offers 8 rooms, with rates that start around $81 per night.

I’m not sure if Diamond’s current population count includes this old dog. I am sure, however, that he’s the town’s official greeter, because he came out to see me immediately after I stopped, then demanded a pat on the head and promptly laid down at my feet.

I didn’t want to risk decreasing Diamond’s population by 20%, so I left my new best friend behind, and continued driving, straight ahead, on the same road that had brought me into town.  It’s not well marked, but this is Happy Valley Road.  Despite the directional sign that declares the Round Barn to be in the opposite direction, you can get there by following Happy Valley Road northbound.

I can’t argue with the name.  I was already feeling happy as I drove deeper into the outback.  There were cows here…

… and hay…

… and a perfectly scenic serpentine road that curved over some small hills…

… and occasionally overlooked some fantastic eastern Oregon scenery.   I highly recommend you watch the entire Drivelapse video, down the page.  I couldn’t stop and photograph every beautiful corner of this road, but the dash cam captured it all.

Traveling counter-clockwise around the Diamond Loop on Happy Valley Road eventually takes you back to an intersection with Diamond Craters Road, at the 12 o’clock position.  The Pete French Round Barn is just north of the intersection, offset from the road by about a half-mile.

Pete French Round Barn

Any other place on earth, the Pete French Round Barn might not be a truly exciting tourist attraction.  But I was positively thrilled to get here.  After years of planning trips to the Oregon Outback — plans that always seemed to fall through — I had finally arrived at the place I had seen in pictures, over and over again.

Before you even get to the barn, there is a surprisingly big visitor center.  I stopped there first, since I figured it was almost closing time.  Then, I drove on out to the barn itself.

Local cattle rancher Peter French built the barn in the late 1870’s or 1880’s.  He also built at least two or three others, but this is the only one that has survived.  French would use the barns to train hundreds of horses every year.

You’re free to walk up to the barn, around the barn…

… and even inside the barn.  The architecture is quite impressive.  There’s a round stone-walled center room, and a wood-walled passageway around the perimeter, that’s mostly protected from the often-harsh weather outside. The central core was used as a stable, while the outer ring was used to break and exercise horses in the winter.

Be sure to walk to the center and look straight up.  The roof is supported by huge Juniper posts, that were timbered 60 miles north of here.  Aside from some roof repairs (and presumably, the parking lot out front), the barn looks just the same as it did when Peter French was using it, more than a century ago.

Hm.  Looks a bit off-centered.  I guess that wasn’t Peter French’s biggest concern.

The barn is surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, and it’s likely that you’ll be the only one who has made the trip out here to the middle of nowhere, to see a barn.  I think that’s totally awesome.

After admiring the barn for a while, I headed back towards Burns, via Narrows-Princeton Road in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.  It’s a nice place to catch a sunset — just in case you’ve spent an entire day wandering around the outback.

The Bottom Line

After spending years planning my trip out to the Pete French Round Barn, I’m thrilled that I finally made it.  The barn is fascinating, and an essential part of the outback experience.  Happy Valley Road is a great escape from the rest of the world.  There isn’t much to see in Diamond, unless you’re planning on spending the night at the Hotel Diamond.  If you do, be sure to say hello to my four-legged friend.

Location

The town of Diamond is located south of Burns, Oregon, and slightly east of Oregon Highway 205.  From Burns, take 205 south to Diamond Lane, then drive east.  Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it.

To make the loop through Happy Valley to the Round Barn, travel straight through Diamond.  The road will curve south and then split — you should stay to the left and head north.   Happy Valley Road is mostly unmarked, so it may help to use your GPS.  Set the Round Barn as your destination, and it should take you to the right place.  Even if you don’t have a GPS, staying on Happy Valley Road is fairly obvious — just make sure you’re headed north, not south.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Diamond, through Happy Valley, to the Round Barn:

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