If you’re hoping to visit the desert southeast corner of Oregon, the town of Burns will probably be your home base. You won’t find a Walmart or an Olive Garden here, but the town does have enough of the basics to keep you going.
There’s not a lot happening in Burns, Oregon. It’s a good place to spend the night, before you venture into the Oregon Outback. Heck, you’ve already ventured into the Oregon Outback just to get here. And you probably got here on one of these routes: US 395, US 20, or Oregon 78. These roads, and Oregon 205 (the one I took to get out of town), are all quite lonely, and you’ll need to drive for an hour or two or three, before you run into any place that’s bigger or better. So, go ahead and settle in.
Burns has a downtown district that’s still populated by small stores. There isn’t any big suburban strip mall on the edge of town, so if you need something, you’re going to find it here.
There are a few nice old signs along the downtown strip, like this one for the Central Hotel.
As you can see from across the street, it’s no longer in business — but at least someone has made an effort to put art on the wall.
The Desert Theater is still showing movies. It’s a simple old building with a basic marquee. As of 2013, a fundraising effort was underway to raise $55,000 for improvements.
You say you need gas? Of course you do, you just drove 130 miles from the nearest sign of civilization. I only spotted a couple of choices in Burns — this Shell station, which is at the big intersection downtown, and another garage that had a couple of ancient pumps outside. Both stations look sketchy, just because they haven’t been updated in 30 or 40 years. But in Oregon, that doesn’t really matter, since you’re not allowed to pump your own gas, anyhow.
There are a couple of antique vehicles rusting in the lot behind that Shell sign. One is a fuel tanker, the other is this old Dodge pickup truck, still sporting a Shell sticker on the side.
It’s worth a few photos, while you’re wandering around town.
It wouldn’t be a small town without a grain elevator. This one is painted with a fading sign for Purina.
On the edge of town, the Night Owl Cafe is shut down and overgrown. It’s next-door to my motel, the Horseshoe, which was a nice, family-run kind of place, old but updated and clean.
The Silver Spur, in town, also looked like a good option. As the sign says, rooms start at $43. That’s about what I paid at the Horseshoe. There are a few chain motels in town, too, but you’ll probably pay more for the name. In a town like this, you can usually do just as well with the mom-and-pop operations.
The Bottom Line
Burns, Oregon won’t necessarily be the highlight of your vacation to Oregon. But, you need what it has: gas, food, and lodging. And maybe a movie.
Burns is the biggest town you’ll find in the southeastern corner of Oregon. It’s located 130 miles east of Bend, on US 20, and 130 miles west of Interstate 84 at the Oregon/Idaho state line.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive around Burns, then south to Frenchglen: