Historic bridge and viewpoint
Next to I-84 about 5 miles west of La Grande, Oregon
View of bridge, train tracks, and the Grande Ronde River
Exit 256 eastbound on I-84
Exit 257 westbound on I-84
Perry, Oregon is an unincorporated community on the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountain foothills, located about five miles west of La Grande. Perry got its start as a mill town in 1890 when the Smith-Stanley Lumber Company built a sawmill here.
In 1900 the mill was sold and renamed the Grande Ronde Lumber Company, and then in 1927 it merged with a lumber company in Baker City. At that point operations were moved out of Perry, taking most of the town with it. The post office was shut down in 1931 and today Perry is only a few residential homes grouped together at the Upper and Lower parts of “town.”
The Upper Perry Arch Bridge was designed by Conde B. McCullough and built in 1924 on this section of the old Oregon Trail Highway that linked Hilgard to La Grande. The bridge spans the Grande Ronde River and Union Pacific Railroad just west of Upper Perry and is 312 feet long with a 134 foot main arch and four shorter approach spans.
Conde B. McCullough arrived in Oregon in 1916 and in 1919 became the first Oregon State Bridge Engineer. He had innovative ideas about how bridges were integral to a well-designed highway system.
McCullough believed that site-specific features and scenic considerations should factor into selecting bridge type. If a bridge is visible in side elevation it should have pleasing lines. He also believed that well-maintained highways with attractive bridges drew more tourists, who then bought goods and services in local communities and boosted the all-important state gasoline tax revenue.
McCullough’s team created approximately 600 bridges in 17 years and he became nationally recognized for his work and design philosophy. He is best known for his bridges on the Oregon Coast Highway, though he worked all over the state. Only two of the single arch type bridges remain in Eastern Oregon, including this one.
In the 1960s Interstate 84 with its new bridges was completed to carry the increasingly heavy traffic through this part of the state. Usage of the Perry Arch Bridge was reduced to recreation and local land access purposes.
With the significantly reduced traffic maintenance of the bridge was also significantly decreased. The bridge fell into serious disrepair, with the annual freeze-thaw cycles taking their toll. The bridge was also suffering from alkali silica reaction, which is like a bridge cancer where the cement consumes itself.
Eventually the bridge was so unsound that the State was going to schedule it for demolition. But due to the Upper Perry Arch Bridge’s historical and architectural significance preservationists finally convinced the State to restore it instead.
In March 2008 a major renovation project was begun, with many parts of the bridge needing to be completely replaced. As work continued the bridge was found to be in much worse condition than originally thought, and plans had to be revised and extended more than once. The restoration was finally completed in October 2009.
The viewpoint area with paving, interpretive signs, and benches was added in April 2012.
The Upper Perry Arch Bridge was one of the stops I made on my November roadtrip to Boise. I didn’t know about it when planning my trip so this was an impromptu stop. I saw the “historic bridge” sign right before the exit on the freeway and figured what the heck, I like interesting bridges, I’ll go take a look.
Except for bridge and railroad nerds this may not be considered a terribly exciting attraction. But even if that’s not you, this is a pretty spot and it gives travelers a pleasant place to stretch their legs after being cramped up in a car for many miles. The only drawback is that there’s no bathroom to make this a full rest stop.
If you are in need of a bathroom break there is a freeway rest area a bit south of La Grande. Most of the I-84 rest areas in this part of Oregon are spread out at about 40-45 mile intervals, so with a speed limit of 70 mph you’re never too far from one.
The old bridge is next to the freeway. Before the road gets to the bridge there is a paved half-circle pull through that provides parking. From there a short paved path leads to the viewpoint with benches and interpretive signs. The path is level and easy for those with mobility issues.
The bridge is one-lane and you can drive or walk across it to the other side for a different perspective.
There is another interpretive sign next to the bridge on the far side, and there are a couple of places where you can pull off on the side of the road to park.
If you’re physically able you can climb down the slope on the other side to get a much better vantage point for taking photos of the bridge. I just stayed at the top, so didn’t have a clear view.
The public section of the road on the far side ends at a gate a short distance past the bridge.
I was lucky enough to be traveling on a nice day for that time of year and thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful 15 minutes I spent here wandering around and soaking up the sun while listening to the wind in the pines.
If you’re ever driving through this part of Oregon and would like a scenic spot to get out and stretch your legs, the Upper Perry Arch Bridge could be just what you’re looking for.
The bridge is next to the freeway, but you can’t get both on and off the freeway by the bridge.
Traveling eastbound on I-84:
Take exit 256.
The offramp curves up over the freeway and you come to a 3-way intersection. The bridge and viewpoint are straight ahead.
To get back on the freeway take a left at the 3-way intersection where the sign points for I-84 east.
Drive about 1 mile to exit 257 and follow the sign for La Grande to the onramp..
Traveling westbound on I-84:
Take exit 257 at Lower Perry.
At the end of the offramp jog left and then an immediate right. You’ll see a sign with an arrow for the bridge to help you out.
Drive about 1 mile to the T intersection near the freeway and turn right. The bridge and viewpoint are straight ahead.
To get back on the freeway go through the intersection and turn right onto the freeway onramp.
Perry Swimming Hole
If you’re here on a warm day and have the time you might want to also stop at the Perry Swimming Hole. It is right next to exit 257.
I didn’t know about the swimming hole until I was looking at an online map for this preview so I haven’t been there myself.
Apparently it’s one of the very few accessible deeper pools in the Grande Ronde River and is a popular swimming and picnicking spot in the summer.
There is a gravel parking area along road on the south side of I-84, just past the eastbound onramp. Dirt paths lead from the road down to the river.
I don’t believe there are any bathrooms or benches, but there are trash barrels and at least one picnic table.
Things to Know
Two benches at the bridge viewpoint.
No picnic tables.
Paved half-circle pull through at the viewpoint with room for about 4 cars.
Gravel pullouts on the road across the bridge.
Finding parking should be easy unless you’re unlucky and several others pull off the freeway at the exact time you do. I suspect that’s a rare occurrence.
Unpredictable. Usage of the Upper Perry Arch Bridge viewpoint is usually fairly light. I had the place to myself on a Friday in early November. In warmer weather with more vacation travelers on the road more people stop by. You might find other cars here or you might have it to yourself. Most people only stay a few minutes.
Bridge, railroad tracks, trains, river, rocky hillsides.
Best light: Unsure, but probably both morning and afternoon.
Upper Perry Arch Bridge facts and statistics
Union County webpage with photos of the Perry Swimming Hole