Checking the Pendleton Round-Up off my bucket list

Checking the Pendleton Round-Up off my bucket list

The Pendleton Round-Up has been on my bucket list for years and I have finally checked it off! I am going to tell you all about it, but first, let’s talk for a minute about bucket lists. Now you may not be quite as obsessed with lists as I am, but still, a bucket list plays an important part in planning travel and adventures. To my way of thinking, there are three types of bucket lists:

  1. Big trips or adventures (typically international) that require planning, time off work and money.
  2. Medium-sized efforts or weekend getaways that require some planning, but not as much time and money.
  3. Small, local-ish items such as trying out a new restaurant or hike. These are often free!

R recently discussed some of the countries currently hanging out on our big bucket list. Since we only get to check one or two off a year, we like to use the medium and small items to supplement those big, bucket list items. I actually found one of my old bucket lists in a pile of work paper. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had visited a number of countries on that list. Not long ago, I discussed our huckleberry picking adventure. This is a perfect example of a small, bucket list item and in the past couple of months, we have checked several items off this list. It has been a fun summer.

Weekend getaways and microtrips

However, I feel like the medium-sized, weekend getaways/microtrips are the meat and potatoes of our adventures. There are just so many fun things to do and accomplish. Visiting all 50 states may have been a big, bucket list item for us, but accomplishing it required many weekend getaways. Now that we have visited all 50 states, we are busy working through completely new bucket lists. In fact, just last weekend, we headed to North Cascades National Park in an effort to help R check another National Park off her list. We have plenty of big trips in various stages of planning, but those require patience. So in the meantime, we keep busy planning and checking off smaller items.

This weekend, I managed to check two items off my bucket list that have been hanging out there for years. The first was the Pendleton Round-Up and the second was the Pendleton Woolen Mill. Given how close Pendleton is to Boise, I am actually a little embarrassed at how long it took me to accomplish this. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time but for whatever reason, I never made it a priority. I thought last year would be the year. We even got as far as booking a place to stay before I realized I would be traveling for work that weekend. Canceling last year made me determined to actually make it happen this year.

Pendleton Round-Up or Bust

R, C and I left Boise on Friday evening and drove to Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area—a campground about 15 minutes southeast of Pendleton. Lodging can be difficult to find in Pendleton during the Round-Up. Although we started making our plans early enough to get a motel room, we thought it would be more fun to stay at a cabin in Emigrant Springs. Turns out, it was.

Cabin Oregon Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area Pendleton Round-Up
Home sweet home for the weekend.

If you want to visit Pendleton during the Round-Up, make your lodging reservations as soon as possible. A local told us that during the Round-Up, the population of Pendleton goes from 15,000 to closer to 40,000. That is a lot of people vying for the same services. A coworker of mine also visited Pendleton this weekend but they did not start making their plans until a couple of months ago. Although they were able to get tickets to the Round-Up, there were no rooms available and they had to stay in Walla Walla, Washington, instead, which is about an hour drive north of Pendleton.

On Saturday morning, we made our way into Pendleton—first stopping at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino for some breakfast. Obviously, you can stay here (and gamble if you’d like), but they also have a shuttle if you would rather not deal with parking in Pendleton. However, Pendleton just isn’t that big. If you do not mind a little walking, parking will not be a problem. We parked near downtown and walked to the Round-Up without any issues.

Pendleton Woolen Mill: Check!

Before we got to the Round-Up however, we checked off the other item on the old bucket list: a tour of the Pendleton Woolen Mill. Normally, they only offer tours during the week—that has never worked for one of our weekend getaways. We were pleasantly surprised to learn they were offering tours on Saturday during the Round-Up. Naturally, after picking up a couple of blankets, we stayed to tour the mill and learn a bit about Pendleton’s history. I have to say, it was really cool and well worth the visit.

Pendleton Woolen Mill wool rugs
Beautiful Pendleton Woolen Mill rugs.

Unfortunately, by the time we finished up at the mill and made our way downtown, it had started to rain. Fortunately, we had checked the weather ahead of time and were prepared for it. Although the weather was not ideal, it did not stop us from enjoying everything the Pendleton Round-Up had to offer. Vendors abound! There is plenty to see and buy and eat.

One of the neatest things we saw was the Pow Wow dance competition. The clothing, drums, songs and dancing itself all added up to a unique and neat experience. In fact, there are several Native American aspects to the Pendleton Round-Up. I would definitely recommend walking through the tribal village and enjoying some Indian fry-bread. This will keep you busy and before too long, it will be time for the rodeo.

Pendleton Round-Up Tribal Village teepee tipi
The tribal village north of the arena.

Let ‘Er Buck

The Pendleton Round-Up itself is a little different. I have been to a lot of rodeos in my life (both of my parents competed in high school rodeo) but this had elements I have never seen before. It is an afternoon rodeo and it is big—around 17,000 people attended on Saturday. Probably the biggest difference is the grass. The middle of the very large arena is grass and it changes how the events play out—especially if it is raining. Barrel racing might be the most different. It is a much longer course and uses both the grass and dirt. The announcer told us that barrel racing at the Pendleton Round-Up is a bucket list item itself for many barrel racers since it is the only one of its kind.

Steer wrestling Pendleton Round-Up rodeo grass arena
Steer wrestling on the grass!

Other differences are small like the sequence of events (bull riding is not last) and the addition of some unique events like the Indian relay race and wild cow milking. All of this adds up to fun and exceptional rodeo experience. It also adds up to a longer-than-usual rodeo experience. A friend recommended the Happy Canon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show but honestly, by the time the rodeo wrapped up, we were beat.

Ending the night with some food

Instead, we headed to the Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub. Wait times were considerable thanks to the thousands of people visiting Pendleton but we felt it was worth the wait and very much enjoyed our dinner. Of course, if you would rather not wait, there are plenty of food vendors to choose from. Plus, downtown Pendleton plays host to multiple live bands and not even the rain could deter the hardiest fans. We were content to take our full bellies back to our cabin and dream about cowboys.

Overall, it was a fun way to spend the weekend and we are already talking about attending again next year. A great experience all thanks to a line item on my bucket list.


Make a bucket list. Make three if you want. The Pendleton Round-Up is just one of many items on my various bucket lists. Checking it off was a hoot. Not only am I looking forward to attending again, but I am looking forward to checking off new items as well.

Feel free to download and use the free printable bucket list. Fill it with adventures, near and far, and make sure to check them off: Bucket List

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