For an unforgettable flea market experience, you can’t beat the flea market held three times a year in the tiny town of Sumpter, Oregon. Whether it is Oregon’s largest may be a debatable point but the Sumpter Flea Market is huge, and certainly the best one I have ever visited.
Sumpter, Oregon is probably one of the last places on earth you would expect to find a gigantic flea market, covering literally the whole town, not once, not twice, but three times a year. The first sale on Memorial Day week-end, the second on the 4th of July week-end, and the third on Labor-Day week-end all have throngs of visitors to this normally quiet little town of less than 200 people, down considerably from the 5,000 population it had during the gold rush days. A quote from their website says: “The year-round population of Sumpter is approximately 191, consisting of 190 very nice people and one ‘old grouch’.”
For years, my sister and her husband, who live in the eastern part of Oregon tried to talk us into attending one of Sumpter’s flea market events, but we couldn’t imagine it being worth a 400-mile so, year after year, we kept putting it off.
Finally, when a trip to visit my sister coincided with the date of one of the sales, we added an extra day to our trip and made our first visit ever to Sumpter during their Memorial Day week-end flea market.
Oregon is a beautiful state. It has campgrounds sprinkled throughout the whole state and the Sumpter area was no exception. We found a wonderful campground with electric and sewer hook-ups for our fifth-wheel trailer and lovely grounds situated next to the river which was an added plus for us since we like to hike and fish.
The town of Sumpter sits just off Highway 7 near Baker, Oregon, at an elevation of over 4500 feet, and is surrounded by 9000 foot mountains. If you’re looking for a scenic vacation area, this is it.
Sumpter has a narrow gauge steam railroad which offers daily passenger trips running for several miles out of Sumpter and back again. The end of the trip was near our campground, and we were told that we could purchase a ticket to ride the train into town for the sale the next day if we liked. We had already unhooked our fifth wheel from the pickup so we declined and decided to drive into town instead. That was a mistake as cars were parked everywhere and we had to walk quite a way before we actually arrived at the first flea market table-the train would have delivered us right to the middle of town, so you can be sure we will take the train next time.
The sale was in full swing. Not a single business on either side of the street had opted out of participating. Tables, tables, and more tables loaded with new and used merchandise. Behind every business, there were more flea market stalls. The houses on the back streets had yards filled with flea market tables. It took several hours for us to cover even one block.
My favorite place was one that had set up about 30 large bookshelves right along the sidewalk and filled them with used books—everything from reference books and collector’s items to paperbacks on every imaginable subject.
The town of Sumpter is only a few blocks long, but the tables didn’t stop when the town did. They continued up the hill, in front of every house, under trees here and there, etc. You couldn’t look anywhere without seeing more tables of goods.
A number of food booths were concentrated in a section toward the middle of town. We weren’t really hungry yet, but spotted a buffalo burger booth. Neither my husband nor I had ever tried buffalo meat, but had heard that it was healthy so we each ordered one. I really didn’t see a lot of difference between it and hamburger except that the buffalo was a bit tougher, but maybe that was just how it was cooked. I’ll have to get some and try it at home.
About mid-afternoon, we were pleasantly surprised to stop at a small trailer where a couple was selling magnetic jewelry and find out they were friends from a church we formerly attended. We visited with them for a while, joking about having to drive 400 miles to visit with someone who lived right across town from us. They were wildly enthusiastic about the Sumpter flea markets and said they had been coming to them for several years. They weren’t getting rich, they said, but they were managing to pay for traveling which they both dearly loved.
An hour later, I was ready to call it a day, even though I am sure we hadn’t visited more than a third of all the vendors doing business. We finally quit after several more and, laden down with purchases, mostly books, we headed back to our car, believing that if the Sumpter flea market wasn’t really the Oregon’s largest, at least it was Oregon’s best. Next time, we plan to stay longer and ride the train, pan for gold, check out their huge antique gold dredge, and visit much more of the nearby historical area.
If you want to check it out and decide for yourself if Sumpter’s claim to be the Oregons’s largest flea market is true, visit some of the links below to learn a little more about Sumpter, its fascinating history as a mining town, and the wealth of other activities it has to offer all year round.