Grant County contains the headwaters of the John Day River, which has more miles of Wild and Scenic designation than any other river in the United States, attracting tourism and recreation. About 54% of the county is owned by the Forest Service. Other principal industries include forestry, agriculture, and ranching.
The county's dependence on resource extraction and tourism has resulted with its experiencing the second highest unemployment rate in Oregon for over 30 years. Many high school graduates depart upon graduation, never to return, thus creating a steady loss of talent and people.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 11,731 km² (4,529 mi²). 11,729 km² (4,529 mi²) of it is land and 2 km² (1 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 0.02% water. Grant shares boundaries with more counties (eight) than any other county in Oregon.
As of the census2 of 2000, there are 7,935 people, 3,246 households, and 2,233 families residing in the county. The population density is 1/km² (2/mi²). There are 4,004 housing units at an average density of 0/km² (1/mi²). The racial makeup of the county is 95.69% White, 0.10% Black or African American, 1.60% Native American, 0.19% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.68% from other races, and 1.70% from two or more races. 2.05% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 3,246 households out of which 30.10% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 57.90% are married couples living together, 7.90% have a female householder with no husband present, and 31.20% are non-families. 27.10% of all households are made up of individuals and 10.90% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.39 and the average family size is 2.89.
In the county, the population is spread out with 25.80% under the age of 18, 5.60% from 18 to 24, 24.00% from 25 to 44, 27.90% from 45 to 64, and 16.80% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 42 years. For every 100 females there are 99.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 97.10 males.
The median income for a household in the county is $32,560, and the median income for a family is $37,159. Males have a median income of $31,843 versus $22,253 for females. The per capita income for the county is $16,794. 13.70% of the population and 11.20% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 16.60% are under the age of 18 and 10.20% are 65 or older.
Grant County was established on October 14, 1864, from parts of Wasco and Umatilla counties. Prior to its creation, cases brought to court were tried in The Dalles, county seat of the vast Wasco County. The great distance to The Dalles made law enforcement a difficult problem, and imposed a heavy burden on citizens who had a need to transact business at the courthouse.
After gold was discovered in 1862 on Whiskey Flat, it has been estimated that within ten days 1,000 miners were camped along Canyon Creek. This increased population created a need for county government. Over $20 million in gold was mined from the Canyon City and Susanville areas before the inevitable exhaustion of the deposits.