Thursday, July 19, 2007

Camping Comfortably in Oregon and Washington

I grew up as a Boy Scout of Troop 787 in Orange County, California. This troop did a lot of camping. I had spent about a year's nights under the stars before my thirteenth birthday. In my mind, the word "camping" is forever linked to the type of outing where everything you need for several days is packed into a backpack you can carry for ten miles.

My wife grew up "car camping". She enjoys hiking if all we take on the hike is a camera, water, and snacks (and especially if I carry them). Also, she shares her gender's preferences for restroom facilities that include at the very least flush toilets, and preferably regularly cleaned flush toilets.

Needless to say, it took us a while to find out how to go camping together in a manner we both enjoy. But we have done so, and this blog post shares this collected wisdom.

First, Oregon State Parks has many campgrounds with cabins and yurts. These are ideal, as they are inexpensive, are comfortable enough sleeping arrangements to help my wife recover after a hike strenuous enough to "push" her, and always very near regularly cleaned flush toilets.

The only drawback is that for most locations you must make your reservations 8-9 months in advance. Careful planning is rewarded. The yurts at Champoeg are less popular and make an affordable alternative to a hotel in Portland.

My wife and I want to next visit Oswald West and Fort Stevens, and plan to make reservations for next June in September.

The equipment in cabins and yurts varies from park to park, so check at each park for what "rustic" and "deluxe" means. Many have heaters, which can be important in the winter. Those with heaters have thermostats: it is not always labeled, but you can turn the on/off knob more or less to adjust the temperature.

To make reservations for Oregon State Parks, call (800) 452-5687 or visit this website. For information, call (800) 551-6949 or (503) 986-070.

Washington State Parks also have some yurts and cabins. Here are links to the southwest and south coast regions.

Nearest to Oregon, southwest region parks with yurts include Cape Disappointment (tidepools, hiking, beach, lighthouses), Seaquest (on Silver Lake, visit Mt. St. Helens visitor center, good cycling), Grayland Beach (hiking, beach), and Paradise Point (hiking).

In our minds the most interesting Washington State camping experience would be at Deception Pass State Park, where there is a cabin only accessible by boat. We would have to borrow a canoe from a friend for that camping trip.

Comfortable camping also happens on county campgrounds. The Hood River County county campgrounds are 60 miles from Portland. Both Tollbridge Park and Tucker Park have showers and toilets. The former requires a reservation three weeks ahead, by calling (541) 352-5522. The latter is "first come, first serve". For more information, call (541) 387-6888.

Some Josephine County campgrounds have yurts. These are near Grants Pass on a river in comparatively dry land. Use the same website used to make Oregon State Park reservations.

Lane County has some county parks with campgrounds, with flush toilets and coin-op showers but no yurts or cabins. Harbor Vista is the only one we have seen; the sites are small but have decent privacy, and the location very close to the beach could be a fun alternative to a motel in Florence.

Moving on to Federal land, the National Forest Service does also has cabin rentals in Oregon (map), just not so close to Eugene.

Somewhat nearby, the Siuslaw National Forest is the Federal land near Florence. A pair of adjacent campgrounds with flush toilets are Sandbeach and Derek Road. For information, call (503) 392-3161.

Be aware that the reservations website for National Forest Service is quite lacking in descriptions for Oregon and Washington campgrounds. Of the Washington campgrounds managed by Northwest Land Management (contact phone at the bottom of the page is (509) 427-7746) the only campground with flush toilets is Beaver Campground. All other Oregon and Washington campgrounds are managed by the National Forest Service itself, and more campground information can be found at the websites for the specific forests.

For example, with Mount Hood National Forest look for a sidebar link to its campgrounds and see that none of them have flush toilets. In general, on Federal land rent a cabin to have a flush toilet.

For day hikes or a one night trip near Eugene, the Willamette National Forest (the Federal land east of Eugene) might work. None of these campsites have flush toilets, but sometimes my wife will put up with a lack of those for one evening in exchange for a shorter drive to and from the campground.

If nothing else, that national forest has a great website. Notice the "map" and "list" tables towards the top of their page. For information, call (541) 225-6300.

The Middle Fork region is typically the best for hiking or camping because it is "first come, first serve" and not as busy as McKenzie region. Recommended campgrounds include Islet ($14, on Waldo Lake, be prepared for mosquitos in Summer), Blue Pool ($12, hike to hot springs), Broken Bowl ($14, nearby), and Sand Prairie ($12).

The most recommended campgrounds in the McKenzie region are Big Lake (near Sisters, cold lake, reservation required), Mona (in Blue River, warmer, "first come, first serve"), and Olallie (reservation required).

Three quick notes, in closing...

The Public Lands Information Center is an convenient website for quickly comparing State and Federal campgrounds, but its information may be inaccurate.

The Oregon State Parks have large signs summarizing the state laws for park visitors. A detail left off these summaries that may be relevant is that it is legal in Oregon State Parks to pick edible fruit for immediate consumption. Many Oregon State Parks abound with edible berries.

Also, these summary signs do not say that it is legal to carry a loaded firearm at an Oregon State Park if you have an appropriate concealed handgun license. I have a few friends who might care about that detail. However, sightings of coyote, bobcat, and black bear are rare and I cannot find record of any incident in which looking large and making a lot of noise was not sufficient to deter such an animal.

UPDATE: Heh. Troop 787 now has a website. I should not be surprised. They still seem to do frequent camping trips. I do not recognize any names, of course, unless I go to their PDF file of Eagle scouts.

UPDATE: I should also put a link to the website for Oregon's BLM land here too, even though it is not really relevant.