The Pacific Northwest is one of the most popular places in the U.S. for exploring the great outdoors. Oregon, in particular, is home to essentially every geographical terrain possible: deserts, rivers, oceans, valleys, forests, and lots of volcanoes, to name a few. If you’re eager to explore Oregon, the possibilities may seem daunting. With 13 national forests, thousands of trails, and several natural wonders, it would take years to see it all. To help you see and do more on every trip, consider this your definitive guide to camping in Oregon.
There are 5,900 official campsites in Oregon — meaning that most of the amazing places to explore also offer gorgeous and suitable onsite camping. If you’re trying to plan your next trip through Oregon, everything you need can be found below:
Columbia River Gorge:
Northern Oregon is home to some of the best waterfalls and lushest forests in the state. No place defines that more than the Columbia River Gorge. This is a local favorite due to its proximity to Oregon’s biggest city, Portland, and its diverse range of activities.
Columbia River Gorge has 90 different waterfalls, more than any other place in the country. I’m not just talking about little trickles of water; I’m talking majestic, full-blown waterfalls.
There are over 100 hikes in the vast and spacious gorge area. Notably, Angel’s Rest, Devil’s Rest and the Table Mountain area. Don’t miss out on Oneonta Gorge during the summer.
The Columbia gorge straddles the state line between Oregon and Washington, so you will probably find yourself in both states throughout your explorations. For camping, your options depend on your preferred area. I recommend Ainsworth State Park for centrality and access to the best falls, while Viento State Park is more scenic and right on various trail heads.
Know Before You Go: The devastating Eagle Creek Fire in 2017 wreaked havoc on this beautiful area. For trails, be sure to check for closures. Many have partial closures or alternative routes due to fire damage.
Opal Creek Wilderness Area:
As far as watering holes go, you cannot beat Three Pools in Opal Creek. About an hour past Salem, you’ll discover the prettiest turquoise swimming holes you’ve ever seen. With little waterfalls, deceivingly deep natural pools, and large rocks to climb, lay, and hopefully not slip over, this is the place in the summer.
The Opal Creek area also offers several day hikes through various rivers, lakes and hot springs. You can camp at the Shady Cove Campground, along the rushing North Santiam River.
Know Before You Go: The area was hit hard in September 2020, due to the Beachie Creek Fire. Please check official updates for closures.
Fort Stevens State Park:
As north as you can get on the Oregon Coast, you’ll find Fort Stevens State Park. A former coastal defense fort, this is the only U.S. military fort to be fired on by a foreign enemy warship since the War of 1812; it was attacked by a Japanese submarine in 1942. Now, this 4,300 acre recreation area is a history buff and adventurer’s dream.
With former barracks and cannons still standing, you get to explore abandoned buildings in a lush forest. You can hike, bike, horseback ride, kayak and even swim in the ocean. The state park offers several campgrounds, cabins and yurts.
Know Before You Go: Don’t miss out on the Peter Iredale Shipwreck. A popular tourist option even before the internet; the rusted, iron bones of an old ship jut out of the sand. It’s been stuck on the coast since it crashed in 1936.
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area:
You do not want to miss out on the Oregon Dunes, though most tourists do. Fun fact: it’s one of the largest temperate coastal sand dunes in the entire world. With the surrounding ocean, wetlands, and forests, you have a diverse area to explore.
You can boat, kayak, and explore on foot or via ATV. Some dunes reach up to 500 feet, which is a sight to see. You especially don’t want to miss the sunset.
Know Before You Go: There are camping opportunities both on the sand, on the jetty and in the forest. Take your pick.
Smith Rock State Park:
Smith Rock is a climber and hiker’s dream. This massive recreation area is home to enormous, jaw-dropping rocks. There are thousands of different climbs to try, along with miles of hiking and biking trails.
Smith Rock is an iconic spot in Oregon. The park goes to lengths to preserve it. You can camp directly in the park, but it is for tent only campers.
Know Before You Go: If you are not an experienced climber and do not have the right equipment, please do not climb. That includes bouldering the jagged rocks at the top for a photo.
This is one of the most beautiful mountains you’ll ever hike. Seriously. Just over 12 miles, the summit is not an easy one. South Sister is the third-tallest peak in Oregon. The scenery, though, is hard to beat, with snow-capped mountains, hidden glacial lakes, and panoramic views of Mt. Bachelor and Central Oregon.
South Sister is part of Three Sisters: three volcanic mountain peaks. You can camp at Devil’s Lake Campground, on the mountain’s base. This is a stunning campground, but the trail does start here. Hikers may arrive in droves, as early as two a.m., to begin the climb.
Know Before You Go: While South Sister is open year round, the best time to visit is June to October. After that, parts of the trail may be completely covered by snow.
This is one of the most diverse areas in Oregon, particularly in the fall. When Newberry Volcano erupted over 75,000 years ago, two caldera lakes were formed: Paulina Lake and East Lake. You can now enjoy both lakes, a stunning waterfall, a natural waterslide, and hikes galore. To stay, you can’t beat Little Crater Campground, a stunning campsite located off of Paulina Lake.
The best part, though, is the Big Obsidian Flow Trail. It looks like something from the future. You get to boulder and walk along lava rocks, paired with panoramic forest views.
Know Before You Go: Paulina Peak is one of the more famous attractions in the area, with sweeping views of the whole volcanic area. At almost 8,000 feet, this peak experiences snow long before the bottom does, even in October.
I was today-years-old when I found out about Alvord Desert. Of course, I immediately had to check it out. This 20-mile long playa is a true treat. You’ll find Alvord Desert in the middle of nowhere, in the Southwestern part of Oregon. While getting there is tricky with unpaved roads, unclear directions and spotty cell service, it’s worth it.
Alvord Desert is home to several hot springs, which are free to visitors. You can camp for free directly in the playa, which is truly magical at sunrise and sunset — albeit freezing at night.
Know Before You Go: When it’s wet season, during the spring, the playa can fill with water. This means you might go to sleep on a dry surface and wake up stuck in thick mud.
This is probably the most famous natural wonder in Oregon. People from all over come to see it, but it’s worth the hype. There is no water as blue as Crater Lake.
After Mount Mazama erupted over 7,000 years ago, it collapsed to form this caldera lake. Crater Lake is massive; the rim measures almost 33 miles. As such, you can always find privacy, even in peak season.There are numerous hiking trails of varying lengths throughout the park and the crater.
While there is an official campground, it is almost always booked up, so reserve far in advance. The good news? You can camp anywhere in Crater Lake as long as you hike at least one mile in from your car.
Know Before you Go: Crater Lake has one of the longest winters, but is open year-round. From the first snowfall in October to mid-July, the rim is closed for driving.
Umpqua Hot Springs:
The Umpqua National Forest is a heavily forested area in Southern Oregon. People often come here to hike the North Umpqua Trail, which spans 79 miles. Right in the middle, you’ll find Umpqua Hot Springs.
What were once a local secret, these unbelievable hot springs are gaining attention. With multiple thermal pools above a rushing river, in the middle of the woods, it’s hard to beat. I would highly recommend camping at Toketee Lake Campground, right near Toketee Falls. You can also check out neighboring Diamond Lake, for spacious lakeside camping.
Know Before You Go: Locals partied hard here and trashed the area, resulting in a temporary closure. Please don’t leave trash and also, don’t be surprised if you encounter naked locals bathing alongside you.
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