An Expert Guide To Camping in OregonPublished on 07/22/2021 · 11 min readCamping & Hiking expert Kate Wilson shares her favorite campsites across Oregon and everything you can do there, from hiking to mountain biking to fly fishing.
Photo by Kate Wilson
Turquoise rivers, crystal clear lakes, stunning Pacific Ocean coastline, and hiking trails for miles…what’s not to love about Oregon? As a full-time traveler, I can attest to the endless beauty and recreation here; we keep coming back to explore and end up staying longer than planned. Our favorite way to experience the Pacific Northwest wonderland is to pitch a tent along the beach, in the lush forests, or even in a remote, dispersed camping area. Pick your favorite activity and head to these spots pronto — adventure awaits!
Beach hikes, lighthouses, towering rock formations, and unbelievable sunsets await up and down the entire coast. Oregon State Parks offer camping, endless recreation, and visually stunning scenery. Where to start?
North Coast — Kayaking, Fishing, and Sightseeing
Travel west from Portland toward the coast and find an incredible place for the whole family to enjoy — Nehalem Bay State Park. Bike paths, hiking, wildlife viewing, kayaking, and fishing are just a few of the ways to unwind in this coastal paradise. It is truly a great spot that anyone can call home for a few days, thanks to the hot showers and RV amenities like full hookups, water, and dump stations. You can even rent a yurt or camp with your horses here. Check out beautiful Manzanita Beach and hike the Cape Falcon Trail while you're there! Price: $31 to $62, plus an $8 reservation fee. Reserve: here.
Central Coast — Hiking and Close to the Dunes National Recreation Area
Known for the most beautiful sunset views along the Oregon coastline, Sunset Bay State Park is high on the must-see list for many Oregon tourists. If you’re looking to take some stunning photos, the rock cliffs and white beaches will definitely deliver.
There are plenty of hikes to keep you busy too, like Sunset Bay to Cape Arago, which gives you close up views of sea lions, more amazing rock formations, and stunning coastline the entire way.
The campground itself offers tent and group sites, full hookups for your RV, and even more yurts for a unique beach experience! It’s also just under an hour to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area — 40 miles of dunes along the coast with 30 lakes and even more hiking! Price: $19 to $58, plus an $8 reservation fee. Reserve: here.
South Coast — Tide Pools, Wildlife, and Sea Arches
Pitch a tent in this coastal wonderland camp spot. There is plenty of room to find a secluded spot on the beach just steps from camp, as well as trails to some of the best tide pools and bird-watching in the state. It’s also one of the great campgrounds for those who are road-biking the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) or hiking the Oregon Coast Trail, as it has its own hiker/biker camp that offers cheap rates, hot showers, and flush toilets!
Other trails lead you to downtown Brookings where breweries, sushi, and fabulous Italian cuisine await! Best of all, it’s a short drive north to one of the most spectacular views in Southern Oregon — the Natural Bridges viewpoint just off the 101. The viewpoint itself is incredible, but there is also a hike that takes you down for a closer look at these geological sea arches. Take it slow and hang on tight to your camera; you’re going to want it more than ever! Price: $8 to $61. Reserve: here.
Overnight Along the Coast
Sometimes when you’re on the road, you just need to stop and sleep somewhere in a pinch. With the ever-increasing rules prohibiting camping in parking lots, it’s good to know where you’re allowed to car camp or park your RV for the night. We found Oregon to be surprisingly friendly about camping on the shoulder along the coast and you will definitely find a beautiful spot, especially in these areas:
- Cannon Beach
- Tolovana Beach State Recreation Site
- Arcadia Beach
- Rockaway Beach
In general, we found that if there are no signs posted, you are allowed to camp for 12 hours along the 101. Don’t worry, you’ll find a handful of others in the same circumstances have made it to the best spots already, so you’ll know where it’s allowed. We never had trouble pulling in somewhere if necessary; there always seems to be room for just one more!
So you brought your mountain bike to Oregon, and for good reason. Outside of Utah, we’ve found the trails here to be some of our favorites due to their varied terrain and technical features. Here are our favorite places to camp near the most epic Oregon rides:
Tumalo State Park
Tumalo State Park in Tumalo, Oregon, is nestled along the Deschutes River just eight miles north of Bend. Here you’ll find tent sites along the water, RV sites with full hookup options, group sites, yurts, and hiker/biker sites. It is a stunning area that feels remote but is close enough for a quick trip into Bend for some riding. My partner was all smiles and is still talking about his favorite ride on the Phil’s Trail Network. Price: $21 to $61 per night. Reserve: here.
Smith Rock State Park
If you’re looking for a backcountry experience, check out Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon. It is for tent campers only, but it’s a great option that’s just a bit further from Bend itself. The Crooked River meanders through steep canyon walls and although it is primarily popular for climbers, it does offer some memorable bike trails too, like the Smith Rock Loop.
Camping is first come, first served and is pretty popular but worth checking out! Have an RV? Not to worry, there are sites that will accommodate them, such as the Skull Hollow Campground. Price: $8 per night, including showers! Reserve: Walk-in only.
We spent tons of time in Sisters, Oregon, because it’s centrally located to so many amazing activities. We rode the 15-mile Peterson Ridge Trail loop daily for a few weeks while we explored the area and it’s a nice workout for the whole family, with options to exit at any time. We found the Sisters Creekside Campground to be quiet, convenient to town with creekside and park access. It’s ideal for RV’s with full hookups, a dump station, potable water, and toilets. The hosts are extremely friendly, too! Price: $5 to $50 per night. Reserve: here.
Ice Cap Campground
Ice Cap Campground in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, is tucked into the most incredible area in Central Oregon. Sleep under an old growth, moss-covered, dense forest or tropical ferns and relax near the turquoise, crystal-clear McKenzie River. Hike to Sahalie/Koosah Waterfalls and visit Tamolitch Blue Pool while you’re in the area.
This is truly one of my favorite spots and it’s the perfect place if you want to shuttle the McKenzie River Trail ride while you’re there. It’s considered one of the best mountain bike trails in North America and is an epic experience that spans over 20 miles of varied terrain and will have you stopping for more than one photo along the way. Price: $17 to $18 per night. Reserve: here.
Salmon Creek Falls Campground
Less than an hour from Eugene in Oakridge, Oregon, lies a little slice of mountain-bike heaven. Salmon Creek Falls Campground is one of the best spots to stay while you’re exploring the area. It offers camping under a dense canopy of massive trees near the emerald pools and waterfalls of Salmon Creek. It provides 14 first-come, first-served campsites with fire pits and picnic tables; potable water and vault toilets are also on-site. Trailers up to 20 feet will fit nicely, although there are no hookups or dump stations. Be sure to ride the classic Alpine Trail while you’re there! Price: $17. Reserve: here.
There are fish to be had in the Falls River — some of our best “one that got away” stories are from here! A short drive from Bend finds you on a spring-fed stream that flows to the Deschutes. Brown, rainbow, and brook trout fill the river and although there are always anglers nearby, you’ll find miles of trail to scout the perfect seam or pool.
Grab a campsite from the Fall River Campground. There are 12 sites where you can almost always find an empty space at a very reasonable price and easy access to the river. There are vault toilets on site but no drinking water. Price: $10 to $12. Reserve: here.
Lower Bridge Campground on the Metolius River
We’ve thrown a fly in rivers across the West Coast almost daily for over a year now and have a story or two for each one. This year, we have spent most of our time at the Metolius River though; it’s simply one of the most beautiful, challenging rivers for trout fishing we’ve come across. We’ve caught our share of redband trout, kokanee salmon, and a brown trout or two and are always optimistic about catching one of the bull trout that lie below the deep pools and waterfalls. It’s truly a river you don’t want to miss.
There are campgrounds dotted throughout the area but our favorite is the Lower Bridge. It’s beyond serene and on the river, with miles of access in both directions. You’ll find most campers are anglers who are quiet but friendly, offering you a tip or two about the latest hatch.
On the way, be sure to visit the Camp Sherman Store. There are excellent coffee and lunch options and all the groceries and fly gear you’ll need for your stay. The staff is so friendly that you feel like you’ve made friends by the time you leave. This is our top pick for a week on the river, by far! Price: $16 to $18. Reserve: here.
Mecca Flat Campground
What appears to be a rugged, bare-bones campsite is actually home to what's considered one of the best Blue Ribbon trout-fishing spots in Central Oregon. The Mecca Flat Campground near Madras, Oregon, is a popular place; you’re likely to meet anglers from across the United States here, all with stories of where they caught their personal best. Once you’re in that river, minimalist camping is the last thing on your mind, as you’ll be pulling them in all day long if you’re throwing the right fly! Price: $8 to $12. Reserve: First come, first served. Information: here.
Paddleboarding and Kayaking
Cold Water Cove Campground
Grab your favorite flotation device and drive immediately to Cold Water Cove Campground near Sisters, Oregon. We stayed one night here and instantly made plans for four more. Recreation is plentiful in the area but if paddling is your thing, you won’t want to miss this place. Rent a cabin or non-motorized boat from Clear Lake Resort, a charming little area right on the lake with inlets to dock your own boat, then grab an ice cream and take in the view. Across the lake is the campground — one of the cleanest, quietest places we’ve been, even at full capacity. Sites are spaced nicely and the vault toilets are cleaner than you’d ever expect, courtesy of some seriously friendly and hard-working hosts!
The lake itself — well, you just have to see it to believe it. Easy access to deep green and blue crystal-clear water and non-motorized boats only make this a paddler’s paradise. Take a five-mile hike around the lake through 3,000-year-old lava fields or even a short walk over to nearby Sahalie and Koosah Falls straight from camp.
- Resort: Varies.
- Campground: $22.
Trillium Lake Campground — Mount Hood National Forest
Another option is Trillium Lake, a popular spot just outside of Portland that is about 10 minutes away from the quaint town of Government Camp. It is dog, child, and paddler-friendly with no motorboats allowed. You’ll find plenty of camping on the lake with a small beach, boat launch, and stunning views of Mount Hood! The lake is perfect for swimming, too. If you're sneaking away from work for the day, you'll be happy to know you can still check in — the cell service is awesome up here! Price: From $22.29 per night. Reserve: here.
Pro Tip: There are numerous dispersed (free) places to camp in the area as well. From Highway 26, take NF Road 2656 toward Trillium Trailhead/Lake. Take the first right and follow the loop to find a spot! There are some tucked back in the trees and it’s generally very quiet. You can bike or hike from there to the lake, too!
Well, there you have it! These are just a few of our favorite spots near epic Oregon adventures to keep in mind for your future camping trips. Are you heading this way? Chat with me or another Camping & Hiking expert here on Curated for even more tips and the best advice on gear you’ll need for your trip!