: Oregon Parks and Recreation

Plan Your Oregon Outdoor Adventures Now

Get that camping trip or bucket-list adventure on the books for the year ahead.
December 20, 2021 (Updated January 18, 2023)

If you’ve been out in Oregon’s natural spaces lately, you’ve seen it: Oregonians and visitors of all backgrounds and skill levels have been flocking to trailheads, riversides, waterfalls and other scenic destinations around the Beaver State in record numbers. With such a demand for coveted outdoor spaces, it takes a bit more planning for the perfect adventure — and there’s no better time to map out your trips for next season. 

Sometimes the best plan is to let someone else do the planning. Book a guided tour, fishing trip or rafting adventure months in advance, and you won’t have to think about it again until it’s time for fun. (And if you’re planning a popular experience — such as rafting the mighty Rogue River — it’s better to book early; these outings fill up fast for peak season.) Inspired? Here’s more about why guides are the best way to explore Oregon, and how to book the guided trip of your dreams. 

A man, woman and child raft down a river canyon
Book a whitewater rafting tour of the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, or your favorite Oregon river canyon. Courtesy of Momentum River Expeditions

Why (and How) to Use a Guide

They have the lay of the land: When are rivers rushing at their post-winter runoff peaks? When are steelhead runs ideal for angling? What’s the best month to take a kayak tour? Professional outfitters, with years of experience, can answer the important questions and provide recommendations. 

They’ll help you prepare: What do you need to know, what should you wear and what should you bring? An outfitter will have those answers and help you plan ahead so you’re ready on the day-of.

They may offer private tours: If you’re looking for a quieter experience, or if you’re looking for a tour that aligns with your abilities or skill level, chances are good a guide or outfitter offers small-group or one-on-one tours.

A woman smiles while peeking out of a tent in a forest
There are plenty of great campsites throughout Oregon -- you just have to know where to look (and book as early as possible). Courtesy of Aly Nicklas

How to Plan Your Camping Trips

A little planning goes a long way with Oregon campgrounds, which can be almost impossible to snag on summer weekends. Here’s how to beat the booking rush and select your site of choice.

How to reserve an Oregon State Park campsite: Oregon State Parks generally makes campground reservations available six months out, with new sites coming online at 6 a.m. daily. Many of the state’s most popular campgrounds (such as Wallowa Lake State Park, near Joseph) fill many months in advance, with cabin and yurt sites going especially fast. If a desired campground is full, ReserveAmerica (the booking site for Oregon State Parks) allows visitors to create email availability alerts for any cancellations.

How to reserve a National Forest campsite: Similar to Oregon State Parks, campgrounds on U.S. Forest Service lands (such as Paulina Lake Campground, within the Newberry National Volcanic Monument) are released six months out. The most popular destinations fill within weeks, so opt for a smaller, more secluded campground; if Trillium Lake Campground on Mt. Hood fills to capacity, for instance, consider a stay at nearby Tollgate Campground along the Zigzag River.

Recreation.gov is a reservation system for land management agency recreation resources, a one-stop shop for all the tools, services and information you’ll need to plan your next adventure.

How to reserve a National Park campsite: National Park sites are released 365 days in advance at Mazama Campground in Crater Lake National Park. Summer weekends tend to fill by March or April, so start booking now.

How to reserve a fire lookout: Booking windows for the iconic fire lookouts (roughly 15 of which can be rented throughout Oregon) open six months out at 7 a.m. via Recreation.gov; many are reserved by 7:01 a.m. Aim for an early-season adventure, shoot for a midweek trip and be ready to make your reservation at 7 a.m. sharp.

What to know about Bureau of Land Management campsites: The Bureau of Land Management hosts campsites all over Oregon — from Alsea Falls in the Oregon Coast Range to South Steens Campground in the heart of Steens Mountain. Some campgrounds are available to book on a six-month rolling basis via Recreation.gov, while others (like South Steens) are exclusively first-come, first-serve.

Wildflowers in a meadow with Mt. Hood in the background
The Timberline Trail comes alive with wildflowers in spring; try planning a midweek trip to enjoy a bit more solitude, or go earlier or later in the season. Courtesy of Nickie Bournias

How to Plan Your Next Epic Hike or Backpacking Trip

You’ll want to keep a few destination-dependent tips in mind when planning your hiking and backpacking trips this year. 

Central Cascades: If you’re inspired to visit the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington or Three Sisters wilderness areas of the Willamette or Deschutes national forests this summer, you’ll need to secure a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit before your trip for all backpacking trips between June 10-Oct. 15, as well as for day-use visits to 19 of the area’s 79 trailheads. To do so, you can make a reservation online at Recreation.gov, or call 1-877-444-6777. The rest of the overnight permits open on a seven-day rolling basis as the season progresses; day-use permits for the 19 trailheads are available on a rolling 10-day and 2 day-before basis. Free, self-issued permits (on-site at the trailhead) are still required at the remaining 60 trailheads for day trips.  

Pacific Crest Trail: Planning to hike some (or all) of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail this year? You’ll need a long-distance permit for trips of 500 or more continuous miles. If you get this permit, you won’t need a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit while in the wilderness areas of the Willamette or Deschutes national forests. If you’re planning a shorter trip along the PCT that brings you into Central Oregon, you’ll need to know when you’ll be in the area and procure the proper Central Cascades Wilderness Permit(s).

Timberline Trail: If you’re looking to hike the 41-mile Timberline National Historic Trail around Mt. Hood next summer, you won’t be alone. Try planning a midweek trip to enjoy a bit more solitude. Or consider an early- or late-season trip; keep an eye on snowpack levels in early July and weather forecasts in September. Be sure to research trail closures and workarounds as well.

About The

Matt Wastradowski
Matt Wastradowski is a travel and outdoors writer living in Portland, Oregon. He’s written about the outdoors, craft beer, history, and more for the likes of Outside, Portland Monthly, and Northwest Travel & Life—and has written three Oregon-centric guidebooks for Moon Travel Guides.