Editor’s note: Oregon’s COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but businesses may ask you to wear a face cover – bring one along and be patient and kind if asked to wear it. It’s also wildfire season – plan ahead and do your part to prevent wildfires.
For Lanessa Pierce — a Medford mother of two, avid hiker and outdoorswoman — camping is the ultimate family time. There are no tablets or cellphones allowed, leaving only enough room to enjoy the relaxed pace and gorgeous natural scenery. “It’s our time to slow down and reconnect,” says Pierce. “We’re not churchgoers, but we’re closer to our creator when we’re camping or out hiking.”
Having lived in Southern Oregon for nearly 30 years, Pierce has grown a deep appreciation for the region she calls home. She blogs about her family’s outdoor adventures as well as other community happenings on her website, What to Do in Southern Oregon, which she updates regularly as she tries out new campsites and hiking trails. Here are some of her top picks for camping in Southern Oregon as you plan for your summer road-tripping adventures. (Most sites open in May, but you can book early.)
Lake of the Woods: Camping With Kids
Situated on the banks of a serene lake 40 miles northwest of Klamath Falls, Lake of the Woods Resort offers something for everyone. Though the campsites (reopening for the season in May) are owned by the U.S. Forest Service, they’re managed by the resort, which also offers RV sites, rental cabins, and a lodge that serves up pizza and ice cream. Here in the shadow of Mt. McLoughlin, you can also rent paddleboards, pedal boats, kayaks and even 10-person pontoons. Some campsites are right along the shore, and there is a marked-off swimming area. Though it requires reservations, the spot is worth the advanced planning, Pierce says.
Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area: Year-round Camping
Situated along the banks of Lost Creek Lake, Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area in Prospect is one of Pierce’s favorites for its proximity to so many types of adventures, and it’s one that is open year-round. There’s an 18-mile hike around the perimeter of the lake, which you can take on in smaller out-and-back chunks, as well as other trailheads nearby. The campground is also near Shady Cove, where you can hire a guide from one of several local outfitters to spend the day rafting the Rogue River. The campground is just 40 miles from Crater Lake National Park, a lovely day trip. Reservations for campsites can be made year round through the Jackson County website. Be sure to stop for a hot meal at the historic Prospect Hotel Dinner House, once a stagecoach stop and host of the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt and Jack London.
Union Creek Campground: Rustic and Remote
Adored by Pierce for its lack of cellphone service, Union Creek Campground (reopening for the season in May) offers a rustic setting to escape the fast-paced demands of your daily routine. There are no showers or electricity, though campsites are generally large enough to accommodate an RV. The tent sites are also well spaced from each other, so that removed-from-society feeling is a feat easily achieved. The campground is filled with old-growth trees in the Umpqua National Forest, which Pierce likens to an enchanted fairy woods. Her children love to play and fish in the creek as well as hike along the Rogue River. Pierce suggests making a reservation, though if you’re lucky, you may be able to snag a site at the last minute. Nearby Beckie’s Cafe at Union Creek Resort, a 1920s roadhouse, is worth a stop for its heavenly fruit pies.
Whitehorse Falls or Clearwater Falls Campground: Waterfall Vibes
Just 4 miles apart from each other, Whitehorse Falls Campground and Clearwater Falls Campground (both reopening for the season in May) allow campers to sleep in close proximity to Pierce’s favorite natural feature: a waterfall. It’s the reason she’s been wanting to get out to these spots, which are both in the Umpqua National Forest near Mt. Baker and Mt. Thielsen. In addition to being near their namesake waterfalls, they’re also both close to a third waterfall, Toketee Falls, which also has a nearby hot spring that is reached by a quarter-mile hike to the platform. Whitehorse Falls offers five campsites and Clearwater Falls has nine, both of which are first come, first served. If you’re not in the mood for campfire cookouts, know that many restaurants along the neighboring Great Umpqua Food Trail offer takeout.
Schroeder Park: On the Riverbank
Pierce enjoys camping in all forms, which includes last-minute getaways not far from the city. Schroeder Park in Grants Pass is somewhat off the beaten path as it’s a bit outside of downtown and right along the Rogue River, with a laid-back farm-like setting. “You can smell the cows next door,” Pierce says. The day-use area of the park includes horseshoe and tennis courts, a playground, and a dog park. The park accepts reservations at least three days in advance.