Looking for your next summer camping spot in Oregon? Here are four favorite summer camping destinations that are a bit off the beaten path or offer unique features the entire family will enjoy.
Nestucca River Scenic Byway
The Nestucca River sings on its way to the sea and you may hear its song! It’s a place where milky white clouds wisps dance above giant Doug fir trees or tiny wild iris bunches burst to life close to ground.
So be prepared to spend some time in the Oregon Coast Range, 13 miles west of Carlton, and savor a roadway that threads through the heart of the mountains. It is a back road so significant that the Bureau of Land Management designated eleven miles of it a National Scenic Byway.
You certainly won’t worry about getting lost on this scenic byway because right at the very start – at Dovre Campground – there’s a huge wooden map to show you the way; plus, it identifies several different campgrounds that invite you to make a longer stay. There are four campgrounds along this byway and each is sheltered under cool canopies of big leaf maple and alder. Each offers campsites that are tucked away in a forest setting and many are streamside too.
Sometimes the campgrounds are but a starting point that will allow you to launch side trips, like the short hike up Dovre Creek where you can enjoy the Dovre Creek Waterfall. It’s a stunner of a cascade-style waterfall in spring and summer, and offers cool respite when the day heats up.
As you continue your drive west on the byway toward Beaver, keep in mind that the road parallels an ancient river marked by 40-million year old basalt rock formations that even on cloudless days are drenched from seeping groundwater. The water drips and slides across lush moss and water-loving wildflowers that hang from the rock walls.
You are apt to find me along this river in summer, especially on a day when sunbeams light up the scene and a fairy slipper orchid waves me along a river that flows toward the sea with its magical, ageless song.
Take a deep breath and savor a place meant for the quiet times at the only Oregon State Park that’s a coastal island getaway at Clay Myers Natural Area. The site includes nearly two hundred acres of forest, sand and estuary. The unique Whalen Island property is prized because there are few folks around.
“We don’t get huge amounts of use here,” noted Oregon State Parks and Recreation Manager Pete Marvin. “You often have the place pretty much to yourself and that makes it nice.”
The waterway surrounding Whalen Island is called Sandlake and it is shallow throughout, averaging just 2 feet deep at flood tide. The estuary wraps around the island on the high tide and that is the time you will find paddlers like Marcus Hinz launching kayak excursions to explore the parkland. “I like to bring folks here to enjoy the quiet, serene and secluded nature of the waterway,” said Hinz.
Hinz is a co-owner of Kayak Tillamook and he leads tours for a company that specializes in coastal estuary trips: “You don’t see many people here because it’s too shallow for motorized boats.”
Hinz adds that Sandlake’s isolation means paddlers should be prepared to handle any issue that might arise on the water. “Even though it is a shallow waterway, there are deeper parts and the tide does recede out into the ocean. So it’s important to wear your life jackets, bring an extra paddle, basic first aid and a communication device in case you get into trouble.”
Whalen Island is tucked between two landmark coastal features: Cape Lookout to the north, a massive forested headland that juts more than two-miles out to sea. Plus, Cape Kiwanda is to the south with its landmark Haystack Rock just offshore.
Tillamook County manages Whalen Island Campground’s eight acres that offers 30 sites for tents or trailer, without hook ups.
Let’s Go Camping
It’s summer time and the camping life is easy — unless you’re a newcomer to the camping experience. But at Silver Falls State Park no one is left behind when the call goes out: “Let‘s Go Camping.”
“Have fun and try not to make too much work” is a key message for the folks who signed up for the Oregon State Park program called Let’s Go Camping. “It’s a bit like a class in Camping 101 where no assumptions are made about your outdoor skills, abilities or experiences,” said Oregon Parks and Recreation staff member Kevin Farron.
In addition, Farron added that dedicated volunteers lead many of the “Let’s Go Camping” seminars for newcomer campers at state parks through the summer. The goal is to introduce beginners to the techniques and equipment that many car campers (folks who stay in a tent rather than a trailer or RV) might consider for their own camping trip. In fact, if you don’t own camping gear that’s okay, because they will loan you the tent, sleeping bags, pads and stoves to set you on the right path.
Eric Markman said the idea is perfectly suited to families that are trying to get their youngsters outdoors this summer. “If you haven’t done much camping and you’re a little intimidated by it, it’s a great way to start. A low risk, highly educational and great family oriented approach to doing it.”
Park rangers also assist the class with lessons on safety, like showing and talking about the ten safety essentials you’d want to take with you on a hike, plus everyday camping techniques and the proper way to build a fire. There’s even a cooking lesson – dutch oven style.
Bryan Jones, one of the “Let’s Go Camping” volunteers, said he wouldn’t trade a minute of the experiences he’s had teaching Oregon’s next generation of campers: “I saw this program online I clicked on the link and volunteered for a weekend to help out – now, I’m hooked on showing inexperienced families the pleasures in of camping in Oregon.”
Cascadia State Park
It’s a Huck Finn sort of world along the Santiam River as you motor through “Short Bridge” – a wooden, shingle-covered bridge built in 1945. The bridge connects you with adventure at Cascadia State Park, where you will enjoy 24 sites for tent or small trailers.
The serene camp setting was once a center for those seeking healthy remedies for whatever ailed them from mineral water that bubbled out of the ground. A century ago it was a resort with a health spa and included a post office, hotel and camping area that became a vacation destination for thousands.
There is a huge picnic area to explore before you find the signs that take you up a trail along Soda Creek. It’s a 3/4- mile hike to reach Lower Soda Falls on a moderate trail that is steep and muddy in spots. An old growth forest shades you on this route that follows the tiny creek, so allow yourself some time to stop along the way and savor the scenes. The payoff is worth the effort when you reach end of the line at Lower Soda Waterfall; over 150 feet of water cascades top to bottom in a cool, refreshing moment.
When the river and the roadway call you back, be sure to duck in and enjoy the whopper of a wildflower show. The Camas Prairie is a forest service managed site just off Moose Creek Road near Cascadia State Park. It is a site best enjoyed from a distance, so bring a camera and please stay out of the meadows. The site is a protected area and an important cultural and natural resource. The Camas Prairie visit is a perfect cap to the day’s getaway adventure along a delightful scenic byway.