Oregon Camping 101

May 9, 2016 (Updated August 11, 2016)
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With thousands of miles of backcountry beauty to explore, Oregon is the perfect place for camping getaways. You can set up camp within earshot of waves crashing on the beach, sleep under the stars in wide-open high desert, or hike deep into a lush forest to pitch your tent. It’s no wonder Chris Santella, author of the new “Fifty Places to Camp Before You Die,” keeps coming back to this great state. The author of the popular ‘Fifty Places’ series lets us know what makes camping in Oregon so special and which campsites have him hooked.


What does the Pacific Northwest offer that other locations don’t?

We have everything in one place: awesome mountains, expansive high desert and majestic oceanfronts. I think it’s about diversity of landscapes and the fact that the people who live here genuinely appreciate and take care of the landscape.


What’s your favorite memory of camping in Oregon?

There are many — from East Lake, the Metolius River and various river trips. One near the top of my list is camping near the Deschutes River below Macks Canyon, in the lower 20 miles before the Columbia River, in the fall and waking up to what I thought was gunfire. It turned out to be Bighorn rams squaring off as part of the pre-mating ritual! Later, at that same spot, I was able to step into the river and hook a steelhead right in front of my camp.


Where are your favorite places to camp in Oregon? Why?

Much of my camping these days is connected to fly fishing. I have to say that the smell of the high desert sage and the gradually warming air of the Deschutes River in early fall makes it special … and, of course, the presence of the river’s rainbow trout and steelhead!

For family camping, I love the Metolius River for the sheer beauty of the place, the gentle hikes available, the fishing and the proximity of the pleasant town of Sisters if a break from camping is needed.


What are the essential things to pack for camping in Oregon?

An interesting question, because what I consider essential and what my family considers essential are two different things! (They tend to travel with quite a bit more stuff than me.) As I get older, one piece of camping equipment that’s become essential for me is a cot; it makes the camping experience much easier on my back. I also love to bring along some great Oregon craft beer — so many are available in cans now, which are lighter and easier to pack in and out. It’s always a good idea to bring a tarp — it can protect your cooking area from rain, but also provide shade from the sun, which can get pretty strong in Eastern Oregon in the summertime. These days, I seldom camp anyplace where there’s not a river or lake nearby, so one (or more) fly rods are usually in the back of my trusty ’99 Subaru.


How would you describe Oregon to a newcomer?

The best of all worlds. Oregon has wonderful coastal amenities, amazing forests, impressive mountains and high desert — all within a few hours’ drive. Sprinkle in a collection of lively cities and inviting smaller towns, and there’s something for everyone…especially if you enjoy the outdoors.


What are your favorite towns in Oregon to visit?

  • Bend (Central Oregon)
  • Glide (North Umpqua / Southern Oregon)
  • Joseph (Eastern Oregon)
  • Manzanita (Oregon Coast)
  • Troy (Grande Ronde fishing / Eastern Oregon)
  • Maupin (Deschutes fishing / Central Oregon)

What are your hopes for your new book?

I’d like to think that the book will open up novice campers and more seasoned campers to some of the possibilities around the world, and also give readers a sense of how camping is perceived and approached in different places. I think it will also prove to be an “armchair traveler,” taking would-be campers who might not have time or opportunity right now to travel to experience these places.


There are hundreds of day-use and overnight camping sites in Oregon. Reserve your next campsite at an Oregon State Parkor explore Oregon National Forest Service sites at Recration.gov today.

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