We packed up our gear and loaded it aboard one of the finest ways to explore the great Oregon outdoors, an RV we call our “Home on the Road.”
And it’s easy to make home in Washington County, where the Oregon Coast Range leaves you feeling a million miles away from city hub-bub. Just 20 miles from Portland and nestled in the Coast Range hillsides, L.L. Stub Stewart State Park sprawls across 1,800 forested acres.
“The big leaf maples were really showing off and there’s a crispness in the air,” says Park Manager John Mullen. “It does get little wet sometimes, but it can be a lovely time of year and for the most part it’s a much quieter campground.”
“They are more private, wooded setting with Doug fir trees; really isolated and separate campsites with picnic tables and a central fire ring too,” he adds. “If you want to get away from the vehicles and the main activity of the park, that’s the place to go camping.”
It’s a full-service campground with more than 100 campsites. Many sites have full hook-ups for trailers and RVs. For a change of pace, you can rent one of 15 cabins at the parkland that offers so much variety.
“Twelve of the cabins are one room and three are two room cabins; each with a bunk bed, futon couch that folds into a bed, table and chairs. Most of the cabins have beautiful views of the coast range too. We are kind of like a pocket recreation area,” says Mullen. “There are so many things to do. For example, we’ve got a dedicated mountain bike area — some of that has some structures to it, like jumps and singletrack. Plus almost all of the park’s trails, of which there are 20-some, are open to mountain biking, so there are what we call ‘cross-country’ mountain bike trails.”
The Banks-Vernonia State Trail runs through L.L. Stub Stewart State Park. The bike trail was Oregon’s first rails-to-trails conversion, transformed from a former rail line that hauled logs and timber between Vernonia and Portland for decades.
Mullen says that there are 13 wooden or steel trestles along its length that give you a feel for the line’s history.
“It’s wonderful with Mendenhall Creek down below the trestle — it’s 85 feet to the ground. You can even see spawning salmon in the creek in the fall months,” he says. “This trestle also has a wonderful curve to it’s 110 feet length and we put decking and hand rails on it so pedestrians can enjoy it too.”
The park draws hikers, bike riders and, especially, horseback riders who come from all over to enjoy million-dollar views and some of the finest facilities in the region.
Pamela Garza and Lola Lahr are campers at L.L. Stub Stewart and they are also longtime members of Oregon Equestrian Trails.
The two love to ride their Norwegian Fjord horses across the park’s many trails. They also take great pride in the fact the OET club helped design the horse camp layout, built corrals and donated materials to make the area a remarkable success.
Pamela Garza notes, “Oh, the conveniences are great with hook-ups at each site, water at each site and of course — hot showers!”
And there’s even more. L.L. Stub Stewart State Park is home to a remarkable disc golf course — known as the only forested course in an Oregon State Park.
Mike Phillips loves his “tee shot” so he carefully eyes the right line down the fairway before he lets the disc fly to hit speeds of 60 miles per hour.
Phillips is a disc golfer; one of the best around and he had a bag of discs to prove it.
He uses up to 14 different discs in a round of disc golf and each has a specific purpose: “It’s a bit like ball golf that way — if you need to hit that low shot, you use that 2-iron because you need the distance or maybe you need that high flop shot so you use a 9-iron or a wedge…it’s same thing with disc golf.”
Phillips is especially proud of the brand-new “mountain style” disc golf course. That’s no surprise — after all, he designed it!
“It was like a dream come true!” he says. “You always hope that you’ll get to a point where you can help design a course or make a change to a course, but when I was invited to walk this terrain, I knew this was a really nice place to put in a course.”
The 18-hole (or rather, 18-basket) course stretches across 40 forested, hilly acres that presents a unique challenge to even the most experienced disc golfer.
Mullen notes that wasn’t the original intent but changed with Phillips’ leadership and vision.
“Originally, we thought let’s put in 9 holes of an easy level,” says Mullen. “Something that’s basic, but Mike insisted that if you want people to come and make the park a destination, we needed to do more. He was right!”
The park’s activities don’t end when the sun goes down — special stargazing events are scheduled throughout the year.
OMSI Star Party events date back more than 20 years and have held viewings at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park for the past decade. The Star Parties are not celebrity shin-digs, but wonderful even magical gatherings of folks who are curious about the stars and planets.
Park Ranger Allie Westfall says the Star Parties are true assets for the park: “Throughout the day we tell our campers about it, do some roving around the park spreading the word. We have many people who travel from the Portland area to attend too. It’s quite popular.”
The events depend upon volunteers like Ron McBain and others from the Rose City Astronomers.
McBain and a dozen club members show up at the park early and set up their telescopes that allow visitors to feel as though each could reach out and touch the moon’s craters or Saturn’s rings.
Club members also provide an invaluable education resource as they explain to visitors exactly what they are looking at.
“Many young people have never seen the moon or stars or Saturn through a telescope,” says McBain. “They are just amazed at what they see at night. Anyone can do it too — even with binoculars — and see marvelous things. I really enjoy and love the reaction of the young people.”
Mullen says that the spectacular views of the Oregon Coast Range are a fine compliment to a state park that’s an easy drive, less than 30 miles west of Portland: “We did our best to plan this and design it in a way that would flow naturally with trails to walk so that it isn’t just a march through the woods. Being out in the natural environment and having the sound of the wind through the fir trees really makes a difference.