Yes, the Columbia River Gorge does have a campground that is not overrun with tourists in RVs. Try Eagle Creek Campground between the towns of Bonneville and Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic and Recreation Area.
This decent-sized campground is run by the Columbia Gorge Ranger District of the Mount Hood National Forest, sitting just east of the Bonneville Dam. The campground can be easily missed by many Columbia Gorge travelers whose eyes are directed riverward to the massive piece of concrete that provides hydroelectric power to the metropolitan areas farther west.
Despite its proximity to this hulking tribute to human engineering, Eagle Creek offers a woodsy setting amidst true fir, western red cedar and hemlock, and access to some beautiful walks high above the river in the Columbia Wilderness. The busy freeway teeming with tourists and tractor-trailer combinations quickly fades into oblivion as Eagle Creek Trail leaves the end of Forest Service Road 241 beside the campground and follows Eagle Creek for 13 miles to Wahtum Lake and the intersection with Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
Along the way the trail passes high cliffs along Eagle Creek and waterfalls too numerous to mention, then crests atop a broad plateau that looks out over the expansive Columbia River Gorge and south to Mount Hood. The abundance of waterfalls is your clue to the rapidly dropping (or steepening as you head inland) terrain and should suggest that the climb up to Waucoma Ridge is a healthy one. If you have any doubts, consider that the elevation gain is more than 3,500 feet from trailhead to Wahtum Lake.
Several other trails and Forest Service roads lead off very near the campground to other points within the Columbia Wilderness. A loop trip is possible by following Ruckel Creek Trail 405, then 405B to the Pacific Crest Trail, and turning back toward the Columbia on the Pacific Crest Trail. Trail 400 connects with the Pacific Crest Trail and parallels I-84 back to camp. This loop is roughly equivalent to the one-way distance up to Wahtum but with enough elevation gain to get the heart pumping and the legs straining. For the most accurate picture of the 125 miles of trails within the Columbia Wilderness, check with the Forest Service at its district headquarters in Troutdale.
Weatherwise, this is an area of transition that begins the hand-off from moisture-laden western Oregon to the more arid climes in the east. The Gorge itself adds its own wind-tunnel effect, so be prepared for variety even in summer. Thunderstorms materialize quickly, and the wind can blow hard, particularly in late afternoon. In fact, the Columbia River has an international reputation among sailboarders for this exact reason. Hood River, about 20 miles east of Eagle Creek and once a quiet farming and fishing community, has become a mecca of sailboard mania, with renovated hotels, bed-and-breakfast inns, trendy shops, espresso bars, and cafes catering to the transient population that literally comes and goes with the wind.
Long before there were giant monstrosities like dams on the Columbia, Native Americans were the first to experience the winds of the Columbia. Lewis and Clark were the first white explorers to use the river as a highway, opening the door to continued use by settlers who, at The Dalles, traded Conestoga wagons for the steamboats that carried them to their new homes in the Northwest territory. Rapids and falls that had to be portaged then no longer exist today because the wild and mighty flow of the Columbia has been harnessed by power companies in this century.
For those curious and wanting a respite from outdoor activities, the Bonneville Dam gives tours daily. Other points of interest nearby, both indoors and out, include Cascade Locks, Crown Point Vista House and Observatory, Multnomah Falls and Multnomah Falls Lodge, Bridal Veil Falls, and Fort Dalles Museum.
To get there from Portland, drive 33 miles east on I-84 to the campground. It's 2 miles past the town of Bonneville just off the interstate.
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