Under the Stars near Portland

Weekend Base Camps Away from It All
  |  Gorp.com

I can't help it. I'm just picky about where I camp. There are probably hundreds of campgrounds within a three-hour drive of Portland, but truth is, I wouldn't wish some of them on my worst enemy. Over the years I've stayed in just as many bad campgrounds as great ones, I'm afraid. There was that place on the coast that has so many RVs packed into it — and so close together — that it felt like a Jamaican shantytown. And another, on a reservoir, so afflicted by the noise of ski boats and personal watercraft roaring across the water all day that I might as well have camped next to a freeway.

If you're like me, the whole point of sleeping outside is to be someplace tranquil, someplace where you can hear squirrels chattering and ravens croaking, someplace where people don't start their boom-box jamming before they even put up their tent. These places do exist, although they aren't nearly as common as they should be; I've listed some of my favorites here to help you with your summer planning.

You should make a basic decision up-front — to the beach, or to the mountains? If it's the seashore you want, the Oregon coast abounds in state-park campgrounds, but my favorite nearby coastal campground is actually in Washington at the mouth of the Columbia River. With its bluffs and beaches, hiking trails and campsites amid giant boulders, Fort Canby State Park is an ideal spot for a weekend camping trip. I'm also a big fan of walk-in campgrounds, and at Oswald West State Park near Manzanita, a short walk is all it takes to get a campsite free of those noisy generators that all RVs seem to have these days.

Mountains with All the Perks

There are countless options up in the mountains, making an inland trip a good bet to escape the throngs. Campsites in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which surrounds Washington's Mount Adams, usually fit this bill. Though they may fill up on weekends, they just don't have that busy feel of campgrounds around much more popular Mount Hood. I've listed my favorite Mount Adams campground, along with a good choice on a small lake near the Indian Heaven Wilderness. For good measure, I've served up an option midway between Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

Since I was a kid I've almost always had a canoe or a kayak, and consequently small lakes that don't allow motorboats always appeal to me. Several of the campgrounds I've listed here are ideal places to take a small boat; even if you don't have anything to paddle around in, these campgrounds offer plenty of other recreational options.

Wandering the high country is another of my favorite pastimes, and I'm always on the lookout for campgrounds that will get me high enough so that I can do most of my day hiking at or near tree line. You'll find two such campsites listed here. One is on the east side of Mount Hood; the other is near Sisters. Both campsites are smack in the middle of some of the finest alpine hiking in the state.

And remember this: No matter where you go, try to get a reservation. If no reservations are taken at the spot you're shooting for, arrive early — there's nary a downer out there like a"Campground Full" sign at 4 p.m.

About the Author: Whether it's a short day hike in the Oregon Cascades, a hike down into the Grand CAnyon, or a three-week trek through the Himalayas, author Karl Samson just doesn't feel right without a pack on his back and boots on his feet. Among his many ook titles are Frommer's Nepal and Frommer's Great Outdoor Guide to Washington & Oregon.



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