MANY talk about Portland as a paradise for lovers of the outdoors. But when your arms are beat from paddling, hands sore from climbing, and legs ache from hiking, where do you camp to take a break? Here are the best options within a two-hour drive of the city.
- Lost Creek
Located almost at the source of the Sandy River on the western doorstep of Mt. Hood, this spot is a beloved classic by Portlanders who just can’t get enough of their favorite mountain. Apart from the fishing and hikes around ancient lava flows, Lost Creek is also the trailhead to Ramona Falls, which might be the most magnificent of waterfalls around the Hood. This is the perfect introduction to the Pacific Northwest for newcomers. Fee: $21 for a tent site, $8 for an extra vehicle, $35 for a yurt.
- Hideaway Lake
Just south of Mt. Hood, this small, crystal-clear lake has the very best of campgrounds along camper-favorite Clackamas Highway. With almost no amenities to speak of (including running water, so bring your own), this remote spot offers the serenity highly experienced campers crave. For the best experience, bring an inflatable pool toy so you can admire the stars in the middle of the lake on a hot summer evening (bug spray is advised). Fee: $19 per site + $8 for an extra vehicle.
- Horning’s Hideout
This “publicly accessible private park” is a local hotspot for wedding ceremonies, for a reason: the campgrounds, fishing spots and festival venue are well maintained, yet possess a certain Northwest wildness about them. Conveniently located just over 30 minutes away from the city off Highway 26, Horning’s is a perfect spot for first-time campers looking to get some fresh air. Fee: $25 a night for one tent or three people.
- Government Island State Recreation Area
Despite being wedged between Vancouver, WA and Portland, this is one of the most remote camping options in the region since it is only accessible by boat. This challenge is alleviated by the fact that camping on the island is free. While you might get annoyed in the mornings by the sounds of the nearby PDX airport, there is something both surreal and gratifying to be both within city limits and cutoff from society. Definitely a hot item for many local adventurers.
- Oxbow Park
One of the most popular drop-in spots for summer inner-tube floats is also one of the closest camping getaways to the city. With 15 miles of trails weaving around the Sandy River, old-growth evergreens and plentiful wildlife, this is the perfect spot to introduce kids to the outdoors. Bring a kayak and two cars for a shuttle, so, when you are ready to leave, you can ride the current down to Troutdale. There are a few choppy spots — wear a life-vest. Fee: $5 per vehicle, $7 per bus.
- Memaloose State Park
While much of the lower Columbia Gorge was devastated in the 2017 fires, the areas east of Hood River remain mostly as they were. For those who will always love the Gorge and still want to hike along rocky bluffs and swim in the loving embrace of the Columbia, Memaloose has easy access to the river and is surrounded by hikes of different difficulties. Being this far upriver comes with the added bonus of clear summer nights — perfect for stargazing. Fee: $19 for a tent site, $7 for an extra vehicle, $29 for full-hookup.
- Elk Creek Campground
Nestled high in the woods of the Coastal Range about an hour west of downtown Portland, this secluded tent-only site is perfect for hikers looking to conquer some breathtaking terrain. Pools, streams and waterfalls offer the best chances to see the local wildlife (elk are a common sight) and serve as a reminder of how unique it is to have a temperate rainforest right out the backdoor of a metropolis. Fee: $5 for a single campsite, no reservations.
- Champoeg State Park
Just three miles south of Newberg on the banks of the Willamette is a ghost town that is also the spot where the State of Oregon was voted into existence. Apart from its rich cultural heritage, Champoeg also provides about every amenity you could hope for: electricity, a store, toilets and showers, separate sites for tent campers and RV travelers, cabins and yurts, a visitor center, a playground, and a long dock for jumping into the river. Fee: $19 for a tent site, $41 for a cabin/yurt
- Nehalem Falls
The two-hour drive from downtown Portland is worth experiencing this Coastal Range gem. Old growth firs and Sitka spruce are as big a draw as the falls themselves, which roar down the Nehalem River in the rainy months. The falls are fitted with a fish ladder, which serves as its own tourist attraction. Being on the far side of the range from the Willamette Valley means that this is also a prime spot for escaping summer heat. Fee: $10 for a site.