Get Out!

Car Camping

Can’t-miss spots to escape the city comfortably.

By Kasey Cordell May 17, 2010 Published in the June 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

Mirror, mirror, who’s the fairest lake of all? Trilium Lake on Mount Hood, of course.

Trillium Lake Campground

Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

ONE OF MOUNT HOOD’S most popular campgrounds, this majestic mountain retreat lives up to every bit of the hype. There’s hardly a bad view of Hood’s storied summit, either from the shore or reflected in the half-mile-long lake (even when its surface is blurred by ripples from jumping trout). The place fills up quickly, but an online reservation system gives you detailed descriptions of each site, ensuring you get the precise piece of paradise you want. (Sites 10 and 11 are particularly coveted.) Should you seek a little more solitude, follow the Trillium Bike Trail and connect with several new miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails near Government Camp. We won’t tell if you stop for some midroute refreshments at Ice Axe Grill.

Vitals: Open May to September; 57 sites; $18; firewood; drinking water; vault toilets; fire pits; picnic tables; dogs allowed; reservations available

Also Nearby:
Still Creek Campground
Situated on Mount Hood’s south slope, Still Creek’s 27 sites offer fishing and lots of photo ops.
Frog Lake Campground
Families will love this quaint spot, with 33 sites and plentiful trout fishing and hiking options.

Splurge!: Quads complaining from all that hiking? Book a Mountain Spirit massage with Resort at the Mountain’s spa; the 50 minutes of individualized pampering will have you back on the trail in no time.

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Humbug Campground

Drive time: 2 hours

IF YOU LOVE everything about Detroit Lake except the crowds—like the 32 miles of stellar sun-worshipping shoreline and the deep green of the surrounding Willamette National Forest—Humbug is for you. Set on a bend in the Breitenbush River, just five miles from where it empties into Detroit, this quiet jewel provides easy access to the lake and Breitenbush Hot Springs. That’s if you ever leave your campground. With the river riffling nearby, beckoning you to cast a line for rainbow trout, and the mile-long Humbug Flats Trail tracing its rhododendron-dotted banks, you’ve got plenty of reasons to stay right where you are.

Vitals: Open May to September; 22 sites; $12; drinking water; vault toilets; fire pits; picnic tables; dogs allowed

Also Nearby:
Detroit Lake State Park
This campground boasts 117 tent sites, two boat docks, a gift shop, and great trout fishing.
Piety Island Campground
In the summer, the only way to get to Piety Island is by boat. But that doesn’t mean it’s quiet: the island attracts a boisterous bunch.


Just the way we like it: not a soul in sight on Hideaway Lake.

Hideaway Lake

Drive time: 2 hours

FORTY MILES from Estacada, this rustic retreat doesn’t get as much traffic as better-known lakes in the Mt Hood National Forest. Which is just fine with us, because that means you’ll have the 15-acre, 30-foot-deep blue-green lake all to yourself. Only nonmotorized boats are allowed on Hideaway, which hosts both brook and cutthroat trout, but be prepared to carry your craft a ways through a thick hemlock-and-fir forest to the water. At the north end of Hideaway, you can connect with the 8.5-mile Rock Lakes Basin loop trail, which meanders through the forest to several other alpine lakes. Along the way, you’ll pass bright blooms of rhododendrons and camera-worthy glimpses of Mounts Hood and Adams—but (probably) not another soul.

Vitals: Open May to September; 9 sites; $15; vault toilets; fire pits; picnic tables; dogs allowed

Also Nearby: Lake Harriet Campground
This sweet little lake is an angler favorite, but the 13 sites fill up fast. Alder Flat Campground The six sites here require a mile hike to the edge of the Clackamas River. But once you’re there, you won’t have much company.

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It’s fly-fishing only on Mount St. Helen’s Merrill Lake.

Merrill Lake Campground

Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

FREE IS ALWAYS a good price. But the no-fee policy at Mount St. Helens’s Merrill Lake seems like nothing short of stealing when you consider all has to offer: nine campsites nestled beneath a canopy of firs (site 7 has the most privacy and space); a 344-acre lake teeming with coastal cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout (catch-and-release fly-fishing and non-gas motor boats only, please); and close proximity to St. Helens’s vast network of trails. But considering that just a few miles down the road, less savvy campers will be fighting for tent space at the pretty—but crowded—Beaver Bay and Cougar campgrounds on Yale Lake, we can live with the crime.

Vitals: Open March to November; 9 sites; no fee; vault toilets; fire pits; picnic tables; dogs allowed
Also Nearby:
Beaver Bay Camp
With 63 sites on Yale Lake, Beaver Bay is busier than Merrill. But the 3,800-acre lake’s recreation opportunities keep most people away from their campsites anyway.

Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park

Drive time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

OK, SO WE FUDGED the three-hour limit. But the extra 15 minutes are well worth it for a campground with all the family-friendliness of Dirty Dancing’s Kellerman’s Mountain Resort (and none of the foxtrot lessons). Snuggled along Highway 101 just south of Florence, Honeyman is Oregon’s second-largest campground. Not that you’ll need to worry about overcrowding: with 40 miles of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area to the south and west, and 8 miles of sandy beach nearby, plus the park’s own two massive lakes (Cleawox and Woahink), there’s plenty of elbow—and paddle and sandboarding—room for everyone. Cleawox Lake, which is stocked regularly with trout, even sports a concession stand just steps from the water’s edge. Here, on hot summer days, dripping mobs of water-winged swimmers wait (with joyous hands and hearts and voices) for hot dogs, ice cream, and other treats.

Vitals:; open year-round; 187 sites; $21; firewood; drinking water; flush toilets; showers; fire pits; picnic tables; dogs allowed; reservations available

Also Nearby:
Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park
The seven walk-in sites are the gems of this place, located just north of Heceta Head.
Carter Lake Campground
Carter Lake is a great base camp for exploring the dunes, with excellent fishing and boating.

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