Camping Guide

18 Must-Visit Oregon State Parks

We've got your next basecamp for everything from QT with your canine to the whole (human) wolfpack, breezy disc golf getaways to blissful backcountry treks.

Edited by Ramona DeNies By Ketzel Levine and John Shewey June 30, 2017

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Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this story appeared in our August 2013 Oregon State Parks issue. Content below has been updated for accuracy and relevance.

We're an outdoorsy people, us Cascadians: quick to book a favorite lakeside campsite the second it's reservable, willing to drive a passel of budding hikers to distant wildflower hike, questing endlessly for that swimming hole the hordes have yet to discover. (You know it's still out there!) Below, we call out 18 unique state parks that every Oregonian should experience, from gorgeous day trips that won't break a sweat to a patch of public land nine hours due east, where you can pitch a tent in Malheur County's vast, spectacular Owyhee Canyonlands.

Champoeg State Heritage Area

Drive time: 50 minutes
Pack as many generations as you can fit in the car. Wander through pioneer history, river trails for bikes and hikes, ample picnic spots, and the state’s oldest general store.
VITALS  $5 day-use fee; pets allowed; flush toilets

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Milo McIver State Park 

Drive time: 50 minutes
Four species of bats, a 27-hole disc-golf course, and a big river running through make for a state park packed with summertime fun. Clackamas River kayakers paddle past foam noodlers, while flying mammal lovers cruise for action along the bat trail. Bring a picnic.
VITALS $5 day-use fee; pets allowed; flush toilets

Saddle Mountain State Natural Area

Drive time: 1 hour
Saddle Mountain, en route to the coast, is renowned as a day hike, with inspiring views, geological wonders and gorgeous wildflowers. But as an overnight destination, it remains almost secret. Nestled amid alder and Sitka, 10 deeply wooded sites come into their hushed, intimate own once the day hikers leave and campfires begin to crackle. Hike the mountain at dawn; hit the beach midday; fold the forest around you at night. 
BEST CAMPSITE  No. 4 offers a glimpse of towering Saddle Mountain’s double-peaked summit.  
VITALS $7–11 primitive campsites; no reservations; pets allowed; no electrical hookups; drinking water; flush and pit toilets

Silver Falls State Park

Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Behold the wonder of falling water along the Trail of 10 Falls, a series of short, meandering hikes that makes for a saturated summer day. Bring the kids, leave the dogs, and take the plunge on a weekday—crowds pour in on weekends—so you can linger in amphitheaters curtained by liquid walls.  
VITALS $5 day-use fee; pets in limited areas only; flush toilets

Ecola State Park 

Drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
True, the Chinook word for “whale” does sound like a disease agent. All the easier to remember the name of this enchanted emerald park. Hike minutes or miles and enjoy low tide for starfish, sunset for colors, and anytime for mind-boggling Pacific Coast views.
VITALS $5 day-use fee; pets allowed; flush toilets

Beverly Beach State Park 

Drive time: 2 Hours
The sweet smell of the sea washes over this retreat. Hidden within a sculpture park of old-growth trees, the campgrounds spread out nicely, with none of the gridlock found at other beach campgrounds. Beverly Beach also sets up visitors for play dates in Newport and along the central coast.
BEST CAMPSITE Some of the most whimsical trees surround D19. 
VITALS $21 tent, $31 full hookup, $45 yurt; reservations available; pets allowed; drinking water; flush toilets

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Image: Justin Meyers

Deschutes River State Recreation Area

Drive time: 2 hours
A 17-mile-long converted rail bed threads through this oasis at the mouth of the Lower Deschutes. This level, forgiving hiking thoroughfare forms part of an extensive trails network leading to scattered primitive camps, bighorn sheep photo ops, and captivating views of the legendary river’s famous rapids. One caveat: unless you like sardine-can camping or love steelhead fishing, avoid August and September, when the Lower D’s world-class habitat for the Northwest’s most iconic game fish packs in anglers.
BEST CAMPSITE A13, close to the river, provides a big backyard.  
VITALS $10 primitive site, $7 extra vehicle, $71 group tent; reservations available; pets on leash only (beware: dogs and rattlesnakes do not mix); electrical hookups; drinking water; flush toilets and showers

Cottonwood Canyon

Drive time: 2 hours
Boots, beware: with 16,000 acres and 16 miles of unfettered John Day River, one of Oregon’s newest—and largest—state parks will do quite a number on soles. Cottonwood Canyon began as a series of transactions. Portland’s Western Rivers Conservancy bought sprawling ranch holdings on the lower John Day, between the tiny wheat-country towns of Wasco and Condon, then sold the property to the state parks system. Parts of the park remain works in progress, but the perfect wilderness float already awaits, complete with wild steelhead and smallmouth bass. (Try a guided trip with Little Creek Outfitters.) Over the next several years, work will continue on an extensive network of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback, penetrating the basalt-studded river canyon and sweeping sage-carpeted uplands. 
VITALS $5 hiker-biker, $10 primitive site, $7 extra vehicle, $71 group tent; reservations available; pets on leash only

Cape Lookout State Park

Drive time: 2 hours
Despite easy access to 101, Cape Lookout’s deluxe cabins (BYO bedding, food, and dishes) are worlds onto themselves. Perched in woods overlooking the sea, they’re close enough to the nearby bucolic campgrounds for easy visiting, far enough away for privacy. Hang on the porch as a salt breeze plays through the conifers, or take off for adventure on the panoramic Cape Lookout trail. Welcome to the ocean-view home you can finally afford.
BEST CAMPSITE Animal companions are welcome at the Meares cabin.
VITALS $5 day-use fee, $21 tent, $45 yurt, $98 deluxe cabin; reservations available; pets on leash only; electrical hookups; drinking water; flush toilets

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Image: Zack Frank

Cove Palisades State Park 

Drive time: 3 hours
If your idea of fun involves water and engines, this destination is de rigueur. This massive, aqua-centric outdoor paradise—where basalt walls and stone hoodoos tower spectacularly over shimmering water—sprawls across the Deschutes and Crooked River arms of 4,000-acre Lake Billy Chinook. Water toys rule, from Jet Skis to houseboats; on-site Cove Palisades Marina offers rental craft of every description. Feeling waterlogged? Check out the Crooked River petroglyphs and hike scenic interpretive trails instead.
BEST CAMPSITE Camping may not be The Art of War, but the high ground still has its perks—including commanding views. Grab C30 or C32 in Deschutes Campground. 
VITALS $5 day-use fee, $20 tent, $30 full hookup, $95 cabin, $7 extra vehicle; reservations available; pets on leash only, plus park has an off-leash area; drinking water; flush toilets and showers 

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Tumalo State Park

Drive time: 3½ hours
Bend poses many dilemmas. Coffee shop, or wilderness? Shop, or paddleboard? At least outdoor lodging is a no-brainer. Tumalo State Park stretches idyllically along the Deschutes River just north of town. The campsites are hot commodities, some nestled riverside, others perched on the juniper-clad bluff. But the park’s serpentine trails are rarely crowded, and the solar showers give you a few morning minutes to weigh your other options.
BEST CAMPSITE Everyone covets the yurts. Among standard campsites, grab shady A85.  
VITALS  $5 day-use fee, $21 tent, $31 full hookup, $54 yurt, $7 extra vehicle; reservations available; pets on leash only; electrical hookups; drinking water; flush toilets and solar showers

Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area 

Drive time: 5 Hours
After a stunning drive south on the Crater Lake Highway, kick back by a sun-dappled lake amid landscaped grounds. Spacious, wooded campsites sit within throwing distance of playgrounds and minutes from a splash in Lost Creek Reservoir. The place does pose a conundrum: Swim, sail, fish for trout, or bike 11 miles of trails? Watch Mill Creek Falls plunge into the Rogue River? Then again, it could be a Crater Lake day, only 50 miles away. 
BEST CAMPSITE B20 offers a delicious lake view. 
VITALS $17 tent, $22 hookup, $7 extra vehicle; reservations available; pets allowed; drinking water; flush toilets

Minam State Recreation Area 

Drive time: 5 hours
From late spring through at least midsummer, rafters can explore the unfettered Wallowa River even if they don’t have Olympic-caliber white-water skills. The verdant riverside campground at Minam State Park—with adjacent river trails and launch sites—makes the perfect base camp for a family adventure down the Wallowa and then the Grande Ronde, a 38-mile wilderness odyssey.
BEST CAMPSITE Across the tiny campground from the river, site 14 sits at the base of the forested hill, commanding a view of the rest of the park.   
VITALS $10 primitive site, $7 extra vehicle; no reservations; pets on leash only; no electrical hookups; drinking water; vault toilets
BOOK THE PROS For guides and gear, hit up nearby Minam Store.

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Jackson F. Kimball State Park 

Drive time: 5½ hours
This jewel box’s 10 secretive sites hide just a two-minute drive from the Volcanic Heritage Highway, along the aqua blue Wood River (a bit cold for swimming, but magical for canoes). This is wilderness: the silence is hypnotic. Hard to believe the throngs at Crater Lake are only 10 miles away. If you crave the pristine, escape here.
BEST CAMPSITE Take your pick—they’re all great!  
VITALS $11 primitive site, $7 extra vehicle; no reservations; pets allowed; no electrical hookups; no drinking water; pit toilets

Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor 

Drive time: 5–6 hours, depending on route
Never heard of Dale? Never been to Ukiah? These minuscule mountain hamlets bookend a 14-mile-long state scenic corridor. From a pretty little primitive campground on Camas Creek, branch out to explore Bridge Creek State Wildlife Area, scenic back roads, and barely used mountain trails in the nearby North Fork John Day Wilderness. In fall, join a cadre of dedicated mushroom hunters, or compete with birds and black bears for lush crops of wild huckleberries. 
BEST CAMPSITE  Site 15 sits in the back corner by the creek, with open space on one side and nearby drinking water.  
VITALS Open May–Oct; 10 primitive site, $7 extra vehicle; no reservations; pets on leash only; no electrical hookups; 27 primitive sites with room for self-contained trailers; drinking water; flush toilets

Clyde Holliday State Recreation Site 

Drive time: 6 hours
The John Day Valley is the American West: where rodeos, July Fourth fests, and amazing views reign supreme. One of the east side’s coziest campgrounds makes the perfect hitching post, smartly manicured and shaded against the intense summer sun. The compound includes riparian trails and a small pond that’s host to much bird life. Rentable tepees complete a valleywide panorama that conjures visions of Stetson-clad cowboys.
FOSSIL FUN John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is just 33 miles away. Arrive early to avoid the desert heat, and plan on spending half a day. 
BEST CAMPSITE Expansive site 17 is close to the river, with a spacious backyard shared only by whomever has 15 (the second-best site). 
VITALS Open Mar—Nov; $5 hiker-biker, $44 tepee, $24 electrical hookup, $7 extra vehicle; reservations available; pets on leash only; electrical hookups; drinking water; flush toilets; showers

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Goose Lake State Recreation Area 

Drive time: 7 hours
This little-known campground sits at the base of the lightly trodden Warner Mountains, mere yards from the California line, with an interpretive birding display, a herd of semi-tame deer, and even hot showers. Pack a camp chair and a good book, or maybe a good map to help plan adventurous hikes on Lake County’s barely used mountain trails.
BEST CAMPSITE Site 25 occupies a shady corner close to the trails and a short walk down to the lakeshore (or lakebed after the water recedes in summer). 
VITALS Open Apr–Oct; $22 electrical hookup, $7 extra vehicle; no reservations; pets on leash only; electrical hookups; drinking water; flush toilets and showers

Succor Creek State Natural Area

Drive time: 8–9 hours
Succor Creek wends humbly beneath towering escarpments that practically swallow this unassuming little primitive campground in far southeastern Oregon. While the area’s rich natural history—geology, archeology, herpetology, and a fistful of other -ologies—may be its prime attraction, you can also explore your nocturnal side. Snooze away the hot afternoon. At nightfall, set up a cot and contemplate bedazzling stars. Astronomy beats all the -ologies!
BEST CAMPSITE Cross the creek on the footbridge, turn right, and claim a spot near the biggest tree.  
VITALS Free; no reservations; pets on leash only (beware that dogs and rattlesnakes do not mix); no electrical hookups; no drinking water; pit toilets

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