Hidden Gems among Oregon's State Parks
These may not have the acreage or the swagger of, say, your Fort Stevens, your Silver Falls, or the other crown jewels of Oregon's state parks system. But these recreation areas, heritage sites, and natural areas off the beaten path are worth a visit—and less likely to draw a crowd.
Alfred A. Loeb
Just east of Brookings up the Chetco River
This relatively small state park located 15 minutes up the Chetco River from Brookings is loved by locals, but not well known outside of south coast communities. It’s worth a stop for the night, or longer, if you enjoy basking in the sun next to sparkling, blue-green water. The park is also just a stone’s throw from a nature trail that winds through a grove of the furthest north, naturally growing coastal redwood trees.
East of Elgin at the confluence of the Wallowa and Minam Rivers
Known to rafters and anglers as a great put-in for a multiday excursion on the Grande Ronde, which connects just a few miles downstream, this rugged and typically sunny canyon is lined with conifers, offering the perfect habitat for steelhead. Steps from the river, only a handful of first-come-first-served sites are available for camping. But being so far out of the way also means you’re unlikely to run into crowds at this state recreation area.
Clackamas River near Eagle Creek
If you aren’t looking for it, you would never find it. Bonnie Lure State Recreation Area is a staple for the communities of Estacada and Eagle Creek when spots like Milo McIver State Park or Barton County Park are swarming with city folk looking to splash around on the Clackamas River. But tucked away from Highway 224 sits this shady recreation area great for relaxing on a hot day, playing around in the water, or fishing. Tons of habitat restoration and tree planting has taken place at Bonnie Lure in recent years, so tread respectfully and be certain to pack out your trash.
Unless you’re an avid boater (or take Marine Drive often during the summer months), you might not know that Government Island in the middle of the Columbia River is an Oregon state recreation area. Two docks on the north side of the island allow access to the nearly 15 acres of shoreline on the main island. (The recreation area also encompasses two smaller islands.) Camping on the beach—allowed only below the high-water line—is a fun and bizarre way to spend a weekend away from the city, yet still be in the city. The wetlands in the center of the island are a protected natural area, and entry is allowed only by permit issued by the Port of Portland.