You might be scratching your head at the mention of winter camping, but with extra preparation and the right gear, it can be loads of fun and comes with its fair share of perks: no bugs, fewer crowds, and sparkling winter landscapes. If pitching a tent in the snow is not your style, there are plenty of options to stay in a cabin or heated yurt, not to mention relatively mild winters at campgrounds along the Oregon Coast and in the Willamette Valley.
Before you set off, be sure to check the weather and road conditions. And if you are recreating in avalanche country, keep an eye on avalanche forecasts and pack avalanche rescue gear. You might even consider taking an avalanche safety course beforehand. While all of the campgrounds listed below are open year-round, many of them do not offer amenities such as water, flush toilets, and showers in the winter. Come prepared with enough food and water to last the duration of your stay and, as always, follow Leave No Trace principles.
Oregon’s only national park (pictured at top) receives more than 500 inches of snow each year. In the winter months, the park closes the Rim Drive—the 33-mile road around Crater Lake—to vehicles, opening it up as a trail for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Camping is allowed at least one mile from the nearest plowed road with a valid permit, and at least 100 feet from the edge of the caldera. Overnight parking for backcountry campers is offered only at the park headquarters.
Near the summit of the Blue Mountains, Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area is home to stunning scenery and year-round outdoor recreation. Strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and explore trails throughout the park, or visit Meacham Divide/Mt. Emily Sno-Park—Oregon’s second largest Nordic area—about 20 minutes south.
The Emigrant Springs campground features 16 full-hookup sites, plus six rustic log cabins (up a short, steep road) and one duplex cabin. Water is shut off between October and April, except to the restroom and shower building.
Once a military installation that guarded the mouth of the Columbia River, Fort Stevens State Park now serves as one of the nation’s largest public campgrounds and is open for camping year-round. Coffenbury Lake is only a short amble from the campground, providing easy access to kayaking. And with miles of multiuse trails and close proximity to the beach, the park is also a great spot for hiking, beachcombing, and even exploring a shipwreck from 1906. The campground boasts over 480 sites, plus 15 yurts and 11 deluxe cabins.
Just north of Brookings along Oregon’s south coast sits Harris Beach State Park, a campground with views of the ocean and mild weather throughout the year (though we recommend bringing gear that will keep you warm and dry in the rainy winter months). Here you’ll find a handful of trails, sandy beaches, and plenty of tide pools to explore. And just offshore is Goat Island, a National Wildlife Sanctuary that is home to over 100,000 nesting seabirds, including dusky Canada geese in the winter, which you can watch from the park’s viewpoints. Winter whale-watching season also peaks around mid-December to mid-January as gray whales make their annual migration to Baja California, Mexico.
The park features over 120 campsites, plus six heated yurts. (Note that some camp loops close for the winter, and C Loop is first come, first served between November 1 and May 24.)
If you’re looking for an outdoors getaway from the city, but don’t want to go too far, L. L. Stub Stewart State Park is just 34 miles northwest of Portland. The park provides easy access to 30 miles of multiuse trails, plus the 21-mile Banks-Vernonia State Trail befitting cyclists and hikers. Because the park opened in 2007, its facilities are relatively new. You’ll find hot showers, flush toilets, hook-up and non-hookup tent sites with firepits and picnic tables. But if extra cozy is more your style, the park has 15 rustic cabins located in its Mountain Dale Cabin Village.
Planning a ski trip? Why not try slopeside camping? Find fresh tracks right outside your RV at Mt Hood Meadows, where you can park in one of the resort’s 14 spaces in the back of its Sunrise Lot. Meadows does not offer electrical hookups or facilities, allowing only self-contained RVs on a first come, first served basis. You can stay up to three nights within any five-night period. Be sure to have a valid Oregon Sno-Park permit on hand, and be prepared to fill out a parking registration form on-site.
While you're there, we recommend giving night skiing a go. When conditions allow, Meadows opens 140 acres of night-lit terrain on Wednesdays through Sundays after the sun sets. (Psst! Lift tickets are cheaper after 5 p.m., and the slopes tend to be less crowded.)
Oregon is famous for many of its breathtaking waterfalls, and this so-called “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system is not one you want to miss. At Silver Falls State Park, you can actually walk behind the 177-foot South Falls, which is part of the 7.2-mile Trail of 10 Falls. The park sees more than a million visitors each year, primarily in the summer months. The winter is a perfect time to give the park a visit if you’re looking for fewer crowds.
The campground offers 48 electrical sites with water and 14 cabins. Set in a temperate rain forest, the park receives more than 80 inches of rain per year, so come prepared for the wet or reserve a cabin.
The Tilly Jane Trail may be only two and a half miles, but it climbs more than 1,900 feet over its short distance, an ascent made all the more grueling when snow blankets the ground. But if you’re up for the challenge, you won’t regret the scenic journey to the top. Plus, you'll find a cozy retreat at the historic Tilly Jane A-Frame, a popular spot for snowshoers and backcountry skiers in the wintertime. In addition to the A-frame and Guard Station cabin, the Tilly Jane Campground hosts 14 primitive sites with no potable water. The A-frame can accommodate up to 20 people, but should be booked way in advance. Reservations cost $20 per person per night. (Quick tip: to avoid the steep and icy descent on Tilly Jane Trail, you may want to take Cloud Cap Road on your way out.)
Snowshoeing. Skiing. Hiking. Paddling. You name it, and you’ll likely find it near Tumalo State Park, which sits on the Deschutes River just a few miles north of Bend. Visit Skyliner Sno-Park/Trailhead, which provides access to the Tumalo Falls loop, or Tumalo Mountain for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. And if you’d like to hike closer to your campsite, a 2.4-mile stretch along the Deschutes River Trail begins at the day-use area parking lot. Tumalo State Park hosts year-round camping in B Loop, but water spigots are turned off in non-full-hookup sites.
Instead of booking a flight all the way to Switzerland, why not visit the “Alps of Oregon”? Wallowa Valley, part of the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce Tribe, is located in the northeastern corner of Oregon. Because of its snowcapped, nearly 10,000-foot peaks and a Swiss-made tram that goes all the way to the top of Mount Howard, the area is unsurprisingly packed with tourists during the summer. But when temperatures fall, you’ll find a lot less company. Wallowa Lake State Park, situated along the southern shore of its namesake, is quite a sight to behold in the wintertime. Several campsites and yurts are available year-round.
About 15 miles from the park is the Ferguson Ridge Ski Area, a community-run ski slope with eight downhill trails and access to Nordic trails. Other popular spots for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing include Salt Creek Summit Sno-Park and Hurricane Creek.
Top image of Crater Lake National Park by Ian Shive/Tandemstock.com