To Share or Not to Share Secret Campgrounds
Writing a camping guidebook is daunting. How do you take an entire state and whittle down the best 50 places to camp? What do you include? Where do you selfishly exclude to keep to yourself? We asked Becky Ohlsen, author of Best Tent Camping: Oregon, how she picked the campgrounds that are in the new guide, and what are some of her favorites to return to time and time again. Here are her thoughts.
Every travel writer loves those moments when you discover a secret, hidden place to share with readers. Sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people tell you about their favorite place and then beg you not to include it in a book. This happened a few times while I was researching the new edition of Best Tent Camping: Oregon, but luckily Oregon has an excess of great places to camp. I’m happy to report that the new book includes both a Secret Campground and a Hidden Campground. And they’re two of the nicest places I visited.
Hidden Campground, despite the name, is actually not particularly hard to find: it’s on a small road just off the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, and there’s a huge sign right there on the road, across from the entrance: “Hidden Campground.” Possibly ironic; certainly helpful. It’s a rustic little riverside place, with only 10 sites, and it’s especially pretty in the fall.
As for Secret Campground—you know, I’m not sure I should give that one away! Let’s just say I was very happy to find it when I did; it was quite a ways down a long, dark road that I was not at all sure I was supposed to be on. This was one of several occasions on my campground-checking ventures when I ended up stopping for the night in total darkness and waking up pleasantly surprised at how pretty my surroundings were. (OK, a hint: Though it feels like the absolute middle of nowhere, Secret Campground is not far from the town of Oakridge, east of Eugene.)
When I’m out on my own, I tend to go for what I think of as classic Oregon campsites: lush and green and next to a lake or river, rather than, say, on a beach or in the desert – although of course those can also be dreamy, and we’ve included plenty of them in the book. One thing you learn very quickly when you spend some time chasing down the best campsites in the state is just what an incredible variety of terrain we have in Oregon. Within a couple days’ drive, or less, you’ll find everything from Steens Mountain to the Oregon Coast to Hells Canyon, not to mention the zillions of beautiful rivers and mountains and high desert landscapes in between. And there are fantastic places to camp in each of them.
Some of my favorites to look for in the book:
- Natural Bridge Campground—in the Upper Rogue River area.
- Whispering Falls—almost a walk-in site along the Santiam River; I heard about this one from a guy in a pub in Portland.
- Riverside—and that whole string of campgrounds along the Metolius River near Camp Sherman.
- At the coast—Cape Lookout State Park and Beverly Beach – both can get crowded but that’s true of most of the coast, and these two have the facilities to handle it plus sites that are designed for maximum privacy.
- Lost Creek Campground at Crater Lake—because, I mean, Crater Lake, right?
But maybe the most important thing to remember when you’re looking for your new favorite place to car-camp in Oregon is this: Nearly every campground we list in the book is pretty close to several other campgrounds we didn’t have room to include. So don’t let the book keep you from exploring! Bring a good map, get a little lost, discover new favorites—then write and tell me all about them.