This article is brought to you by Mountain House — an Oregon company whose delicious freeze-dried meals are a perfect addition to your Columbia River Gorge camping trip.
The Columbia River Gorge is the largest and most-visited national scenic area in the entire United States. This designated scenic area consists of 293,000 acres, which are spread across Oregon and Washington state. Thanks to the myriad of outdoor activities throughout the gorge, approximately two million people visit the area each year.
With attractions like the famous 620-foot high Multnomah Falls, the countless hiking and biking trails, the world renowned windsurfing and kiteboarding, and neighboring Mount Hood, it’s no wonder so many people make the trip to this pacific northwest destination. And you’ll be happy to learn that the quality and quantity of camping options in the area does not disappoint. Here are our favorite campgrounds in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge.
7 Scenic Spots for Columbia River Camping
This privately-owned 22-acre campground and RV park is about two or three miles inland, on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It’s forested location offers some good privacy between the 63 total campsites. There’s also a good variety of site options — 22 are tent-only sites without any utility hookups, 18 sites have water and electricity hookups, and the remaining 23 sites have water, sewer, and electricity hookups.
The grounds are well maintained, and feature other conveniences like an on-site market, RV dump station, flushing toilets, hot showers, an event hall, and a playground. This is a great option for a quiet retreat in the woods, which has plenty of creature comforts, and is still just a few minutes drive to the riverfront.
Just a few hundred feet from the water’s edge, on the Washington side of the Columbia River, is Beacon Rock State Park. This popular campground sits at the foot of Beacon Rock, which is the 848-foot-tall basalt core of an ancient volcano. A quick five-minute walk from the campground puts you at the Beacon Rock Trailhead, where you can climb the switchback-filled trail to the rock’s peak and savor the incredible panoramic views of the gorge. The park also offers nearly 10,000 feet of freshwater shoreline access, as well as more than 26 miles of hiking (and multi-use) trails.
The main Beacon Rock campground has 28 forested sites that are best suited for tent camping, and less so for RVs. There’s only a limited number of spots that could fit an RV over 20-feet long, so plan accordingly. There are also a few neighboring campgrounds within this state park. The Woodard Creek Campground is open year round, can fit RVs up to 40-feet, and has five campsites with water, sewer, and electrical hookups. There’s also a group campsite up the road that can accommodate up to 200 guests.
As a native Oregonian, the Columbia River Gorge has been a regular destination for me since I was young. And personally, I’d have to say that Tucker County Park Campground is my favorite spot in the area. While this campground is not directly on the shores of the Columbia River, it’s still just a 10 minute drive from the waterfront. It’s also close to downtown Hood River, making it very convenient for restocking on any camping supplies. Plus, the views of Mount Hood in this area are pretty jaw-dropping.
The campground itself sits right on the banks of the Hood river, and has a total of 88 sites to choose from. The campsites at Tucker Park vary in size and privacy. I would recommend you get one on the outskirts of the campground, especially ones near the river, because they tend to be larger, more private, and the white noise of the river hides sounds from neighboring sites. Guests have access to showers, drinking water, and flushing toilets. They even have a machine to take credit card payments when no employees are at the front office. Tent camping sites and RV sites are available, however anyone bringing an RV or trailer over 30-feet long should call ahead to make sure they currently have room for a vehicle of that size. Smaller RVs and campers should be a-okay.
At the confluence of the Columbia and the Deschutes River sits the Deschutes River State Recreation Area. This gorgeous, tree-shaded, grass-covered portion of the gorge is an ideal Columbia River camping destination. It’s waterfront location makes it a great option for campers that want to go fishing, boating, windsurfing, or mountain bike riding on the 24-miles of gravel paths. The campground is divided into four loops:
- A Loop: Open year-round and has 34 campsites with electrical and water hookups. Suitable for both RV and tent camping. This loop also has flush toilets, hot showers, and paved parking pads.
- B Loop: This smaller loop has 14 primitive RV and tent sites, with vault toilets and drinking water nearby. B Loop closes in the winter.
- G Loop: Designated for group camping, this area has four reservable primitive sites that are available to RVers and tent campers. Each group site accommodates up to five RVs or tents for up to 25 people. Vault toilets and drinking water is available nearby. Closed in winter.
- T Loop: The smallest loop of the four is made up of 11 primitive sites for tent camping and small RVs or trailers (max of 24’ long). This area is close to vault toilets and drinking water as well. Plus, it’s right next to the trailhead, the waterfront, and the parking lot for added convenience.
Between the cities of Hood River and The Dalles in the eastern part of the gorge, you’ll find Memaloose State Park. This is a large state park campground with 66 tent sites and 43 full-hookup sites (water, sewer, & electric) that come surrounded by greenspaces and open meadows, making it a great spot for activities and family trips.
Located just a stone’s throw away from the Columbia River, this campground has water views galore. Other amenities include flushing toilets, solar-heated showers, RV dump station, a day use area, and even a playground. The park also has easy access to the Historic Columbia River Highway and State Trail. The trail has more than 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, which gives sightseers some excellent views of the gorge.
For those looking for a more secluded Columbia River camping experience, you should definitely check out Panther Creek campground. Sitting about eight miles inland on the Washington side of the river, this campground feels a world removed from the more tourist-filled options on the Oregon side of the Columbia. The campground has 26 single tent sites, 6 double tent sites, and 52 RV sites (25’ max vehicle length).
The tranquil forest setting is only disrupted by the sound of rushing water from Panther Creek itself, which runs right along the edge of the campground. After you’ve explored the gorge, you can take a five-minute drive north of the campground to the picturesque Panther Creek waterfalls. This is certainly a great option for the off-the-grid type nature lovers.
Dougan Creek is a small campground with only seven primitive sites available. It’s also about eight miles north of the waterfront, on the Washington side of the Columbia. But despite the small size and non-immediate access to the river, it’s the surrounding landscape that makes this such an enticing campground. The start of Dougan falls, which is a set of wide, cascading waterfalls, is just half a mile up the road from the campground. The falls continue down Washougal River until they pass just yards from Dougan Creek campground. At this point the falls empty into one of the best swimming holes in the entire state. The deep, blue waters of the swimming hole are just steps from the campground, making this a fantastic summer spot to avoid the heat and the crowds.
For anyone interested in staying at Dougan Creek, remember that there is only one vault toilet, and almost zero other amenities at the campground. Just like Panther Creek, this is a campground that attracts those looking to escape into nature.
This article about Columbia River camping was brought to you by Mountain House
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