As a native Minnesotan who relocated to Oregon just a few years ago, I miss my regular summer visits to Itasca State Park in Northern Minnesota. From May through October, I have enjoyed tent camping and biking the trails there. Every visitor should plan to stay at least 2 days to take in all the activities they can here, including walking (or wading) across the Mississippi headwaters, hiking the volumous and beautiful trails, and if possible plan to bike one of the trail routes or rent a kayak or canoe to enjoy the lake. The tent sites are well-spaced, with plenty of privacy between, due to the thick woods. Be prepared for lots of mosquitos, woodticks, deer ticks, and occasionally biting flies… a heavy duty insect repellent with DEET is your best bet. This area is teeming with wildlife, too: watch for bald eagles, deer, fox, coyote and bears. The bears are most active around the campgrounds at night, so be sure all food and fruit-scented products are locked up in your vehicle to be safe. These are typically smaller black bears, which are easily scared off by dogs or noise, and I've never met an experienced camper who was afraid of them. However, as with all wildlife they can be unpredictable and you should always take precautions for your safety. Enjoy the wild beauty, the historical sites from early settlers, the call of loons at night, and the fabulous smell of the freshwater lake through the pine trees!
Let me preface this review by saying I am not, typically, a KOA camper. In my past experience, they have been commercial, crowded, and noisy, but I found this KOA to be an exception. Disclaimer: I stayed during the week, not on a weekend, and the tent site side of the campground was sparsely populated. Here, the RV pull-in sites are separated from the tent and cabin portion of the campground, with an office, the bathrooms and showers, (even laundry!) and a playground in between. The tent sites are surrounded on the outside by dense woods, and because the campground is about 5 miles off the highway, it was blissfully quiet and serene. The flush toilets, running water and hot showers were welcome, as I was traveling, and the bathroom was sparkling clean. It was just a short jaunt into town for a bowl of fresh clam chowder and to sit by the beach and enjoy the sound and smell of the surf. In the morning, (I got up at 5am) I scared up a marten by the large oak tree in my campsite, and it was such a pleasure to see this shy fellow up close! I would stay here again.
This lovely county park campground near Roseburg offers trees, shade from the summer heat, and scenery, but I'm giving it 3 stars for being crowded and somewhat noisy. I admit I was there during peak season, and spent only 1 night, but found that my tent site lacked privacy, and the structure of the gravel road and pull-ins was such that almost every site (except for 1 perimeter drive) was subject to regular vehicle and foot traffic. There is a large yurt for rent on one end of the campground, constructed on a spacious deck overlooking the creek. It appeared to be handicapped-accessible, but as I stood admiring it, I could hear traffic noise from the highway. In between my campsite and the Campground Host's was a camper full of kids in their tweens, who started roaming the small campground after 10pm, making loud, obnoxious noises and laughing hysterically at themselves. When this went on for nearly half an hour with no intervention from adults, I did shout "SHUT UP!" at them after they passed my site and seemed to direct a shout at my tent. They stopped after that, but I hated to be That Person. There were flush toilets, running water, and showers. Bathrooms had neither soap nor paper towels or a working blow-dryer for your hands, so be a good scout and go prepared!
Tumalo State Park gets only 3 stars from me because it was hot and crowded. Since its only 4 miles North of popular Bend, Oregon, its a convenient stop… but what I consider "pit stop camping," on my way to quieter destinations. They have good campground amenities for this: flush toilets, running water, showers. Its a pretty location, near many fun outdoor activities near and in Bend, but the sites were too crowded together for my taste. Note that, as in most of Oregon in high summer, open flames and camp fires are prohibited. It is a Red Flag zone, meaning there is a high danger of wildfires. In fact, as of last week (late July, 2018) you could see the smoke from several fires in the surrounding forests.
This KOA has many of the amenities associated with KOA campgrounds, including a camp store, flush toilets, showers, and a "rec room." It does not have a pool. It does have full hook-ups and caters to RVs and campers. It sits at the edge of the cowboy culture town of Pendleton, famous for its enormous rodeo, the Round Up, which takes place the full second week of September annually. You will NOT find a campsite here - or lodging anywhere else in town- during Round Up, as approximately 10,000 visitors crowd the town and typically book a year or more in advance. Also, while this KOA is clean and pleasant, it is quite crowded and many of the RVs and campers parked here are home to local folks "living on the cheap." It can be noisy, and there is little green space to enjoy, but the campground is situated on a bluff with beautiful views of the nearby Blue Mountains. Restaurants and gas stations as well as a couple of hotels are within walking dustance, just a block or two away.
Ccottonwood Canyon State Park Campground is a lovely, remote primitive camp experience. For the uninitiated, this means no electric sites, no running water, no flush toilets. Its also a rattlesnake habitat in Eastern Oregon's high desert biome, within 30 miles or so of The Dalles, a city marking the change in the Columbia River Gorge from high desert to wooded mountainsides. This camp ground us located deep in a canyon 15 miles from Wasco, Oregon. Before descending into the canyon, you'll see Eastern Oregon's classic golden wheatfields, then a wind farm, with scores of white windmills. The evening I arrived was the night before a full moon, so the setting sun over the canyon and the waxing moon gave a lovely glow to the sights. Unfortunately, my camera phone and photographer skills are lacking; sorry. If you love truly getting away from it all, as I do, you'll appreciate the absolute peace at Cottonwood Canyon. We arrived at dusk, late in July, and as is typical for the region, it was still 90 degrees. Fortunately, my summer tent is mostly screen, allowing the cool canyon breeze in, and it erects quickly and easily. It was full dark by the time I'd pitched it, and outfitted it with my airbed. Because of all the rattlesnake warning signs, I kept my dog leashed or tied out on a campsite-length cable. We parked across the campground from the pit toilets, which were not lighted, so bring a flashlight, cell phone, or lantern for inside the biffy. If this kind of camping appeals to you, you'll be rewarded with a quiet night of no traffic noise, only the sound of the nearby murmuring creek and the breeze in the trees. The other campers here were very quiet and respectful of the rules. The beautiful moonlight set one side of the canyon aglow and the clear sky was filled with stars. I didn't need my rain fly, so could enjoy finding the constellations as I lay in my tent. In the morning, I awoke just before dawn when my dog sat bolt upright and intently watched with me as an elk cow walked through our campsite. The fee here is $10 a.night, and worth every penny!
Here is the one caveat: as of this writing, (late July 2018) the loud diesel pickup truck that came through to empty trash bins at 6am was jarring. It was followed by the back-up beeping of heavy machinery by 6:30am, as work on a new building commenced near the campground. This was so unfortunate, and I pity the folks that had hoped to sleep in.