Oregon

The Best Camping in Willamette National Forest

by Arthur McMahon

best camping willamette national forest

Willamette National Forest lies at the heart of Oregon’s Cascade Range and contains over 1,500 unique campsites.

Four different ranger districts divide the 1.6 million acre Willamette National Forest, each with its own trails and waterways worth exploring. There’s so much to see in these lush lands that simply cannot be experienced in a single visit.

Lucky for us, there are dozens of amazing campgrounds spread throughout the forest where visitors can set up a basecamp for further exploration. While dispersed camping is allowed in this national forest, many of us will want to pitch our tents where picnic tables and clean restrooms are nearby.

With more than 1,700 miles of trail, 1,500 miles of river, 375 lakes, and untold waterfalls to see, there’s no limit to adventure in Willamette National Forest.

To make your exploration a little easier, we’ve divided up Willamette National Forest’s different districts and detailed our favorite campgrounds for each area below. Have fun out there!

Willamette National Forest Districts:

Detroit Ranger District

Breitenbush Campground

detroit lake oregon
Detroit Lake. // Photo: Sheila Sund

Why you should camp here: Private campsites set against the peaceful backdrop of the Breitenbush River.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer, spring
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping

Tucked far down a national service road and nestled along the banks of the serene Breitenbush River, Breitenbush Campground is a secret getaway among locals who like to explore the trails of the adjacent Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, fish for trout, and wade in the waters of the stream.

“Make sure to visit the hot springs at the resort as they are AMAZING!” said visitor Patricia O. on Hipcamp.

There are 26 spacious campsites with plenty of thick underbrush acting as privacy curtains between them. Each site is equipped with a picnic table and grill, and they’re all a short walk away from several vault toilets.

Just down the road is the popular Detroit Lake where water activities of all sorts can be enjoyed.

Reserve Now

Whispering Falls Campground

north santiam river
North Santiam River in fall. // Photo: Bonnie Moreland

Why you should camp here: A remote angler’s experience on the North Santiam River.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer, spring
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping

Packed with rainbow trout and running with chinook salmon at the right time of year, the North Santiam River is an angler’s sanctuary. Riverside fishing can be had at the campground, but even more privacy can be found at one of the nearby roadside pullovers.

The 16 campsites at Whispering Falls Campground are roomy and have all the usual camping amenities, including water spigots. Flowering rhododendron and flittering ferns grace the campground floor underneath the towering conifer canopy.

From the campground, families can enjoy playing at the river and visiting the Marion Forks Fish Hatchery which is home to spawning trout and salmon. Wildlife including deer, elk, eagles, and ospreys can often be seen around the hatchery grounds.

Reserve Now

McKenzie River Ranger District

Cold Water Cove Campground

clear lake oregon
Clear Lake. // Photo: Bonnie Moreland

Why you should camp here: Clear Lake is a hub for outdoor activities and the neighboring resort has ample amenities.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Situated on the south end of Clear Lake and adjacent to a 3,000-year-old lava field, Cold Water Cove is home to breathtaking scenery.

Over 30 lakeside campsites are fitted with picnic tables and fire rings. There are vault toilets throughout the campground, and the resort next door has a general store, restaurant, and watercraft rentals.

A well-maintained trail circumnavigates the lake, passing through the green forest and open lava fields. You’ll also cross the absolutely magical turquoise waters of Great Springs, a water source pouring out of the volcanic hillside which feeds directly into Clear Lake.

Hikers and mountain bikers can explore further down the McKenzie River Trail which passes by the campground.

Reserve Now

Mona Campground

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by ᴍᴇᴋᴀᴇʟᴀ ʟᴀʀsᴏɴ. (@mekaelajaden) on

Why you should camp here: Fishing and family fun at Blue River Reservoir.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer, spring
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Paved roads lead the way to Mona Campground where more than 20 campsites line the shore of Blue River Reservoir.

Fishing, swimming, and waterskiing are just a few of the fun activities that can be had here in early summer when the reservoir water level is still high. In late summer, when water levels drop significantly, the connecting Blue River can still be a source of water-bound fun.

Dirt roads head away from the campground up into the nearby hills, and there’s plenty to explore on backcountry adventures if you’ve got a well-equipped OHV. Be sure to check out the Tidbits Mountain Trail, a sky-high trek that we featured in our Outstanding Eugene Hikes article.

Reserve Now

Paradise Campground

paradise campground oregon
Photo: Bonnie Moreland

Why you should camp here: A well-kept campground with secluded campsites near the visitor-friendly McKenzie River Ranger Station.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

“We love this campground as the roaring river drowns out ALL noise from any neighbors,” said visitor Shannon on Campendium.

The largest campground along the McKenzie River, Paradise Campground features over 60 campsites with plenty of room for RVs, restrooms with flowing water, and a lively amphitheater.

Forest Rangers conduct regular educational presentations at the amphitheater, and they’re more than happy to host your family for a visit at the ranger station that’s just across the highway.

This campground is lush with undergrowth that shakes with the roaring sounds of the abutting McKenzie River.

Reserve Now

Middle Fork Ranger District

Waldo Lake Islet Campground

islet campground oregon
Islet Bay. // Photo: Bonnie Moreland

Why you should camp here: Sandy beaches on one of Oregon’s largest natural lakes.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Islet Campground is one of three large campgrounds along the shores of Waldo Lake. Beach access and a boat launch make this a great summertime getaway, and a wealth of nature trails lead the way to nearby natural treasures.

With over 50 campsites on location and dozens more nearby, you’re almost certain to find a spot to stay at Waldo Lake.

Reserve Now

Salmon Creek Falls Campground

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Anna D Tscherdantzew (@annadtscherdantzew) on

Why you should camp here: Sleep soundly under the ancient branches of old-growth forest along the banks of Salmon Creek.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

Looking for an under-the-radar gem? Head to the Salmon Creek Falls Campground. This small, 14-site campground is little known outside of local residents and ardent outdoor explorers, so you’ll rarely find a crowd here.

Don’t expect much more than a restroom and an old-fashioned water pump for amenities, as this campground embraces its rustic setting. Moss-clad firs and hemlocks reign over summertime undergrowth that’s rich with hazelnuts and thimbleberries.

A rocky gorge disrupts the creek on location, creating a couple of small waterfalls with deep pools that are a joy to explore.

Cascara Campground

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Allison Brooke (@gooniegurl) on

Why you should camp here: Play in Fall Creek Reservoir and take a hike or drive along the many curves of Falls Creek.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

The Cascara Campground is nestled on the far end of Fall Creek Reservoir, far removed from the crowds that swarm the popular day-use areas near the dam.

The campground is flat and primitive with little privacy, but it serves as a great launching point for outdoor fun along the reservoir or up the creek. Boating, swimming, and fishing are all fun ways to explore the reservoir, and the creek is rife with secluded swimming holes worth discovering.

Sweet Home Ranger District

House Rock Campground

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Michelle Hightower (@mrs.mbomb) on

Why you should camp here: A hiker’s paradise hidden beneath the canopy of an old-growth forest.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping

The modest House Rock Campground has 17 campsites set at the intersection of Sheep Creek and the Santiam River. Anglers love this area where the converging waters draw an above-average amount of cutthroat trout, and the shallow campside stream is great for kids to cool off in during the heat of the summer.

Horse Rock Trail, Iron Mountain Trail, and a number of other trails in the Tombstone Pass Trail Area provide hikers with a wide selection of tracks to choose from. This campground is off the beaten path, as are these awesome hikes.

Reserve Now

Trout Creek Campground

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Steph Herington (@voyageur_nord) on

Why you should camp here: History and hiking conveniently located a short ride from the town of Sweet Home.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, car camping, RVs
  • RV hookups: No

The family-oriented Trout Creek Campground is comprised of 24 campsites and is flush with activities the entire family will enjoy.

An inviting day-use shelter with a large fireplace graces the campground. The historic structure was built by the Civilian Conservations Corps in the 1930s, and features an old-fashioned hand-pump well for a fun source of fresh drinking water.

The Walton Ranch Interpretive Trail leads campers toward wildlife viewing platforms where deer and elk can be found. Nearby, the historic Santiam Wagon Road now exists as a trail where you can explore what pioneers and traders experienced on their journey into Oregon.

Reserve Now

More Oregon Camping

For a complete list of Willamette National Forest Campgrounds, visit the Forest Service’s information page.

Interested in more camping throughout Oregon? We know of 9 Beautiful Free Camping Spots in Oregon and have put together the Ultimate Guide to the Best Camping Near Bend.

Get your weekly adventure fix

Join thousands of readers getting epic hiking, camping and travel ideas every week.

Related posts