Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I was thrilled beyond expression when we pulled into this campground. Our friends had made reservations and I was only able to find a brief text-only description online, so this felt like a bit of a mystery. Armstrong Federal is one campground in the group of federal campgrounds along the Clackamas River. Numbering a mere 11 total sites, this area is all tent(though you could pull in an RV sans hookups) and completely rustic. The music of the river was audible throughout the shady, spacious campground and visible from some sites.
If you like playing in, on, and/or around the river, this campsite is for you. If you've no desire to have anything to do with a river, I'd suggest finding a different site. However, for my fellow water lovers, you can do virtually any activity here. There are great swimming holes right off the campground. Here, you have the option of sitting on a rock and diddling your toes in the stream, jumping in(though the water is very cold in this area), tubing, rafting, or kayaking. I'm sure you could put your non-motorized water craft in here, but I imagine there's a better place upriver to put in based on the number of folks going by. I saw a legal-sized trout at the bottom of the river, so you could cast your line, though no one actually caught anything while I was there.
Within 5-10 minutes driving, there are several wide pull-offs along the road made to facilitate more water activity. Apparently there's a bend where the salmon fishing is incredible. There are also several trails down to the river's edge where rock formations lend themselves to "cliff-hopping" into the river. Always, always check where the bottom of the river is unless you happen to be with someone who is familiar with the area. We never found an area where we would have been in danger jumping off the rocks, but making the assumption you're safe could lead to dire consequences. One note, though: in this area, the water is very cold. It could be unsafe to spend prolonged periods in it due to the temperature. If you're willing to make a 30 minute drive, there are areas where you can swim and float around in the water all day. Be honest with yourself and listen to your body. Thanks to the accessibility of the river from the campsite (not having to jump in a machine is always a boon), the activities have earned a 4.
This campground is a through and through tent camper's paradise. Between no hookups available anywhere, water from a pump, and solely pit toilets, this tends to be a very peaceful area, free from modern distractions. Privacy is also pretty good here. Typically, the campsites are visible from the road, but with only 11 sites, you don't get too much traffic pulling through. There is also a lot of space in between just about every site and the next, plus lots of greenery, so you can get a good feeling of distance, if not independence. However, the sites are still close enough that if you feel like being neighborly, it's quite easy! I could hear my fellow campers if they were noisy, but not conversational.
Parking pads are very large; you can comfortable fill your two car limit or easily pull in a camper or RV if that's more your style. While the table and firepit are fixed, there's lots of space to fit a large tent and a small companion tent in the sites without being uncomfortably close to the fire. During your stay, you'll be able to relax under the mottled shade provided by a tall, mixed forest. If you're feeling like a patch of sun, you can probably find one in your site, yet the shade is complete enough that you really don't need to spend all day dragging your cooler around to keep it out of the sun. Each site also has easy access to a restroom (but not too close) and a quick walk at worst to the water pump. For those of you who can't abide by smelly pit toilets, bring a can of spray disinfectant in your favorite scent. A little goes a long way when it comes to dealing with the smell. I have no complaints whatsoever about the campsites except for their proximity to the road. Due to that, the ranking stands at a 4.5.
Everything worked! The pump spewed water with kinetic coercion and the pit toilets, well, smelled. Beyond pieces of toilet paper in the restroom structure and a few faded bit of cardboard here and there, the grounds seemed clean and well cared-for. I imagine it's a fairly low-maintenance area for the caretakers, though, as the campground is dominated by either packed dirt or native plant life. As a random sidenote I can't resist, the lack of invasive species, English Ivy and Himalayan Blackberries most notably, impressed me greatly. Add in the presence of a few red huckleberry bushes and you have me smiling! Only being 11 sites strong, this park had no hosts and I never spotted any rangers or other benefactors, though toilet paper refills and exchanged reservation cards belied their presence. The actual maintenance seemed fine, but the lack of on-site personnel or any reference to where to talk to someone was a little bit disappointing. I've come to greatly enjoy the insight of hosts and rangers on the best things to see in an area. Due to the people-factor, I'm giving this category a 3.5.
I like rivers. I like the activities around them. Therefore, Armstrong Federal wound up having a high degree of value to me, particularly in the toasty weather. I liked that a "useable" portion of the river was within easy walking distance with an even greater number of options within a short drive. I feel like it supports both the "camping as home" and "camping as base camp" philosophies of enjoying the outdoors. The plethora of good swimming holes, rapids, fishing spots, and places to dip one's toes were very valuable features for me. Based on the ability to relax in nature and the experience of having a versatile river within a short walk of your campsite, I'm giving this one a 4. In your mind, feel free to adjust it high or lower based on your own feelings about rivers.
The physical site offers a fixed table and firepit. Water is available by hand-pump. There is not firewood offered for sale, nor are there any recycling facilities. There are a pair of dumpsters for garbage. There is not a day use area or group camp site attached to the campground and there are no options beyond rustic camping. However, it does offer a variety of activities around the untamed river and plenty of wildlife. I saw a variety of birds, including an osprey, as well as fish in the river. If you were up early enough, I wouldn't be surprised if you were able to catch sight of a deer or elk lumbering to the stream for a morning drink.
Armstrong Federal can be paid for with cash or check only. A fair number of insects joined our outdoor foray, though not enough to be labeled as extremely pesky. I think this can at least partially be attributed to the tendency of water in the area to either soak into the ground or move rapidly. We had a few yellow jackets, mosquitoes, and annoying (not biting) tiny flies. There were pit toilets and no sinks, showers, or waste water disposal locations. There is absolutely no cell phone reception in the campground and it's at least 15-20 minutes of driving to get any.
I recognize this type of camping will drive many campers away, but that only works to further my own enjoyment of the experience. When I camp, I tend to want to get away from blaring stereos, televisions, and cell phone ringtones most of all. If you're comfortable boiling any water you wish to be warm and really want an opportunity to get back to nature in a deeper, purer sense, this is a campsite, averaging a rating of 4, for you.
Monday, June 22, 2009
My initial reaction to this park was dislike. However, the more I walked around, the more I softened up. My typical vision of camping is a dense coniferous forest replete with sword ferns, moss, Methuselah's Beach, and the aroma of nurse logs. I found myself greeted with wide open spaces, a mixed forest, and a plethora of wildflowers. While not my traditional choice, I unexpectedly revelled in the beauty of this area.
Champoeg (pronounced "shampoo-ey") has a fairly decent mix of family-friendly activities. A few paved hiking biking trails wend through the park as well as a few well-maintained hiking trails. While I did not trod much of them with my own feet, they have been reported as very easy. The day-use area is large and within walking distance of the campground. It offered a 15-hole disc golf course, horse shoes, and access to a dock on the river. While trails may dip closer to the river, this was the only access to the water I found near the campground. It seems to be the "bring a book and cool your toes" sort of experience with the river rather than the splash in and poke at the water denizens type. A few people were also fishing off the dock.
One hugely unique perspective Champoeg offers in a historical look at the little town that was lost to the river flooding. They offer reenactments of everything from blacksmithing to children's games. There are old cabins and houses that have been transformed into museums. Quite a bit of history, complete with markers and monuments, seems to be the origin of this park. They also have the Historic Butteville store, the oldest continually operating store in the state. This history portion of the State Park will require you to drive or hoof it a decent, though not entirely daunting, way.
Finally, I noticed what I believe were goldfinches fluttering around the campsite frequently. After engaging one of the park rangers, I found out there used to be a host or ranger who frequently the campsite whose nickname is "Bird Lady." She took on many projects to encourage the avian population to settle in and around the campground. One of these was to construct nesting boxes for the bluebird population in the park. In the spring, they keep track of where bluebirds have moved in and denote the boxes with a strip of blue tape. If you have patience, you will certainly see the mating pair and perhaps even offspring. While the activities are not all quite my speed, the variety and availability certainly merits a 5.
I must admit, openly and honestly, that reviewing the sites were a bit of a trick this trip. I was actually camping in the group site with some friends which is removed from the rest of the campground, more attached to the day use area and down a little dip. As far as group sites go, this one was incredible. The group sites here are extremely spacious, complemented by enormous concrete fire rings which radiate heat from even a small campfire admirably, and plenty of tables. Plus, the dip gives you a lot of privacy.
The tent sites look surprisingly nice. After walking the rest of the park and seeing the hookup sites, I didn't expect much, but the tent sites have their own mini-loop and seemed to be cradled in foliage. There were many tall trees and thick shrubbery that provided both ample privacy and shade. I didn't get a chance to wander around in any as they were all occupied, but it looked as though there was plenty of room for a tent and still plenty of "living space" for the table, firepit, and enjoying the site.
The hike-in/bike-in camps left a lot to be desired. A short path from the campground let into a clearing with firepit and tables. There were no defined borders between sites and you could actually see the back side of someone's house from the sites. It also wasn't far enough away from the campground to really remove you from the activity and noise. None of the hook-up sites offered any privacy. The ones in A Loop were lightly shaded with flowers like wild roses between the sites while the B loop ones had short shrubs, if anything. However, they were spacious, open, and bright. Overall, I would say the site quality here is a 4, with the strong recommendation to get a tent site.
This park was extremely well-maintained. In fact, the expertly trimmed undergrowth and general landscaped feel removed some of the feeling of wildness from the park. All of the facilities were in excellent repair. The entire park was very clean; I'm not sure I saw a single scrap of litter. I never interacted with the hosts here and had a hard time tracking down the rangers on Saturday. It seemed like their booth was closed all day. When I did chat with one, he definitely knew the information you'd find in a pamphlet about the park. After I pressed, he shared the story about the Bird Lady. He knew what he was doing, but I didn't feel like there was much he had to share that was a special "extra." In general, I'd give it a 4.5.
Low-to-moderately priced, Champoeg State Park is a neat, self-contained park filled with a number of activities. However, with powerlines visible in parts of the park, homes, and the manicured look, the park sometimes feels less outdoors and more vacationy. I feel like the value here is a 4.
Each site comes with mobile tables and firepits with water and sink disposal accessible. Interestingly enough, this park still offers dumpsters and recycling centers throughout the park rather than a central compactor. Hosts sell firewood and ice and the park also offers visitor parking. As far as sites go, Champoeg offers traditional tent sites, hook-ups with and without electricity, yurts, small cabins, and three group sites. The day use area is large with many gathering areas as well as individual picnic areas. It has disc golf, trails, and horseshoes. Wildlife is abundant at this park with gophers, moles, and/or voles making their presence known through little mounds here and there. There are many songbirds as well as nesting osprey. Garter snakes, coyotes, deer, squirrels, and other common northwest animals are all potential sightings here.
As I was group camping, I did not pay. I believe the ranger booth accepted at least cards and cash, with checks a possibility as well. I noticed a few mosquitoes and no-see-ums around twilight, so during the buggy times of year, I'd be sure to bring repellent. Pit toilets, flush toilets, and showers were all available. In fact, one of the central bathrooms has been newly remodeled or rebuilt; I'm not clear which. I admit, I did not specifically check cell reception, but I know it was fine at the day use area and group site. With the proximity of the park to freeways, I feel fairly confident in saying you'd likely get reception throughout the park. Check out their website as they actually have a short video showing highlights of the campsites and day use areas.
How hard is it to find?
It's very easy; just off the freeway. Hit I-5, get off at exit 278 (Donald/Aurora), turn right at Ehlen (signs for Donald), take a right at Case, and a left at the T which is Champoeg Road. Alternately, if I-5 traffic is bad, you can zip onto 219 and turn onto Champoeg Road that way.
Will you go back?
I'm kind of itching to actually try out the tent sites, so I think I will return. However, I'm more likely to head out to the park to wander around the day use area than to camp.
This campsite is distinct from many of the northwest Oregon sites you will see out there. It is a refreshing change of pace that seems built for a relaxing weekend. Quite frankly, with all the overnight options and the flowery, mixed-forest style of beauty this campsite professes, I would suggest it as a great area for those new to camping. It is the sort of place you could bring a skeptical grandmother to win her over. If not for an overnighter, Champoeg State Park at an overall 4.4 is definitely worth a visit.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
In general, Olallie Lake is one of the more scenic areas I’ve visited. Bald eagles routinely perched atop snags looking to grab their next meal out of the lake, trees grew right to the edge of the lake, and mankind’s influence generally did not extend very far. A few hillsides worth of trees were dead due to fire and pine beetles, but otherwise the area was simply gorgeous.
The drive in to Olallie Lake is long – at least four miles on a rough gravel road. Granted, any vehicle with normal clearance can make the trip, but be ready for a slow, bumpy ride that will make you wonder if you missed your turn. There is also no drinking water provided here, so be prepared to haul or purify your own. It’s important to be aware there has been snow as late as July.
For years, the campground was run by a private family who kept a portion of the site fees. Apparently, having a historical building that needed repair was holding up the reopening of the lake and causing headaches for those involved. Dan and Katie, the new owners of Olallie Lake Resort, were kind enough to drop by and leave a comment. They hope to open by August of this year! Woo hoo! Thanks for the update! I'd encourage you to visit their website for all the latest.
If you’re willing to go out of your way for a gorgeous trips, visit Olallie Lake. However, be prepared for anything! And, if it comes down to it, you can always retreat back to the plethora of sites along the Clackamas River. Safety first!
Milo McIver State Park sits along the Clackamas River on a huge piece of land. It boasts a campground and two day use areas. This was my first overnight trip, yet we made great use of several features of the park. I really enjoyed my visit to this park.
Milo McIver is the place to go when you want a lot of options and the ability to stay constantly entertained outside of your campsite. There are trails to hike, bike, and horse. Well-maintained trails meander through the trees, offering a sense of peace and a fairly cool place to be in toasty weather. The trails I have been on are great for beginning or intermediate hikers. There could be more challenging trips, but the ones I tested were pretty casual. If trails aren't cool enough for you, there is always the beautiful Clackamas River! This clean, cool river is a good place to dip your toes, fish, boat, or white-water raft. The day use areas even offer boat ramps. It pretty much offers post-card quality scenery.
The park also has 27 unique holes of disc golf. A 9 hole course and an 18 hole course start at separate day-use areas and wend their way through fields, stands of trees, and along the river. Lucky for me and my erratic throws, it wasn't dangerously close to the river. There is a hobby field with a runway for model airplanes that the deer also seem to be fond of frolicking in. Also, within the bounds of the park, is a salmon hatchery. You can see the thousands of alevins and battle-scarred adult salmon returning from previous years. Whether you're visiting McIver to camp or play for the day, all of this is available through a single day-use fee. The only disadvantage is that there is some serious distance between the campground and day use areas. Biking or driving is the most practical option - hoofing it is possible, but be prepared for quite the trot! Activities here are a 4.5.
The tent sites offered a unique perspective on car camping. They were directly off a parking lot, so you could park very close to your site, but there was no actual concrete pad to pull your vehicle in to. Personally, I enjoyed the opportunity to have the convenience of a car within ten feet, but not have it sitting in the middle of my campsite. All the tent sites were roomie and boasted lots of the aforementioned undergrowth. Cedar trees and the rich smells of a healthy forest perfumed the site.
An outhouse was a short walk away, though be sure to close the lid to keep the smell down. Firepits and tables also complemented each site. Water spiggots were easily accessible. While the tent sites were separated from the others and you did not have the "RV fence" you find in some grounds, they were still close enough in proximity that the singing, laughing, and crying children from the hook-up sites was still audible in the tent sites.
Milo McIver also offered a group site as well as two horse camps. There were also hike in/bike in camps. With the variety and the careful planning, these near-to-perfect sites rank a 4.5.
Monday, February 16, 2009
In my opinion, this is great news! Last spring break, I took a driving trip to San Diego to visit relatives and friends - my first vacation as an adult. Particularly in these economic times, that's not an option again in the short-term future and, therefore, 100% of my vacationing activities will be outdoor getaways - camping, hiking, backpacking, disc golf. Those free or next-to-free activities we have all come to love. Let's remember to support our parks with actions and words when dollars aren't possible and remember the availability of these wonders when that law expires in 2014!