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.