What natural setting do you drag just about every out-of-towner to if you're located in the Portland area? Why, Multnomah Falls, of course! Scenery is abundant within feet of your vehicle and there are also rewarding hiking trails for those who have a mind. Sitting within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area with its well-deserved reputation for spectacular beauty, sits Ainsworth State Park. This modern campground is as gorgeous as one would assume and sits conveniently next to I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway.
If you took your time and a picnic lunch, you could make an entire day out of driving along the Historic Highway, pausing to reflect on each waterfall and following the short, easy trails to falls just off the road. My recommendation, though, would be to follow any network of trails and make a few days out of hiking. The trails are of moderate difficulty, enough to get your heart pumping, but not enough to send the seasonal hiker back to their point of origin in defeat. I would also argue that many of the more spectacular falls are accessible only by hoofing it, giving you regular eye-candy rewards along your trek. The Oneonta Gorge trail has you wading up a creek in the lower-water level days of the summer that ends at the bottom of a waterfall. We were in long pants and my only pair of shoes when we were hiking, so we opted out of that adventure. This time. I just can't praise the hiking in the area enough – you can be gone all day in the woods, or you can find loops that will take you an hour or two, all with dazzling scenery.
By and large, this campground has hook-up sites that are irritatingly small, slopey, and open, making them poor choices for those of us who love our tents. However, the actual tent area is well done. A parking area is separated from the campsites by a small, plant-covered burm. It blocks out some of the noise of the campground and light from traffic quite effectively. It does demand you carry your supplies from your car to your site, but it's a very short stroll, worth it for the benefits the burm offers. The sites themselves are arranged sporadically across a hill with waist high foliage, though the sites have each been leveled. It's possible to see your neighbors' tents and fires, though you only catch the loudest moments of conversation. Though fellows were close at hand, it certainly felt as though your site was your own. While we camped, clouds dominated the sky, but based on all the trees, I imagine you could expect mottled shade in your site.
Each site had a mobile table, firepit, and water available within a reasonable distance. Interestingly enough, bathrooms were a fair stroll from the sites compared to most well-established campgrounds. The tent sites were generously sized, easily accommodating 1-2 large tents. The only disadvantage that, as the campground is located close to both the freeway and train tracks, muted noise from cars and train horns was audible. However, it wasn't loud enough to be a major distraction, merely present enough that I was never able to envision myself all that far away from civilization. Assuming you secure yourself a tent site, the partial visibility of neighbors along with the freeway noise merits a solid 4.
Everything we attempted to take advantage of was in good, working order. The bathrooms were well cleaned, though I frequently sited bits of toilet paper on the floor. The winding path through the forest to the bathroom was typical of the campground – free of litter and a product of good groundskeeping. I must pause to define "good groundskeeping" as maintaining the area's natural vegetation in order to allow for passage rather than a park that feels expertly groomed and designed. Hosts we interacted with were very businesslike, but we had a wonderful time speaking with the rangers and gathering tidbits about the area. Consistent quality with respect for the habitat the campground was placed in gives this category a 5.
The hiking here is outstanding, among my favorite places to go in spite of it's popularity and increased traffic. The tent sites are well-done and the staff is dedicated to their work. It makes for a beautiful outdoor experience. This park falls pretty firmly into the 4 category.
Ainsworth State Park boasts the standard, but well-appreciated complement of services I've come to expect from Oregon State Parks: a mobile table, firepit, water spigots, waste water disposal, garbage, full recycling facilities, and even a place to dispose of empty propane containers. Hook-up and tent sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Day use areas around the park are lackluster, featuring bathrooms and picnic tables designed for driving daytrippers. Most of the activities in the area tend to be hiking- or driving-centric. We saw a variety of insects, banana slugs, chipmunks, eagles, and osprey about the area.
Visa, Mastercard, check, or cash are accepted forms of payments. No reservations are made for this park. From the lack of obvious standing water, I wouldn't have guessed it, but the mosquitoes can be rather aggressive. Flush toilets, hot/cold sinks, and showers are all available. Cell phone reception is good at the campground and I forgot to check up into the trail system – I was understandable distracted by nature!
How hard is it to find?
If you ever wished for a park to be easy to find, this one would be it. Hop on I-84 heading toward Multnomah Falls. Whether you elect to travel the Historic Highway or 84, signs will guide you flawlessly.
Will you go back?
Based on this park's proximity to my home, I know I will daytrip out to complete more of the hiking in the area. I may eventually head back to camp, but given the option of trying out a new place or returning to Ainsworth, at this point my wanderlust will certainly get the better of me!
Ainsworth State Park blends seamlessly with the relaxing natural setting that lures so many people out to the area, both locals and out-of-towners. Compromising between creating an outdoor motel, in essence, and a rustic getaway, this modern campground will satisfy car campers and families alike who wish to be able to take a short trip and enjoy the natural abundance Oregon has to offer. Overall, this park earned it's 4.25.
**Either I neglected to take pictures of the campsites themselves, or I need to track them down. I'll update this with pictures eventually, even if I have to go retake them.