The Pacific Northwest is one of the best places on earth for getting out into the great outdoors. From the majestic Gold Coast of California to the towering volcanoes of Washington, there’s more than enough to hike, backpack, and survive in Pacific.
Oregon camping and bushcraft offers a range of experiences to any outdoor enthusiast, and rivals many of the other states we’ve covered in this series. Whether you’ve been a lifelong Montana camping enthusiast or you’re an expert of New Mexico bushcraft, any outdoorsman should try to get out to Oregon.
Camping and bushcraft is one of the best vacations you can take. It’s affordable, relaxing, and packs in some truly memorable experiences. Depending on how comfortable you are with the outdoors, you’ll want to try out different regions in this state.
From the vast high desert in the southwest to the towering Cascades running through the middle of the state, to the calm coastline or the roaming Juniper forests in the northeast, there is a huge variety of camping experiences in this state.
This guide will cover the major wilderness regions of Oregon, what gear you’ll need to bring for different situations, and a few of the must-see camping spots in the state. Whether you’re a survival expert or a day-camper, this state has a wealth of eco-tourism available.
Major Wilderness Regions in Oregon
Like in any state, there are countless regions in Oregon with varying climates and biomes. While it won’t be as extreme as in our California camping guide, we’ll still have to omit many great places to go camping in this state and just hone in on a few major regions.
Oregon is located just north of California and west of Idaho, and is the 9th largest state. Its primary mountain range is the Cascades, which is filled with dormant and dead volcanoes, and it hugs the Pacific ocean to its west.
From the mountains to the coast, from the High Desert to the forests of the northeast, we’re going to give you a broad overview of camping in this state. There’s not quite as much variety as there would be for, say, Colorado camping, but there’s still plenty to do in Oregon.
These mountains run from southern Oregon all the way up through Canada, and have some breathtaking views. From the well-known Mount Saint Helens to the towering Mount Rainier, this is probably one of the most famous Mountain ranges in the world.
These mountains are home to stunning vistas, tranquil and crystal-clear lakes, and serene alpine forests. The mountain tops are capped with snow year round, but you can expect some true adventures during the summer time.
You can enjoy these mountains in a wide variety of ways. Whether it’s a day hike up one of the more prominent peaks, or you want to test your survival skills by backpacking through the mountains, these mountains offer the classic camping experience.
As I mentioned previously, these mountains will have snow on them year-round. While the summer will be clear for camping in lower elevations, you’ll need to be dressed for the cold if you plan on hiking to the top. You can try to get some serious snow camping in, if you decide you want to test yourself.
Trying to survive in the mountains will likely require you to make your own fire, so make sure you bring the right gear, including a powerful bushcraft axe. Otherwise, you’ll need to review local regulations regarding camping in this area, which we’ll cover later.
The Oregon Coast
Coastal camping is a great experience for both casual campers and seasoned survivalists alike. The flat, sandy shores can be relaxing for hiking and recreation during the day, while you can easily retreat to a designated campground for the night.
Backpackers love coastal camping, making plenty of progress during the day along the beaches and retreating into the dryer forests at night. No matter what your skill level is, you’ll want to try out coastal camping on your next outdoor adventure.
In contrast to the jagged, rocky cliff sides of the California coastline, Oregon has a much calmer, smoother beachfront, stretching the entire length of the state. While there are some more rugged parts of the coast like Ecola State park, the majority of is is pretty flat and calm.
The first hundred miles of the southern coast is actually covered in sand dunes, which is great for a variety of outdoor experiences. You can choose to stop and ride ATVs for a day, or you can hike into the dunes for some isolated backpacking.
The waters of Oregon are pretty cold year round, and you can expect the weather to be chilly even in the summer. Be prepared with a thick coat, even during the summer, when you decide to camp on the coast.
The High Desert
Most people don’t associate Oregon with a large desert, but the entire southeast of the state is covered in a massive wilderness known as the High Desert. This arid region offers some more intense camping than the calmer coast and northeastern portion of the state.
The vast, flat expanses of the elevated plateau are littered with shrubs, cacti, and huge swaths of uninhabited land. While you can find more developed places to camp in places like the Oregon Badlands, you can easily find yourself hundreds of miles from the nearest person, perfect for some survival training.
The desert is pretty far north, but you can expect some hot summer days, but freezing nights, so be prepared for extreme weather. Water is scarce, so you’ll have to pack in your own, especially if you want to spend more than a couple of nights out in the wilds.
This region is best for backpacking and survival training. While casual campers may enjoy the surreal landscapes, you’re best off heading into this wilderness for a few days at a time, hiking during the day and relaxing at night.
While the High Desert occupies a large portion of eastern Oregon, the landscape radically changes as you head north. You don’t quite get the steep and rugged mountains like you do with the cascades, but you do run into vast alpine and Juniper forests.
This region isn’t as renowned as other parts of the state for the abundant camping and outdoor recreation, but it’s absolutely worth a look. Especially if you’re used to other mountain ranges or deserts and want something different.
These forests are somewhat of a hybrid between desert camping and forest camping. You still get the dense tree coverage and forests, but the air is a little dryer, and you can really see the more rugged and rocky landscape.
Juniper is actually a shrub, but it’s boomed so much over the past few decades that it looks like a forest. The dense coverage is actually causing the sage brush population to decline, but the results are sweeping views of entire planes of the bluish Juniper shrub.
You can choose to go car camping or backpacking here, and you’ll have a great time either way. The alpine forests offer both camping destinations and long hiking trails, so it’s up to you how you want to enjoy this wilderness region.
What You Need to Bring
We’ve gone over some of the major places you can get out into the woods, so now it’s time to talk about what you’ll need to bring with you. From tents to backpacks, we’ll go over some of the essentials that you’ll need to get out there in this state.
We’re going to assume that you have all of the basics, like the right clothes, boots, canteens, and so on. And of course, you’ll need to bring different gear depending on whether you’re just going camping or backpacking.
From survival hatchets to sub-zero sleeping bags, we’re going to cover what you need for camping in Oregon.
Camping is one of the most relaxing ways to get out into the woods. You can bring all of your food and gear directly into your campsite, so you don’t have to worry about weight limits and sizes like you do when you have to carry everything on your back.
You’ll want a large, comfortable tent that can house as many people as you need. This option will easily let your group fit inside, and you don’t need to worry about the weight, since you’re going to be driving in.
Oregon isn’t known for its frigid nights the way other states get in the summer. So you can go with this affordable sleeping bag option, keeping you warm in those chilly summer nights. Save the sub zero gear for those winter hikes.
Lastly, you’ll want to bring a good camping axe. The Husqvarna Camping axe is a great option for any camping trip for getting wood to start your fire. Just make sure you’re checking out any local regulations about starting fires while camping.
For Backpacking and Survival
When you’re camping out of your car, you have a great opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself. But when you want to test your survival skills, you really have to be prepared. The danger and intensity makes survival training hugely satisfying, so make sure you’re ready.
Of course, when you’re out backpacking, you want to make sure you have a lightweight tent. This option will comfortably house you without weighing you down to much, which is essential for backpacking.
For a powerful backpacking axe, check out the Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe. This high quality hatchet has premium craftsmanship for elegant and masterful use, letting you start your fire in the bush.
You always need to be able to start a fire, even in the rain, which is why you need to grab a waterproof fire starter. My favorite is this useful waterproof match, or you can check out this waterproof lighter in action in this video:
Top Camping Spots in Oregon
Now that we’ve gone over the major wilderness regions and the gear you need to bring, let’s talk about some of the best camping spots in the state. Like with all of our camping guides, we only have time for a handful of spots, but there are thousands of breathtaking spots to hike, camp, and backpack.
Of course, each of these places will have different levels of accessibility throughout the year, so make sure you’re double checking local weather reports and laws, especially outside of peak season.
From the breathtaking Crater Lake to the isolated badlands, each of these camping spots will offer something completely different. From simple campgrounds to multi-week survival trips, you’ll have plenty to do in these natural playgrounds.
No camping guide to Oregon is complete without discussing Crater Lake. This iconic natural reservoir is the deepest lake in the US, and is formed out of a volcanic crater. It is one of the most scenic places you can camp in the world.
This crystal clear lake has a deep blue hue during the day, and perfectly reflects the night sky after sunset. It’s surrounded on all sides by dense forests, and you can expect it to be pretty crowded during the peak camping seasons.
This is the perfect camping spot for any enthusiast. It’s kid friendly, but also has a host of hardcore hiking trails. Just make sure that you’re booking your campground well in advance, since they can get pretty competitive in the summer.
This is a must-see stop in any outdoorsman’s travel book. It’s one of the most iconic natural wonders in the world, and you won’t regret taking the time to get out there.
Ecola State Park
Ecola state park is located on the Oregon coast, and gives you a taste of the rugged coastline that you normally associate with California. This state park is one of the best spots for hiking and coastal camping, but backpackers and survivalists will want to pass.
You may not want to go swimming in the waters outside of the hottest months of the year, but you will love hiking around these breathtaking cliffs, taking in the gorgeous sights and sounds as you relax and enjoy yourself.
The Blue Mountains are located in the northeast of the state, and provide a contrast to the rugged cascade ranges. These mountains also offer some of the state’s best elk hunting, in addition to some real survival experience.
This is not a casual place to amp, with intense slopes, year-round snow, and limited access. But if you want to get out there and test your ability to survive the elements, then this is one of the best places in the state to do it.
If you’re a fan of desert camping, then the Oregon Badlands are a great place to get started. They’re found in the center of the state, and give you a great starting point for any outdoor adventure, whether it’s camping or backpacking.
Desert camping is always a great place to see how long you can last in the wilderness, trading the steep climbing of the mountains for vast, flat expanses. You’ll easily escape the stress of city life, letting yourself test your abilities.
Mount Hood is the highest point in the state, making it a great spot for hiking and camping. It’s located in the Cascades, so it’s surrounded by lush forests and gorgeous lakes. You’ll be able to exhaust yourself by hiking to the summit, or relax and enjoy exploring the surrounding forests.
This is a great spot for any hardcore enthusiast, while casual campers will love camping around the area. The cascades offer that pristine alpine air, and this mountain offers one of the best views on the west coast.
Laws and Regulations for Camping and Bushcraft in Oregon
Oregon is pretty relaxed with it’s camping laws compared to other states. They don’t have any major limits to dispersed camping, but they do charge for any domesticated campground, so make sure you’re looking up how to pay if you’re using a designated campsite.
If you plan on starting a fire, make sure that you brush up on the regulations for the park you’re staying at. Often, different parks will have different rules about starting fires, depending on the time of year, so always double check.
If you plan on hiking out into the woods, and want to be able to start a fire anywhere, you’ll want a woodcutting permit. You can get one through the Federal parks department, and that’ll let you keep warm even on the coldest nights.
Enjoying the Nature of Oregon
Oregon is a truly breathtaking state with plenty of gorgeous views, hikes, lakes, and outdoor experiences. When you’re trying to get away from it all, you can turn to this state to really get an outdoor adventure.
This state has an adventure for any enthusiast, regardless of what you want out of a camping trip. From the rugged survival experts to family camping trips, you’ll easily enjoy the beautiful nature of this gorgeous state.
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