If you are visiting nearby Lava Beds National Monument this is the place for you. This area is a hidden gem. Medicine Lake is a beautiful alpine lake in the caldera of a huge shield volcano at 6,700 feet. There is first come, first serve lakeside camping in four national forest campgrounds with no hookups, showers or frills. What you do get is lakeside camping, utter quiet, great fishing, a nice swimming beach and lots of hiking right from your spot. There are four campgrounds along the lake: Hemlock, some nice sights, but better for tents than RV's. A.H. Houge, great lakeside spots with plenty of good RV spots. This is where we stayed. Medicine, similar and next door to A.H. Hogue Headquarters, smaller CG and at end of lake away from swimming. The drive to Lava Beds is 15 miles on a good National Forest road. The first part is paved one lane with turnouts and is very good, then you will hit an unpaved section for several miles, but it is in great shape, then the last few miles are paved but you do have to play dodge-em-pothole. Lava Beds is worth it. It is home to 21 easily accessible lava tube caves and some great Modoc War history. Combine some fabulous alpine camping in an amazing spot with some exploration of this unappreciated area. If you are heading from Lassen NP to Crater Lake and Bend this is a great place to stay.
We returned to Glacier and St. Mary's Campground for a second time in three years this August. The last time we went to Glacier it rained on the west side for three days and then we moved to St. Mary's where it was dry but 40 mph windy. After six days we gave up and drove west until we hit sunshine in Idaho. That being said, I loved this campground then and my feelings were reaffirmed when I returned. St. Mary's is where the mountains meet the plains so the wind comes blowing down fairly regularly. The weather was much better this time but we still had to move our tent trailer the last night into a site with trees. You see, we are a sucker for the wide open spaces at the end of the loops with a view of Singleshot Mountain and the lake. Those spots are always windy, but my wife just adores them. There are three loops, A, B, and C. "A" loop is the closest to the St. Mary's river and town and has the most trees except at the far part of the loop from the access road. There is a trail to the Visitors Center, shuttle, and town from this loop. The sites near the river in the trees are very nice, but small for big rigs. Throughout this campground the best sites for big rigs, and big views, are near the ends of the loop. "B" loop is similar but lacks the proximity to the river so it should be your last choice. The "C" loop sits up the hill considerably from the other two and offers views of St. Mary's Lake from many sites. There are great spots in the meadow and alongside the base of the foothills forest. St. Mary's is the only campground on the east side of Glacier NP that takes reservations. It is closest to the Going to the Sun road and near a nice little town with many services. It can be a great home base or could be a place to stay for one night arriving late and then heading on to try your chances midweek at Many Glacier or Two Medicine. Reservations are non-specific so the rangers usually let you drive through and pick one out. The rangers have been wonderful both times we have visited. You will have to forgo the hookup to stay here and there are other options nearby, but there is nothing like a national park campground for stunning sites with great natural views. This is not a big woods campground so some don't like it much, but if you appreciate both mountains and plains you will love it.
Twin Rivers was the first stop on our recent family vacation. It is actually in Moyie Springs, a small town about three miles out of Bonners Ferry in very northern Idaho along Hwy 2. We were on our way to Glacier from Seattle and so we stopped here because we love the area. We arrived around 10 at night. The road down to the campground is steep with switchbacks, but if you take it slow you will be okay. If you are a big rig with a tow, unhook the tow and drive it down separately. You won't regret it. When we found our reserved spot someone was in it. I don't know if they came late or what because the office was closed. But there was a fine spot next door so we just grabbed that one since we were moving on in the morning. At night you will notice some train noise. There are two lines that go by, one along the Kootanai River that is fairly quiet, and a noisier spur coming down a steep hill on the bluff across the river which is much louder, but very infrequent. So, you are saying...what about the good stuff? That evening and in the morning I took a walk around the grounds and confirmed that this is a very nice place for anyone to camp in. I saw deer grazing by the river and plenty of fish in the rivers. The campground sits at the junction of two rivers and is great for fishing or enjoying the views. There is a lagoon off the river which makes a great swimming hole for kids. There is also a full baseball diamond, basketball court, horseshoes, and a playground so there is a lot for a family to do. The bathrooms and grounds are well kept and clean. Spots are mostly wooded and reasonably gracious. Although we were there for only about 12 hours, we plan to return the next time we pass through and we will probably spend more time there.
After growing up in Spokane and taking many day trips as a child to Riverside, I returned for a family event and camped at Riverside State Park. It was well worth the price in our estimation. There are actually two loops. Sites 1-14 are beautiful spots right on the river near brand new bathrooms. These spots are $30, but there is very little traffic and the price actually cuts down on the party people. Most of them are up in the upper loop. Most camps in an urban setting have lots of young people whooping it up on weekends. The upper loop appears this way judging by the 10 campfires I saw there at midnight when we rolled in. The sites here are $20, I believe, most without hookups. Make reservations and spend the extra ten bucks. The lower loop is beautiful and quiet. You will not know you are in the city. This is a great park for hiking and biking and the views of the river are fantastic. You can view photos of each site on the Washington Parks website. Nearby is Downriver Golf Course if you are so inclined--a great city course on the river. And you are just minutes from downtown. If you are visiting Spokane, give this park a try.
We just spent Thanksgiving weekend here. This is a well-kept park that has been an offseason favorite for many years. Some people will complain about the trees making it difficult for big rigs. Personally I like that they have filled in over the years giving the park a nice wooded feel. From October to April you get a coupon for 2 nights for the price of 1. We often go down in the fall and then again in the spring. Each time you get a new coupon. The pool and hot tub are outstanding.
Our third stop on our recent family vacation was the outstanding Cape Lookout State Park on the Three Capes drive south of Tillamook. Hwy 101 curves inland for Tillamook Bay and stays away from the coast for forty miles until it reaches the Lincoln City area. Cape Lookout is on a side road, the Three Capes scenic drive that stretches south of Tillamook along the coast. The campground has over 175 sites. Only 38 have hookups and they are for the most part randomly spaced along electrical and water lines to the bathrooms. This campground is often booked early so you should think about reservations. Cape Lookout is well worth it. Start with the beach--a beautiful stretch of sandy beach near a three mile sand spit that is virtually untouched by commercial development. If you like your destinations more natural this is the place for you. There are also miles of great hiking trails in the park, especially the 2.4 mile trail to the cape. But if you like to drive and visit places, Cape Lookout is a great home base too. To the north is Cape Meares SP with a very nice lighthouse and Netarts Bay with crabbing and shellfish. Tillamook is only seven miles north of the park and is large enough to have all services. The two big tourist attractions are the Tillamook Cheese Factory and the Air Museum. I love the cheese, but really how fun is it to watch cheese being made? The tour is pricey, samples minimal, and the cheese is usually cheaper at the local Safeway. Within fifty miles you can visit Cannon Beach. To the south is the nice town of Pacific City. The Pelican Brewery there has a great restaurant right on the beach near Cape Kiwanda SP with amazing sandstone formations. Only twenty miles south is Lincoln City and more great beaches. We loved Cape Lookout. It is a peaceful, calm place to be. We will return soon and hope to see you there. We stayed in the back of the D loop in a nicely wooded spot with reasonable privacy. There are three large loops at Cape Lookout. The A/B loop runs parallel to the beach. Some sites are 100 feet away. The sites at the far end are some of the best in the park. Closer to the beginning of the loop it is just a large grassy meadow with no privacy between sites. The B loop sites along the back are the best there I think. Both the C and D loops are perpendicular to the beach, but even where we were at the back it was an easy five minute walk to the beach. They are wooded and many are fairly private.
Our fourth stop on a recent family vacation was at the beautiful Diamond Lake Campground near Crater Lake. This was just a great place to visit with young children. We had a waterfront spot(G29)with over 100 feet of private beach on a sub alpine lake that was 300 yards from a store and a pizza joint. It doesn't get better than that. Oh, I forgot to mention...beautiful Mt. Bailey looms in your view right across the lake. And you are only 20 minutes from Crater Lake. We just loved it. When you first go to Recreation.gov and look at sites it seems like a confusing jumble of loop after loop. What Diamond Lake consists of is one of the longest campgrounds I have ever seen. It runs for almost three miles along the eastern shore of the lake. You enter in the middle and then drive either south or north through a series of loops for over a mile each way. It takes a while to drive to each end unless you don't care about your fellow campers. It is not clear from the map, but the A and G sites are on the main road in each direction north and south, respectively. There are about six million great spaces in this campground. Almost all of the waterfront sites are outstanding. Our site was at the very south end. We pulled in at dusk and set camp to a field of stars and the shadow of the mountain. When we woke up we took a walk and saw a modest little green building down a trail at the south end of the camp. When we walked down the trail we saw that the building was the South Lake Store. It is a well stocked little store with plenty of ice cream, good basics, and even some fun stuff. But my son's jaw dropped when we noticed that next door was a pizza restaurant. He adores pizza. So for us, a well maintained wilderness-looking site a few steps from pizza and ice cream was pretty much nirvana. The south loops of the CG head towards the south store and pizza. The pizza was good and the beer was mighty fine. The north shore loops run up to the Diamond Lake resort with a full service breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant and a lounge. Sadly, I didn't get a chance to visit either, but word of mouth was good. Both loops are part of one of the best bike trails you will ever find. Diamond Lake has a 12 mile paved loop around the lake that is a real treat. We rode through the campground looking at other sites and then along the shore to the resort. After the resort you ride along the lake for a long stretch with views of the lake and Mt Bailey and then jagged Mt. Thielsen. On the far side of the lake you ride up into the forest away from the lake in nice up and down stretches. Finally you descend into beautiful golden wetland meadows at the south end of the lake before you reach the store and campground. Just an awesome trail that is an easy 1-2 hour ride. A few impressions on other campgrounds at Diamond Lake. There are three other options. Thielsen View is across the lake. I thought the bike trail would pass through but it did not so I only saw it from a distance. It looked to be older forest and very nice, but I think being closer to all services is much better. Broken Arrow is in a nice stand of forest with a creek running through but is almost a half-mile from the lake. I rode through a bit of it. both could be fine options on a big weekend. I also walked across the road to Diamond Lake RV. As tent trailer folks this would not be the place for us. The park is in a pleasant enough meadow above the lake, but it doesn't have much of a view of either the lake or the mountains. Spots have little or no privacy and most campers seemed to be large Class A's. If you absolutely need the hookup then consider this. It is heavily reserved. But I would forgo the plug and camp on the lake. Diamond Lake has tons of spots to handle anything up to 40 feet. Sites may say 35, but we saw plenty of pull throughs with big rigs. OK--I guess I rambled a bit, but you get the idea. Great place, go there soon.
Our sixth and final stop on our recent family vacation was at Cove Palisades State Park near Madras, OR. Cove Palisades is located near th e deep river canyons with towering cliffs where the Crooked, Deschutes, and Metolius Rivers meet behind Round Butte Dam to form Lake Billy Chinook. There are two campgrounds in the park. Both have separate reservation systems although staff works both campgrounds. We stayed in the Crooked River campground which is in a nice shady lawn area on a bench overlooking the lake. All sites are hookups with grey water disposal in the sites. You will have to drive down the hill to reach the water. Our site had great views of the top of the canyon walls and a beautiful view of Mt. Jefferson. Crooked River was packed with kids and families. Reservations are hard to come by here. I believe that campers with a boat reserve spots year after year. Each morning they all pull out of camp with their boats to spend the day on the water. Crooked River camp has nice big lawns, horseshoes, a beach volleyball court, and a basketball hoop if you are so inclined. Our kids loved the family atmosphere, but the main reason we came was to swim and play in the water. There are three nice day use areas at Cove Palisades--we spent the whole day at the Crooked River one at the bottom of the hill next to the marina. Great swimming in a protected area from boats. Next time we will probably rent a boat from the marina and explore the canyons more. The other campground is the Deschutes CG. It is down in the canyon between the Crooked and Deschutes. It is five miles from the top to the campground so it is not as convenient for exploring outside the park. We drove through and it looked nice, but a little on the dusty side. Sites are in a little valley and so views are of the canyon walls rather than the water. The other two day use areas are down near this campground. On balance I think Crooked River is a better place to stay, but others may disagree. Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Cove Palisades. If you boat, fish, or want a good place to swim in a desert climate I would highly recommend it. The amazing Smith Rock SP is an easy day trip from here.
The fifth stop on our recent family vacation was La Pine State Park, about thirty miles south of Bend. We had a great time here, but sadly the park is in need of some maintenance. The loop roads and pads are in poor shape. There are plenty of hookups, but all are 20amp, OK with us, but not many of you. The bathrooms are clean, but very dated except the shower building. The garbage and recycling are up the hill near the entrance gate instead of the camp. The state park is in a lovely pine forest on a series of bends of the Deschutes River. There are three campground loops. First you will come to the North loop, where we stayed. This is the most spacious of the three. There are no river views from any sites, but many short walks through the pine forest. The middle loop is where the showers are. Both the middle and south loop are more tightly packed, but still OK. The pine forest doesn't give much privacy, so we liked the more spacious North loop. But the reason we loved La Pine was the trail system. The park is filled with miles of beautiful hiking and biking trails. We couldn't even come close to riding them all in the two days we were there. If you like to mountain bike on moderate trails, this is the place for you. Another great thing about La Pine is the location. The park is five miles off Hwy 97. Just a mile down the road is the turnoff for the amazing Newberry National Volcanic Monument(which has some beautiful campgrounds as well). Just to the north on 97 are the Lava Lands Center, the Lava Cast Forest, the Lava Tube, and the High Desert Museum. If you want to explore all of this, La Pine can be a great jumping off point. Although the park reminded my of the financial difficulty in maintaining state parks these days, I will probably return someday if only to ride the rest of those trails...
We just returned from a two week family vacation and visited Silver Falls State Park in the Cascade foothills near Salem. This is a great campground in a very special place. Silver Falls is home to a temperate rain forest canyon which has ten waterfalls ranging from 30 to 180 feet high. The eight mile trail of the ten falls takes you by all of them, but you can easily access several from the road. Four waterfalls allow you to hike behind the falls as they tumble over the basalt cliffs. There is also a great four mile bike trail. The campground has great kids programs and is nicely wooded. The loop with sites 1-44 has hookups, much more space, and is closer to showers. The loop with sites 45-100 is far more compact with many sites closely packed. We are in a PUP so we like more space. Silver Falls is well worth a few days visit. This is Oregon's largest state park and one of the real gems in the state. Now I just need to return in the spring when the water is running high...