With an abundance of public land and nearly endless wilderness, Oregon provides countless opportunities for those who seek to camp away from designated campgrounds and experience the true beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Among the various dispersed camping locations in Oregon, enthusiasts can find sites near rugged mountains, lush forests, and serene rivers. One benefit of dispersed camping is the freedom to choose your spot, allowing for a more personalized and private experience.
Keep reading to learn more about dispersed camping and the 10 best spots to visit in Oregon.
What is Dispersed Camping?
Dispersed camping, often referred to as boondocking, is the act of campers choosing to camp outside of designated campgrounds. In Oregon, dispersed camping is legal and free on public lands, such as areas managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry and Bureau of Land Management. This type of camping allows RV and tent campers to experience the beauty of nature in a more remote and less regulated setting.
Benefits And Challenges
- Cost-effective: Dispersed camping is often free on public lands in Oregon, making it a budget-friendly option for campers.
- Flexibility: Campers can choose their own site, giving them the freedom to pick their ideal location and distance from others.
- Access to nature: Dispersed camping allows campers to immerse themselves in Oregon’s diverse natural environments, away from crowded campgrounds.
- Less crowded: Boondocking typically means fewer neighbors, providing a more peaceful and private camping experience.
- Limited amenities: Dispersed campsites usually do not provide facilities such as restrooms, showers, or potable water.
- Responsible waste management: Campers must practice Leave No Trace principles, being mindful of their impact on the environment.
- Difficulty in finding a suitable site: Due to the remote nature of dispersed camping, locating an appropriate and legal site may require additional effort and navigation skills.
- Potential access restrictions: Some areas may have limited access due to seasonal or environmental factors or private land restrictions.
- Safety considerations: Camping in remote locations makes emergency assistance less readily available, and campers must be prepared for potential encounters with wildlife or other environmental hazards.
Dispersed camping in Oregon offers a unique opportunity for campers to experience the state’s natural beauty in a more remote and less regulated setting. With careful planning and respect for the environment, this type of camping can be a rewarding adventure for tent and RV campers alike.
Best Dispersed Camping in Oregon
1. Mount Hood National Forest
Mount Hood National Forest, located about 60 miles east of Portland, is home to over a million acres of forest and the state’s tallest mountain, Mount Hood. This popular destination for adventurers has over 800 miles of hiking trails and several areas to ski during the winter. The watersheds in the forest help to provide drinking water for ⅓ of Oregon’s population.
Dispersed camping is permitted in the Mount Hood National Forest, but there are limitations. Campers can only stay for 14 consecutive days and a total of 28 days in a single calendar year. The main districts for dispersed camping areas are the Barlow Ranger District, the Clackamas River Ranger District, and the Hood River Ranger District. Campers are encouraged to contact each district’s forest office to inquire about availability and conditions.
2. Deschutes National Forest
Deschutes National Forest features dispersed camping along its beautiful rivers, lakes, and forested areas. With 1.6 million acres of lush forest to explore, this is one spot campers won’t want to miss out on.
Dispersed camping in Deschutes is limited to 14 days in a single spot, and campers will need to ensure they do not venture farther than 300 feet off an open road. Additionally, campers are expected to camp at least 30 feet away from any water source.
3. Willamette National Forest
Willamette National Forest is an impressive cascade range forest, offering lush landscapes and various dispersed camping options for outdoor enthusiasts. Discover hidden gems near rivers and hiking trails throughout the forest.
Dispersed camping in this forest is permitted pretty much anywhere outside of designated camping areas, except within 100 feet of a stream, lake, or trail.
It is important for campers to do their research ahead of time and check for closures and sign postings, as several areas are off-limits to dispersed campers. Some of these areas include Elk Lake, the Moose Creek Area, Tumble Creek Trail, Suspension Bridge Trail, Detroit Lake, and the Cougar Recreation Area. Campers will also need to limit their stay according to the 14 day per two month stay limit.
4. Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest
Known for its diverse landscapes, Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest provides dispersed camping opportunities across its astonishing terrain. Adventurers can explore the forest and find secluded spots next to creeks and remote trails. There are some incredible rivers and meadows to explore within this forest, as well as numerous wildlife viewing opportunities. This forest does have an active bear population, so it is important for campers to be aware of and follow bear safety protocols.
Dispersed Camping is permitted in the following areas: The Gold Beach Ranger District, the High Cascades Ranger District, the Powers Ranger District, the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District, the Wild Rivers Ranger District, and Wilderness Lakes.
5. Ochoco National Forest
Ochoco National Forest offers stunning landscapes and some excellent dispersed camping options. Find peaceful campsites near hiking and horseback riding trails. With 850,000 acres, Ochoco gives campers plenty to explore, including a variety of canyons, dense pine forests, desert terrain, and rimrock. The headwater of the North Fork Crooked River is also housed within the forest.
Some popular dispersed camping areas in the Ochoco National Forest include: Painted Hills, Gable Creek Road, the Green Mountain North trailhead area, and Badlands Rock.
There is a 14 day limit on your stay within the forest, and it’s important to read up on any closures and burn bans within the area to ensure the protection of the forest.
6. Malheur National Forest
Experience the rugged beauty of Malheur National Forest when you come to camp. This forest boasts 1.7 million acres of incredible, diverse landscapes that include alpine lakes, meadows, and high desert grasslands. The plethora of tree varieties in this forest, such as pine, fir, and juniper, make this forest worth the trip!
As with most national forests, dispersed camping is limited to 14 days within one spot. If you’re looking for places to camp in Malheur, consider the following dispersed camping locations: Crane Crossing, McClellan Mountain Tail #216, McClellan Trailhead, Table Mountain Tail #217, and Table Mountain Trailhead.
7. Wallowa-Whitman National Forest
In the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, discover pristine wilderness settings near breathtaking mountain peaks and clear lakes. You get a ton of variety in this forest with its alpine peaks, grasslands, and spectacular canyons–all of which surround the Snake River.
For dispersed camping in this forest, it’s recommended that campers keep to the traditional campsites, as most in this forest are super primitive anyway. Some popular areas for dispersed camping include Spring Creek and the areas around the Paint Your Wagon Interpretive Site.
8. Umpqua National Forest
Umpqua National Forest, which sits on the western slope of the Cascade Mountains, provides campers with a serene escape in nature. Enjoy the sound of cascading waterfalls and immerse yourself in the dense forests.
While dispersed camping is encouraged in Umpqua, campers should be aware that some areas may have been closed, and there might be campfire bans in place during the summer months. Campers should call a ranger station ahead of time for information about the best areas to camp and any notifications on bans in the area.
Some popular areas in Umpqua National Forest for dispersed camping include the Cottage Grove Ranger District, Twin Lakes, the Diamond Lake Ranger District, the North Umpqua Ranger District, the Tiller Ranger District, and the Boze Shelter Trail #1588.
9. Siuslaw National Forest
Discover the diverse ecosystem of Siuslaw National Forest, which offers a range of dispersed camping opportunities. Get in touch with nature by exploring its unique habitats, including coastal areas and dense woodlands.
Dispersed camping is permitted at the following locations: Florence to Coos Bay, Tillamook to Newport, Mt. Hebo area, Pioneer-Indian Trail #1300, Siltcoos area, Siltcoos Lake Trail #1333, and the South Lake area.
Siuslaw also has several dispersed OHV sand camping sites located at the Sand Lake Recreation Area and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Each of these sites has its own set of camping regulations, however, so it’s important for campers to do their research before visiting. There are also several areas that are closed to camping, so campers should be aware of any postings and updates on the website.
10. Steens Mountain Wilderness
Steens Mountain Wilderness is a remote and rugged area, perfect for dispersed camping adventures. Enjoy the solitude and the dramatic landscapes as you explore this incredible wilderness.
Dispersed camping is welcomed in the Steens Mountain Wilderness, as such camping is allowed on all Bureau of Land Management lands. The wilderness area is very remote, so all of the established campsites are very primitive. Dispersed campers are welcome to use those or venture just beyond to find a more remote location.
Time to Plan a Dispersed Camping Trip
Over the years, dispersed camping in Oregon has gained popularity due to its accessibility and the unique experience it offers. This form of camping caters to those who enjoy connecting with nature without the constraints of established campgrounds.
If you’re looking for a place to go dispersed camping in Oregon, we hope this list helps you find the perfect spot to visit. Happy Camping!
For more information about dispersed camping or for ideas on camping spots in other states, check out our complete guide to free camping spots in the US!
- About the Author
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Hey there, I’m Ryan, the face behind Beyond The Tent.
With decades of camping experiences, my journey into the wilderness began on the rustic trails of a farm in southern Minnesota, where my childhood was filled with explorations and camping by a picturesque river.
My family’s adventures across the United States, from the majestic Colorado mountains to the serene national parks and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota have given me a broad perspective. With each journey, whether in state parks or private encampments, and through the homely comfort of our camping trailers, we’ve amassed a trove of stories, experiences, and invaluable camping wisdom.