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Oregon State Parks Day

On Saturday, June 1 all Oregon State Parks will be waiving entrance, day use and camping fees to visitors. State Parks day is meant to celebrate our parks and encourage visitors to get out and enjoy all that the state of Oregon has to offer.

This year there are 11 parks which will be holding events to celebrate the day. Below is a list of parks holding events:

  • Fort Stevens State Park
  • Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint
  • Benson State Recreation Area
  • Tryon Creek State Natural Area
  • The Cove Palisades State Park
  • Prineville Reservoir State PArk
  • Tumalo State Park
  • Collier Memorial State Park
  • Wallowa Lake State Park

Most of the events at these parks are concerts mixed in with other activities. For a full list of events and more details visit:

5 First Come, First Served Campgrounds Near Portland

Ever since the creation of reservable campsites it has become more and more difficult to find campgrounds with first come, first served sites. As a result we are experiencing the death of the spontaneous camping trip. There are, however, a handful of campgrounds within a two hour drive of Portland that do not take reservations. Here are 5 campgrounds you may want to consider if you are looking to go camping without reservations.

Gales Creek Campground

40 miles from Portland
21 Campsites

Gales Creek Campground is one of the closest campgrounds to the Portland metro area and is located off of highway 6 in the Tillamook Forest. Sites are situated near Gales Creek and the area is heavily shaded. The campground tends to fill up quick on the weekends but if you get here early you could be one of the lucky ones that snags a spot.

Barlow Crossing Campground

75 Miles From Portland
6 Campsites

Barlow Crossing Campground is located on the edge of the White River near Mt. Hood a short drive from Highway 26. It is a small campground with sites near the river and some primitive sites outside of the campground. There are also several other first come, first served campgrounds nearby should Barlow Crossing be full.

McNeil Campground

50 Miles from Portland
43 Campsites

McNeil Campground is located outside of the town of Zigzag near Highway 26 on Mt. Hood. The large first come, first served campground offers 46 sites, old vault toilets and no potable water. This is a popular campground for hikers visiting the nearby Ramona Falls.

Elk Creek Campground

51 Miles from Portland
14 Campsites

Elk Creek Campground is located off of Highway 6 in the Tillamook Forest just beyond Gales Creek Campground. It is a shaded campground that is also adjacent to the Elk Mountain Trailhead. The campground is near Elk Creek which helps drown out some of the noise from highway 6.

Forlorn Lakes Campground

90 Miles from Portland
25 Campsites

Forlorn Lakes Campground is located in the Gifford Pinchot Natioanal Forest in Washington and is more difficult to reach than the other campgrounds listed here. However, it is probably the most impressive campground on this list and offers some incredible scenic lakeside camping. Because of this, though, sites do tend to fill up quickly so try and get here early. If Forlorn Lakes is full you can see if nearby Goose Lake Campground has any vacancy.

Oregon State Parks also has 28 first come, first served campgrounds though most of these are further than 2 hours from Portland. Here is the list of State Parks that are suitable for last minute planners:

Do you have a favorite first come, first served campground that isn’t on the list? Be sure to share it with us in the comments below!

Best & Worst Campsites on the John Muir Trail

Really? Are there best or worst campsites on the John Muir Trail (JMT)? All of the trail is spectacular, and would pass as a worst campsite on the JMT is likely a best campsite almost anywhere else. But there are campsites which are relatively better, and some which are relatively not as nice.

Best campsites – Rae Lakes

While everyone has a different opinion, one of the campsites which is on most all favorite lists is Rae Lakes. Rae Lakes is a series of three nearly connected lakes tucked in a glacial valley with Fin Dome bookmarking one end and Painted Lady the other end. The scenery is amazing, fishing is good, swimming is superb, and the camping is outstanding. Because of these attributes, Rae Lakes is a popular place, both for through hikers on the JMT or PCT and for weekend warriors coming in from Sawmill Pass or Kearsarge Pass.

Fortunately, the crowds are easy to avoid. Most backpackers are lazy by nature, and gravitate to the low hanging fruit of Middle Rae Lake, which even has bear boxes and a wilderness ranger station. Instead of joining this mini-city, hike around either of the lakes to the back side. Numerous obvious and hidden sites exist.

Two amazing campsites are on southern end of Middle Rae Lake. As the JMT winds around the lake, look for a scramble trail up slope towards the lake. A nice flat spot awaits you, with unobstructed views of the lake. The second is off the Sixty Lakes Basin Trail towards the lake. Again, perfect views with the bonus of a private swimming bay and beach.

Worst campsites – Tuolumne Meadows

The JMT begins with a relentless climb out of Yosemite Valley, followed by an easy stretch over Cathedral Pass into Tuolumne Meadows. However, most backpackers are feeling pretty sore and miserable by the time they arrive at Tuolumne Meadows. The easiest campsite is the Tuolumne Meadows Campground Backpackers Camp.

Positives include proximity to the store, grill, showers, and restrooms. These are also the negatives, as there is no wilderness experience at all. The Backpackers Campground is crowded into a hillside with sporadically placed picnic tables and bear boxes. As a result, it is a noisy campsite.

Best campsites – Trail Junction ascent

The vast majority of JMT hikers make Guitar Lake their final campsite prior to ascending Mount Whitney and exiting at Whitney Portal. And there is good reason: beautiful lake, right off the trail. And just before summit climb begins. As a result, it can be crowded.

So, stop for a drink, and keep going, for there are two great options yet to come. As the trails rises above Guitar Lake, there are a series of tarns to the right, offering a handful of sandy campsites. Water availability is seasonal. If you are truly adventurous and want a head start on the summit rush, continue up, tackling the switchbacks. Prior to the final switchback, there are a few obvious sandy sites carved in the mountainside with room for one or two tents. Here you will find unobstructed views down Whitney Creek Canyon. No water, meaning you need to tank up at Guitar Lake with enough liquid to last the night, the summit ascent, and the descent to first water coming down from Trail Crest. But is well worth it! You can be on the trail early and on the summit for sunrise with an extra hour of sleep.

Worst campsite – Muir Trail Ranch

Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is a hiker friendly resupply stop. MTR organizes an impressive hiker box, which is actually twenty buckets organized by product. They also provide a charging station for electronics,
water, and a very limited store. MTR does not provide hikers access to restrooms.

Most hikers pick up their resupply, and hike 400 yards to a cluster of campsites just off the JMT connector trail. These campsites have no ascetic positive, other than being in the middle of a wilderness area.

Instead, backpackers should pick their resupply, and head south 3-4 miles and grab a prime campsite off Piute Creek just inside Kings Canyon National Park.

Essential Camping Gear for Memorial Day Weekend

In the Pacific Northwest camping on Memorial Day Weekend usually poses some unique challenges. The month of May can often times be one of the rainiest months we get all year. Temperatures can dip into the low 30’s at night, lakes and rivers are near frigid and there is almost always mud everywhere. That being said, Memorial Day weekend is the official opening day of camping season and hoards of people flock to their favorite campgrounds to celebrate.

To help make things easier on you this Memorial Day we have put together a list of essential gaming gear you need if you are heading out to camp.

Table Cloth and Bench Cover

Camping on Memorial weekend often means wet tables and benches. Stay dry with this high quality, reusable picnic table cover available on Amazon.

Fire Starters for Wet Wood

Camping early in the season usually means the wood you use for your campfire is a little damper than usual. Make sure to pick up some fire starters to make starting a fire much easier.

Reusable Tarp

Camping in May can result in epic downpours. Be prepared for whatever the weather throws at you with a reusable tarp or 4. Every camper should have several tarps as part of their arsenal.


Mosquito and Bug Repellent

Mosquito repellent is a must when camping in the late spring and early summer. Keep the bugs away with this two pack of sprayable insect repellent.

Citronella Candles

Speaking of bugs – outfit your campsite with these citronella tea light candles to keep the mosquitoes away.

Cottenelle Flushable Wipes

It’s camping… you are going to get dirty. Make sure you stay clean in the kitchen and bathroom with these disposable wet wipes.

Camp Axe

You were planning on building a fire, weren’t you? Well then, you are going to need a quality axe that is both portable (cause your are camping) and effective. This 23 inch Gerber Axe fits the bill.

Your Favorite Camping Hat

You can’t go camping without a hat! What about your morning camp hair? Make sure you pick up a Muddy Camper hat before your next outing. Plus, it shows us that you like and support what we are doing here.

Canopy Tent

Here we go again with the rain warning. These canopy’s are a HUGE lifesaver if it rains on your parade but they are also super handy to have around during the warmer summer months of camping.


Are we missing something essential? Share it with us in the comments below!

12 Campgrounds Near Mt. Hood Open This Weekend

Whether you are ready for it or not, camping season has shown up early this year and is officially upon us.  Camping before Memorial Day weekend usually is not a “thing” in the Pacific Northwest thanks to our ultra wet climate but this year the sun gods have made an early appearance.  With the nice weather here you can count on the crowds looking to escape the unseasonable heat and enjoy some time out in nature.  There is one problem though…. many of the campgrounds people are accustomed to visiting are not open yet.  To help, we have put together a list of some of the more popular campgrounds in the Mt. Hood area and included their open/closed status.

Campgrounds near Mt. Hood Open this Weekend (May 10)

Campgrounds Near Mt. Hood Opening Soon

Timothy Lake Campgrounds Opening Dates

Keep in mind that temperatures at night are still very cold and the lakes and rivers are frigid.  This is also when mosquitos start arriving so be sure to bring plenty of bug spray with you.


The Best Piece of Unnecessary Backpacking Equipment

Endless blogs of self-appointed backpacking authorities offer opinions and recommendations on how to shave weight off your basic weight. My favorite is to cut off excess pack straps. Weight savings? Maybe 2 ounces. Ridiculous. While I maintain a base weight of about fifteen pounds, I do enjoy a few luxuries.

By far, my favorite piece of unnecessary equipment is the REI Flexlite Air backpacking chair. A chair? Seriously? Yes! For us older backpackers, sitting on a log, a rock, or the dirt simply does not cut it. First, there is no back support. Second, it is not relaxing. On a recent hike, I unfolded and set up my chair on the summit of Pinchot Pass. I could have sold this chair multiple times for a nice profit!

Purists will scoff at the weight and absurdity of a backpacking chair. This chair clocks in at a whopping one pound. I will happily leave the 35 mm camera or solar panel to make room. The Flexlite chair is durable, comfortable, but a bit of an irritation to set up, as it has been engineered with minimal clearances. For a hundred bucks, it is well worth the money.

Imagine, the end of a long day with a few thousand vertical feet climbed. You set up camp, heat up dinner, and settle into your comfy chair to enjoy the view of Palisade Lake. Every muscle in your body is relaxed and feeling good. All that is missing is a cold beer. But that is just another sixty miles down the trail.

REI not your jam? Check out the Basecamp chair available on on Amazon:

Three Butt-Kicking Sections of the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is well known around the world for its unparalleled beauty and grandeur.  What is not widely spoken about is the ability of this popular backpacking destination to humble strong and experienced hikers.  The combination of long ascents, high altitude, and isolation from exit points combine to test one’s resolve.

Glen Pass

The JMT has eight major passes over 11,000 feet and several lesser passes.  As the typical hiker progresses from north to south, the passes get higher, steeper, and more exposed.  Forester Pass, at 13,200 feet, gets most of the attention, but its neighbor to the north, Glen Pass, is actually much more of a challenge.

Glen Pass begins in a very quaint manner from the beautiful Rae Lakes, ascending perfect steps formed from granite.  The further trail travels from Rae Lakes, the more rugged the trail becomes.  Soon, the hiker is above tree line, exposed to the relentless Sierra sun and winds.  The condition of the trail deteriorates as the tread steepens and the footing becomes looser.  Early on, the views are captivating and distracting.  As the hiker climbs, the only view is the rough trail immediately in front.  A final traverse puts the hiker on the knife like ridge of Glen Pass.  If the winds are not howling and it is not a summer snowstorm, enjoy the view, as the descent is no easier.

Glen Pass descends to the south very steeply, with loose rock and extreme exposures.  A slip here will definitely end the trip.  The descent is better described as a scramble, and you will likely be searching for handholds.  Believe it or not, sure footed mules cross this pass daily.

The obvious challenges of Glen Pass are compounded early season and in heavy snow seasons, such as 2018-19.

Glen Pass makes all the other passes seem easy, and after this, Forester Pass is a bit of a letdown.

Muir Trail Ranch to Evolution Lake

The climb out of Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is not the steepest, not the longest, section of the JMT. It may argued that is the prettiest section of the JMT.  The challenge here is the load the typical hiker will be carrying.

MTR is a resupply stop for the majority of JMT backpackers.  Supplies that have been shipped here are picked up and the backpacker is equipped to complete the balance of the JMT, normally about ten days.  Assuming two pounds of food per day per hiker, backpacks just added twenty pounds.  MTR is low on the San Joaquin River at 7,800 feet, and Evolution Lake is at 10,800 feet, setting up a 3,000 foot climb with backpacks that are filled to capacity.

The climb begins gently, following the river, but 6.5 miles it splits away, following Evolution Creek.  The climb steepens and is relentless.  Fortunately, the cascades are amazing and the scenery is jaw dropping.  Which is what your jaw s doing anyhow, as you are gasping for oxygen in the rapidly thinning air.

The destination at Evolution Lake is well worth the efforts.  Many exposed campsites are near the lake shore.  On the north end of the lake, there are a couple premium sites tucked in white park pines and protected from adverse weather.

Mount Whitney Descent

Now this is sure to be controversial.  After summiting Mount Whitney, hikers retrieve their stowed backpacks at Trail Junction, climb the final insulting 200 vertical feet to Trail Crest at 13,658 feet, and begin the long decent to Trail Camp.  Yes, it is all downhill.  Yes, your backpack is practically empty as you have consumed all the food you picked up at MTR.  But, the descent is 99 switchbacks.  And, it is all exposed to the sun and winds.  A short section has climber cables to mitigate the deadly exposure.

At Trail Camp, you think the worst is behind and you can already taste the Whitney Portal burger and cold beer.  Unfortunately, you are now beginning the longest 7 miles on the JMT.  This is not relaxing hiking.  Footing is often loose, there are immeasurable steps, and there are several small stream crossings.

Miles turn into hours, and it feels no closer to the trail’s end.  After three weeks on the JMT, the mind is focused burgers, beers, beds, and baths.  Long, gradual switchbacks are followed be more long, gradual senseless switchbacks, making what should be a quick decent into a long plodding march.   Suddenly, when all hope is gone, a flash of a reflection from a windshield and the final traverse takes you into Whitney Portal.

Hitchhiking from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine is a cinch, as most day visitors are aware of the need for rides.

First Come, First Served Camping

With the introduction of online campground reservations car camping as we know it has forever changed.  Gone are the days of spontaneous trips where you could venture up a lost highway until you stumbled across a campground and pitched your tent in the darkness of night.  Sadly, much of the adventure of camping has been lost thanks to man’s quest to digitize nearly everything. 

So where does that leave the wanderlust who wants to travel without an itinerary – destinationless and alone with the road? Luckily there are still some areas out there untouched by the harmful rays of the interwebs.  But where do you find them?

To find campgrounds that do not take reservations you really need to venture out beyond the halo of large cities and metropolitan areas.  Usually, this will mean driving several hours more than most weekend warriors are willing to go.  In Oregon, this means venturing out towards Central and Eastern Oregon and other desolate areas.

First Come First Served State Parks

Surprisingly there are still some Oregon State Parks that have campgrounds which are on a first come first served basis.  Check out the Oregon State Parks website here ( for a list of these campgrounds.  As you might have expected, most of these campgrounds are far from the reaches of densely populated areas 

First Come, First Served Forest Service Campgrounds

Finding first come, first served campgrounds in the National Forest requires a little more detective work on the back end.  There is no filter on the US Forest Service website for unreservable campgrounds so you have to check each campground individually.  To do this, first figure our where you are headed.  For this example lets say we want to find a campground in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  Find the campground you want to inquire about and click on it.  One of the very first things you will see is information on reservations. 

In this example we see that Badger Lake Campground does not allow reservations.  You can repeat this until you find an area you want to visit or campground that suits your needs. 

Things to Keep in Mind

Sure, campground reservations take away some of the adventure of camping but they also serve a purpose.  More and more people are taking to the outdoors and in turn it has resulted in campgrounds having to turn away visitors when they hit capacity.  When too many people show up to camp, say at Trillium Lake, it can cause problems. Especially when they all show up late at night expecting a site and then having nowhere to go.  Campground reservations have helped solve this problem. 

When heading out without reservations it is a good idea to have backup plans.  If you are wanting to camp at a specific campground you should have additional campgrounds you can stay at in case the one you want is full when you arrive.  An easy way to do this is to choose an area which has additional campgrounds located further out from your original intent.  You should also be prepared to camp in dispersed campgrounds – in other words camp in the woods.       

It is Challenging but Worth it

Camping without reservations is incredibly rewarding.  It allows you to venture out until you find a place that looks awesome.  It brings adventure back into camping and allows you to follow your instincts.  It is totally worth it.    

Camping Near Sandy Ridge Trailhead

The question of where to camp near the Sandy Ridge Trailhead has come up a few times and we wanted to provide a list of appropriate areas to spend the night on the cheap near the popular biking trail system. If you are a mountain biking enthusiast you have likely heard of Sandy Ridge Trailhead. It is a network of trails with varying terrian that spans roughly 17 miles and offers riding options for all levels of experience. Sandy Ridge Trailhead is usually open 10 months of the year depending on snow levels and is located about an hour outside of Portland.

Sandy Ridge Weather

Current Webcam at Sandy Ridge

Below is a webcam feed from for the webcam in Brightwood which is next to the Sandy Ridge Trailhead. This should help give you an idea of current conditions at Sandy Ridge.

Campgrounds Near Sandy Ridge

Tollgate Campground

15 Campsites
13 minutes from Sandy Ridge

Tollgate CampgroundTollgate Campground is located just outside the small town of Rhododendron a short 13 minutes from the Sandy Ridge trailhead. The campground is usually open from May through September but its higher elevation makes it subject to late season snowfall. Tollgate is a great spot to camp when visiting Sandy Ridge and is also the endpoint for an epic 15 mile downhill ride from Timberline Lodge (shuttle car recommended). The campground is near highway 26 so road noise is an issue but if you can snag a site near the river it helps drown it out.

More on Tollgate…

Camp Creek Campground

25 Campsites
15 minutes from Sandy Ridge

Camp Creek CampgroundCamp Creek Campground is located about 4 minutes past Tollgate Campground as you head up the hill towards Government Camp and Mt. Hood. It is set back a bit off of Highway 26 which helps reduce the road noise and as its namesake states it is nestled along a nice creek. This campground is subject to snow during the winter months and is usually closed from October through mid May so be sure to check with the Forest service before camping here.

More on Camp Creek…

Trillium Lake Campground

57 Campsites
28 minutes from Sandy Ridge

Trillium Lake Campground Mt. HoodRiding Sandy Ridge during the summer and want that quintessential Oregon experience? Look no further than Trillium Lake. This campground is nestled at the foot of Mt. Hood and offers stunning views of the mountain during sunrise and sunset. Sure, it is about 30 minutes from Sandy Ridge and fairly popular but if you are lucky enough to grab a site here you won’t regret it. If you are staying at Trillium Lake you could even strap on a board or skis and go ride the glacier at Timberline in the morning and Sandy Ridge in the afternoon. Totally epic.

More on Trillium Lake…

McNeil Campground

43 Campsites
20 minutes from Sandy Ridge

Lost Lake Campground Mount HoodMcNeil Campground is another nearby campground that could do the trick when riding at Sandy Ridge. It is located about 20 minutes from the trailhead off of Easy Lolo Pass and is a bit more remote than the other options. Like other campgrounds in the area expect the area to be closed and snow-bound during the winter months and early spring. Bonus points for McNeil: if you are into hiking you should check out Ramona Falls as the trailhead is just a short drive past this campground.

More on McNeil…

Other Camping Options Near Sandy Ridge

If any of the above options don’t work for you or you find yourself in the area during the closed season you could consider staying at the nearby Mt. Hood Village RV Park. They have RV spots, tent camping, small cabins and even yurts available.

If you are into roughing it then you came to the right place. Mt. Hood National Forest is a great place for boondock camping and you can essentially stay the night anywhere you like. Our suggestion: head out Easy Lolo Pass toward McNeil Campground and you will find plenty of spots where you can spend the night. But PLEASE, PLEASE pack out what you pack in. We love our forests but we love them even more when they are clean.

Did we miss a spot?

If you have a spot you like to camp while riding Sandy Ridge let us know in the comments below and we can add it to the list!

40 of the Best Campfire Songs in a Spotify Playlist

Campfire with People and Music

One of our favorite parts of camping is settling down in the evening next to a crackling campfire and cranking some relaxing tunes.  There is alot of debate over the best campfire playlist and of course we have our own opinion on what it should be.

Below you can find a list of our favorite campfire tunes and link to the playlist on Spotify.  If you are a spotify premium member be sure to offline the list so you can play it when you do not have service while camping.

List of our 40+ Favorite Campfire Songs

  • I’m On Fire – Town Mountain
  • Redemption Song – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Old Number Seven – The Devil Makes Three
  • Heart of Gold – Neil Young
  • Southside Of Heaven – Ryan Bingham
  • Carry Me Back To Virginia – Old Crow Medicine Show
  • Free / Into The Mystic (feat. Clare Bowen) – Zac Brown Band
  • Corpus Christi Bay – Robert Earl Keen
  • Ten Feet Tall – The Devil Makes Three
  • Wait So Long – Trampled by Turtles
  • Feelin’ Good Again – Robert Earl Keen
  • God Must Be A Cowboy – Chris LeDoux
  • Santa Fe – Jon Bon Jovi
  • After the Gold Rush – Remastered Version – Neil Young
  • Amarillo By Morning – Chris LeDoux
  • The Armadillo Jackal – Robert Earl Keen
  • Down On The Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Heart of Gold – 2009 Remaster – Neil Young
  • Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
  • Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Chicken Fried – Zac Brown Band
  • The Weight – The Band
  • Strange Feelin’ In The Air – Ryan Bingham
  • Ooh La La – Faces
  • Moondance – Van Morrison
  • Friend of the Devil – 2001 Remaster – Grateful Dead
  • The Sound of Silence – Paul Simon
  • The Promise – Sturgill Simpson
  • Stranger – The Devil Makes Three
  • Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
  • Going Up The Country – Canned Heat
  • Louisiana Saturday Night – Mel McDaniel
  • Whiskey Bent And Hell Bound – Hank Williams, Jr.
  • Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys – Waylon Jennings
  • Turtles All the Way Down – Sturgill Simpson
  • New Virginia Creeper – Old Crow Medicine Show
  • The Plank – The Devil Makes Three
  • The Poet – Ryan Bingham
  • Red Right Hand – 2011 – Remaster – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  • Uncloudy Day – Willie Nelson
  • A Little Light – Sturgill Simpson
  • Sunshine – Ryan Bingham
  • If It Hadn’t Been For Love – The Steeldrivers
  • King Of The Road – Re-Recorded In Stereo – Roger Miller
  • In Bloom – Sturgill Simpson

Looking for the Perfect Camping Speaker?

We recommend the UE Megaboom.

Spotify Campfire Playlist

What are your favorite Campfire Songs

Leave your favorite campfire songs in a comment below and we will add it to our playlist.

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