Lower White River Wilderness is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. The 2871 acre region is located in Oregon in the Mount Hood National Forest and became part of the National Wildlife Preservation System in 2009. The wilderness area protects the lower section of the White River which runs along the southeast side of Mount Hood, with its headwaters just below the White River Glacier in White River Canyon. The White River is named for its milky appearance resulting from silt released into the waterway as the glacier melts in late summer. The Lower White River Wilderness provides a wilderness buffer zone for the river from about midway down from its headwaters to where it empties into the Deschutes River.
The wilderness area is characterized by the White River and a deep rugged gorge surrounded by mixed conifer and deciduous trees. A wide variety of wildlife abounds in this natural area including the Redbank Rainbow Trout which is specific to the area. The wilderness area also provides opportunities for recreation including rugged hiking and backcountry camping.
While RVing in the area, explore the larger Mount Hood National Park as well as Willamette National Forest to the south and Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the north. Visitors can explore the region and participate in RV or backcountry camping and wilderness exploration in the Lower White River Wilderness and National forests nearby. Need an RV? Go to Oregon RV Rentals to check out great opportunities in the area.
The Lower White River Wilderness is situated southeast of the Mount Hood National Forest and east of Highway 26. To access the wilderness area from the town of Darfur, Oregon, take US Highway 197 south to Oregon State Highway 216 west, and proceed across the forest boundary, through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation to Forest Road 2120. Proceed on Forest Road 2120 north to the Keep Mills Campground from which the wilderness area can be accessed on foot.
The access road to the Keep Mills Campground is dirt surfaced, has a hairpin turn, and dense forest with overhanging trees. This makes it difficult to navigate for larger RVs and tow vehicles. The wilderness area and campground are more appropriate for smaller RVs and tow vehicles and can have ruts and rough terrain which is difficult to traverse, especially in wet weather.
During heavy precipitation, roads in the area are subject to washouts and during winter months snowfall and icy conditions can result in road closures. Winter tires, chains, and four-wheel drive vehicles can mitigate adverse conditions such as icy road surfaces or deep mud and snow during the offseason. Check the BLM Prineville District website for weather and road conditions in the region.
The Spring Drive RV campground is located a 45-minute drive from the Lower White River Wilderness area. The campground is dedicated to RVs and tents are not permitted. There are eight RV sites geared to self-contained camping, with full 50 amp electric, water, and sewer hookups. There are no toilet facilities or drinking water supplies at the campground. Sites have picnic tables, fire rings, and grills.
The campground is located at the southeast edge of Mount Hood at a high elevation of 3200 feet. The campground is small and secluded and is surrounded by mixed forest that provides shade and privacy. Pets are permitted but must remain on a leash. Several short hiking trails lead from the campground and provide an opportunity for a short hike on-site or a stroll with your dog, but be prepared to clean up after your pet. Trash collection is provided.
Keep Mills Campground provides a primitive campground at the Lower White River Wilderness and is the main access point to the BLM lands here. The access road has a hairpin turn and visitors may have trouble navigating the rough dirt surfaced access road, turn, and overhanging forest canopy to the compound.
The White River Creek and Clear Creek meet at the campground location and provide fishing activity right from the shores at the campground. There are five tent-only sites here, with picnic tables. Fire restrictions may be in effect. Campers can use the vault toilets located here, and there is no fee for overnight camping. Backcountry camping is permitted on BLM lands and can be accessed from this campsite. However, there are no maintained trails in the wilderness area, which is densely treed. Primitive camping in the area is usually conducted at the Keep Mills Campground which is a secluded wilderness campground that is rarely full.
Nearby Mount Hood offers climbing opportunities for adventurous climbers. The very popular 11,239-foot mountain attracts over 10000 climbers annually.
The full ascent requires climbers to be experienced and is a technically difficult route, taking seven-plus hours to complete. Appropriate equipment including helmets, ice axes, crampons, and ropes are required. Local outfitters and guides are recommended as this is a difficult climb on challenging terrain and an outfitter can ensure climbers have the required equipment.
The river and mixed conifer-deciduous forested areas of the Lower White River Wilderness harbor a variety of wildlife species. Large mammals in the area include bears, mountain lions, coyotes, deer, and elk. Be cautious of predators and large herbivores, and keep a respectful distance, as frightened or startled wildlife can become dangerous. Bird watchers can spot steller's jay, golden eagles, and wild turkeys. Take a camera to capture your wildlife finds!
Just north of the Lower White River Wilderness, off-road enthusiasts will find the Rock Creek OHV Riding Area on Forest Service Road 48. The area has about 60 miles of off-highway trails for Class 1 and 3, ATVs. The trails are narrow in spots, accommodating vehicles with a width of 50”. The area has elevation changes and dense forest stands and naturally surfaced trails.
This recreational region is closed seasonally to protect winter grazing for animals, and conditions are subject to climate conditions. Be sure to exercise caution and employee safety equipment while driving off-road vehicles in the OHV area.
Trout fishing along the bank of the White River in the Lower White River Wilderness from the banks is a popular activity in the wilderness areas. Use caution when fishing from the banks as they can become unstable in wet weather.
A little known area below White River falls is known for its excellent trout fishing. You will need a valid State of Oregon fishing license to fish the area. Local outfitters offer float trips on the river for better fishing and angling access as many areas of the White River flow through private lands.
Downhill ski resorts and areas including Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt Hood Skibowl, Cooper Spur Mountain Resort, and Timberline are located in the Mount Hood area just north of Lower White River Wilderness. These ski resorts offer groomed runs, equipment rentals, and accommodations for skiers and snowboarders.
Access to the area during the winter months can be difficult when heavy snowfall occurs, so check road conditions before you enjoy an alpine adventure on beautiful Mount Hood’s winter wonderland.
Trails in the Lower White River Wilderness are unmaintained and unmarked. You can head along the White River from the Keep Mills campground to explore the area. You will need sturdy hiking boots as the terrain is rough and should be cautious of the river banks, especially in wet weather when they can become treacherous.
The larger Mount Hood National Forest has miles of hiking trails and contains a section of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. Fall is a great time to explore the area when deciduous tree leaves are changing colors, temperatures are cooler, and biting insects are less prevalent.