Willamette National Forest
Guide

Introduction

The Willamette National Forest boasts over 1.6 million acres of woods, water, and wilderness in western Oregon to explore and enjoy. The elevation of the forest ranges from about 1,500 feet above sea level on the western edge of the forest to almost 10,500 feet at the top of Mount Jefferson, which is Oregon's second highest point. There are seven major peaks of the Cascades here, including South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Diamond Peak, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and Mount Jefferson. The forest also has two wild and scenic rivers; the Willamette River and the McKenzie River.

The forest also has a dozen conifers such as several types of fir, hemlock, pine, and cedar. It is also the home of more than 300 kinds of wildlife, fish, and birds like the wolverine, elk, cougar, deer, eagle, and salmon. Thousands of visitors come here every year to fish, hunt, and just enjoy watching the wildlife. Others come to hike the 1,700 plus miles of trails or use them for biking or horseback riding. OHV riding is also popular here and there are hundreds of miles of trails and roads just for them.

If you like water sports, you are in luck because the Willamette has six reservoirs, four large lakes, and four rivers to choose from. There are also quite a few smaller lakes, ponds, and creeks in and around the woods. If you want to stay for a night or a week, there are plenty of places to stay. The Willamette National Forest has 16 RV campsites to choose from. We have highlighted our top three choices below.

RV Rentals in Willamette National Forest

Transportation

Driving

The Willamette National Forest is spread over 100 miles along the Cascade Mountain Range in the western section of Oregon. From the Calapooya Ridge to Mount Jefferson near Salem, you can find just as much beauty on the way into the forest as you can find when you get to your destination. There are six different scenic byways here, which is more than any of the other National Forests in the United States.

The Clackamas-Breitenbush (FR-46) Byway in the northern part of the forest includes hot springs, bike trails, and the Breitenbush River. The Aufderheide (FR-19) Byway is about 60 miles from FR-19 to Highways 58 and 126 along the Cougar Reservoir and Terwilliger Hot Springs. The McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass is 82 miles of lava fields, mountains, and volcanic peaks. The McKenzie River Byway is 34 miles from Highway 126 along the McKenzie River to the West Cascades Scenic Byway. The Over the Rivers and Through the Woods Byway is 66 miles along the Santiam Wagon Road through thick forests and some of Oregon’s oldest settlements. And the Quartzville Road Back Country Byway is 50 miles through the forest along the Green Peter Reservoir and Quartzville Creek National Wild and Scenic River.

Whichever way you choose to get to your destination, you will need to take it slow and easy because the roads are curvy and sometimes narrow. This is especially important if you are pulling a camper or driving a large RV. When you get to your campsite, it is best to leave the rig and walk to wherever you want to go whenever possible.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Willamette National Forest

Campsites in Willamette National Forest

Reservations camping

Black Canyon Campground

On the banks of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, Black Canyon Campground by Oakridge has 68 campsites open from mid-May until October. Of the 75 campsites, only 19 of them are reservable so if you want a specific spot or need a certain length pad, you should get here early if you cannot get a reservation. Each of the sites has a picnic table, campfire grill, and a large cleared space to hang out by the fire.

There are vault toilets and water spigots available around the park for your convenience. Parking pads range from 25 to 33 feet in length. Half of the campsites are also located on the banks of the 4,300-acre Lookout Point Reservoir where you can swim, fish, and go boating. There is also a 1.1-mile nature trail that meanders through the woods. Pets are welcome, but you need to keep them restrained and supervised at all times.

Cove Creek Campground

Near Detroit, Oregon, the Cove Creek Campground boasts 62 large campsites on several overlapping loops by Detroit Lake open from May until mid-September. Each campsite has its own campfire ring with a grill, a picnic table that seats 10, and a large cleared space for sitting around the fire. The parking pads vary from 20 to 40 feet in length so if you need a specific length it is best to reserve your spot in advance. The campground also has a group campsite that can accommodate up to 70 people.

The park provides several toilets with running water, showers, and drinking water. They also have several hiking trails that will take you to Needle Rock and Dome Rock. The four-mile Stahlman Point Trail is also nearby and takes you through the forest to Detroit Lake where you can fish, swim, or go boating. There is a boat launch and fishing dock as well. Pets are welcome as long as you keep them restrained and supervised at all times during your stay.

First-come first-served

Paradise Campground

Paradise Campground in Blue River has 64 campsites open from May until Labor Day on the McKenzie River, which is famous for its whitewater rafting. Each site has its own picnic table, campfire ring with a grill, and a large cleared space for hanging out. The parking pads vary from 20 to 42 feet in length, and these sites are first-come, first-served, so you should get here early if you need a specific size.

There are also several modern toilets and vault toilets, as well as 21 drinking water spigots. Many of the sites are right on the riverbank so you can sit and watch the whitewater rafters or go and join them if you like. Don’t forget to pack your fishing gear in your campervan because the river is full of trout and salmon. And if you want to take a nice long hike, the 26.4-mile McKenzie River National Recreation Trail #3507 starts nearby. Dogs and cats are welcome, but you must keep them restrained and supervised during your stay.

Seasonal activities in Willamette National Forest

In-Season

Hiking

With more than 600 trails here including part of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, you have plenty of options. The Abernethy Trail #3671 is less than a mile beginning at Deer Creek and takes you to Abernathy Lake. The half-mile Spirit Lake Trail #3584 is also nice and takes you around Spirit Lake. The 6.6-mile Tire Mountain Trail is a good hike with lots of scenic views, streams, and log bridges. And the 8.6-mile Windy Pass Trail #3643 takes you into the Oregon Cascades Recreation Area.

Picnicking

Thinking of having a family BBQ or a group picnic? The Willamette National Forest has several group picnic shelters with picnic tables, BBQ grills, restrooms, and some have running water and electricity. Some of the places to have a picnic include the Cove Creek Group Area on Detroit Lake, Big Lake Day Use Area, Clear Lake Day Use Area, and Upper Arm Day Use Area. Many of the picnic sites are near a lake or creek and all have at least one hiking trail nearby.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is a popular sport here in the Willamette National Forest and there are over 130 trails to explore and enjoy. For a quick and easy ride, try the 1.1-mile Moon Point Trail #3688, which crosses cliffs, meadows, and creeks. For a little longer trail, try the 2.2-mile Sawtooth Trail #3634, which winds through the woods along steep grades. And the six-mile Chucksney Mountain Trail #3306 takes you through the meadows and forests to the top of Chucksney Mountain for an awesome view of the McKenzie River and Three Sisters Mountains.

Off-Season

Sledding

When is the last time you went sledding? When you were a kid? Or maybe when you were taking the kids down the hill in the local park? In the Willamette National Forest there are miles and miles of awesome trails you can go sledding on here in the winter. There are also two snow parks where you can go sledding for a small fee. The Santiam Sno-Park has a tubing hill and the Salt Creek Sno-Park has a snow play area. So, make sure you put the sleds in the RV before you come.

Mushing and Skijoring

If you have a couple of dogs, you may enjoy mushing or skijoring. Mushing is a sport where two or more dogs pull you on a sled and skijoring is when two or more dogs pull you on skis. There are many places in the Willamette National Forest to enjoy these sports including the Ray Benson Sno-Park, the Santiam Pass, and the Sand Mountain Loop Snow Trail. The Sno-Park has restrooms, a warming hut, a staging area, and a concession area.

Geocaching

In the Willamette National Forest, you can find thousands of fantastic places to find and hide caches. The only places you cannot use is the wilderness areas including Diamond Peak, Mount Washington, Opal Creek, Three Sisters, Waldo, and several others. When a cache is located, the geocacher should sign the logbook, which is inside a waterproof container. They can also take a trinket from the box and replace it with an item of their own. Then they should replace the container back in the spot where it was located.