Established in 1897, Oregon's Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of the oldest National Forests in the United States. Originally called Columbia National Forest, it was renamed as Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 1949 in honor of Gifford Pinchot, a prominent politician, and advocate. Gifford Pinchot is often is credited with spawning the idea that nature should be protected and preserved for the future. Pinchot was not shy about leaning on his network to achieve his goals of creating national parks and national forests, and one of his close contacts was President Roosevelt, who was like-minded.
The closest large town is Portland, which is about 50 miles west of the southern entrance to the national forest. Portland is considered an extremely progressive city, and it is famous for its hipster scene as well as the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the country (as of 2016). There are also movie theaters, pubs, and bars for you to enjoy should you wish to venture out.
Over 1.3 million acres of Gifford Pinchot National Forest sprawls across the southern Cascades Mountain range, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and a large swath of forest. Adventurers have a choice of exploring old-growth forests, mountaintop tundra meadows, glaciers, or volcanoes - or all of the above, time permitting. Second, to Hawaii, the volcanoes in this region are among the most active volcanoes in the United States. Some of their lava tubes can be explored, too.
Gifford Pinchot National Forest boasts several hundred miles of established hiking trails, some of which are shared with horseback riders. There are several hundred more miles of unofficial trails that an experienced hiker may venture out upon, though it’s not generally recommended because it’s very easy to get turned around in deep woods without landmarks. Mountaineering - sometimes referred to as rock climbing - is extremely popular, especially on Mt. Adams, which is the second-highest mountain in Washington (Mt. Rainier being the first-highest peak), and Mt. St. Helens. All three are active volcanoes, which may bear some inherent thrill for adventurers.
The vast, dense woods is a habitat for a few hundred species, a few of which are endangered or threatened, including the spotted owl, bull trout, and chinook salmon. Hundreds of mammals, birds, and reptiles make their home in these old-growth woods, and a shortlist includes elk, mountain lions, black bears, coyotes, and deer. Overhead, bald eagles, hawks, and other raptors share the sky in their endless pursuit of prey.
Open fields covered by berry bushes and shrubberies are interspersed in between thick groves of trees. The Sawtooth Berry Fields is especially prized for its robust huckleberry crops, which are usually at their peak in early falls. This field is one of the few that bans commercial operations, and it’s rare that the bushes are picked clean. Harvest fresh huckleberries to use in pancakes, pies, or dipped in cream for a savory snack.
Camping at Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Skip enduring noisy neighbors at hotels and wake up in a camper rental surrounded by nature. Fresh air, the sweet song of birds in the trees, and the soft rustle of leaves as the wind wafts through. What more could an avid outdoor adventurer want? Gifford Pinchot National Forest has a few dozen campgrounds, many of which are ideal for RV camping. One of the largest campgrounds is the La Wis Wis Campground, which is situated in a grove of old-growth trees. With over 100 sites to choose from, visitors also have access to potable water, small horse corrals, and restrooms. However, keep in mind that the access road has a couple of sharp turns, and rigs longer than 24 feet are not recommended.
Alternatively, you could also RV camp at Peterson Prairie, which is close to a huckleberry field, ice caves, and a natural bridge. Though there are no hookups, this campground has faucets with drinking water, restrooms, and with fewer sites (32 total), it’s also a quieter campground.
Exploring the Area
As enthralling as Gifford Pinchot National Forest is, don’t overlook the charms of the small towns that dot the perimeter of the park. Stevenson is close to the southern entrance to the park, and among its many attractions, it’s home to the Skamania County Fair, which is a terrific way to find local artists and crafters selling one-of-a-kind handmade items. What better place to find a souvenir of this memorable RV camping trip? The fair is usually held in mid-August.
Near the southwestern entrance of Gifford Pinchot National Forest is the charming historic town of Woodland, which is the site of one of the first trading posts in western Washington. It’s also well-known for its lilac gardens called Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens, which is a National Historic Landmark thanks to the efforts of Hulda Klager, a gardener who cultivated lilac bushes from all over the world.
At the end of a long day of exploring, kick up your heels outside a travel trailer rental, and watch the stars twinkle in the night sky. Far from civilization, the stars are nearly bright enough to use as a source of illumination should one choose to go on a walk in a clearing.
Find your perfect RV camping adventure in Gifford Pinchot National Forest today when you book a motorhome in Clark County, WA.