Clackamas – A Hidden Gem Just Outside of Portland

Whitewater Fest
Despite my Northeastern accent pronouncing it wrong, Estacada is a hidden gem just 45 minutes from downtown Portland. Heading south on Route 224 along the Clackamas Highway is the southeastern portion of Mt Hood National Park. Once entering the forest, the magic forest fairy automatically turns off your cell phone reception – insisting that you unplug and enjoy the outdoors.

The Clackamas Highway follows the windy rapid flow of the Clackamas River – a popular spot for white water sporting. Also littered along the highway are hidden campsite gems – the ones with nothing more than a firepit, outhouse and water pump. Why are these gems? Because each campground has a limited # of campsite – often no more than 10 and most of which are made private by brush and forest. The best part? You are camped by a gushing river to lull you into a campers sleep and waken you up with a midday soak (water temps remain COLD for most of the year).

We’ve ventured to a few campsites over the last couple of years, but return frequently to SunStrip campground – so called because from sun up to sun down, the warm rays follow the opening in the river allowing for optimal sunlight. Our favorite campsite is #4 and often we’ve walked chairs and beers down to the river bed for a day of soaking. Sites #5 and #6 are also worthwhile.

Closer to the parks entrance is Lazy Bend Campground – just as nice as SunStrip. Sites #15-#19 actually require you park your car and haul your stuff a short walk to the site. This is nice for some, giving the real “camping” and not just living out of your car for a weekend vibe. But if you like your car handy, then #5-#7 would be your best bet.

whitewater fest 2Endless entertainment comes from setting up some chairs and watching the rafters go by. For further excitement, head out to the Upper Clackamas Whitewater Festival, held in late May. Vendors set up for the weekend while slalom races (kayak, raft, SUP and more). Be warned though – book your site early as the river rats tend to book most sites up within 15 miles.

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