12 Amazing Places To Van Camp Near The Columbia River Gorge


From shady, sun-dappled glades to expansive river views, the Columbia River Gorge is sure to keep you busy with land and water activities, wildlife sightings, and vast skies full of stars. Whether you are taking a road trip down I-84 or are looking for a relaxing weekend getaway, there are many places to van camp along this wide river’s banks as well as further inland in both Oregon and Washington.

The campgrounds close to the river on the Oregon side are located between I-84 and the Union Pacific Railway, but you will find more privacy on the Washington side though the sites are also more rugged. Either way, as the second U.S. National Scenic Area ever established, you will not be disappointed by the Columbia River Gorge’s beauty and breathtaking scenery.

Best Free Camping Near the Columbia River

Whether you’re looking for an out-of-the-way, rugged hangout or just a place to put your van for the night, you’ll be able to find both within a couple of hours of the Columbia River Gorge. Whether you’re on the Oregon or Washington side, the scenery will vary between open, rocky expanses and scrubby, tree-covered ridges. However, the farther you are from a town, the better the stars will be.

1. L.T. Murray Wildlife Area

Speaking of stars, adventurous campers with an all-terrain van will love this secluded site. Located in the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, near Selah, WA, this area has wildflowers, big game, and not many people. There are many dispersed camping sites you can drive up to for an enjoyable, quiet stay.

A few notes about this location:

  • A Washington Discover Pass is required.
  • There is a gate you need to open to enter. Make sure to close it once through.
  • No water or dump station: pack in your water, pack out your waste.
  • Rough road: High clearance vehicle with AWD recommended. Rocks on the road are large, sharp, and loose.
  • Land Type: Wildlife Area
  • Reservations: No
  • Amenities: Pets and fires allowed (check current conditions)
  • Fee: Free.
  • Things to Do: Wildlife Viewing, Stargazing, Photography

Location: Selah, WA 98942

GPS Coordinates: 46.799878934257926, -120.54032875452307

Directions: Follow I-90 E and I-82 E/US-97 S to WA-821 N in Yakima County. Take exit 26 from I-82 E/US-97 S. Turn right onto WA-821 N. Turn left onto WA-823 S. Take a sharp right onto N. Wenas Road, right onto Sheep County Road, then continue on Old Durr Road.

Nearby Attractions: From here, it’s a bit of a drive to the Columbia River Gorge—about 1-2 hours, depending on where you go. When you get there, you’ll find much to do in the Wanapum Recreation Area or Hanford Reach National Monument, where you can enjoy water sports, hiking in the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, and bird or wildlife watching.

2. Bethel Ridge

Slightly farther west than the L.T. Murray Wildlife Area, but right off the freeway, this boondocking site is not to be missed. Be ready for a rough drive to the top, but the adventure is worth it. Perched atop Bethel Ridge, sunrises and sunsets are the best as you watch the sun come up over the mountains. The scattered trees provide some privacy from other campers.

A few notes about this location:

  • A Washington Discover Pass may be required.
  • No water or dump station: pack in your water, pack out your waste.
  • Rough road: High clearance vehicle with 4WD recommended.
  • Land Type: National Forest
  • Reservations: No
  • Amenities: Dogs and fires allowed (check conditions)
  • Fee: Free.
  • Things to Do: Stargazing, Wildlife Viewing, Photography, Off-Road Trails Nearby

Location: Yakima, WA

GPS Coordinates: 46.73980913670637, -120.83588887611003

Directions: From I-82, take exit 31 to US-12 E. Turn right onto Bethel Ridge Road.

Nearby Attractions: The city of Yakima, WA, is only 40 minutes away. There you can visit museums, drink local beer, or check out the Yakima Sportsman State Park. Another hour’s drive will get you to the Columbia River Gorge and the town of Kennewick, WA.

3. Rufus Landing Recreation Area

Are you looking for a quick stop for the night off I-84? Are beautiful views a bonus? At Rufus Landing, you can get both! This gravel flat is a great place to pull off for a peaceful night among the stars and right beside the river. This location is a no-frills, free RV, and tent camping spot that is all about convenience. You can choose to make a day of it and take part in boating or wind-surfing, which is popular in the area.

A few notes about this location:

  • No tree cover, so it may get windy.
  • No hook-ups or potable water on site.
  • Water access to Columbia River and a small rocky beach nearby.
  • Right off the highway so expect some background noise.
  • Land Type: Army Corps of Engineers
  • Reservations: No
  • Amenities: Vault Toilets and Dump Station; pets and fires allowed (check conditions)
  • Fee: Free.
  • Things to Do: Boating, Wind-surfing, Stargazing, Bird Watching

Location: Rufus, OR

GPS Coordinates: 45.69660240900006, -120.74108787314958

Directions: Taking I-84 W, take exit 109 E to Rockbeach Lane.

Nearby Attractions: Take a 20-minute drive west to the Deschutes River Recreation Area or venture across the river to the Maryhill Winery for a tour and tasting of local wine.

Other Posts of Interest

Best State Campgrounds Near the Columbia River Gorge

If you’re looking for a state campground, you can’t go wrong with these next locations.

4. Viento State Park Campground

This lush state campground has access to small streams as well as the Columbia River. There you can do windsurfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding in addition to hiking and biking through the deep green forests.

While everyone can enjoy scenic views of the crystal blue river cutting between tree-covered hills, more adventurous hikers should take the 3-mile trail to Lindsey Creek. There you’ll find access to Cabin Creek, Starvation Creek, and Hole in the Wall waterfalls.

A few notes about this location:

  • 56 campsites that have water and electric
  • ADA accessible
  • Open March-October
  • Land Type: State Park
  • Reservations: Recommended. For reservation information, click here.
  • Amenities: Water, Electrical Hookups, Central Restrooms & Shower Facilities, Picnic Areas, Garbage Cans, Fire Pit
  • Fee: $17+/night
  • Things to Do: Watersports, Hiking, Waterfall Tours, Wildlife Viewing, Fishing, Stargazing

Location: Viento State Park, OR

GPS Coordinates: 45.696775613794514, -121.66650154971768

Directions: Heading east on Interstate 84, take exit 56. Take a left turn and go under the overpass. When traveling west on Interstate 84, take exit 56; turn right. Proceed through the day-use parking lot; the road turns to the left.

Nearby Attractions: The town of Hood River is only 8 miles east and offers a waterfront park, museums, wine tasting, and orchard tours.

5. Memaloose State Park Campground

Overlooking the Columbia River, this campsite offers expansive views. Relax among spring flowers as you take in many shades of green mixed with deep, earthy browns.

You’ll be able to see Memaloose Island, a sacred place for the indigenous people of the Columbia River Gorge, where they would lay the bones of their deceased on open pyres.

On the island, you’ll also be able to find the granite monument dedicated to early settler and promoter of The Dalles, Senator Victor Trevitt.

A few notes about this location:

  • 44 full hook-up sites, 65+ tent sites with an additional 20 overflow sites
  • No direct river access due to the active Union Pacific Rail Line. There are several access points just 5-15 minutes away.
  • Open March-October.
  • Land Type: State Park
  • Reservations: Recommended up to 30-days in advance. For reservations, click here.
  • Amenities: Dump Station, Flush Toilets, Potable Water, Showers, Picnic Tables, Fire Ring, Wood and Ice available on site
  • Fee: $19+/night
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Stargazing, Wildlife Viewing

Location: Mosier, OR

GPS Coordinates: 45.69581401146378, -121.34092522876621

Directions: Off I-84: take Memaloose Rest Area and Campground exit. Go through the rest area to the campground.

Nearby Attractions: Rowena Crest Viewpoint (3.4 miles), Breezeway Boutique Antique Market (1.5 miles), and Catherine Creek (2.2 miles)

6. Hood Park

Located on Lake Wallula’s shores, campers can partake in various water and land-based activities at Hood Park. The convergence of the Snake and the Columbia Rivers is a short two miles downstream and is where Lewis and Clark made camp during their expedition westward.

Not too far from the town of Burbank, WA, this campsite offers modern conveniences, paved paths, and boat ramps.

A few notes about this location:

  • 67 campsites, all with electrical hook-ups.
  • No alcoholic beverages allowed in the park
  • The park gate is closed from 10 PM-6 AM. Check-in starts at 2 PM.
  • Campers must check-in at the gatehouse before proceeding.
  • Mature shade trees throughout the park
  • Open May-September.
  • Land Type: State Park
  • Reservations: Recommended. To make a reservation, click here.
  • Amenities: Dump Station, Flush Toilets, Showers, Potable Water, Electric Hookups, Grills/Fire Ring, Picnic Tables
  • Fee: $24+/night
  • Things to Do: Fishing (salmon and steelhead), Boating, Swimming, Hiking, Stargazing

Location: 2339 Ice Harbor Rd, Burbank, WA 99323

GPS Coordinates: 46.21456603376758, -119.0127877388973

Directions: From Pasco, WA, take Highway 12 east. After you cross the Snake River Bridge, take the next exit and continue to SR 124. The entrance is on the left after the roundabout.

Nearby Attractions: Check out the Sacajawea Historical State Park, where you can visit a museum with exhibits on the Corps of Discovery and Sahaptian-speaking tribes of the region. You can also explore the town of Burbank, WA, and the McNary National Wildlife Preserve.

Having the right accessories when camping can take a so-so camping trip over the top. Below are a few things you might want to purchase for your next trip.

When arriving after dark at a campsite, stumbling around trying to get set up can be difficult. These headlamps from GearLight are the perfect solution.

The LED bulb provides a bright beam that illuminates the area brightly, plus it even has red beam modes. Powered by 3 AAA batteries, it can last as long as 45 hours on the low setting.

The headlamp is lightweight and tilts to 45 degrees allowing you to get light right to where you want it. This two-pack is ideal for your next camping adventure.

Microfiber towels are another accessory that is great to have along. This set has two sizes and they are fast drying. They are lightweight and absorb 10X faster than an average towel.

Loops make it easy to hang them up and they come with a carrying bag. The material is durable so that the towels will last a long time. They are available in three sizes medium, large or extra-large sets.

Best National Campgrounds Near the Columbia River Gorge

Many of the national campgrounds near the Columbia River Gorge have plenty of beautiful sites. And, if you’re more of the active type, try out one of their local hiking trails.

7. Eagle Creek Campground

Originally established in 1916, this site helped kick-off America’s love for van camping. Considered as one of the most scenic locations in the Pacific Northwest, this campground offers access to various activities.

You will find the campsites conveniently located on a bluff above the sparkling Eagle Creek and Columbia River. During the fall, you can relax at the picnic area and watch spawning salmon or do some recreational fishing (with an appropriate license.)

A few notes about this location:

  • 17 campsites in total: 3 are first-come, first-served. 14 require reservations.
  • The campground may be busy during peak season.
  • I-84 and a railroad run nearby, so the noise levels may be higher in some campsites.
  • Land Type: Forest Service
  • Reservations: Required 72 hours in advance for 14 sites. For reservation information, click here.
  • Amenities: Vault Toilets, Paved Parking, Fire Rings
  • Fee: $15/night for one vehicle, $5/night for additional vehicles
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Boating, Fishing, Wildlife Viewing

Location: Cascade Locks, OR 97014

GPS Coordinates: 45.115217388768876, -109.6428998591764

Directions from Portland, OR: Take Interstate 84 east to exit 41, just past the interstate tunnel. Take a right and follow the signs.

Nearby Attractions: The Eagle Creek Trail is considered one of the most scenic hikes in the entire Gorge.

8. Wyeth Campground

Surrounded by Douglas fir and big-leaf maple, Wyeth Campground has a lot of history. Originally an early settlement site, then used as a CCC camp in the 1930s before becoming a Conscious Objector camp in the ’40s.

If you love to explore museums, visit the Fort Dalles Museum, one of Oregon’s oldest museums. You can explore their unique collections of military and pioneer relics from the 1800s.

The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, located at Hood River, OR, is another unique place to visit. They have an extensive collection of antique planes and vintage cars.

Plus, peppered throughout the museum displays, you will also be able to see some old motorcycles and other antique vehicles.

You will find other museums and points of interest that can you can visit when staying at this camping location.

A few notes about this location:

  • Reserve early. During peak season, sites can be booked up to 6 months in advance.
  • 13 sites: 11 reservable, two first-come, first-served.
  • I-84 and a railroad run nearby, so there may be background noise.
  • Land Type: National Park
  • Reservations: Recommended at least 72 hours in advance. For reservation information, click here.
  • Amenities: Potable Water, Flush Toilets, Campfire Rings
  • Fee: $20 per night
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Biking, Water Sports, Fishing

Location: Cascade Locks, OR 97014

GPS Coordinates: 45.68989518093659, -121.7702784913415

Directions: from Portland, OR: Take Interstate 84 east to exit #51. At the stop sign, proceed right and then right onto Wyeth Road. Travel about 1/4 mile on Wyeth Road.

Nearby Attractions: Blackberry Beach offers excellent water access. The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and solitude area is a short hike on the nearby Wyeth trail. It’s a great hike to watch the osprey and bald eagles that call this place home.

9. Lost Lake Campground

This location is a fisherman’s paradise! Located on the shores of the sparkling Lost Lake with great views of Mt. Hood, this gorgeous site has a lot to offer. From glass-bottom boat tours to hiking and berry-picking, outdoor enthusiasts will not lack options.

A few notes about this location:

  • This 148-site campground has tent and RV sites adjacent to a full-service resort with all the amenities.
  • Reservations are recommended as first-come, first-served sites are limited.
  • Minimum 3-night stay on weekends/holidays.
  • Open May-October.
  • Land Type: National Forest
  • Reservations: Recommended. To make a reservation, click here.
  • Amenities: Picnic Tables, Firepits/Grills, Vault Toilets, Potable water
  • Fee: $30+/night
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Watersports, Fishing, Mountain Biking

Location: 9000 Lost Lake Road, Hood River, OR 97031

GPS Coordinates: 45.50189135065235, -121.81829815431551

Directions from Hood River, Oregon: Take OR-281 S to the Lost Lake Road exit.

Nearby Attractions: Aside from the many activities on the lake itself, it is about a 45-minute drive to the Columbia River, accessed through Hood River, OR.

10. Moss Creek Campground

Nestled in the southeast corner of the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, Moss Creek Campground rests by the Little White Salmon River. At an elevation of 1,400 feet, the campground is ideal for those wishing to escape the summer heat. Relax under the thick canopy of hemlock, cedars, firs, and maples and bask in the quiet sounds of nature—the gurgling river and birdsong.

A few notes about this location:

  • 16 campsites
  • You can purchase firewood.
  • Open June-September.
  • Land Type: National Forest
  • Reservations: Recommended. To make a reservation, click here.
  • Amenities: Potable Water, Vault Toilets, Fire Rings, Picnic Tables
  • Fee: $18/night
  • Things to Do: Fishing (rainbow & brook trout), Swimming, Hiking, Wildlife Viewing

Location: 1052 Oklahoma Rd, Cook, WA 98605

GPS Coordinates: 45.79520644819847, -121.63255076749505 Note: some maps put the site in Bingen, WA.

Directions: From Cook, WA, go north on Cook-Underwood Road, for 5 miles, then turn onto Willard Road. Continue onto Oklahoma Road, and the campground will be on the right.

Nearby Attractions: This campsite is an excellent location for exploring the sights around Mount Adams. It is also a half-hour drive from the Columbia River.

Best Private Campgrounds Near Columbia River Gorge

For something a little bit different, try visiting one of the following private campground spots below:

11. Timberlake Campground

Timberlake is a 22-acre, privately-owned campground located several miles inland on the Columba River’s Washington side. Your stay here will feel luxurious with an on-site store and Wi-Fi, but it still has the vibe of a quiet retreat in the woods. Trees around the property provide ample shade and privacy between sites.

A few notes about this location:

  • 65 campsites: 43 for RVs with hook-ups.
  • Close to the riverfront (a few minutes’ drive)
  • Coin-operated showers
  • Land Type: Private
  • Reservations: Recommended. To make a reservation, click here.
  • Amenities: Dump Station, RV Hookups, Wi-Fi, Flush Toilets and Showers, Potable Water, Picnic Tables; pets and fires allowed (check conditions)
  • Fee: $32+/night
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Watersports, Wildlife Viewing

Location: 112 Bylin Road, Stevenson, WA 98648

GPS Coordinates: 45.732988493339306, -121.7630857870753

Directions: From Portland or Seattle, travel east toward WA-14 E. Turn right on Berge Rd, then left on Bylin Rd.

Nearby Attractions: This site is 13 miles from Beacon Rock State Park, where you can hike up a dizzying mile-long switchback to Beacon Rock for incredible panoramic views. Climbing and hiking the waterfalls in the area is also a popular activity.

Additionally, you can check out the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum in Stevenson, WA, or the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum nearby in The Dalles, OR, to learn about the area’s history.

12. Hat Rock Campground

Looking for some no-hassle R&R? Then check out Hat Rock Campground, a part of the Good Sam network of campgrounds, just minutes off I-84. The campground is located next to Hat Rock State Park. In addition to hiking and fishing, you can really relax with luxury amenities, including a pool, volleyball and horseshoe pits, laundry, and restaurant—all on-site! Now that’s camping in style.

A few notes about this location:

  • 60+ RV and tent campsites; most can accommodate van camping.
  • Land Type: Private
  • Reservations: Recommended. To make a reservation, call 541-567-0917.
  • Amenities: Restaurant and Store, Free Wi-Fi, Heated Pool, Volleyball and Horseshoe Pits, Restrooms and Showers, Laundry, Groceries, Picnic Tables
  • Fee: $30+/night; discounted rates for 7- and 30-day stays.
  • Things to Do: Hiking, Fishing (walleye & sturgeon), Swimming, Mountain Biking, Watersports, Hunting

Location: 82284 Hat Rock Rd, Hermiston, OR 97838

GPS Coordinates: 45.91122296440939, -119.17012864474344

Directions: From US-730, take Hat Rock Road

Nearby Attractions: Just two minutes away, you can check out the iconic landmark and namesake of Hat Rock State Park and explore the many hiking routes within the park. The golfer in your family may prefer a round of holes at the Big River Golf Course, and McNary Dam is definitely worth checking out if you’ve never seen one.

Making Reservations for Van Camping

Some of the campgrounds listed above include first-come, first-serve sites, so arrive early. Most state and national parks require reservations, which can fill up fast, so book in advance—some even have 48- or 72- hour requirements. Other campgrounds have optional reservations, which means you can usually get a spot if you show up without one.

To confirm your preferred site allows van camping, it’s always best to contact the site and describe the type of van you are using. If you know before you go, it will ensure a seamless van-camping vacation.

Final Pacific Northwest Camping Tips

Before heading out on your PNW van camping adventure, there are a few essential things you should know about camping in Oregon and Washington. Each state has its own regulations for national parks and forests and state parks, so it’s essential to check the rules of your specific location(s) before heading off. Check Recreation.gov or each state’s website to find current conditions or learn of regulation changes.

Below are a few other things to keep in mind before your trip:

You may need a permit or pass

If you plan to use state recreation lands in Washington, you will need a Discover Pass for their state recreation areas. This pass has an annual fee of $35 ($11.50 for a day pass) and allows you to enjoy millions of acres of state lands such as state parks, natural areas, and wildlife areas throughout Washington.

Purchasing a pass will help keep these beautiful areas maintained and open to the public for many years to come. Pick up one here.

Help to prevent forest fires

Smokey Bear shouldn’t be the only one looking out for these destructive natural events—you should too. If you are camping during high-fire risk season, make sure to check local conditions.

Some campsites may be closed due to active or past fires, and open fires may not be allowed during the arid times. Planning ahead will help you avoid time-consuming reroutes and general disappointment.

Don’t move wood

Our job is to help prevent invasive species spread during recreational activities to protect the balance of Pacific Northwest forests. Firewood, specifically, can carry insects and diseases that threaten the health of the PNW forests.

As much as possible, try to obtain and burn your firewood near your camping destination. Many locations have nearby wood for sale, and others allow you to gather dead branches. For more information, visit DontMoveFirewood.org.

Final Thoughts

Van camping is a fantastic way to explore the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, and the various streams, lakes, and mountains on the Oregon-Washington border. The best time to travel this area is during the summer, though due to more mild weather, spring and fall camping can be fun too.

The Columbia River Gorge is full of panoramic vistas, sparkling waterways, and unique Pacific Northwest towns with local fare and drink. New and more experienced campers alike will revel in the fresh air and varied landscape. So, follow camping etiquette, grab your favorite flannel, hop in your van, and go on an adventure.

Cindy

Ever since I was little I have been a traveler at heart. It all started when I was six years old and my family took a road trip to Alaska. I enjoy visiting new places and revisiting some of the great locations that I have been to already.

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