Being a nature lover at the University of Oregon can be exasperating. Eugene is surrounded by beautiful forests, rivers and lakes, but we’re all so busy that it’s hard to find time to explore. Piles of homework, tests and work can make Oregon’s nature seemingly inaccessible.
But, Memorial Day is less than three weeks away. And with it comes a luxurious three-day weekend — a perfect opportunity for a short camping trip.
The coast and the mountains are less than an hour from UO, so take your barbecue into nature this Memorial Day.
Here’s a list of some of the best places to camp near Eugene: (Note: All the sites mentioned should be open by Memorial Day, but double check before leaving, and show up early to make sure you get a spot — this is a popular weekend for camping.)
Upper McKenzie River
On the upper portion of the McKenzie River, crystal clear water rushes over volcanic rock through verdant evergreen forest.
The area is full of opportunities for recreation. You can hike or mountain bike the McKenzie River Trail. You can whitewater raft or kayak the river and fish its deep pools for trout and salmon.
Paradise Campground and Ice Cap Campground are good options for camping and come with amenities such as toilets and parking spots. But, if you want a more rugged experience, there are plenty of great unofficial campsites on side roads that branch off of Highway 126.
Clear lake is the pristine headwaters of the McKenzie river. It stays exceptionally cold all year, so it has very little plant life and is extremely clear. If you rent a rowboat from the Clear Lake Day Use Area and take it on the water, you can see entire preserved tree trunks reaching up from the lake floor, which was once a fir forest. 3,000 years ago, lava flowed to create a natural dam and flooded the area.
You can fish trout that are regularly stocked in the lake and hike around its perimeter. A couple of miles downstream from the lake are the impressive 70-foot Koosah Falls and 100-foot Sahalie Falls, which you can see on the three-mile Waterfall Loop Trail
The Cold Water Cove Campground contains many forested campsites right next to the lake.
The entire Oregon Coast is gorgeous, and the area around the town of Yachats is no exception. There are miles of sandy beach, rocky tide pools and bluffs covered in trees twisted by wind. Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint contains great tide pools. At Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park, you can walk for miles on soft sand next to the surf.
There is camping at Washburne, right above the beach. Tillicum Beach Campground is another good campsite with views of the ocean. Cape Perpetua Campground is located a little farther from the beach, sheltered from coastal winds in a shady forest.
Gold Lake is one of many stunning alpine lakes near Willamette Pass on Highway 58.
This area has something for everybody. You can fish on Gold Lake and the nearby Odell Lake, which are full of trout. You can hike around Waldo Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the world. You can even peer over the edge of the 286-foot Salt Creek Falls, the second tallest single-drop waterfall in Oregon.
There are campgrounds scattered through this area, but Gold Lake Campground is especially peaceful because motor boats aren’t allowed on the lake. There are sites right next to the lake’s shore that are sure to provide some happy camping.