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Monday, August 20, 2007

The Paucity of the Columbia Gorge

It can be an almighty pain to try and find suitable boondocking while traveling the Columbia Gorge country. This scenic riverside run that separates Washington from Oregon is just too beautiful to miss, but it's rough on the boondocker.

We recently made the run from just below Pasco, Washington, and on out to Portland, Oregon, in search of suitable sites. In years past--prior to the 9/11 phenomenon, there was plenty of boondocking available at many of the dam sites. Sad to say, that's now evaporated. Where boondockers could stay for days on end, now "day use only" seems to be the theme. We'd traveled the Washington side from Pasco, following along the river, looking in vain for a suitable site to no avail. While we seldom tout paid campgrounds in this blog, we were gettin' "downright desperate," in our travels.

We first paid a call on Mary Hill State Park on the Washington side, just down below the famed Mary Hill Art Museum--a trip in itself. We pulled in on an August weekend and were told there was no room at the inn. We crossed over to the Oregon side and continued along the river via the interstate. At The Dalles there is one freebie available--more a rest stop than a true boondocking spot. This area caters largely to the wind-surfing set, and they fill up the lot with a variety of rigs. It was a busy weekend, apparently, and we just couldn't feature ourselves shoulder to shoulder with the crew, so we went on.


Crossing back into Washington we took the risk of investigating Horsethief Lake State Park--one that we'd visited many years back. Well, we did--and didn't--find it. Horsethief is now "Columbia Hills State Park," and in the midst of a "comfort station" rennovation. But despite the busy weekend, there were still spots available for the boondocker. A row of "utility sites" ended with a handful of "standard" sites where we rolled in and filled out the pay envelope. Before surrendering it to the "Iron Ranger" we checked off for only one night. In the end, we stayed three nights, and might have hung around longer but for pressing appointments in the big city.


Columbia Hills lies on a lake formed by the nearby Columbia, and is shaded by a pleasant row of Poplars. You can count on the winds to roll through about the breezy part of the day, and the whispering noise just tends to lull you off into relaxation. The "crowd" the little park draws is mostly quiet folks, just there to share in the soothing time. Wind turbine users will find it ideal for charging up the battery banks, and for the most part, you'll get a few hours of sunlight despite the trees. It's not too far removed from "civilization" in terms of The Dalles, Oregon, a quaint old-style western town that has most any amenity you'll need.

I was afraid some knucklehead bureaucrat had decided that "Horsethief Lake" was somehow too politically incorrect and re dubbed the place. A friendly ranger said my surmise was in error, that in reality, the state had acquired adjacent land, and to better describe the holdings had renamed the place. Look for interesting future developments.

1 comment:

  1. Yes; most of the [limited] number of RV facilities along the Gorge (at least on the Oregon side) are fee sites. Especially including most, but NOT all, of the state-park facilities. HOWEVER ...

    At least as late as summer, 2005, there was at least one large, very nice, public park with numerous boondockers, and some other possibilities. My notes are a bit funky, but:

    I-84, Exit 87: local park; many RV's (probably not free, but my notes don't say)

    I-84, Exit 109, north side: A large, delightful FREE COE campgrounds, paved & gravel sites, multiple small parks/sites, surfers at east end. (A fishery researcher who was encamped there told said it was free because the land had been donated, with the stipulation that fees could never be charged for its use, and if they were, ownership would immediately revert to the donor's heirs! :-)

    I-84, Exit 112, south: FREE COE campgrounds, 30+ sites, paved & shaded upstream, gravel & barren downstream

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