2 Summers, 6 PNW Campsites, and Why We Loved Each One

Camping is a bit of a gamble at baseline. You have to book most sites six months in advance, with no clue what the weather will be. It’s also often hard to tell from reservation websites what your actual site will look like. Are the trees close enough together for a hammock? Can we access the water or does it just look that way on the map? There’s a lot of guesswork involved.

Since our family likes novelty above all else, every time we camp it’s typically at a site we’ve never seen before. The past two summers have been incredibly good to us, and we’re here to share the wealth. No guesswork for you! You’ll know exactly what you’re booking, minus the weather forecast. We still haven’t figured out how to control for that.

Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck, WA

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The peaceful waters at Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck, WA, are perfect for kayaking and paddle-boarding, and the views are stunning. Playgrounds are tucked into the campsite areas, and the restrooms have flush toilets and running water, plus showers for a fee (our teen’s favorite feature). Because the restrooms are so well maintained, you don’t have to worry about trying to book a site far from them to avoid odors. The campsites are thickly wooded, creating plenty of privacy at our campsite (site 18) and we had a great spot for a hammock. We were close enough to the playground to be able to hear kids playing, so if you have older kids, they could be within earshot at the playground while you cook dinner. This is one we highly recommend.


The only con for us was the distance we had to walk to get to the beach. Even with a kayak cart, it was a trek from our site, and we couldn’t drive the kayaks down, because we have a rooftop tent on our SUV. If you are only bringing lightweight gear to the water, it shouldn’t be a problem. The rocks on the beach were sharp enough to cut our dog’s paws, so beach shoes are a must, and the water is cold, so bring a wetsuit if you have one.

Big Lake in Sisters, OR

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Two words: water access. Like I said, we almost never go back to the same site, but with Big Lake Campground in Sisters, OR, we are definitely tempted. Because the site we chose (10) has its own private little shore, my daughter and I were able to paddle out to the center of the lake and watch the sunset, without worrying about lugging the kayaks back to the campsite in the dark. The lake is mostly shallow, perfect for kids. My son loved having cell reception the entire trip. We loved the gorgeous mountain views. Sites 10-14 all have great views, and our followers on Instagram tell us that site 19 is a gem, too.

On our way out of town, we added on a hike to Blue Pool, which is absolutely stunning (see our reel on Instagram for footage). Our kids found the hike exhausting in the heat, so go early or late in the day if you plan to hike it in the height of summer.

There are a few cons. First off, if your children are very young, water access is actually a hazard; it’s hard to relax when you have to be constantly vigilant about water safety. The bathrooms are standard vault toilets. The sites can be dusty in the wind, and they aren’t private at all – you’ll have a clear view of your neighbors. Because of the lack of trees, finding a site with good space for a hammock is tricky. I tied one side of my hammock to a dead tree, because I would rather risk injury than camp without a hammock, but that was probably ill-advised. And if you can’t book a site on the water, don’t bother. Without the views and water access, the sites themselves are nothing to write home about.

Nottingham Campground in Mt. Hood National Forest

Nottingham Campground, credit Meg Asby

With the constant roar of the river, Nottingham Campground feels like a meditation retreat. Site 15 does have access to the water, but the river moves too quickly for play. If you are the type of camper who wants to read by the fire, this is the spot for you. We went for a short walk in the woods, but mostly we binge-read books and ate delicious food by the river. We came home relaxed and rested after a few days in this quiet, peaceful campground. The vault toilets were surprisingly clean, too.


Why is it so quiet? There’s not much to do, there are no RV hook ups, and you have to bring your own water. As long as no one brings a loud generator for their RV, you’re pretty much guaranteed a peaceful trip. It is very cold at night at this site, so come prepared with layers to keep warm.

Alsea Falls near Alsea, Oregon

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While the campsites themselves aren’t exciting, spectacular views at Alsea Falls are just steps away. It rained a lot on this trip, but that made everything absolutely lush when the sun (briefly) came out. We stayed in site 01, but all the sites seemed similar. This is a great campground for hikers and waterfall enthusiasts. We did not bring bikes, but there are over 12 miles of mountain bike specific trails within walking distance of the campground.

The campsite itself is pretty basic, and because of the way the sites are cleared and fenced, there is no place to hang a hammock. We own a Mock ONE for dire situations like this, but – as the name suggests – a mockery is not the same as the real thing.

Lost Lake in Hood River, OR

Lost Lake, credit Meg Asby

We highly recommend camping at Lost Lake. Camping is much more peaceful than a day trip begun by waking at dawn to try to get a parking spot. Lost Lake itself is a treasure, with peaceful waters (no motorized boats allowed) and unbeatable views. The campsites are tucked into the woods, a long walk from the lake itself, but lovely in their own right. We stayed in site D003 on D Loop, and it felt relatively private with plenty of trees for a hammock.

Pro tip: Head to the lake early and snag one of the lakeside picnic areas. These former campsites are right on the water and make for a lovely spot to spend the day, since your campsite is too far away to pop back for a quick lunch. You won’t even have to pack a picnic, because of the well-stocked general store on the lake. The Grille and Café are open weekends seasonally, with burgers and shakes and a coffee bar.

The only thing that would make this campground perfect would be the ability to go back in time and enjoy those original lakeside campsites. But for the health of the lake, we’re willing to hike to the woods and back without complaint.

Detroit Lake near Gates, OR

Credit: Meg Asby

Southshore Campground at Detroit Lake is one of those campsites that seems to be on the water, but it’s actually a little more complicated. Yes, it is possible to scramble down the rocky slope from the campsite to the water (we did it), but it isn’t ideal. If we go back, we’ll choose a site close to the boat ramp and enter the water there. We stayed in site 022 on loop 2 of Southshore Campground, but site 27 has a spectacular view of the lake. Our site was spacious and had the all-important hammock trees, but not a lot of privacy; we had a clear view of our neighbors.

Detroit Lake is a great place for star-gazing. Watching the annual Perseid meteor shower on our trip is one of our favorite camping memories. And the shore near the campground is separate from the day-use area, so crowds are reduced on that side. Motorized boats are allowed on the lake, but it is still a nice place to kayak and paddle-board. Fishing is also allowed, and the lake is stocked by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The shore is very rocky, so lake shoes are strongly recommended.

Read more about our trip to post-wildfire Detroit Lake here.

Happy camping! We hope you love these sites as much as we did. Find even more options for family-friendly camping here.

Meg Asby
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