Post-wildfire Detroit is still a special getaway.

Southshore Campground

We had every reason to cancel this camping trip. The water level on Detroit lake was 40- to 50-feet lower than usual, and the boat ramp was tragically far from the water line. The forecast was 100+ degrees Fahrenheit. The air quality was “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” There was, of course, a burn ban. Plus, Detroit’s landscape is still recovering from the devastating wildfires of last year. 

But we decided to hold firmly to our original plan. We didn’t want to miss the Perseids this year, and the introverted side of the family was excited about the possibility of fewer crowds. 

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There weren’t just fewer crowds. There were no crowds. We practically had the Southshore Campground to ourselves for a full 24 hours of our recent Wednesday-Friday trip. We could see glimpses of the lake from our campsite, but when we tumbled inelegantly down the rocky slope and emerged from the tree line, my kids supplied the customary chorus of wows. Even battle-scarred, Oregon never ceases to amaze. Yes, there are patches of burned trees in the surrounding forest, and the drive up was particularly sobering. My children asked why there were so many RVs parked on concrete foundations, as we drove past Detroit neighborhoods. But when we reached the campground, our site seemed untouched, and the 9-mile lake itself is still stunning. 

Strolling around, we noticed Site 27 in particular has a spectacular view of the lake. There were clean vault toilets—the camp host cleaned them daily, even when the campground was almost deserted—within easy distance of most sites, but the water spigots were a farther trek; we brought our own water and were glad we did. We had cell service at the campsite, but don’t tell your kids if you want this to be an offline trip. 

The shore near the campsites is not the day use area, so even in a typical year you will likely only share that shore with other campers. We thought that “lakeside” meant we could walk our kayaks through the trees, down to the lake. While this is technically possible (we did it), I don’t recommend it. You have to descend a rocky slope from most lakeside campsites, and then navigate more rocks down to the lower water line. Even though the boat ramp doesn’t reach the water line this year, I recommend entering the water there anyway. The slope is more gradual, and the terrain less rocky. Don’t forget your lake shoes!

Speaking of terrain, thanks to the lower water line, many underwater tree stumps are now exposed, bringing to mind a fleet of science-fiction monsters crawling along the shore. They were creepy and beautiful, and my children, ages 8 and 11, were entranced. 

With few motorized boats on the lake due to the low water line, it felt safe and peaceful to kayak and paddleboard with our kids. Life-jackets, always important in natural water, are especially necessary this year because of the low water line. The lake bottom is very muddy and your child can easily sink in an area that seems shallow. If you are interested in fishing, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with rainbow trout, fingerling rainbow, kokanee and chinook salmon, in addition to an existing population of brown bullhead catfish. 

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We stayed up late to watch the meteor shower with only one other family on the shore with us. It was one of our favorite camping memories yet. Even our least enthusiastic camper loved this trip. So, don’t let a burn ban get you down. Swap those s’mores for marshmallow fudge, and enjoy a peaceful, low-key trip at the lake. Stubborn optimism for the win.

Meg Asby
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