Oxbow Regional Park
Metro parks naturalist Dan Daly describes Oxbow Regional Park as a sliver of Washington’s Olympic National Park, right in Portland’s backyard. Situated at a double bend in the Sandy River, a mere 24 miles east of downtown, Oxbow has it all: 1,000 acres encompassing a federally designated Wild and Scenic River alive with frothy rapids, beaver colonies, migrating salmon, an old-growth rain forest, and an alpine meadow frequented by Roosevelt elk, blacktail deer, and black bear.
PRICE POINTS: Campsites $20; first come, first served; parking $5
PACK IT: A life vest (if you’re not a strong swimmer, and especially for the kids)
LEAVE IT: Your dog (Oxbow is pet-free.)
HEADS UP: The rain-swollen Sandy washed away nine campsites this winter. With just 59 spots left, plan to arrive early.
NO SPLASH ZONE: In the mornings, the river’s shadow-cloaked and too chilly for a dip—wait till afternoon. Instead hike Alder Ridge, a 1.5-mile loop that tours a high meadow where you might spot grazing elk.
GOOSE BUMPS: On summer weekends follow the crackle of campfire to the makeshift park amphitheater (the old one washed downriver with the campsites) to listen to ghost stories courtesy of professional yarn weavers.
DON’T MISS: The Ancient Forest Trail, a one-mile loop that tours a stand of 800-year-old conifers home to families of flying squirrels
PLAN AHEAD: Sign up for outdoor classes on the first and last Saturday of July, when park naturalists teach fire-making skills and lead tours of a ghost forest that was entombed when Mount Hood last erupted.
Government Island State Recreation Area
Lewis and Clark once named this 2,000-plus acre forested archipelago best accessed by canoe “Diamond Island.” Officially designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society in 2003, the island, which is leased to Oregon Parks and Recreation Department by the Port of Portland, delivers explorer-like biodiversity along its 15 miles of wooded shoreline. Scores of bald eagles, falcons, western meadowlarks, and a great blue heron rookery all thrive here. Proof that this place is still a natural gem.
PRICE POINTS: Free camping; first-come, first served
DO SOUTH: Amenities like permanent docks plus picnic tables and composting toilets draw powerboating crowds to the north side. On the undeveloped south shore, however, civilization still feels a century or two away.
HEADS UP: Sandy Beach, on the north side of the island, usually fills to capacity on sunny weekends.
Ride-share: Alder Creek Kayak & Canoe’s Jantzen Beach store offers kayak rentals ($50 per day; aldercreek.com; 503-285-0464). From there it’s a four-mile, upriver paddle to the island, recommended for experienced boaters only.
PACK IT: Backpacking stove (unless you have space to pack in your own cord of firewood)
FORGET IT: Slip ’n’ Slide (seen on the north side last summer)
GOOSE BUMPS: Sunset viewings of blacktail deer swimming between the islands