Despite the fact that we'd heard nary a pop, whistle or boom in the days leading up to the Fourth of July this year—a friend admitted fantasizing that maybe, just maybe, the citizens of our fair city had finally awakened to the ridiculousness of turning their neighborhoods into reenactments of war movies—we were still bound and determined to head into the woods in case my friend's fantasy of a saner Fourth might not be forthcoming.
Assessing the campsite.
Most of the campgrounds that take reservations had been snatched up months before, and our traditional campground, Paradise Creek on the flanks of Mt. Adams, no longer allowed advance reservations on its preferred creekside sites. Plus we were hoping to stay a little closer to home this year, the better to avoid taking the dogs on a multi-hour trip in a hot car.
We'd heard that the small Green Canyon campground on Mt. Hood, off a forest road outside of Rhododendron, might be worth scoping out, since all 15 sites are available on a first come, first serve basis. But Dave wanted to check out Camp Creek, too, since it was close to a cabin (Showers! Toilets!) that friends were staying at for the weekend. I was less than excited about its location, just off the very busy Mt. Hood Highway between Rhododendron and Government Camp. I could imagine the roar of 18-wheelers and the shrieking of air brakes casting a pall over our woodsy weekend.
But pulling off the highway we found ourselves immersed in the buffering company of tall old-growth Douglas firs and the babbling of Camp Creek itself, which provided a comforting screen of white noise that covered any disturbing rumbling that might leak through. We scooted into the last available non-reservable site on the far end of the camp loop, and Dave used his "Old Man pass"—a Senior Pass to National Parks and recreation areas—to get half off the nightly rate. Deal!
After pumping up the air mattress and setting up the camp kitchen, it was time for cocktails by the fire followed by a walk down to the creek before dinner. I'd heard that the flow of the nearby Zigzag River was much reduced by the lack of snow over the winter, not to mention the dry spring weather, so I was a little surprised to find Camp Creek noisily pouring down from wherever its source was. Fallen trees created dams and waist-high holes, though wading up to our ankles was about as far as we and the dogs got in the icy creek.
Steaks on the fire.
A quiet night's sleep, coffee and breakfast next to the fire, and we were off to explore the Still Creek Trail, a fairly easy one-and-a-half-mile forested hike that starts with a walk over a beautiful wooden bridge at one end of the campground. With a couple of slight elevation gains as it climbs a hill, if you're there at the right time you might see salmonberries, occasional red huckleberries and little chipmunks skittering across your path.
Another hike is along the Pioneer Bridle Trail, a major mountain bike trail that parallels Hwy. 26 and which you can access at the entrance to the campground. Another option is taking the Still Creek Trail from the campground, turning left at the first roadway, then left again onto the Bridle Trail to go back to the campground. Of course you could decide to trek down the Bridle Trail to Tollgate Campground (a couple of miles one way) or a much more challenging hike as far as Government Camp, about seven miles on a rougher trail with a considerable elevation gain.
Strenuous activities aside, it's also completely pleasant to sit and read a book or nap at your campsite or by the stream. Your choice!
Find great suggestions for area campgrounds and camp cooking in the Camp Stories series.