Bike Camping the Clackamas
I love mountains. I grew up in Michigan, which is pretty flat, and my first trip to Oregon blew me away. In the 11 years I’ve lived in Oregon, I’ve explored many places, but my favorite is the Clackamas River in the Mount Hood National Forest (MHNF). The Clackamas has a lot of camping variety, from Milo McIver State Park in Estacada (which has a secret back entrance for cyclists) to private campground Promontory Park, to the US Forest Service campgrounds, and ultimately, dispersed camping -- where you pedal until you find some random spot you like, pitch a tent, and stay there. I found one of those sites in the Big Bottom old-growth area.
"The Narrows" on the Clackamas River
I usually start by riding the Springwater Trail from Portland, or taking the MAX to Gresham and riding the last few miles of the trail to Boring (seriously, that’s the name of the town). From there it’s a fairly straightforward route on the shoulder of Highway 224 to Estacada. Estacada is a cute little city with over 20 murals adorning the buildings in the commercial district. They bill themselves as “Gateway to the Clackamas,” and you can find a full range of services, including bike supplies in the local drugstore. It’s also the last gasp of civilization on this trip as one heads into the forest.
Outside Estacada about a half mile is Faraday Road, a PGE access road which is the original highway converted to bike/ped-only use (plus the odd PGE service vehicle). It’s 3.5 miles of car-free quiet scenery. After returning to the highway, you ride along the reservoir and enter the National Forest. Rounding a corner you’re confronted with Big Cliff, an iconic towering mass of rock that signifies the start of Clackamas Canyon. For the next few miles, rock walls, trees, rapids and a succession of developed campsites are your companions. These fill up quickly in the summer months so reservations are recommended. In this section, camping is only allowed in developed sites due to an upstream hydro project. Once clear of the restricted area, you climb a moderately steep grade for a few hundred feet of elevation and Highway 224 becomes Forest Road 46. From this point on, it’s a seasonal road, and under snow during the winter months. The next 20 miles are very low-traffic, gorgeous, and right on the river. A turnoff leads to Bagby Hot Springs –- worth a visit, but high use. Further along is Austin Hot Springs. Austin has burned people with high temperatures and is on private land, so I recommend avoiding it. A few miles past Austin, the river leaves the road at the start of the Big Bottom old-growth area. Much of this area is now wilderness, where bikes are barred from entry, so check the map before setting up camp. Find a vacant spot on a logging road, and camp!
The highlight of this route is the route itself. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful ride.