Last weekend, the weather was nice and it was time to get the heck out of Portland. What’s a girl to do when she works until 2pm on Saturdays, only has a bike to get herself around, and needs to be back on Sunday night? Well, it turns out she can go camping at L.L Stub Stewart state park, a mere 3-4 hour bike/MAX trip, and a fantastic destination.
Stub Stewart is on the Banks-Vernonia trail that I wrote about previously–a lovely 22-mile path along an old railroad right-of-way, all for pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians (check out my old post for more descrition of the trail itself). The entirety of Stub Stewart lies between miles 7 and 11 on the trail, with the entrance to the campground and welcome center at mile 10.
To get there, James and I, as well as the guy I work with on Saturdays, left work and biked to the nearest MAX stop, where we hopped on and took the hour-or-so ride to the end of the line at Hillsboro (thus saving ourselves about 26 miles of biking and a lot of the West hills–essential when one is getting such a late start to the weekend). Last time I biked to the Banks-Vernonia trail, I took the main highways (8 and 47), from Hillsboro to Forest Grove to Banks, which is what we did this time too, but it’s not super pleasant. Especially not on a weekend when there’s a lot of traffic.
But once you get to Banks, the trail is lovely:
It’s about 10 miles from the MAX station in Hillsboro to the start of the trail, then another peaceful 10 miles through the forest to Stub Stewart. It’s very slightly uphill for much of the way, with one final mean hill once you leave the trail to find the Stub Stewart Welcome Center. The whole ride took about two hours.
The trailhead for the hiker/biker campground is at the back of the Welcome Center; a short 1/4 mile gravel path takes you down to the campsites. Our gear was all on our bikes, of course, but should you need extra carrying capacity there are two pull carts that live at the trailhead. It seems like some people park in the Center lot and then haul their stuff down to the campground that way.
The campground is only $6 and provides vault toilets, running water, and a few communal fire rings. There are easily-accessible hiking trails, a few creeks, and amazing stars at night. It’s super peaceful, and we spent a wonderful evening dinnering, chatting, and night-hiking.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we decided to leave our gear behind and bike the rest of the 12 miles up to Vernonia. Though the trail officially ends at Anderson Park, if you keep going a little bit there’s a 3/4-mile side path that takes you to Vernonia Lake, which that morning was splendid with reflected fall weather:
There’s also a “primitive campground” on one side of the lake; I couldn’t exactly tell, but it basically looks like a field you can pitch your tent in, with a vault toilet at the top. I’m not sure if there was running water or not. But it might be a good spot to camp too, if Stub Stewart seems too soon to stop or if you wanted to be closer to Vernonia.
Opposite the campground, on the other side of the lake, is what turns out to be an abandoned mill that’s been reclaimed by nature and used as a palette for graffiti artists.
We even found a cute little restaurant, the Blue House Cafe, for some lunch and the best hot apple cider I’ve ever had. The stove by our table was also a lovely addition–despite the sun, the morning was quite cold.
Since we were not super thrilled about taking highways 47 and 8 again on the way home, we opted to take the back roads, using a route that a woman we met in the campground had taken on her way there. The map of her route is here, if you’d like to check out a much more peaceful, country-road way from Banks to Hillsboro. It was much nicer, and still took about the same amount of time–two hours–from Stub Stewart to Hillsboro.
So there you go! Even though it was a weekend somewhat truncated by my having to work on Saturday, it was totally feasible to get out to a really nice, naturey campground and relax. It was even enough time to take a little jaunt up to Vernonia for lunch and still get back to Portland by 5pm on Sunday. Even though the whole trip was maybe 27 hours, including sleep and transportation time, it felt like a much longer excursion–perhaps because it felt like we did so much in that time. I will definitely keep Stub Stewart in my repertoire of places to go when I need a quick get-out-of-Portland fix:)