You know what the best thing about the Clackamas River is? Aside from the fact it’s super beautiful? A lot of it happens to be in the Mt. Hood National Forest, there’s a whole bunch of camping along it, and you can be there in your tent after only a few hours on a bike from Portland.
That’s where I pointed my wheels last week (or gosh, is it two weeks now?) when I wanted some time to escape. I had no real plan and no real agenda for how long I might be out; five days was the longest I could be gone, so I brought enough food for that and figured I could make up the rest as I went. Since I wanted to hike as well as bike, I was hoping to find camping near trailheads or good bushwhacking that was easy to get to from my bike. But mostly, I just wanted to be in the woods, away from distractions and technology and machines, by myself.
The Clackamas River delivers on all these points. First of all, it’s one of the newest Scenic Bikeways (something I totally forgot about until I saw the signs)! The city of Estacada is one end of the bikeway, and after you leave it you almost immediately end up biking along Faraday Lake on a road closed to all traffic except cyclists, pedestrians, and the occasional person driving a PG&E vehicle who works at either of two dams along that stretch. It’s one of my favorite places to ride.
After that, you almost immediately enter the national forest and bike right alongside the river for what seems like forever, crossing and recrossing it on super quaint green arch bridges as you pass campground after campground right on the water’s edge.
For the first 15 miles of National Forest land, you’re only supposed to camp in those designated campgrounds. There are many of them, though they’re not super large (with the possible exception of Indian Henry with its 80-something sites). And they’re closed during the winter. Which is why it’s helpful to be on a bike, where you can slither your bitty camp into anywhere so long as you’re careful to leave no trace.
After you pass the Ripplebrook ranger station, dispersed camping is allowed again, and you’re well on your way to Breitenbush Hot Springs/Retreat (if the road is open; it closes in the winter for snow) or Bagby Hot Springs — or, if you go the other direction, Timothy Lake. Or really, anywhere you want to go in the Mt Hood National Forest.
I ended up staying four days, which was just right to distance myself from the craziness I’d been feeling and, as I’d hoped, remember the stasia I am and like to be. I did find some lovely hiking: the Clackamas River Trail, for example, is a fun trail that runs for 7.8 miles between the Fish Creek and Indian Henry campgrounds, and though it doesn’t have breathtaking vistas or epic anything, it’s beautiful and crosses many creeks (even, when I was there and the water was raging, going behind a waterfall). There are also all sorts of other hiking trails in the National Forest, plus lively creekside or riverside wandering. It’s a great spot to be to disappear — especially in the super early spring when the weather can be iffy and not that many other people are around.
For more info about this side of the National Forest, the city of Estacada has a wealth of resources — including, at their super sweet bike station tucked behind City Hall, surprisingly helpful and even bike-camping-specific brochures showing where many of the campgrounds and trailheads are. (Also at the bike station are a public restroom, fountains to fill up your waterbottles, basic bike tools for your free use, and lots of bike parking. It’s a cool thing for the city to provide.) Estacada also has more murals per square foot than basically anywhere I’ve ever seen, plus groceries and restaurants and all that. It’s a good stopping or launching point.
So there you go. Clackamas River: super amazing place to disappear for a little adventure, or, should you have more time and feel more intrepid, embark on a large-scale expedition to the mountain and beyond.
(In case you don’t buy that it was actually always sunny on my trip as it might seem from my pictures here, check out the rest of them. You’re right. It wasn’t always sunny. But it was always awesome:)