Niagara Falls, Oregon is in the Hebo Ranger District, East of Pacific City and West of McMinniville. It does not remind me of the better known Niagara Falls but certainly holds its own among Oregon waterfalls. Here is a brief list of everything you need to know about Oregon’s Niagara Falls.
Four wheel drive is not necessary but patience and decent shocks are a plus for sure! We drove in from the East via McMinnville and Beaver. Our GPS took us to the trailhead without a problem but the route is also well marked once you get on the forest roads.
The directions include 6 miles on Blaine Road followed by nearly 6 miles on Upper Nestucca River Road to Forest Road 8533. Take Forest Road 8533 for nearly 5 miles to 8533-131. (There may not be a Forest Road sign here but there is a “Falls” sign and an arrow at the next junction). It is approximately 1 mile to the trailhead from the junction.
We chose to park in a pull-out approximately 1/2 mile from the trailhead since we had not been there before and we were unsure of the conditions. It turned out that the parking lot was very muddy and we were glad to have parked up hill. There were plenty of empty spots, however. In any case, I recommend using your GPS to find the trailhead and parking there as long as you are fine with mud.
The Forest Roads are slow going but in fine condition and wide enough to pass other vehicles. You will see plenty of logging operations and clear cut hillsides.
The falls are downhill from the trailhead. The trail is well maintained and clearly marked. There are benches and classic Oregon coastal forest views. The out and back hike totals around 2 miles and switchbacks through the forest following a small creek. The trail was muddy and wet but not worse than other similar trails.
We were not disappointed! Niagara Falls, Oregon is different from other local waterfalls. It cascades more than falls and is impressive. Additionally, the equally tall, Pheasant Falls, is only steps away. We spent almost an hour exploring Pheasant Creek and climbing the rocks alongside Niagara Falls. Both falls are over 100 feet tall and were flowing quickly when we visited in Februrary. While it cannot compare to Niagara Falls, NY/Canada, it is was a great surprise in terms of Oregon waterfalls. As long as you have some time on your hands and don’t mind Forest Service Roads, I recommend checking out this day-hike!
Roost Vans specializes in DIY products for Sprinter van conversions. They have innovative designs and make beautiful vans. We modeled our second conversion after thier vans and are about to install a DIY electical system that they are developing! Check them out on instagram or the web and stay tuned for our electrical installation.
You can start a conversation, read posts, and search for threads. You may enjoy browsing the forum in your spare time because you never know what you haven’t even thought of yet!
Check these guys out on youtube. They have videos showing how to disassemble and re-assemble your van! Even after taking about two other vans, we still need these video! Re-assembly is never as easy as you expect! They also have conversions kits, accesories, and custom conversions.
Good old fashioned google in invaluable when doing a DIY Sprinter van camping conversion! All of the questions and answers are out there somewhere. You just have to find them.
There are tons of vanlife, van conversion, Sprinter van facebook groups. I don’t always love these groups and some are better than others but for the most part, they are worth joining.
These guys are also located in Oregon and offer products for sale, vans, and custom conversions. They are super nice and environmentally minded!
The bottom line:
Have fun! Be patient! Don’t be afraid to give your ideas a try! Don’t expect perfection on the first try but don’t settle when something could be better. You will change and so will what you want from your van. That is okay. Be flexible and embrace the evolution. Try and try again.
Mostly, don’t wait, take an adventure now! It will be great!
We have enjoyed countless day trips and many long road trips in our DIY vans. Despite the hours and seemingly endless Sprinter adventures, we failed to anticipate how 2020 would elevate our attachement to our van. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us appreciate traveling in a vehicle that is more of a self-supported safety bubble than a mode of transportation. I have never been more grateful for our Sprinter and, as most of you know, I was so grateful that I took just went out and bought a 2020 4×4 Sprinter to start our DIY camping conversion all over again!
Here is a run down of some of the experiences that our Sprinter camper brought to us in the midst of a 2020 and a world wide pandemic.
CD spend March and April in the van and it was worth it! I learned a ton about 8020, wiring, finish carpentry (van style), hinges, and options for storing fishing poles in a Sprinter 144. The van has never looked so great or been so comfortable. Despite this, CD kindly agreed to do it all again! I look forward to seeing what is next!
Exploring the Oregon Coast, pandemic Sprinter Adventure 2020 style
Any where on the coast is fair game when you can eat, sleep, change clothes, and use the restroom in the safety of your van! Once we realized this, we hit the coast enough times to find a favorite beach, settle into a routine, and pick up two new skimboards along the way (thank you grandma and grandpa!)
Revisiting Oregon Dunes
A great thing about the Pacific Coast and Oregon Dunes is that the weather is nearly the same whether you are there in winter or summer. The difference is that in the winter, it may be warmer than in the valley and in the summer it may be cooler. Either way, it is always fun! We spent Thanksgiving there and it was just the escape we needed. Thank you Sprinter van!
Camping anywhere that is less than a two hour drive
It wasn’t super easy to find available camping in Oregon during COVID times but we happened accross a campground that was open and perfect for us! This also led to a third child-size kayak purchase. We now have kayaks several thousand miles apart and one to spare.
Sprinter Camping in a lava field while watching a comet
No worries if the campgrounds are full. We slept like babies in the parking lot of an observatory in the middle of a lava field on a night of prime comet viewing. Not too bad!
Escaping wildfire smoke
As self supported travelers, we felt it was safe and reasonable to leave the state to escape wildfire smoke, even though traveling during the pandemic was not recommended and included post travel quarentines. School and work continued without interruption despite everything. We even snuck in a few hikes and a national park stop while on the road.
We managed to get a few new parks in the mix and that isn’t easy to do, even in normal times! Dinosaur National Monument was a win for sure! We also hiked, slept, and explore a handful of other parks and monuments, some of which we would not have taken the time to explore during our usual summer travels.
Waking up in Michigan
We made it to Michigan. I am grateful. It wasn’t long enough and it was a tough and confusing time earlier in the pandemic. Mostly, I know we can do it again. We can safely travel thousands of miles in our Sprinter to be with those we love. Next time has been on my mind everyday since.
Here is the van we will do it in next time, summer or winter.
On to 2021, a new Sprinter camper DIY project, more pandemic safe adventures, and more opportunities to take the road less traveled. I look forward to seeing what’s next. Happy New Year!
We are a family of 4 that wants to combine efficiency for long trips with comfort of frequent day trips. This is our third Sprinter. Our first was a low roof, our second was a 2015, and our third is a 2020 4 x 4. The big question is: what should we do differently with this Sprinter camper conversion?
Answering that question has not been as easy as I imagined. We are still at the beginning. Here is a list of five considerations for our most recent Sprinter build.
I have never been known for my patience. I sold our mini-van to buy this Sprinter. In doing so, I kept our 2015 Sprinter. While having two Sprinters in the driveway seems a bit unusual, I do not regret it! We have one van ready to go for day trips at a moments notice!
We spent Thanksgiving at Oregon Dunes and yesterday hiking in the pouring rain. Our van made it all possible, even in the midst of a pandemic. For better or worse, we have time to debate and plan our next build. So far, insulation is in and all of the other plans change hour to hour.
2. Sleeping Space
We are all older than during our first build and we plan to keep this van for much longer than the others so we need to use the space much more carefully than before. We went from 2 people sleeping on the floor in our first van to a genius 2 bed system in our second. The challenge of our second build is that when the beds are converted, you can no longer stand on the floor. How can we use space to allow privacy and preserve floor space even at night? Is this even possible?
3. Kitchen Space
Our prior Sprinter camper builds did not have kitchens. I am typically happy to cook outside or eat cheese and crackers inside when the weather is bad. It rains in Oregon, however. Rain is so much more difficult for me to deal with than snow. Rain means mud.
I cooked two meals while on our recent Thanksgiving trip. I sat on the electric step in a puddle of mud both times. It was the best option.
If you have ever tried to sit at a picnic table in the Pacific Northwest between the months of October and March, you know what I mean. Everything is muddy, wet, and mossy.
In retrospect, my shift towards indoor cooking started last winter with hot chocolate and went as far as soup and instant mashed potatoes by July. By then I was really stretching the limits of the Camp Chef Stryker that we bought for boiling water for tea. At this point, I am open to discussing a kitchen.
4. Thinsulate installation goes more quickly the second time.
The van was insulated in a fraction of the time of our last build. The panels did not go back in more easily than last time, however. We still needed two people and a bit of patience to get the front panel back in. The airbags added to the stress a bit but mostly because it felt nerve wracking to have exposed airbags just hanging around.
5. All options are on the table and that doesn’t make the process easier.
This is the first time that I have been ready to spend additional money to get the best build for us. It turns out that short of buying a van that is already converted, deciding to spend money doesn’t really help. The world of DIY Sprinter Camper conversions is open ended, confusing, and popular, especially right now. Everyone we talk in the business is busy. Supplies are back ordered but ideas are still limitless. Everyone has good ideas. Not all of the ideas are interchangable so each decision affects the next.
So far, in addition to insullation, we have installed a modular rack system. It was easy to install and we love what we can do from here. With that being said, we drilled holes to secure it to the van, so we must go forward from there. As we browse the internet, we are careful not to click on other modular systems or accessories attached to systems other than what we have in place.
It feels like we are headed down a rabbit hole but keep getting turned around and going back. As I mentioned, patience is not my strong suit but I am doing my best to give the process a chance. Even I look forward to seeing where this all lands! I just hope it lands somewhere while there is still time for a ski trip this winter. Wish us luck and leave us comments with your ideas and questions!
These are unusual times. We are working from home, doing school at home, and more grateful than ever to have our Sprinter. Two weeks ago, we left the smoky air of Oregon, drove to Colorado, and spent a week of work and school there. It was so much better than staying home, inside, with the windows closed. I could not have been more grateful for the opportunity to breath fresh air and visit family.
Being in the middle of a pandemic has pretty much committed me to long term Sprinter van ownership. With that being said, we purchased a 4 x 4 Sprinter. We will be ready for anything, even skiing in all kinds of conditions!
We will pick it up in a couple of weeks and then we will temporarily be the family with two Sprinters in the driveway. CD has tons of new ideas regarding the camping conversion. Flare sides will be in our future. Another MaaxAir fan is on the list. Will our beds move and change? Where will CD put the sink that he has wanted for so long?
It is all yet to be determined so stay tuned! Our family of 4 is starting a van conversion and I hope we are up for it! More to come …
This post was writte in September and I am just publishing it. Here is our new 4×4. If you need us during the next weeks or so, you know where to find us! Stay tuned … !
We chose a 2015 Sprinter 144 for our family of 4 camper van. It is our third camping van and our second camping conversion. We chose it because we drive more than we camp.
I am not much of a camper. In fact, I am really only starting to learn to camp and this can be painfully obvious for my husband at times. It was recently that I realized it would be best if I tried to learn to camp.
I am really a cottage girl. I grew up with a cottage and that is where my skillsets lie. It could be argued that few are more skilled at the art of cottaging. I can arrive at the cottage any time day or night and have everything I need. My biggest concern may be getting the cold food and drinks in the fridge and my chair positioned correctly on the deck.
So, here I am, the proud owner of a Sprinter 144 DIY camper conversion. There are dozens of great things about this van! CD gets all of the credit for the modifications. They are amazing and have helped to ease me into van life. New cabinets, fishing rod holders, and LED lights are our latest upgrades.
Even with these latest upgrades, 2020 has been an eye opening year. Here are a few things I have learned so far.
1.A Van Chosen For Driving May Not Be Ideal For Camping
It may seem like I am stating the obvious but this one took me a bit to wrap my head around. Last summer’s trip racked up 8528 miles and 190 hours and 55 minutes of total trip time. Our average mileage was 23.4 miles per gallon.
Our van is easy to drive in nearly all conditions. It is fast, comfortable, gets decent mileage, can park in any parking spot, and makes a U turn like nobody’s business. We may drive a couple of hundred miles during a day in the Rockies but nearly 1000 miles once we hit the plains. No matter how many miles we put on in a day, we rarely spend more than an afternoon at a campground. Our Sprinter has rolled into some of our country’s most beautiful campgrounds at dinner and left the next day. We have slept at a gas station in South Dakota, a rest stop in southern Michigan, friends driveways all over the US and Canada, and plenty of Walmarts.
Yet, our van is a Sprinter 144 DIY camping conversion. So what happens when we camp?
2.Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Van Living.
It turns out that I don’t really know how to camp. Even the best camping conversion may be hard for me to navigate.
My cooler is always a mess. I spill things and burn dinner regularly. I am constantly rearranging everything. At the campground, I take things out of the van and put them back in the van. CD recently pointed out that even people with RVs tend to arrange thier campsite by using outside space. I have since noticed water coolers on tables, dish washing stations on benches, accesory tables full of who knows what, chairs all over the place, laterns, and so many things that I can’t even remember.
So, is the idea to set up and tear down your own mini cottage at each campsite? If so, I think I can work towards that, although I am not sure I fully understand it yet.
3. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Thru-Hiking
Okay, this one is really for CD. He has hiking tons of long trails, including thru hiking the PCT in 2004. Some of the skills that he learned on the PCT are not fully transferrable to our Sprinter. He does not need to drink the cooking water, save his one spork for every meal, eat two breakfasts, or check his pack weight for our day hike. Even though he doesn’t need to, he does all of this anyway. I guess that if I need to set up a mini cottage each week, he can act as if he is on a thru-hike! I am just glad that he hasn’t gone back to eating pop tarts in order to up his calories!
4. Putting Up ATent Does Not Mean We Failed Our Sprinter Camper Conversion
The kids love tents. If we were staying at a campground for a few days and put a tent up near our Sprinter, it would not mean that we failed. It may mean that CD can sleep alone outside or the kids can play in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
The only time we put up a tent next to this Sprinter was last summer when we took our annual camping trip with my nephew. CD slept in my twenty year old tent. The rain seeped up from below and he soon realized that it is no longer water proof! The kids and I laughed about it while watching the storm from inside the van.
5.Camping, Either By Van Or Not, Requires Skill and Practice
It takes time to put up the table, organize the dishwashing station, unpack the kayaks, look for a fishing hole, or find a place to launch a boat. This all takes time away from my personal rest and relaxation. How much does that matter? Not much, I guess. My time is currently well spent organizing campsites and exploring unchartered rivers. Do I wish I was sitting on a deck or in a super fancy Sprinter drinking coffee and waiting for the best time to go fishing? Well, maybe – but now that I know that the van is just one part of the campsite, everything is looking up!
Would I change anything about our Sprinter camper conversion?
Not really. Well, maybe. Given endless time and a bottomless wallet, I would get a custom built Sprinter 170 for driving and camping. CD could spend his time doing minor modifications to the exsisting camping conversion, rather than being in charge of every detail starting with camping conversion design all the way through finish carpentry.
Would I recommend a Sprinter 144 camper conversion for a family?
Sure. Please make peace with its limitations in space and love its efficiency! I do!
Our Sprinter camper conversion benefited from the pandemic lock down. Here is a list of my 10 favorite upgrades!
1. LED lights
We added four lights. 1 goes on and off as the door is open and closed. The other three click on and off via one of two dimmer switches. One switch is over the bed and the second is behind the driver’s seat.
2. Guitar storage
Finally, a reasonable way to travel with a guitar! It hangs under the bed and over the kids bikes. Easy access and never in the way!
3. Trekking pole and kite shelf
Poles and kites run the length of the van and next to the kids bikes. They are easily removed via the back door.
4. Fishing pole holder.
This was a last minute addition and a surprise for the kids and I. I couldn’t be more happy!
Our three poles run the length of the van, on the driver’s side, over the bed.
5. Food and kitchen supply storage boxes.
You may have already seen these as they are part of our second bed set up but CD improved the efficiently of these as well. The lid of the box has recently been cut into two pieces so that I may access food at one end while sitting on the other end. Amazing!
6. Cabinets at eye level.
Check this out! We have two cabinets at eye level. One is on the driver’s side and is used for kitchen supplies. The second is on the passenger side, over the bed, and used for PJs and other daily use items. Both are secured to 8020.
7. Wood paneling.
Cedar tongue and groove gives the illusion of being in a cabin. Don’t underestimate the power of wood paneling!
8. Bike storage in our Sprinter camper
The kids bikes attach to wood and a metal bracket to slide under the bed easily. It takes less than 5 minutes to get them out and I have yet to encounter a peddle stuck in spokes or any of the other problems that I had prior to storing the bikes upright. Thank you high roof Sprinter camper!
9. Maxxair fan
Again, you may have heard us talk about this already but we installed the fan last year. Now that it is framed in, it not only works great but looks great too!
10. Rear AC wood paneling
CD framed the rear AC unit and vent with the Cedar tongue and groove. I don’t know how he did it but I am glad he did. It looks amazing!
We drive from Oregon to Ontario and back each summer. Typically, we spent several weeks on the road and explore everywhere from British Columbia to Colorado. This year is different. We are in Colorado, halfway to Michigan. Here are some reflections from the first half of our trip: 8 things to consider when traveling during a pandemic.
1. Camping is more complicated than usual when traveling during a pandemic.
The first night on the road: Campground #1 was closed. The local Walmart did not allow overnight parking. Campground #2 was full but we drove in anyway and the camp host pointed us towards a spot that was open due to a cancellation. We felt so lucky! In the morning was drove to the day use area and it was pretty much full. We were able to snag a spot to the side and hike in an area away from the river.
The second night we were in Utah. I cannot speak to the situation at Utah State Parks because we arrived in Ogden around 10:30 and Utah State Park campgrounds close and lock gates at 10 pm.
We broke one of our own unwritten rules and ended up at a KOA. Again, we were lucky! It was barely occupied, clean, spacious, and had affordable tent sites for our van. It was pouring rain and we were lucky to be self sufficient.
The third night we opted to stop driving at around dinner time. We were at Dinosaur National Monument and stayed at the campground. It was easy and great. The hosts came over to welcome us, which would have been great if they had been wearing masks. Overall, it was still a hit!
2. Be prepared to be amazed and scared.
We left a highly mask and social distancing compliant town in Oregon in order to travel and see our families. It turns out that the rest of the world is going on with their lives and not necessarily very compliant.
I was almost immediately shocked by the lack of masks compliance. We haven’t been in any stores or even gas stations but I have been watching people go in and out of places as we drive through. We spotted 1 mask the entire time we were in Utah. Eastern Oregon was the same. Steamboat Springs and Summit County Colorado were a bit better but, overall, I was horrified and a bit scared.
3. Bring more food and drinks than usual.
I packed food and drinks for weeks. This includes snack size bags of chips, M & Ms, Diet Coke, Gatorade, and all the provisions that you would usually run into a gas station to pick up. We have not been in a gas station or store and do not intend to change that.
4. Consider a camping conversion that includes a toilet.
Again, we have not been into gas stations, campground bathrooms, stores or restaurants. This is probably self explanatory.
5. You may feel guilty at times.
I find myself feeling like I need to justify why we are traveling.
During a remote work meeting while on the road, I felt the need to explain why we chose to travel and every precaution we are taking. I did not do that but I still want to call the people in that meeting and tell them all about it.
It is easy to find myself reviewing these points in my own mind in order to justify this trip.
6. You may find yourself judging others while traveling during a pandemic.
I find myself judging other people behaviors which is kind of funny because they could be judging me as I drive by with my out of state plates.
A playground full of mask-less adults and kids without social distancing while driving through Salt Lake City had me judging them for sure. I am aware that this is neither appropriate nor helpful.
7. Empty parking lots are more appealing than ever before.
CD and the kids spent two hours in a National Forest Service Parking lot in Utah. I was on a phone call and they set up hammocks and cooked lunch. They were happy.
I cooked lunch on a our camping table in the parking lot of an abandoned department store in Idaho. We ran laps to the lamp post and back. It wasn’t our usual picturesque lunch at a park or splash pad but it was okay.
8. You will wonder if traveling during a pandemic was the right choice.
This is impossible to know. We will just do our best to keep clear minds and hearts.
We have been home since mid-March. Our pandemic projects include sour dough bread making, teaching home school, and continuing work on our Sprinter camper. CD’s progress with the Sprinter has been the most successful of the three.
Roof rails are installed, LED lights are wired to a dimmer switch, cedar tongue and groove is in place, and two new cabinets are ready to be filled.
Writing guides for each of this projects will take a me a bit of time but while I work on that, CD offered his top 5 tips for our diving into a Sprinter camper project.
1. Accept gaps in wood spacing or make custom pieces.
CD chose to custom cut each piece of wood. Time was not of the essence.
2. Realize that your Sprinter is not square.
No matter how square things start out, your van is not square.
3. Create things with wiggle room.
Plan on fine adjustments and be flexible.
4. Consider both your ideal end product and your acceptable end product.
Decide which of these you are working towards.
5. Be honest about your timelines.
Realize that your acceptable product will likely take as long you thought your ideal product would. Set out to make your ideal product and you may end up with your good enough one. If you are set on your ideal product, plan to increase your time spent ten fold and have plenty of extra wood on hand.
Have Fun With Your Sprinter Camper!
Please sign up for our blog to track for step by step guides and share in the fun!
Our first Sprinter camper conversion was a 2012 low roof passenger van with limited amenities. It didn’t work out.
We are a family of four and stand by our decision to camp and travel in a passenger van but our decision to start with a low roof van was ill informed and flawed.
5 reasons why we chose a low roof Sprinter:
It would be a more practical daily driver.
We could drive under bridges, park in parking garages, or go through a drive thru.
Additional vertical space wouldn’t offer additional benefits.
The kids can stand up and I can nearly stand up.
It cost less.
5 reasons why this reasoning was flawed:
A low roof and a high roof are essentially the same when using as a daily driver.
Parking in a parking garage, going through a drive thru, or driving under some bridges may not be possible in either Sprinter.
Vertical space adds many more storage options!
I really want to stand up. Oh, my aching back!
The low roof initially cost less but we lost any initial savings when we sold it four months later.
All about us.
We are a family of four, including two kids under 10.
More days are spent driving than camping.
We love windows!
CD is 6′ tall and I am 5’8″. We are both over 40 and maybe not as flexible as we once were.
Sometimes we stop along the road just to hang out in the van.
Money is a consideration but we would rather spend a bit more to have a van that suits us than have an aching back and a cluttered van.
Passenger Van: Pros and Cons
The kids can see.
Improved visual field when driving.
We can see if the kids are in the van from outside.
People can see in from outside. It doesn’t bother me really but it is worth being aware.
We spent a few hours and a little money making curtains. Each day we spend a little time putting up and taking down curtains.
Safe seats for the kids.
Seats for family members and friends.
Spare seats take up garage space.
The spare seats are not easily removed and re-installed.
Other Sprinter Amenities: Blind Spot Monitor, Electric Running Board, and Cross Wind Assist
These are things that our first van did not have. Do we enjoy these features?
Blind spot monitor: changes my experience every day!
Electric running board: a bench, a welcome mat, a table, and a reminder to close the door fully.
Cross wind assist: We think it actually helps.
Thoughts on rear AC.
Rear AC: It cools the van to arctic temperatures, even on the hottest days. Luckily, it cools all the way to the front as the main AC isn’t very effective. I sometimes walk to the back and realize that the kids need blankets while I am just right. We debate its importance each time we look at solar panels for our roof but then re-affirm our need for it each summer. Our solar panels will work around it and our Maxxair fan fit just fine.
Please follow our blog and our Sprinter adventures!