Willamette Valley, Oregon: Schwarz Campground

We stumbled upon this Oregon Campground when we were on our way to Baker Bay but got discouraged by the crowds. It offered everything we needed and then some.

Campgrounds, dispersed camping, rivers, lakes, and parks fill the Willamette Valley. There are so many options that it may not be easy to find the campground that is the best fit in Oregon. Schwarz Campground is currently top of the list for our last minute, mid-week, get-a-ways.

Here are 5 reason why!

Open Space!

I will even say this again- Open Space! This campground is full of space. There is at least a hundred yards of open grass for any one to use. It was just calling for a pick up football game or a practice round with my pitching wedge.

In addition to open space, this campground closed approximately every other site to allow for better social distancing. Double sites are limited to one at this time (summer 2020), sites closest to the public river access are closed, and a good percentage of the regular sites are closed.

Row River Trail

The Row River Trail is a paved 14 mile rails to trail route. Grab your bikes and hop on just outside the park entrance!

I chose to drive to Dorena Reservoir, drop off CD and the kids and drive back down to the main road in order to ride back towards them. Dropping the car this way was overkill for sure as the trail was easy riding, fast, and fun. Next time we will just leave from the campground and ride as far as we like, then turn around and go back. Either way, this trail was a win!

River Access

The campground is located below Dorena Lake, downstream from the dam. Only two sites offer high quality private river access but there is a well stationed common access. Even in these times of social distancing, there was room to spread out along the river bank.
Note that the dam is several hundred yards up stream but there is a sign indicating that water levels may fluxuate without warning. I took note of the sign as I sent the kids out in their kayaks and I think it is worth paying attention but we were far enough from the dam that I wasn’t too concerned.
We kayaked, explored a nearby island, watched and heard a beaver chewing on a stick, fished for hours, went swimming (it is cold!), and found lost treasures on the river bottom. There was never a dull moment.

Campground. Site access to river.
Oregon Campground: common river access

Huge campsites at this Oregon Campground!

Again, there is plenty of space here, even in non-COVID times. Each side has a large picnic table, fire ring, parking area, and tent site. There are just enough big trees to enjoy but not so many that you are cold and attached by bugs.

Oregon Campground

Hiking Trails, Horse Shoes, A Playground, and Wildlife

There are plenty of wild turkeys, lizards, and ducks. There is a huge open space, horse shoe pits, a playground (closed currently), and hiking trails. You can walk from the campground, through the woods, and to the overlook on the dam. From there you can view Dorena Lake and its recreational boaters. There is a public boat launch several miles up the road and several campers were obviously headed that way.

Oregon Campground

Which park amenities did we use? Well, this is it and it was awesome!

HELPFUL TIPS:

My Sprint cell service was sufficient to download texts but not emails. After driving 4 miles to town, I had enough bars for a zoom conference.

There is poison oak along the trail.

Bring water shoes if you plan to get wet!

Keep an eye out for the alligator lizard. Seriously, we saw it and it was weird!

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Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits on the western side of northern lower Michigan. With dunes rising 400 feet above its 65 miles of shoreline, this park does not disappoint! Check out forests, wetlands, streams, inland lakes, historic homesteads, campgrounds, hiking trails, a 1920’s village, and the more recently added Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail bike path.

It is hard to decide where to begin but here are 5 ideas to get you started!

5. Empire Bluff Trail

This trail is short and sweet. This 1.5 mile round trip hike will satisfy hikers and photographers alike.

Start at the Visitor’s Center in Empire and get directions to the trail head which is just a few miles down the road. The trail is unassuming at first but don’t let that fool you. The views from the top some of the most remarkable in the park.

4. Glen Haven

Whether you are looking for a Junior Ranger cancellation or are excited to check out a working blacksmith’s shop, Glen Haven is worth the stop!

There is a general store, boat house, clean restrooms, and beach access with picnic tables.

4. Sleeping Bear Point Lifesaving Station

On your way out of Glen Haven, follow the road until it ends at Sleeping Bear Point. The building from 1901 is now a Maritime Museum.

Learn about the lives of the people that lived at the station and the tools they used for rescues. Look out for an opportunity to participate in the daily lifesaving demonstration and you may even see them fire the Lyle Gun!

You can also access the Sleeping Bear Point Loop Trail from here. This 2.8 mile trail may not be the most picturesque in the park but it is certainly one of the most diverse. Hike up and down rolling dunes as you experience some of the different terrain and ecosystems that Michigan has to offer. Bring water and keep in mind that 2.8 miles over sand dunes takes longer and is more difficult than the same distance on pavement.

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2. Dune Climb

Whether you want to play in the sand, have a picnic, or climb for a view of Glen Lake, the Dune Climb has it all. Some amenities include clean restrooms, potable water, a gift shop with a park passport cancellation, and an ice cream vending machine.

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For those of you that are looking for a challenge, the Dune Climb trail ends at Lake Michigan. Be aware that this hike is rated strenuous and in my experience, it is easy to underestimate its difficulty. There are wooden posts marking the trail so keep an eye on those. bring water, hat, and sunscreen. Prepare to be exposed on wide open sand dunes for 3-4 hours.

While there are much easier ways to get to Lake Michigan, you will likely feel the greatest sense of accomplishment if you arrive there by foot via these dunes. Honestly, I only do it for the exercise so if that is not a huge motivator for you, I recommend skipping this hike, accessing Lake Michigan at Glen Haven, and climbing the dune just high enough for a bird’s eye view of Glen Lake.

1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This is one of my favorite things that has happened anywhere in the past several years! The Heritage Trail is a mixed use, non motorized trail planned to extend 27 miles from Empire to North of Glen Arbor. There are currently 22 miles completed.

Avoid traffic and parking hassles by utilizing the trail. In 2019, my husband, myself, and three kids under 10 logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days. Bikes were our only means of transportation once we set up camp at DH Day campground.

Here are the top reasons we love the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

  • It is more safe for families than riding on the road
  • It is the fastest route from DH Day campground to Glen Haven or the Dune Climb on a busy day.
  • Bike parking in Glen Arbor is less stressful and more available than car parking.
  • Your car can be kept safe from sandy kids.
  • Riding the trail is good exercise and better for the environment than driving a car.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

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Kids Bike Review: Prevelo

Our daughter rode a strider bike at one year old and a two wheeled bike before age two. On son was a bit older but only because of our own ignorance. We didn’t know that two or three year old kids can ride two wheeled bikes. Well, they can! It helps if you have the right kids bike.

Islabikes is our first love in kids specific bikes. I was lost when they discontinued their store in the United States but things tend to work out and it led me to an even greater kids bike love.

Prevelo Kids Bikes!

Prevelo

Here are my top 5 reasons that both you and your kids will love Prevelo bikes.

1. Prevelo Customer Service.

My son had barely outgrown his bike when my daughter was more than ready for a bigger bike. We went to every bike shop within a fifty mile radius. We read bike reviews, articles, and blogs. My son test rode every bike we could find.

His reach was just a bit too short for any of the bikes, including some of the kids specific brands. I had nearly lost hope when I found Prevelo online.

Jacob answered on the second or third ring when I called.

He is the owner, designer, and mastermind of the company. He was happy to provide custom measurements, answer questions, provide encouragement, and fill me in on company policies and perks. These include the following.

  • 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
  • $15 Shipping, refundable in the US

I was pretty much sold when Jacob answered the phone as if he was an old friend.

They don’t mess around with shipping!

2. Kids Bike Design

Once you see your kids on a bike designed just for them, you will be convinced. The difference between a bike that is small and a bike that is for kids is unbelievable!

Jacob could tell you all about it but here are some of the basics.

  • Low Geometry!
    • Riders are low to the ground
    • Low seat heights, low peddle brackets, and increased rider and parent confidence!
  • Short crank arms and narrow Q angle.
    • You may want to look these items up but, trust me, this is a good thing!
  • Robust designs
    • Improved kid specific durability
HB’s first two wheeled bike. A 14 inch Islabike.
HB learning to work on bikes. He asked for all of the accessories on his Islabike.
Grace learning bike maintenance.

3. Social and Environmental Responsibility

Check out Prevelo’s advocacy and giving page for a full list of organizations that they support. The list includes People for Bikes and 1% for the Planet.

For places like this!

4. Trade Up Club: Kids Bike

Its exactly what you think. Send back your bike when it is too small and put 40% of your original purchase price towards a new bike.

As the mother of a 7 year old and a 5 year old, the previous owner of 4 kids specific bikes, and the current owner of 2 kids bikes, I am especially interested in this program!

Out to lunch a few years ago. Kids bike.

Highlights of 5 Years of Family Bike Riding:

  1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, Michigan

2. Luton Park, Michigan

Prevelo Kids Bike

3. Commuting around town on kids bikes!

This is actually at Sleeping Bear but our local commute has a similar trail. Grace rode her bike to her first day of preschool and I didn’t even get a picture.

4. May Flower Gulch, Colorado

Kids bike.

5. McDonald Dunn Forest, Oregon

5. Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

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