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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Traveling During A Pandemic: 8 Things to Consider.

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.

Tumalo State Park, Bend, Oregon

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!

Dinosaur National Monument

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.

Traveling during a pandemic

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.

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