Unlike our misadventure of the night before, our two night stay at Champoeg State Park, just south of Portland and north of Salem, was peaceful, quiet, and medically uneventful. We arrived with concerns. Since it was a weekend, and we were only booking a few days in advance, there were just two campsites left. I chose the less crowded one, near a large field. I didn’t know what, if anything, was grown in that field. And Google Maps satellite pictures shed no light. They did, however, reveal the presence of several farms in the area. And that the campsites were fairly spread out.
As we drove up, we found clean air, large campsites where no one seemed to be a smoker (I saw one cigar many sites away and that was it), and a huge empty field flanked by, what else?, blackberry bushes.
Champoeg State Heritage Area
Champoeg Rd NE
503-678-1251 Ext. 225
From Southern Oregon (a few minutes from Grant’s Pass), the trip is 230 miles, 3:45 hours. From Petaluma, CA, it would be 10 hours, not counting stops. It’s about 35 minutes south of Portland.
Directions: From I-5, take Exit 278 and head west. Follow the signs.
Check in time 4pm; check out time 1pm.
We spoke to the folks in the one site fairly close to us (on the right) and they were nonsmokers but also locals who decided they would rather come back when it wasn’t the middle of a heat wave. So we ended up with no neighbors.
Experiences turn on a dime…had our neighbors been heavy smokers or pesticide users, my stay there would have been hell, like it was the night before at Indian Mary. For whatever reason though, the campers at Champoeg (inexplicably pronounced sham-poo-ey) were quiet and fairly fume-free (not counting bbq and wood smoke, which fortunately doesn’t bother me, and is pretty impossible to avoid in a campground).
First order of business was getting our tent up. Which took half the time it had the night before. We didn’t bother with the rain flap this time, since it was still quite hot. The night breezes were cooler than at Indian Mary though, and we were able to sleep. Our second night, the heat wave finally broke with a thunderstorm. Michael and I woke up in the middle of the night, put up the rain flap and got our belongings into the car, and made it back inside the tent just as the first raindrops started to fall. It’s an excellent tent and not a drop made it inside.
We planned to spend all day Saturday in Portland so Friday night, the night we arrived, we decided to have a campfire. Michael bought some wood but neglected to get kindling. All we had was matches, logs, dried grass, a couple twigs from the ground, and 2 pieces of newspaper.
Fortunately, all my old Girl Scout training came back to me. I rearranged the logs Michael had laid side by side and, in very little time, we had a fire.
The food we cooked (in a cast iron pan) was pupusas that I’d made before our trip, and Amy’s gluten-free, vegan pizza. Both were frozen when we left Petaluma but defrosted in our cooler. The pupusas didn’t quite work out. They were very dry. I’m not sure if that was because they were frozen first. On the way back, I had some fresh pupusas I made in Vancouver (didn’t freeze them and didn’t put them in the cooler) and they were very dry eaten at room temperature but fabulous when heated well in a toaster oven (even though those were chilled first). No amount of cooking saved the ones we had at Champoeg though. They were edible, but needed moist sides.
The pizza though, was another story. Who knew? pizza heated in cast iron over flames is delicious.
It was Shabbus, so we lit beeswax candles and put them in a fire-safe place near the picnic table.
We ended the meal with the top item that Miriam had deemed essential for camping (getting all her camping knowledge from watching Curious George): marshmallows. I found kosher ones (egg, dairy, and gluten-free) at Trader Joe’s.
Champoeg has a visitor’s center and museums with tours and kids programs, disc (Frisbee) golf, and huge day-use areas, none of which we were able to see. The Willamette River was way back behind the cabins and Miriam and I didn’t manage to see it either (although Michael wandered past what appeared to be a wading section during a late-night stroll). With 615 acres, there is a lot we just didn’t have time for.
History, overview of programs, maps.
Full park brochure and map
We were in Campsite B9. The B loop had sites that were much further apart than the A loop. So better for single campers or small groups. If you look on the map, above us and to the right is a large circle labeled club camping. This is the place for groups because there is a shared grassy area in the middle. When we were there, an extended family was having their annual reunion.
We were warned to bring bug spray and, indeed, there were bugs that came out at dusk. They were smaller than mosquitoes and seemed to bite a little, but didn’t give us typical mosquito welts.
The park doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides and the bathrooms have no air freshener and are cleaned with “environmentally safe” cleaners (don’t know what, but they had no smell). Each shower had its own full-enclosed changing room, which was nice. Bathrooms had flush toilets. The park host has wood for sale and a cooler with bags of ice.
Champoeg was an easy commute to Portland, and very livable. If I were in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate to go there again for group camping, single camping, their programs, or a picnic.