It’s a dilemma Portlanders face every winter: The desire to camp and spend time outdoors, but frosty temperatures, substantial snowpack, and unpredictable weather conspire to keep us home.
Fortunately, there are many cabins and yurts around Portland that offer an appealing alternative to the drudgery of pitching tents in the midst of rainstorms and wind gusts. Yurts, for those not in the know, are domed tents with electricity, wooden floors, locked doors, beds, tables, chairs, lighting, and a covered porch. Staples along the Oregon Coast, where numerous state parks rent yurts year-round, the structures can now also be found in Central and Eastern Oregon.
Cabins, meanwhile, offer year-round camping in cozy, wooden structures, most complete with lights, electrical outlets, covered porches, beds, and dining tables.
Yurts and cabins are popular among outd0ors-loving Oregonians: The cozy structures, each of which eliminate the need to set up or take down a tent and spread gear out over an entire campsite, fill up for the summer long before the last day of school. But, as popular as they are during the warmer months, cabins and yurts go unused for long stretches of winter.
But that’s great news for anyone craving an adventurous, but not too rigorous, weekend away. The structures require relatively little work, come with heaters to keep campers warm through frigid winter nights, and afford outdoor enthusiasts close proximity to their favorite adventures.
Sound tempting? Skip the set-up and try one of these five spots (and the accompanying destinations) for an adventure-filled weekend this winter and spring.
1. Silver Falls State Park
Don’t laugh: Winter might actually be the best time to visit Silver Falls State Park, one of the most beloved and best known destinations in the Oregon State Park system. The waterfalls at the heart of its famous Trail of Ten Falls hiking loop receive more water than in the summer, putting on impressive shows for industrious hikers. Winter Falls, for instance, is a leaky faucet throughout the warmer months, but it roars to life with fall and winter rainfall every year.
The park also offers 14 cabins that can be tough to reserve at the height of summer—Silver Falls State Park attracts nearly a million visits every year, many of whom make it part of their summertime itinerary—so it’s wise to take advantage of the slower months and explore a side of the park that most visitors never see.
Making a full weekend out of it? Hop in the car and head to nearby Opal Creek for a fat biking trek. The easy route takes riders through some of the most scenic old-growth forest left in Oregon, as well as abandoned mining equipment and the old mining town of Jawbone Flats—both relics of a bygone era in the state’s industrial history.
Note: The freezing rain that plagued much of the Willamette Valley earlier this month forced an emergency closure at Silver Falls State Park. Double-check to ensure the park’s open and safe before making plans to visit.
2. L.L. Stub Stewart State Park
The 1,800-acre L.L. Stub Stewart State Park offers campers, hikers, and cyclists more than 25 miles of trails, and the lush forests feel a world away from Portland (even if it’s only 34 miles west, just a few miles north of Buxton off Highway 26). Other outdoor amenities include an 18-hold disc golf course and six miles of cross-country and free-ride mountain bike trails.
The park’s Mountain Dale Cabin Village provides panoramic views of the surrounding forest and the Oregon Coast Range. Campers can choose among three double-room or 12 single-room cabins, all of which provide easy access to flush toilets, hot showers, and parking.
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park is an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the Banks-Vernonia State Trail, which cuts through the heart of the park. The 21-mile trail connects the quaint towns of Banks and Vernonia and delivers a mix of mountain views, second-growth forest, and open meadows.
3. Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area
Devil’s Lake State Recreation Area offers secluded camping within a short walk of Highway 101, which runs through Lincoln City, making it the most urban campground on this list. Ten basic yurts are available for year-round camping and provide a quiet respite from heavy traffic along the busy highway.
(And while you’re there, keep an eye out for D River, which flows from Devil’s Lake into the Pacific Ocean. The river was one known as the shortest in the world, though that distinction wasn’t without controversy.)
Twenty minutes north, the Cascade Head hike promises spectacular views on clear days. It takes hikers through dense coastal forests and into meadows with unobstructed views of the surrounding landscape and the Pacific Ocean. (Note: The lower trailhead is open year-round, while the upper trailhead is closed Jan. 1-July 15 to protect rare wildlife that calls Cascade Head home.)
4. Fort Stevens State Park and Nehalem Bay State Park
Two of the most unique camping destinations on the Oregon Coast sandwich the Neahkahnie Mountain hike and provide vastly different experiences.
Fort Stevens State Park, roughly 45 minutes north of the trailhead, was once an active military defense installation between the Civil War and World War II. Today, the park hosts a shipwreck on the ocean shores, swimming areas, military history education, and more. Campers can explore the amenities from 15 yurts or 11 cabins, all of which provide easy access to miles of shoreline, picnic shelters, nine miles of bike paths, and five miles of hiking trails.
Nehalem Bay State Park, roughly an hour south, is nestled on a four-mile long sand spit between the Pacific Ocean and (naturally) Nehalem Bay. It hosts 18 yurts, where hikers can explore rolling dunes that separate the campground from the ocean.
The parks are within an easy drive of Neahkahnie Mountain, which gives hikers some of the best views on the Oregon Coast. Hikers can enjoy views of Nehalem Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and the nearby town of Manzanita from the awe-inspiring summit.
5. Tumalo State Park
Mt. Bachelor Ski & Snowboard Resort hosts a myriad cold-weather and snow-related activities, including dog-sledding, snowshoeing, and tubing (not to mention the obvious fun implied by the resort’s name). It’s no wonder, then, that Mt. Bachelor is one of the state’s most popular destinations every winter.
If you’re looking for a rustic campground to complete the outdoors experience, you could do a whole lot worse than Tumalo State Park, just seven miles outside Bend. The park hosts seven yurts, each of which are a short walk from the Deschutes River and will keep campers warm throughout winter.