When planning a summer season tour of the northwest, the best camping options are rarely located inside the busy National Parks because of extreme overcrowding conditions. If National Park campsite reservations are not made well ahead of time, the chances of finding an open spot can be slim to nil. This is especially true when falling behind schedule, which is all too easy to do because of all the scenic destinations that await to be experienced along the way. The days of carefree summertime travel with no reservations made certainly are long gone at the major attractions, yet there still is room for discovering lesser known campgrounds while meandering off the beaten path.
The mysterious little campgrounds between major destinations are perfect for those who prefer to meander without making a solid travel plan, because these spots usually offer campsites on a first come-first serve basis. Not having to worry about reservations and confirmations truly is best when an old fashioned carefree vacation experience is desired. However it is important to remember that the closer one is to a major destination, the more likely a remote campground will be full near sunset during the peak tourism season. For this reason seeking a campsite during mid to late afternoon hours definitely is the way to go. During the off-season after Labor Day when the majority of tourists go home, the first come-first serve campsite situation gets even better, because the campgrounds located off the beaten path practically sit empty till the next busy summer season rolls around.
The National Forest Service and Bureau Of Land Management websites are the best resources for finding uncrowded campgrounds between major destinations. County and city recreation areas that have campgrounds are also a good option, especially in the northwestern states where these facilities are local economic drivers. Small towns in the forested mountains often have a small city park style campground that primarily caters to the RV enthusiasts passing through, while the county parks are usually a better choice for tent campers. The county campgrounds often are managed in conjunction with the National Forest Service and they tend to be more woodsy, which adds to the great outdoors experience.
Oregon has several county campgrounds next to National Forests that are worth looking into and one of the best is Shelton Wayside County Park. The Shelton Wayside is located just far enough away from the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument attractions to not draw large crowds, so some comfortable peace and quiet can be found here. The John Day River is nearby, so for anglers this actually is a convenient spot for setting up a basecamp. This Wheeler County Park is big by standards and there is plenty of space between campsites, which is a real plus.
The Shelton Wayside County Park has running water, basic facilities, chargrill pits and picnic tables in the shade of tall pines, which adds to the charm. The campsite fees are reasonable and the proceeds contribute to the local community, so dropping the envelope in the pay box even feels good to do. The National Motorcycle Riders Memorial is right next door, which is yet another interesting bonus. Wheeler County takes great pride in this well maintained camping park where wild turkeys are the morning alarm clock, so be sure to check it out when doing an Oregon paleo lands and fossil hunting tour!
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