The Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. The iconic picture of Multnomah Falls has haunted me ever since we began embarking on summer road trips. This summer, I was determined to make The Gorge a stop on our Pop Up Road Trip. So after scouring the web for campground reviews and pictures, we decided to reserve a site at Ainsworth State Park.
Ainsworth is nestled in the Columbia River Gorge, so it was a perfect homebase for us. There are 40 full-hookup sites, 6 walk-in tent sites, and a bike-in camp. The full-hookup sites are reserveable in advance for $24/night plus a one-time $8 reservation fee. The Columbia River Gorge is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, so reservations are highly recommended.
We selected site A11, which was a pull-through site. It is at the back of the park, so it was pretty peaceful. The paved pad was fairly level, and the site was adequate, if not quite as spacious as others we’d occupied during our trip. Each site has a fire ring with an attached grill and a picnic table. The full-hookups sites had water, electric, and sewer, obviously, but we found the sewer wasn’t quite suited for our setup.
The sewer cleanout was slightly uphill from our gray water drain, so our hose system didn’t work very well. It wasn’t a terribly big deal, as we just used our gray water tank and emptied it in the sewer cleanout when necessary. It was still very convenient to have full-hookups. Like Silver Falls State Park, Ainsworth had clean bathrooms with flush toilets and warm showers. Once again, the showers were free to campground guests, which is always a bonus in our book. Oregon State Parks seem to be a really great value for your money. We were very impressed.
Ainsworth is really well suited for exploring the Columbia River Gorge area. It’s ideal for hikers, but our kids were just not up for a long hike this stop. We ended up driving to the spots we wanted to visit, which was a little chaotic. The Gorge is very popular, so finding parking along the Historic (but narrow) Highway 30 can be a challenge. We left early to explore the places we wanted to see, and still had some trouble with parking.
Our first stop was Oneonta Gorge. It was absolutely breathtaking, and we highly recommend it. We parked in the pull off near the gorge and descended the steps to the river. There isn’t really a trail. Just follow the river upstream–it will be your trail. Fair warning, though… you’ll have to climb a log dam, and you will get wet.
But you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the gorge and, at the end of the trail, Oneonta Falls. The water is cold, and the rocks and logs can be quite slippery. Wear good shoes, and remember to protect your electronics. Both PopUpGirl #1 and #2 slipped a few times and fell into the river. It made for some great photo ops. 😛
The falls are so beautiful, and definitely worth the wade in the frigid waters. In fact, there is a pool at the bottom of the falls, and many of the hikers we encountered were swimming in it. Mr. TypeTwoFun even took a dip himself. He’s crazy, though! 😉
After Oneonta Gorge, we headed up the highway to the iconic Multnomah Falls. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it–it’s wildly popular. Wildly popular also means that it was crazy busy. Maybe it was because it was an unseasonably warm day, or maybe Multnomah Falls is always this busy, but this place was PACKED with people! Parking was even more difficult here, and there were lots of signs warning visitors to lock their cars and protect their valuables. Yikes! Multnomah Falls is definitely worth seeing, but we didn’t spend more than an hour there. It felt an awful lot like a Disneyland queue line, which was not the experience we were going for.
The nice thing about Ainsworth, though, is that it makes a great homebase for whatever local activities you have planned. The kids actually wanted to see a little bit of Portland, and since it was only about a 30 minute drive to the city, we headed in to check it out. I just have to say… Portland has some amazing food. We couldn’t pass up a visit to VooDoo Doughnut, of course, and it didn’t disappoint. Be prepared to wait in line, but the payoff is sublime. Yum! We also checked out local shops at eateries along our visit and highly recommend Waffle Window for a light meal and Salt and Straw for the best (and most unique) ice cream you’ll ever taste. We love you, Portland! We’ll be back for sure!
After a busy day in the city, we were delighted that we could head back to camp for some downtime. There is nothing like a campfire and some music at the end of the day. Ainsworth is a pretty peaceful campground, and although we had neighbors, we didn’t see (or hear) them much. There were no loud parties or unruly campers, which was surprising given the area’s popularity. We did have some noise from the rail line that runs through the Columbia River Gorge. The first night was a little inconvenient, as the train really is pretty loud and woke us up several times. By the second night, though, we were pros at tuning out the noise. 🙂
And the otherwise peaceful atmosphere and convenient location far outweighed any negatives. The kids made memories that will stick with them into adulthood, and for us, that’s what this is really all about.
Helpful Tips for Pop Up Camping in Ainsworth State Park
- There 40 sites with full-hookups at the campground. Sites can be reserved in advance, and the area is very popular, so make your reservations early!
- The park has well maintained bathrooms with flush toilets and private showers–and showers are free to campground guests. Always a big bonus in our book! 🙂
- We had no specific food storage restrictions, but, just to be safe, we stored all our food in the car.
- There is plenty to do in the area. There are multiple hiking trails, and Oneonta Gorge and Multnomah falls are minutes from the campground. Ainsworth is also about 30 minutes from downtown Portland, so it makes a perfect homebase for exploring the city. It’s the best of both worlds!
- Our particular site was pretty level, but we still needed our BAL Leveler. Make sure you park on the paved drive only, and bring some sort of leveling system.
- While Ainsworth is generally a very peaceful campground, it is situated near a working rail line that runs through The Gorge. You will hear train noise (particularly at night), so if that kind of thing bothers you, you may want to book a site at another campground in the area.
Have you been to the Columbia River Gorge? We’d love to hear your tips in the comments section.
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