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Why Stub Stewart State Park is (still) the ultimate family bike camping destination

Posted by on August 9th, 2016 at 11:52 am

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-27.jpg

Leaving camp with a 10 mile descent through the forest on the Banks-Vernonia Trail.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

If you thought bikecamping was a new fad or that it was just for extreme adventure-seekers, consider this: This weekend I joined several other families on a two-night campout at Stub Stewart State Park. We rode 40 or so miles each way from north Portland to the park’s wonderful little cabins nestled in the woods of bucolic Buxton (about 10 miles south of Vernonia).

What gets me so excited about what we did this weekend isn’t about how “epic” the ride was. In fact it’s the opposite of that. I love how accessible and doable it is for just about everyone. Not only did we have kids as young as six riding their own bikes the entire way, we had adults with us that had never done anything like it.

When we did a similar trip (with some of the same families!) five years ago it seemed like a much crazier thing. But with the trend toward more adventure-riding and “overnighters,” it seems like the idea of bikecamping has trickled into a more mainstream audience. Case in point: In the town of Banks we rolled up to a market and met another group of families with young kids doing the exact same thing!

If you’re thinking of giving it a try, Stub Stewart is a great place to start. Here’s why…

You can take a train

By hopping on the Blue Line MAX train you can cut the biking distance from Portland in half. Stub Stewart is about 20 miles north of the Hillsboro Transit Center (end of the line) and 10 of those miles are carfree bliss along the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. Keep in mind that big bikes loaded up with gear and trailers and such might attract attention from some TriMet operators. One family in our group unfortunately got thrown off the train on the way out of town. The train was relatively empty and the operator was mean and even called the police when the mom of the family pleaded her case. That’s rare, but it can happen. If you do use MAX, try to use it during off-peak hours.

If you have kids or friends that are on-the-fence about riding all the way, sometimes just knowing it’s an option is enough to get them to commit. “We can always take the MAX if we need to,” is a comforting thing to keep in your back pocket.

There’s a great route to use

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-5.jpg

I like to avoid auto traffic as much as possible — especially when riding with little people.

Five years ago I didn’t have the luxury of GPS and a bunch of vetted routes to choose from. We pedaled on some scary stretches of road that weren’t fun at all. But now we have technology! I found a great route on RideWithGPS.com (highly recommended site/service by the way) that was created by our friends Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of Path Less Pedaled fame. The route uses Willamette Blvd and the St. Johns Bridge to get out of town. Then it rolls up through Forest Park on Saltzman Road. Once on the west side, you’ll hop onto the Rock Creek Regional Trail, a fun paved path that winds through several parks and helps you avoid some of the unsafe roads in Bethany and North Plains. There are still a few sketchy spots, but overall I’m confident in saying it’s the lowest-stress route from Portland to Stub Stewart (and I’m pretty sure 16 other moms, dads, and kids will back me up on that).

Even with the climbs and the distance, we had on six-year-old and a few seven-year-olds who did it! My advice after leading the group: keep the speeds slow so the group always stays together. That makes it more fun for the little ones and it keeps their confidence high because they won’t get demoralized by trying to close a gap to faster riders.

A state park where you can camp in a suburban cul-de-sac

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-20.jpg

Just some kids from the neighborhood.

The cabins at Stub Stewart are out of this world. There are 15 cozy wooden bungalows nestled in a forest clearing that overlooks the coastal mountain range. It feels like a suburban neighborhood with sidewalks, porches, nice people to meet, and plenty of safe places for the little ones to run free. And you can drive there too of course. No shame in that. In fact, we had a few people who drove out, which made our loads much lighter (and allowed me to have a mountain bike to play with, more on that below). Keep in mind you’ll have to reserve cabins way ahead. But even if you can’t get one, there are 111 other campsites scattered throughout the park.

And in case you haven’t heard, Stub Stewart is a trail-biking paradise. It’s a hilly park so expect climbing; but if you’ve got the legs and the enthusiasm, Stub has an impressive network of singletrack trails and logging roads. The nonprofit Northwest Trail Alliance has done amazing work and I can’t wait to go back and ride the rest of the trails.

All-you-can-eat blackberries

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-31.jpg

If you time your trip right, you can enjoy a blackberry buffet that goes on for miles. We stopped and picked several times, stuffing our water bottles and bowls with as many berries as possible.

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Here are a few more photos from the road…

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-2.jpg

Fortunately we only had a couple miles on Highway 30. I sure would like to see ODOT and the City of Portland work together to make biking more pleasant here.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-3.jpg

Descending Springville Road just before the Washington County line.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-4.jpg

Pro tip: Try and carry your kids’ stuff so they can just enjoy the ride.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-6.jpg

Rock Creek Regional Trail is a gem!
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-8.jpg

Bethany Lake.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-9.jpg

Fuel.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-10.jpg

One of the many old homes along Meek Road between Hillsboro and Banks.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-11.jpg

Gravel yes, cars no.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-12.jpg

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-17.jpg

Sampling some of the singletrack trails in the Stub Stewart mountain biking area.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-18.jpg

The kids found a playground near the cabins.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-19.jpg

Hollywood Theater and River City Bicycles partnered with State Parks for an outdoor movie showing of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure on Saturday night.
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Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-25.jpg

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The Banks-Vernonia Trail is worth its weight in gold.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-34.jpg

Leaving Banks.
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Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-37.jpg

Yes, these two little seven-year-old superstars rode the whole way.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-38.jpg

WTH?
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-39.jpg

This little six-year-old dude pedaled all the way up Springville Road with a little help from his dad.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-40.jpg

Using Forest Park isn’t just a fun adventure, it’s also another way to avoid auto traffic.
Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-42.jpg

Portland to Stub Stewart family camping trip-43.jpg

Smiling and enjoying the St. John’s Bridge is possible when you take the lane with a group of 16 people.

If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to ask in the comments. I’m happy to help more people experience this.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Ted Timmons (Contributor)longgoneRow RiverGlowBoyHello, Kitty Recent comment authors
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Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Stub is great, well-placed on BV, which is our best rail-to-trail in the PDX area. We rode out and camped there earlier this year.

Keep in mind the campground is usually fully reserved, there are no hiker-biker sites, and they do not have a no-turn-away policy. In other words if you arrive by bike and the CG is full, you’re out of luck.

With that in mind, your tent camping options:

– in the Dairy Creek West loop. It’s full of RVs and car camping. The tent “pads” are all in a grassy area with demarcated sites.

– in the “Brooke Creek hike-in camp”. It’s perhaps a 1/2 mile down a gravel/rock path; they expect car campers to park at the trailhead and walk their stuff in, there are even a few little wheelbarrows. You can cycle in or push your bike in.

So, if you get to Stub and don’t have a reservation, your best bet is to go to Brooke Creek. When we camped there earlier this summer, all the sites were reserved but several of them were open. We just waited until it was late enough that we assumed the people weren’t going to show up:

Also for those wanting a longer ride home, I recommend going to Vernonia and then coming home via the CZ trail (which runs the length of the Scappoose-Vernonia Highway). Here’s CZ:

Josh G
Guest
Josh G

Curious if you made your cabin reservations long before the Pee Wee movie was announced? What a nice surprise if so.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“It feels like a suburban neighborhood with sidewalks, porches, nice people to meet, and plenty of safe places for the little ones to run free.”

I thought you were trying to make a case FOR the park, not against it…

Spiffy
Subscriber

yes, TriMet hates bikes… we all know this… MAX operators are no exception and are usually even meaner when it comes to bikes… I’ve never met a MAX driver I liked…

there’s nothing you can do about cargo bikes because they’re simply too large and aren’t allowed…

however, I find that with a trail-a-bike and a trailer it’s no problem since both of those things fold up and are then considered luggage… with a trailer it’s usually easy to get the clip on the stroller attachment and then it’s a stroller and you don’t even have to unpack it and fold it up…

hopefully they were able to just get on the next train…

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Huh. I’ve ridden MAX approximately two thousand times over the years, and never actually met an operator. Then again, I’ve only taken my Madsen cargo bike on the train once. Actually, I think the operator kind of gave me the side-eye when he saw me waiting on the platform with that big rig, but it wasn’t a busy time and I still got on the train without incident.

Adam
Subscriber

The operator is not the one who kicks you off. That is done by the fare checkers and TriMet police.

Pete R
Guest

Spiffy
yes, TriMet hates bikes… we all know this… MAX operators are no exception and are usually even meaner when it comes to bikes… I’ve never met a MAX driver I liked…

Love the totally blatant and uninformed “fact” here. I use MAX A LOT and have never had an issue with my bike or the drivers. Actually find them quite helpful when I have needed a question answered.
But what do I know?

rick
Guest
rick

himalayan blackberry? No thanks. It has destroyed so much of western Oregon.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

By eating the berries, you are destroying their seeds, thus limiting their ability to reproduce. I see eating the fruits as doing my part to reducing their spread.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Thank you for your sacrifice 🙂

Adam
Subscriber

You can eat things that are just growing out of the ground??

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Ha ha… no, I was just kidding. Of course not.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

“water, you mean like in the toilet?”

BB
Guest
BB

Bring some pancake mix and pick berries on the way – makes for a memorable camp breakfast.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Truth about the himalayan blackberries, is that though the berries can be sweet, the plant is a rampant weed, and it’s hard to get rid of. I’m wary of eating any fruit off this plant where it may have been sprayed at some point with herbicides such as the charmingly named ’roundup’ (glyphosate) supposedly benign, and ‘crossbow’ (don’t know the tech name, or its toxicity, but believe it may be far more toxic than roundup.).

To the extent it can offer consolation, there are many people, including some scientists and of course, the chemical manufacturers themselves, that think roundup is wonderful. I may be overly skeptical, but I find it hard not to be, knowing of the millions of gallons of the stuff that’s liberally applied.

Maybe the blackberries along the banks-vernonia trail aren’t being sprayed, or haven’t been sprayed in past, but I would definitely keep that possibility in mind. For control, grubbing out this monster plant by hand is better where it’s thought people are going to be snacking on the berries, but the physical effort involved in grubbing them out is major.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I may be hopelessly naive, but I would hope that if the plants had been sprayed with Roundup, they would be suffering some obvious damage. I know blackberries are bulletproof, but are they that strong?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Good question. After being initially sprayed with roundup, many plants will show varying indication of that having been done (brown, curling leafs, dried out stems, etc.). The kind of thing that bothers me, is longer term residual affects to the ground and then accordingly to the plants, that I wonder about not being so readily seen.

The story I have on roundup, very loosely, is that minerals in the soil, neutralize the chemical compounds of the herbicide. If I understand correctly, applied to the above ground parts of plants, the herbicide makes the plants grow themselves to death. One of those ‘miracles of science’.

I don’t mean to spoil people’s enjoyment of free blackberries, because it can be very sweet and tasty fruit, but awareness of the extensive use made of herbicides that has occurred for decades now, including others besides roundup and crossbow, in all sorts of places including along roads, rail beds and former rail beds like the brooks-vernonia, is something that occurs to me when I think of eating the delicious fruit on those vicious, thorny vines.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Of you are right about residuals in the soil, you are far more screwed from eating food from the grocery store, which you eat regularly, than from a handful of berries you might eat once a year. Conventional agriculture uses a lot of Roundup. But, I have to admit, I do think about this occasionally as I am doing my invasive plant suppression duty.

Adam
Subscriber

Almost all of the corn, soy, and canola used in your processed foods is sprayed with glyphosate and is perfectly safe for human consumption.

Zimmerman
Guest
Zimmerman

The well of things to be outraged about never runs dry, never. No one asked anyone to purchase and plant a blackberry bush.

I suppose with all that storage space on their bicycles that someone could have courteously brought along a flame thrower though. We all have to do our part, and stuff.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Don’t discuss blackberries… they’re horribly invasive, and just mentioning their name makes them invade Oregon. They’re also immune to Roundup, which, the way wsbob tells it, makes a nice mixer for your blackberry cocktail. Or was that fuel for the flamethrower? I’m feeling a bit confused.

Mike
Guest
Mike

At least they aren’t as bad as the Californian huckleberry. Those bastards are the worst.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

You’re not kidding. Huckleberries are migrating to Oregon in droves, attracted by the low cost of living, and are driving up the cost of housing everywhere they grow. Before you know it, it will be all huckleberry pie and huckleberry finn everywhere. Remember when you could just walk down Hawthorne picking salmonberries?

Zimmerman
Guest
Zimmerman

HK, you are my favorite commenter on BikePortland.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I don’t delude myself that consuming Himalayan blackberries will make the slightest difference in their spread, one way or another. But I do know that they are delicious, and eat them whenever I get the chance (unless there’s obvious evidence of recent spraying).

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Self delusion is a critical skill. I suggest you start practicing as you do the hard work of wiping out the Himalayan blackberry population of Oregon one berry at a time, helping make room for our new friend, the Californian huckleberry.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

The route uses Willamette Blvd and the St. Johns Bridge to get out of town. Then it rolls up through Forest Park on Saltzman Road.

If you want to avoid Hwy30, I strongly suggest using Leif Erickson. I mean, it meets Saltzman anyhow.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I take the blue line back and forth from Goose Hollow to Beaverton on a nearly daily basis, with my bike on most days. What Max operators hate is delays at stations from people trying to stuff bikes ( of any kind) on to crowded trains, or people putting bikes on to trains with no hanging space left and crowding the aisles so people can’t get on or off the train. If a train is too full, take the next one, or split your group if needed.

My wife and I take our Tandem on the Yellow Line towards St Johns every Saturday and Sunday morning and we have never had any problem. We only board an uncrowded train, and carefully place the bike to not block the aisles and let people on and off with no delays.

If heading to Hillsboro on the blue line do it early on Saturday or Sunday morning, and load at Goose Hollow to avoid the increased number of people getting on and off through downtown. Pull off your panniers so you can use the hanging racks if possible, and if you take a cargo bike make sure it is the only one in your group not hanging on a designated hook.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

Great trip, sounds like lots of fun!

A tip for families that think 40 miles (from NoPo, longer from elsewhere on the eastside) sounds like too much – Stub Stewart may be the ultimate *destination* but I’d say there’s a strong case to be made that the entire *trip* to Dodge Park may be nicer for a lot of families and doable for a good number that Stub is just too hard for. It’s a much shorter ride (~20-30 mi. vs. ~40-50 mi.) from the Eastside with a lot less elevation gain (less than half as much by my calculations). A good chunk of it is still on a MUP (albeit, the Springwater rather than the Banks-Vernonia trail) and the rest can be on low-traffic residential roads and low-traffic rural roads – OK there’s also .4 miles of ugly suburban big-road sidewalk. Plus, Dodge is at the confluence of two beautiful rivers and has some nice beach areas!

Route to Dodge:
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/12013073

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

And if MAX works for your group, the trip can be even shorter – 12 miles!!

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Two other excellent family-camping destinations within around 40 miles riding of central Portland, where I’ve taken our older kid in our cargo bike:

– Barton Park, a couple miles south of Boring, has a bit of a carnival atmosphere, but is fun and has a decent play structure for the kids. No hiker-biker sites so you’ll need to reserve in advance, but the sites include electric hookups so you can keep your phone/devices charged. You can ride the Springwater trail almost all the way there, though the last 2-3 miles are on a sketchy, no-shoulder road, so you’ll want to plan your arrival and departure for a non-busy driving time. If the Cazadero trail (effectively an extension of the Springwater) ever gets built, you’ll be able to ride on a path the entire way there.

– Champoeg State Park has a lovely, dedicated hiker-biker area that I’m told rarely fills up, and it only costs $5 to stay there. We did a pleasant route down the Trolley Trail through Oregon City (even stuffed our Madsen in the municipal elevator, with about an inch to spare), then through quiet country out to Champoeg. A few big hills just outside OR City, but otherwise a really great route. (I’ve also solo camped at Champoeg, riding a more direct route using bike lanes as far as Sherwood, then the shoulder of 99W the last few miles to Newberg, a road that freaks some people out but I don’t mind too much because of the distance I cover in that half hour or so).

rick
Guest
rick

Beautiful trees.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Good story, about what appears to have been an excellent trip experience..thanks maus. I was amazed to read that 6 and 7 year old kids were enthusiastic and able to ride the entire mileage of this trip on their own bikes. When his kids were in their early teens, my brother tried to get his kids to regularly ride with him for a summer or two, with some success…they whined and complained chronically. Maybe other people face similar situations with their kids, which this story may help them figure out.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I really wish Washington County would work to build a trail paralleling the rail line between Banks and Hillsboro.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

Or better yet, replacing the rail line between Banks and Hillsboro with a trail. A connection to Forest Grove via Pacific University and the Tri-Met bus line is a must.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The rail line is still used, albeit rarely, and helps keep large trucks off the roads. No reason why they can’t build a parallel trail, similar to what we have on the Springwater along the river in Portland.

Jordan
Guest
Jordan

How do you carry sleeping bags for all the kids? We were thinking about bike camping but the kids bags are really bulky.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Kid-size bags are smaller.
Down compresses better than synthetic (pricey, though).
Summer-weight bags, good down to mid-40F temps, compress smaller than 3-season or winter bags.
Rear racks can stack 3 bags, and piled-high camping bikes look cool.
Also trailers, cargo bikes, full panniers, etc.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

If by kids bags being really bulky, you mean those rectangular bags that are still about 18″ thick when rolled up, yeah not the best bags to bring bike camping. You can step up to a much more bike-camping/backpacking appropriate bag without spending $150+ on down, when today’s synthetics are so good. A synthetic mummy bag (with a temperature rating appropriate to summer) can be had for a two digit price, weighing under two pounds and compressing down to a ball a few inches across.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Very nice write up. I’ve been running into groups of youngsters for almost as long as I’ve been touring (not counting when I was the youngster touring), which is a lot of decades. It’s always a joy to chat with six-year-olds while everyone is taking a break, preferably with ice-cream. Good on the parents for bringing this important activity into their children’s lives.

I’m currently waiting on my grand-children to get a bit older than two and three so they can start riding some short tours. Maybe next year, although they want to do it now, of course.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

The route you’ve linked to doesn’t use Willamette or the STJ Bridge. Am I missing something? Did you just cross the bridge and back track a short way on 30 to Saltzman?

Redhippie
Guest
Redhippie

I love your job. You get to do cool things and write about it. It is even tax deductible. Cheers

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

Not necessarily tax deductible, but you might be able to write some of it off as a business expense.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

“Pro tip: Try and carry your kids’ stuff so they can just enjoy the ride.” – caption

I started hiking when I was about 5 or 6. I don’t recall much of most hikes, but I do remember I was excited to have my own bag to carry – a repurposed Army musette shoulder bag. At first it carried water, cookies and a wind breaker, but other treasures were added as I grew up…camera, knife, matches, etc. That led to the 10 Essentials, and then backpacking and bike camping…life-long habits. Parents know their kids best, but carrying a *few* personal items might make some kids feel more involved and confident that they have stuff they need with them.

Caitlin D
Subscriber

Hooray for family bike camping!

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

“The train was relatively empty and the operator was mean and even called the police when the mom of the family pleaded her case.” Man, seriously? That is not encouraging, especially for people who have never tried something like this before. 🙁

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Don’t be discouraged. They probably won’t ask you to leave, but if they do, just do it and get on the next train. No one will call the cops if you don’t make a scene. Most drivers really don’t care if you’re not making problems.

Row River
Guest
Row River

Bike onto Amtrak down to Eugene, hop the LTD bus to Cottage Grove (or drive down) and bike the Row River Trail (rail to trail) out to camp at Sharps Creek or Rujada. It’s really the “ultimate” family trip.

longgone
Guest
longgone

Hey! Where did the link for the cue sheets go to??? I was referencing them for this week. Ugh. Really want to do this on my day off.
Thanks,

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Linked at “a great route on RideWithGPS.com”.