Family Biking: Oxbow Regional Park is a great bike camping destination

Kidical Mass PDX at Gresham Main City Park en route to Oxbow Regional Park.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

We just returned from a weekend at Oxbow Regional Park with the annual Kidical Mass PDX bike camping trip and my kids declared it their favorite bike camping site in the area.

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Mind you, this is a best of two since our only other bike camping experience in the area was a trip to Stub Stewart last summer, but our whole crew of 17 had a great time for the 25-mile trip, including a family on their first bike camping trip, a spur-of-the-moment-joining family, and a kid who discovered one day prior he was much too big for his old bike and took his mom’s bike instead!

What the kids liked:

No MAX ride. For our Stub Stewart trip we took the MAX blue line to the west end of the line in Hillsboro to avoid the hills and busy roads of the west slope. This trip to Oxbow was easy to bike from start to finish. However, we live in Woodstock very close to the Springwater Corridor Trail so some families may opt to take the MAX blue line to the east end of the line in Gresham to get started.

Packed for fun.

No pets. With no Pixie in tow I didn’t have a good excuse to not run after a soccer ball all weekend and played with the kids more.

Inclusive nature play area with climbing on salvaged logs and a real boat!
Water play station in the new Oxbow inclusive play area.
The map of the playgrounds is the only map you need.

Awesome playground. The new inclusive nature play areas are really something! We visited the one by the group picnic areas several times (conveniently next to a big grassy field to kick a soccer ball around), completely ignoring the old traditional play structure right across the street. We took our bikes for each playground run, but other families considered it walking distance from the campground. The other new nature play area is much closer to the campground and features a mud kitchen, something I would have loved as a child, but am so glad my kids didn’t find their way to as a mom who didn’t bring along extra changes of clothes.

It’s a short walk with one switchback to get to the river.
Rocks and water, camping must-haves.

The Sandy River. Walking east just past the end of the campsites yields river access down a short dirt trail. My older kid went swimming on Saturday (brr!), but just exploring the expansive rocky dry parts of the riverbed is fun and doesn’t get your only pair of shoes soaking wet.

What I liked:

No mosquitoes! I don’t know if this was a fluke of the weather, but I didn’t get one mosquito bite and I’m always the first person mosquitoes seek out. When I was borrowing the Surly Big Easy e-cargo bike and carried the kids up Mount Tabor at 4pm on a March afternoon within 10 seconds of sitting on a bench by the playground a dozen mosquitoes feasted on my legs. So I know from mosquitoes!

No dew. Not a big thing, but it seems worth mentioning that despite being alongside a river and experiencing mild June temps, our tents were all dry in the morning.


By site 29 find four flush toilets with sinks and four free showers. There are also pit toilets and portapotties throughout the campground.

Free showers. Not that we usually bother with showers when we go camping, but it’s nice that they’re free! I wish I’d noticed this during my test run in March because ever since one mishap several years ago I bring enough quarters for everyone on on the trip just in case.

What I didn’t like:

No cell phone service. None of our group had service in the campground and most of us didn’t anywhere in the park, but I think one phone worked by the entrance. Some might think no signal is a good thing, of course.

A deer right next to the playground.

No pets. I like bringing Pixie along, even though it means 10 more pounds of cargo and needing to be alert for birds of prey. But hey, no pets means more wildlife! We saw a deer casually munching unattended food at site 21 on our way in.

No alcohol. Personally, I don’t mind the no alcohol rule, but it seems worth mentioning in the minuses column.

Bad vacant/occupied signage. Half the vacant/occupied labels on the fancy bathrooms (the ones with sinks, though not all the sinks work) are mismarked. This is really for the “What the rangers don’t like” list because they have to field complaints about it all day long. We found it slightly annoying.

My 12-year-old trooper made it up the big hill with lots of walking and zero complaints!

The hill. I had previously written off Oxbow for family bike camping on account of its horribly big hill (downhill on the way to camp, uphill to leave), but Sara, my Kidical Mass PDX Co-Director, arranged for vehicle support Sunday morning and ferried most of us up the hill. My March test ride was on my unladen road bike and I had to rest even before the first turnout so I didn’t feel any great need to tackle the hill again, but I figured I’d make things quicker by not taking up a truck spot and pedal up. However, I did put all my heavy stuff (camp kitchen, snacks, U-lock, pound of unnecessary shower quarters, tents) on the truck. One of my kids opted to pedal up, too. As did Corey and Penny on their tandem with all their gear in a trailer, and Nettie went up on her loaded road bike. My kid needed to rest and walk a lot of the way, but we still beat the second truckload of campers up and he said he’d do it again!

Rock. Stars. Cory and Penny.

Know before you go:

The route to Oxbow Regional Park
We used the time-tested Kidical Mass PDX route to Oxbow, which is the same, save for the very end, as the KMPDX route to Dodge Park. Starting at Woodstock Park we have three quiet miles of city streets to Cartlandia, then 11 miles of pleasant Springwater Corridor Trail. We leave the trail at SE 267th/Rugg Road and quickly turn east on SE Stone Road for an uncontrolled crossing of Highway 26. This is worst part of the route, but it’s better than using an alternate route that has a better 26 crossing but puts riders on busy SE Orient Drive for a stretch.

Quickly across Highway 26 on Saturday.

We discovered that Saturday traffic is much better than Sunday, both in terms of waiting for an opening to cross the highway and for seeing cars on all the other roads. However, we didn’t encounter any impatient people in cars and the only honking was accompanied by a “Woo hoo, you go!” (Note: never honk at people on bikes unless there’s an emergency…though Saturday’s horn tapping and cheering was very sweet.)

Everyone passed us with plenty of room, plus the hill out of Oxbow is quieter than the hill out of Dodge.

There’s currently a detour (link is a PDF) for bridge #140 decking replacement through early August and it wasn’t bad. The detour isn’t as flat as the trail, but it took us past lots of horses, several of whom we met (as well as their owner who drove up and introduced herself, her dog, and the horses) on our way home.

Horses along the Springwater Corridor Trail detour.

This year most campers started at Woodstock Park, but one family met us at Cartlandia and one at Gresham Main City Park, having taken the MAX there. An hour-long stop at Gresham Main City Park (11 miles into the journey) for lunch, resting, playing, and chatting helped break up the trip.

Camping again this summer
Looking through the Oxbow reservations I see a couple available Friday and Saturday sites (out of 74) which leads me to believe people cancel reservations and it’s worth keeping an eye on availability. There are also many sites marked “call center” which might be reservable over the phone. If you can camp on a Sunday or weekday there’s a lot of availability throughout the summer still, which is probably what we’ll do. There’s no hiker/biker area — sites are all $22 with a $8 booking fee and they can hold up to six people. Firewood is $5 a bundle and available by the entrance gate. It’s about 2.5 miles with some rolling hills from the entrance gate to the campsites so if you’ve got energy and space to get your wood on the way in, do it so you don’t have to go back.

Not that it’s a competition, but Gregg had the heaviest load by far! And then he added his two kids and their two bikes for most of the ride home!

I’m already thinking of ways to cut weight so I can tackle the hill with all our gear next time. Ditching the pound of unnecessary shower quarters, swapping my U-lock for a lighter lock, using plastic plates instead of metal, and not carrying our food waste home will be a good start. This was our first time using two tents — the kids in our REI Half Dome 2 Plus and me in our new-to-us REI Quarter Dome 1. I’ve never had a tent all to myself before (we usually all cram into the 2 Plus or I’ve camped “alone” with Pixie) and it was soooooooo nice so that extra weight will stay.

Weece’s Market at mile 17.5 of 24.2.

I’ll entice the kids up the hill with a promise to stop at Weece’s Market (note: no public restroom at Weece’s) for candy at the top, but I don’t think I can entice them to help carry gear up a hill so big. However, I still very clearly remember the days I was carrying both kids and gear so I always feel 100 pounds lighter when camping these days!

Have you been to Oxbow Regional Park? If so, do you have any tips to add? What do you think of the hill? Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

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Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson

Madi Carlson (@familyride on Twitter) wrote our Family Biking column from February 2018 to November 2019. She's the author of Urban Cycling: How to Get to Work, Save Money, and Use Your Bike for City Living (Mountaineers Books). In her former home of Seattle, Madi was the Board President of Familybike Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting bicycling as a means for moving towards sustainable lifestyles and communities. She founded Critical Lass Seattle, an easy social group ride for new and experienced bicyclists who identify as women and was the Director of Seattle's Kidical Mass organization, a monthly ride for families. While she primarily bikes for transportation, Madi also likes racing cyclocross, all-women alleycats, and the Disaster Relief Trials. She has been profiled in the Associated Press, Outdoors NW magazine, CoolMom, and ParentMap, and she contributed to Everyday Bicycling by Elly Blue.

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5 years ago

Madi! We had such a blast! Thanks for all your hard work.
This was our first family bike camping adventure and we are already planning our next. It was shockingly easy…and we are kicking ourselves (ok, well, one of us is) for not attempting the hill.

matt picio
5 years ago

Oxbow has traditionally been a problematic campground during “camping season” (late May – mid September) due to the number of people disobeying park rules and being rude to other campers. Cycle Wild took several trips there between 2008 and 2011, and I’ve led a couple trips independently, though none in the last 3 years. Families might also consider Dodge Park as an alternative if they have concerns about park guests or the hill – it’s owned by the City of Portland, rather than Metro, but has similar rules and similar amenities. The two parks are the best options for close-in camping in many respects, especially given the low-traffic routes as opposed to places like Milo McIver and Barton Park, which have high-traffic issues in spots. (although both have hosted Cycle Wild / Kidical Mass family camping trips in past years, and will be much more accessible once the Cazadero Trail is completed)