Family Biking: Go beyond parks and campgrounds with these bike camp hacks

The best camp-hacking comes with a pool, cake, and karaoke.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Did you know house sitting is now called (by some at least) “rent hacking”? It sounds cool, but I prefer “camp hacking,” a term I coined for camping options beyond the usual parks and campgrounds. If you’re looking for a quick-and-dirty way to camp with your bikes, maybe it’s time to think outside the box.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

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With Dodge Park’s very unfortunate and recent demise, what I considered the best option for family biking camping is suddenly gone. Now there are only two other campgrounds I’ll consider going to with kids. In this week’s column I’ll offer my two-cents on close-in camping spots. Then I’ll share new ways to get those camp vibes without having to tackle long rides and/or scary highways.

First, here’s my take on the next best, currently available options:

Stub Stewart State Park: Last summer we camped at Stub Stewart State Park — 24 relatively flat and quiet miles away; but the hour-long MAX ride for us in the SE isn’t appealing to the kids.

Camp hacking rig: gear for three people and one dog fits on a regular bike.

Oxbow Regional Park: This summer we camped at Oxbow Regional Park — 25 quiet miles with one big downhill at the end, but no pets are allowed and having to leave the dog behind is no fun.

My level of comfort may change as my kids get bigger, but currently these next three closest parks are on my “nope” list:

Barton Park: At 20 miles from home it’s a relatively close option, but when I route-tested without the kids I really didn’t like the long and fairly steep hill with very small shoulder. I’d go here alone, but I wouldn’t want to put kids on that road.

Champoeg State Park: 30 miles is just too far for my kids, plus there were a couple unpleasant spots on the road, teaching me that not all Scenic Bikeways are created equal (looking at you, Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway!), and there’s no hill-free way through Oregon City.

Milo McIver State Park: 27 miles is probably too far, but the roads are too busy for my taste when biking with kids. However, if there was some way to start from Milo McIver in Estacada, the Cascading Rivers Scenic Bikeway is beautiful!


So what to do? Well, there’s private camping, like Hipcamp. Currently there are no listings close enough for me to utilize, but I hold out hope it’s just a matter of time. In April I took a solo (well, solo plus Pixie the dog) trip to Eugene and Hipcamped one night along the way where there was no regular camping to be had. We stayed at an animal sanctuary (with 200 animals!) and while I originally intended to pitch my tent, the all-night rain convinced me to opt for the offered trailer, making this my first glamping (glamorous camping) experience.

Elle and son on their way to a Warm Showers host.
(Photo: Elle Steele)

There must certainly be nearby options using Warm Showers, the free worldwide hospitality exchange for touring cyclists. I don’t know for a fact that Warm Showers hosts with yards will welcome camping, but I’ve hosted many friends and friends-of-friends who regularly use Warm Showers and have asked to stay outside rather than in.

My friend Elle, who you may remember from our Trask River Road adventure to the Oregon Coast, took and documented a multi-day trip using Warm Showers with one of her kids. Granted they stayed indoors, but thinking about camp hacking calls this adventure of hers to mind.

The backyard concept

Have you ever camped out in your own back yard? I’m too lazy to do that, but I know plenty of families who love camping with all the comforts of home a few steps away. What I like the sound of is having all the comforts of a friend’s house a few steps away. Here’s the real heart of camp hacking: a friend with a yard who lives a good biking distance away with a pleasant route to get there. Bonus if the route has any woodsy spots and some multi-use trails.

We camp hacked a few nights ago to see our former next door neighbors’ new place. It was less than six miles away via the Springwater Corridor Trail — almost too close and too easy! We were joined by several car camping camp hackers and the festivities (this was a post-wedding BBQ) made sleeping harder than at a traditional campground, but it was a blast! I intend to do more camp hacking in friends’ yards and host some camp hackers in our yard, too.

Have you done any creative camping or used Warm Showers? I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com if it sounds like fun to you.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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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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4 years ago

Disappointing that Dodge Park is gone. Hadn’t heard about that until now. I have biked from Portland to Stub, Champoeg and Barton Park to camp (the latter two with kids).

I would do Stub or Champoeg again with kids, but not Barton for the same reason mentioned above: the traffic was disconcertingly heavy climbing back up that shoulder less hill, even on a Sunday morning. Too bad there’s no money to fix the Cazadero washout. If that ever got fixed, you could ride the Springwater nearly to Barton Park’s entrance.

For what it’s worth, now living in Minnesota I have several camping options within biking-striking distance (though fewer than from Portland): Cleary Lake Park and Afton State Park are within 30 miles on reasonably safe roads, and although it’s 40 miles away William O’Brien can be reached on a mostly-MUP route.

Haven’t tried any of the Warm Showers or HipCamp options though. Might be worth looking into, since campgrounds without bike-in sites (as at Champoeg and Stub) generally require well-in-advance reservations in the busy summer season.

chasing backon
chasing backon
4 years ago

While we have had some mixed experiences at Dodge Park while camping, the loss of this option is terrible, especially with kids in the mix.

so far the best plan B we have discovered is Battleground Lake State Park. It’s about 30 miles of mostly flat riding from SE PDX although the route is plenty of residential and busy streets in the middle section. The bike lanes are good, even on busy streets and the last 8 or so miles are out in the country on quiet roads. It has car and walk in (bike in) camping, a lake, playground etc so your set with the littles.

Hopefully some newer options appear

Todd Boulanger
Todd Boulanger
4 years ago
Reply to  chasing backon

I am sad that I never knew about Dodge Park…and I hung out with bike campers for years.

I read the WW article and I am shocked that PP did not either raise the RV rates to full market (and protecting the tent spots cost while maintaining the property) or lease the campground out to a private operator. All it takes is one fire/ major vandalism event per year to cost more than PP is saving.

Perhaps a non-profit will want to operate Dodge Park…Cycle Wilde gets its first bike centric campground!

As for cycling north to Battle Ground Lake…thanks for spending your Oregon lottery winnings in Washington State! And remember that Niche wine restaurant (1013 Main St Vancouver) makes a great all ages food pit stop, family restroom and with a camper bike friendly bike corral outside. 😉

And do not forget the Pacific Corp campgrounds out at Yale Lake if you take a longer family tour or have e-bikes.

4 years ago

Backyard camping may be pedestrian NTTAWWT but it’s a good way to spend quality time with nieces and nephews or kids of friends. Parents get a night off and you can create some memories while staying close to home base. I still remember J going right to sleep while K asked question after question. I made a rule that we had to use soft voices. I’m not sure who fell asleep next!

4 years ago

These are great ideas! I have used warmshowers before, and you can search with the advanced filters for tenting, so it is very easy to look up potential hosts who would let you camp in the backyard. Happy camping!

4 years ago

We’ve been waiting years for the link up of the Tascadero (?) trail completion from Boring to Estacada. If we had that you could use the Springwater trail and basically ride trails to Maciver and beyond. How cool would that be?

4 years ago

Cazadero trail.