Only in Oregon: Old Growth Forest Camping Beside A Wild & Scenic River
Nestled beside a designated Wild & Scenic River is lightly used Kiahanie Campground in the Willamette National Forest. For just $10 a night, tent and RV campers enjoy the quiet beauty of an old growth forest and the gentle sound of the crystal clear river lulling them to sleep at night.
The campground is located about 20 miles northeast of Oakridge just off the Aufderheide Scenic Drive (Highway 19). It's at an elevation of 2,200 feet with 19 camp sites, most of which lie beside the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.
The river is one of forty Wild and Scenic Rivers designated in Oregon. In 1988, the Pacific Rivers Council (then Oregon Rivers Council) took the unprecedented step of crafting the nation’s first large federal river protection act, the landmark Oregon Omnibus National Wild and Scenic River Act of 1988. This Act remains the largest river protection legislation in the nation’s history. It added 40 outstanding rivers totaling 1500 river miles to the National Wild and Scenic River system in Oregon.
I didn't know the history about the river's special designation while camping there. I just appreciated the cleanliness of the water, the whispering sound of it flowing by, and the wildlife I watched while sitting beside it. At dusk, bats emerged to fly overhead capturing insects for their dinner.
Each of the 19 sites has a large picnic table and fire ring. Two hand pumps provide drinking water and there are well kept pit toilets. Despite it being Labor Day weekend, this beautiful campground was barely half full when we camped there. Fly fishing is permitted in season for native trout.
Kiahanie Campground is just one peaceful stop along the Aufderheide Scenic Drive from Westfir off Highway 58 to Blue River on Highway 126. The Middle Fork and Blue River Ranger Stations have a free CD you can play while you drive that opens your eyes to the many points of interest you'll see along the way. Return the CD when you finish your trip.
The drive is also popular with motorcyclists and bicyclists. A nice video shows some of the highlights from a bicyclist's point of view. The seasonal road is closed from October to April, due to heavy snows. Contact the Willamette National Forest Middle Fork Ranger Station for current road conditions and closures. This is a beautiful drive any time, but especially in the fall when the leaves turn color and drop gently to the ground.
As for Kaihanie Campground, and the other Willamette National Forest campgrounds, I'll be seeing you again next camping season!
Rick Obst is an Arizona native who moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2005 and fell in love with the verdant Pacific Northwest. He enjoys photography and discovering the many people, places, and events that make this part of the world so special.
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