RV Camping in Deschutes National Forest and Bend, Oregon
As the temperature continues to rise in Oregon’s hottest spot for all things outdoors-yet-posh, the once small-feeling town of Bend has erupted into an endless series of roundabouts, breweries and subdivisions. Surrounded by vast empty deserts to the east, volcanic national parks to the south and dramatic snowcapped mountains each boasting a picturesque triangular prominence in the distance, you’ll find the rivers as full of tubers all summer long as the slopes are coated in skiers from the world over looking to soak up one of the Northwest’s longest ski seasons.
Bend has earned all of this attention, but when you take a city full of great food, beer and shopping, then surround it with the natural paradise that was here before all of this development, you end up with a fair deal of competition to find that perfect place to park your RV.
Which is why we’re here to run you through Bend’s best RV parks, before we dive into the best free camping in the Deschutes National Forest.
Though not particularly private, the spots at this–perhaps the quintessential–Oregon State Park are spacious enough to keep this state park from feeling like a more standard RV park. Toss in a few playgrounds, hiking trails, proximity to the river and Oregon-first environmental advances like solar showers and you’ve got the perfect base camp to explore Bend (15 minutes away by car), Smith Rock (36 minutes) and the rest of the region.
Heading south of town, LaPine State Park packs the sites in a little closer than Tumalo, but thanks to the ponderosa pine forest setting, often offers more privacy immediately in your campsite. The park is also set along the Deschutes River, with pristine riverbends reflecting the almost always bluebird skies that hang over Bend. LaPine State Park is also home to a 500-Some year old, massive Ponderosa pine, the largest in Oregon.
If a well-manicured spot within chipping distance to a small golf green sounds like your cup of camping, and a clubhouse, clean bathrooms and one of the shortest drives to downtown Bend only make the proposition feel even more enticing, this is the RV Park for you. A full-hookups affair with more of an upscale resort feel than campground, for a premium you can explore the many outdoor malls, fancy shops and edible variety making as much a mark on the city these days as the ancient lava flows that shape its boundaries.
Despite the sites being a bit tight, this is one of the more woodsy campgrounds with hookups in the area. If Bend is the flannel-wearing bearded hipster of Eastern Oregon, Sisters is the rich aunt who enjoys a second bottle of wine with her evening crocheting. Park your rig and walk the small town’s latte and athleisurewear-laden shops, this corner of Oregon’s ever-dramatic landscape looming in the background.
Hoofing it into town isn’t quite as easy from this, Sister’s more upscale RV park, as it is from Sisters Creekside, but the luxury atmosphere and amenities like a pool, hot tub, exquisite manicuring and mini golf keep this park as popular a destination as any.
You won’t find water and electric hookups here, or even a vault toilet, but if your idea of camping evokes wide open spaces and leaving your wallet in your pocket, Oregon Badlands sets the stage for even the longest of RVs to find somewhere to camp, for free, on BLM land about 30 minutes from downtown Bend.
The growing nature of Bend is heavily fueled by an influx of residents who, along with their desire to live in a progressive, outdoorsy environment, bring a thick wallet with them when they move to town. This means higher taxes and that translates to expensive rates at many an RV park. While this county park’s RV sites are essentially parking spaces, with hookups, in a cement lot, it’s one of the more affordable places to connect to the grid while exploring the Deschutes.
Easily the best of the Deschutes National Forest’s paid campgrounds, of anything on our list so far, this is the most “camping” the area offers, while still accommodating RVs. As if forested camping along the McKenzie River wasn’t woodsy enough an experience, this stretch of the national forest is one of the few remaining swaths of old-growth left in the area, and still massive Douglas-firs and western redcedars loom above many of the sites. Finding paradise in a growing city doesn’t come easily though, and camping here will put you about an hour and a half from Bend’s burgeoning civilization, but right in the heart of the forest.
While it doesn’t offer creekside old-growth tree camping, Cold Springs Campground is a best of both worlds affair. Spacious sites sit comfortably close to Sisters, and about 45 minutes from Bend, while still surrounded by ponderosa pines, plenty of shade, peace and quiet.
The Best Free Camping Near Bend, Oregon
Most of the free camping near Bend will be found in the Deschutes National Forest, and much of the best camping in that national forest is relatively convenient to Bend as well. The crowd favorite though, Harrington Loop Road, is a bit closer to Sisters, OR, with its fast cell connection and spacious campsites in the towering ponderosa pines.
If being near Bend itself is your main objective, spurs from Oregon State Route 372 like Forest Road 260 and COD Rockstacker are two of your best bets, or Lava Cast Forest Road if you’re looking for easier access to the east side of town.
Many of the free sites you’ll find in the Deschutes are, as might be expected, draped in a shade that will save you from the harsher effects of notoriously sunny Bend’s hotter months, with the natural side effect of less than ideal conditions for soaking up solar. If keeping your wattage cooking is higher on the list, you might seek destinations further east of town (like the aforementioned Badlands Rock), though depending on your particular comfort levels with such things, it’s worth noting that many would-be residents who have yet to figure out how to afford living in this upscale city have made some of these places their full-time residence, despite the typical 14 day limits most of them claim to enforce.
Should your primary desire be to get lost in the forest, far from the cell towers and streetlights of civilization, the Deschutes is full of hidden gems still waiting to be discovered, and Metolius Basin is a great place to get your feet wet with this type of camping.
This national forest and the small towns and cities living on its edges offer the full spectrum of things to do in general, and it’s easy to see why so many people come to Bend for travel, vacation and just to find a new place to call home. Luckily for those of us in RVs and vans, there is still a wide variety of places to camp and no doubt still something for every type of traveler.