In 1970, a university professor in Seattle suggested giving the Pacific Northwest a special name—Cascadia—honoring the countless sites in the region where gravity and rivers mix to create some spectacular sights. These falls are what first inspired explorers to name the Cascade Range that looms over the region and channels the Columbia River Gorge.
Here are 10 campgrounds where the Pacific Northwest shows off its most spectacular side, earning it the title of “land of falling waters.”
Lewis River Lower Falls Campground
Four different falls systems tumble within a 15-minute jaunt from this site in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington: Lower Lewis River Falls, Curly Creek Falls, Big Creek Falls, and Middle Falls. There’s even a loop that’s wheelchair accessible, so the majestic views are available to campers with a variety of ability levels. Following a three-mile trail upstream takes hikers past the Lower, Middle, and Upper Lewis River Falls. Each stop also has its own parking lot.
The sites are open mid April to mid October, operating on a first-come, first-served basis till mid-May, when they shift to reservations available by calling 1-877-444-6777 or visiting recreation.gov.
Nehalem Falls Campground
The walk-in sites here in Oregon’s Tillamook National Forest are awesome more for their tranquil setting under old-growth trees than for the nearby waterfall that some campers consider to be more a glorified set of rapids. To be honest, it is a fairly horizontal set of falls, with the biggest drop plunging about 8 feet—far less than many of its towering neighbors. Still, a fish ladder running parallel to the river gives a clue that this is a prime salmon-viewing spot during spawning season.
While trails are open year-round, campsites are open only late May to mid September. Make reservations online. For more information, call the Tillamook District Office at 503-842-2545.
Shellburg Falls Campground
The Shellburg Falls Trail in Oregon’s Santiam State Forest is dotted with half a dozen developed sites that give campers a place to stay while they explore the area, including following the trail that takes hikers behind water falling 100 feet from a basalt cliff. You may see other humans enjoying the scenery, or you may see rough-skinned newts that frequent the falls and their surroundings.
The Shellburg Falls Recreation Area is open to cars from late May until the end of October. Walk-in day-use access is open all year long. For more information, call 503-859-4344.
Eagle Creek Trailhead
Campsites dot this 25-mile trail through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon. A free permit is required for backpackers who make their way through the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness, and some follow it to its intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail 13 miles in. Five waterfalls—and maybe more, depending on river levels—are visible from the trail, the most famous of which are Punchbowl Falls, pouring into a grotto as picturesque as a postcard from Paradise, and Tunnel Falls, named for the path carved through the cliff behind them, completed in the early 1900s.
Campfires are prohibited June 1 through Sept. 15, and must be kept at least 100 feet from the trail the rest of the time. Reach the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Office at 541-308-1700.
Clearwater Falls & Whitehorse Falls Campground
Umpqua National Forest in Oregon is home to plenty of scenic views, with waterfalls available in a variety of styles. Want an easy hike to a pretty setting? Whitehorse Falls on Clearwater Creek drops a relatively short 15 feet, but its width and complexity make it a beautiful choice. Watson Falls on Watson Creek plunges 272 feet, earning it the title of tallest in southwest Oregon: a grand sight for any waterfall aficionado.
The five first-come, first-served sites in Whitehorse Falls Campground are open to campers mid-April to late October, though access late in the season depends on the weather. There’s a $10 fee. For more information, call (541) 957-3200.
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington has 24 sites that serve as launching pads for a two-mile hike to the 135-foot Franklin Falls or a four-mile walk to the Denny Creek waterslide that sends you sliding over slick granite. Parking at the trailhead allows for a shorter walk to the natural slides.
The Denny Creek sites are open for reservations late May through mid-September, with prices ranging from $20 to $32 a night. For more information, call (541) 338-7869.
Silver Falls State Park
The main campgrounds in this Oregon state park offer spaces for everything from tents to RVs to horses. (There are also bunkhouses for bigger groups.) Campers flock to this area for the Trail of Ten Falls loop, which offers views—including some from behind—of almost a dozen falls along an 7.2-mile stretch.
Both overnight camping and day-use is available year round. For reservations, call 1-800-452-5687.
Named because it sits at the convergence of the Callaghan and Cheakamus rivers in British Columbia, this is a first come, first served campground. A 3-kilometer hike (this is Canada, so leave your mile-based thinking in the United States) takes hikers to the beautiful 70-meter Brandywine Falls. There’s a rumored, unnamed hot spring farther up the creek, though recent forays to find it have turned up nothing but dust. Maybe you’ll have better luck?
Choose from one of more than 55 sites for $13 a night. For more information, call (604) 986-9371.
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park
Attracting swimmers in the summer and salmon in the fall, the pool below the lower falls here is a major draw. Open to campers late April through the start of October (with reservations available mid May through early September), sites boast easy access to the upper and lower falls, which legend has it are named for the skeleton of a white man native people discovered in the area. Waterfalls and a spooky backstory? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate.
There are 103 campsites, 55 of which can be reserved. For more information, call (250) 474-1336.
Ice Cap Creek Campground
Noted as the site closest to Koosah Falls, the Ice Cap Creek Campground invites campers to enjoy the McKenzie River, which also boasts the Sahalie Falls, back in the United States. Oregon’s Willamette National Forest in Oregon maintains the Waterfalls Loop trail so you can see both breathtaking plunges in one go. They’re like something out of Lord of the Rings. Seriously, you’ll expect to see elves watching you from the trees.
Cost for the campsite is $16 per night. Make reservations at recreation.gov or 1.877.444.6777.