Backcountry glamping in Oregon is a must-experience for outdoor enthusiasts. Experience the beauty of exploring Eastern Oregon’s backcountry.
Every year while growing up, my family spent the summer camping. Six kids and two adults crammed into one tent trailer would suggest that heading outside to sleep was not high on my priority list as an adult. Playing hard outdoors during the day is my nirvana, but I prefer my creature comforts at night. However, never one to shy away from adventure, I jumped at the opportunity to experience glamping in Eastern Oregon.
Organizing for Glamping in Oregon
Go Wild Adventures, an adventure experience tour operator based out of La Grande, OR, organized the trip. La Grande is located about four hours northeast of Portland. Four other adventurous souls had signed up for the trek, and we all met up with our bags in tow at 9 am on a Wednesday for breakfast at Liberty Theatre Cafe. Packing for three days in late September, when the weather could be unpredictable, had not been easy! The guides loaded our duffels into Sully, the van, and we drove to the trailhead to meet our four-pack mules and Jeff, the owner of WildCountry Packing.
The mules—Travis, Pearl, Monty, and Molly—had made a trip days before to deliver the gear for camp setup. Now they had to repeat the six-mile uphill journey to pack in our bags and enough provisions to sustain us for three days of glamping. We were heading backcountry, and there would be no stores to buy any forgotten supplies. Not only that, there would be no satellite service to contact anyone except for emergency helicopter services, which with a price tag of $200,000, we were all keen to avoid!
Scenic Journey into the Glampsite
The hike into camp took over five hours, partly because of many pauses to take photos of the stunning surroundings. We passed through various ecosystems, from lush trees at the trailhead to the stark and barren summit at 8000 feet. The autumn colors were beginning to develop under the blue sky day; hence, we happily lingered over lunch in Angels Pass. Our guides, Dan and Kaleb, spread out local cheese, charcuterie, and fruit and vegetable bounty from their gardens! We made it to camp at twilight, greeted with wine from the region and a beautiful Caprese salad. So far, the experience lived up to its description.
Top 3 Reasons to Use a Local Tour Operator:
- To handle all the logistics
- They are knowledgeable about the area and safety
- They tailor-make your trip based on your preferences and abilities
The ‘John’ of the Forest
I retrieved my bag from where the mules dropped supplies and was then directed to my tent to settle in. The tent contained a cot, sleeping bag and liner, extra blanket, camp light, and even a package of wipes. Official bathroom etiquette orientation was up next on the agenda. Kaleb led us along a fallen tree-lined path to the hatched log and up an incline. He pointed to a grey tent the size of a cubicle, the famous pit toilet. Other than not having to squat, compliments of a small seat, it lacked any luxury. We were instructed to take ‘John,’ a small wooden carving, from his perch near the campfire to notify others when the facilities were in use. GoWild thought of all the details to make dealing with necessities private.
Gourmet Meals Cooked over the Open Fire
Back in camp, Kaleb shook up cocktails while we nibbled on shishito peppers. Dan prepared elk and bison tacos over the open fire. Bananas foster and miraculously still-frozen ice cream followed the hyperlocal dinner. Evening fell, but the fire kept us all comfortable until we bade each other good night.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
The sounds of wind and rain woke me in the middle of the night. The unseasonable warmth of the day before was replaced by soggy ground and foggy skies, inevitable for the end of September at 7000 feet of elevation. My bladder eventually forced me to venture out of my cozy tent. The smell of coffee and the crackling of flames from the fire was the cue to watch breakfast preparations. Elk hash topped with free-range eggs was excellent fuel for the day’s activities.
Daytime Activities While Glamping in Oregon
The rain continued off and on all day, but it did not stop us from hiking out to a beautiful small alpine lake, where we had the opportunity to kayak, hike to a viewpoint, or hang out and enjoy the fire.
Learning New Outdoor Skills
Kaleb described geological and ecological details as we hiked, particularly facts he learned from his ancestors and other local experts while growing up in the region. We foraged for mushrooms and learned about different species, especially which were edible or medicinal. We all tried our luck at fly-fishing in the local stream, with every cast reeling in a brown creek trout. Lucky for us, there was a backup plan for dinner, as the fish were too tiny to eat and thus returned to the river unharmed.
Drying Out from the Elements
Back at camp, morel mushrooms foraged on a previous GoWild glamping trip had been simmered in cream and cognac over the fire and served with a fresh arugula salad. As we devoured the culinary treat, I began to think about the next day. Hiking back down to the trailhead would not be enjoyable since my shoes were soaked. I placed them carefully on the rocks encircling the fire, watching the steam rise as they sizzled, turning them as if roasting a marshmallow to dry them out. I was successful, but unfortunately, Kaleb turned his back too long and melted his soles!
Tips for Chilly Nights While Glamping in Oregon
As darkness fell, the temperatures dropped, and despite huddling near the fire, I could see my breath. Eventually, we would all have to go to bed, so we devised a plan to keep warm once we left the heat of the flames. To sleep near the fire was not an option as the drizzle continued. How could we bring the benefits of the fire into our tents? Inspired by the story of my parents using a warming pan to heat their bed, we removed a few rocks from the fire circle. We wrapped them in towels and made our way to bed. Removing only my top wet clothes, I crawled into my sleeping bag and placed the stone at my feet. I woke in the morning refreshed from sleep, the rock still surprisingly warm!
Choosing When To Glamp in Oregon:
- Summer is warm but you can expect mosquitos
- Shoulder season can be unpredictable and requires proper clothes
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Bittersweet End of the Glamping Adventure
The final day was overcast, but fortunately, the rain had stopped. Fuelled by delicious breakfast sandwiches and coffee, we packed our belongings for the mules to haul and headed out of the glampsite on foot. The return hike was downhill through an autumn forest while ferns and moss provided a colorful carpet. We reached the trailhead three hours later, ten minutes ahead of the mules.
We were tired and dirty, but a long soak in a bathtub would not be able to wash away the smiles on our faces. Connected to nothing but nature for three days, we all felt like we had a mental reboot. While my next backcountry trip might be to a cozy cabin, glamping in Oregon is a must-experience for outdoor enthusiasts. Check out Wander for more great ideas on where to go camping, plenty of other travel adventures, and other things to do when you visit Oregon.
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