Looking for a peaceful setting to park the rig, relax and reconnect with nature? Rustic Camp Sherman in Oregon is easy to reach and picture perfect. Situated along the banks of the rushing Metolius River amidst towering ponderosa pines, Camp Sherman is just 135 miles southeast of Portland and 110 miles east of Salem, yet it feels a million miles away from it all—which is exactly the reason for going. This tiny wooded community in the heart of the Metolius River Wildlife Preserve and Recreation Area is small in size (population 250), but big on scenery. So bring along your camera, your fly-fishing gear, bike and walking shoes, and you’ll be prepared for a respite that literally offers a breath of fresh air.
As with most small towns, the general store is the hub of it all. With wooden floors and old-fashioned gas pumps, the 90-year old Camp Sherman Store is reminiscent of days gone by. Small but well-stocked, the store provides everything for RVers from a gourmet lunch to a week’s worth of groceries, plus a large selection of wines, maps, books and even souvenir T-shirts. Roger White, the friendly owner, will gladly answer questions about the area and happily show off the store’s assortment of 1,100 fishing flies.
The post office attached to the store is not only a place to mail a picturesque postcard back home, it also acts as a book exchange—take a free book or magazine and leave another in its place. An elementary school, miniature church, community hall, campgrounds, and resort-style cabins next to the fine-dining Kokanee Café round out the miniature neighborhood in the pines. Chances are good that a pancake feed, barbecue or similar community event will be happening during your visit. Don’t be shy—everyone is encouraged to join in!
With many campgrounds to choose from, you can stay in Camp Sherman awhile—and with such serene surroundings, it’s guaranteed you’ll want to! Although the dozen or so public campgrounds are primitive, the ambiance is first-rate. The icy Metolius River, a mecca for catch-and-release fly fishermen, rushes by just steps from each campsite. If you’re more interested in getting hot water flowing inside your RV than the scenic waterway outside of it, small privately owned campgrounds offer creature comforts and hookups not found at the Forest Service campgrounds. If strolling is more appealing than angling, wander the walking paths along the river and admire the small summer tract cabins; you may encounter a thirsty deer or two, especially in the evenings. A sweet ponderosa pine fragrance permeates the air wherever you roam—some say it’s vanilla, others swear it’s butterscotch, but everyone agrees it’s better than anything in a spray can! To decide for yourself, stick your nose in a deep furrow of a ponderosa pine tree’s bark and inhale deeply. You might look a little funny, but you’ll never forget the fragrance.
Hawks, juncos, osprey and ouzels are common along the Metolius River. If you’ve never seen an ouzel, they are easy to spot—the small bird doing funny deep knee bends from a rock in the middle of river, waiting for the right time to dive in and swim under water to get its next meal.
The headwaters of the Metolius River are just that—the beginning of the river. It’s hard to believe that any waterway bearing a national Wild and Scenic River designation gets its start from an underground spring, but it does. The remarkable blue ribbon seeps from a mossy hillside and then immediately widens into a 29-mile long, fast-moving current. The headwaters also provide a perfect photo spot for capturing 10,497-foot Mount Jefferson. Don’t expect to be alone while admiring the view, though, as lots of overly friendly chipmunks and golden mantel ground squirrels will keep you company. Their antics are amusing, so it’s hard to resist feeding the cute critters!
Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery
A few miles downstream from Camp Sherman, the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery is also a must-see. Even if you’re not a fish culturist, the 35-acre wooded site, operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is also a great spot for picnicking and bird-watching. Large open tanks contain fish fingerlings—rainbow and brook trout, kokanee and Atlantic salmon—that are raised here before being released into the wild. A separate larger pond is home to some real whoppers that you can watch swim in the shallows. Other than the occasional eagle or raccoon snatching its next meal, the pond and tanks are meant for viewing and not for fishing. Keep a few quarters in your pocket to purchase a handful of pellet fish food from the convenient dispensers. Toss the morsels into the holding tanks and watch lightning-fast fish compete for a snack. It’s great entertainment for just 25 cents! And don’t forget your binoculars for spotting resident white-headed woodpeckers, red-napped sapsuckers and pygmy nuthatches. But not to worry if you don’t know your Turdus migratorius (American robin) from your Contopus sordidulus (western wood peewee), you will recognize the plentiful resident Canada geese.
If you’re towing a boat, check out shimmering Suttle and Blue lakes northwest of Camp Sherman on Highway 20, just east of the Santiam summit. Both lakes are perfect for water sports, swimming and catching kokanee salmon, brown trout, whitefish and crayfish. More Forest Service campgrounds are sprinkled around the lakes, and the elegant Lodge at Suttle Lake is quite impressive—a real oasis amidst the pines. Black Butte Ranch is even closer to Camp Sherman. There you can ride horseback, golf, bike, rent a vacation home and dine. Stunning views of the snowy Three Sisters Mountains from the resort’s manicured grounds will keep photographers busy all day. These three prominent peaks are glaciated dormant volcanoes topping 10,000 feet. Although more commonly known today as South, Middle and North Sister Mountains, they were originally named Faith, Hope and Charity. About 16 miles east of Camp Sherman is the popular small western town of Sisters, which takes its name from these majestic peaks. In Sisters, you’ll find amenities such as a grocery store, boutique shopping, restaurants, even an art gallery and a movie theater.
Besides providing an attractive alpine backdrop, the Three Sisters Mountains and the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range help create Camp Sherman’s dry, sunny weather—as well as the climate for the rest of Oregon’s High Desert. Because of the mountain barrier, moist air from the Pacific Ocean (about 125 miles away) generally doesn’t reach the area very often, and when it does, it falls in the form of winter snow. Most of the region sits at an elevation of 3,000 feet or higher, so even when summer days average 80 degrees or better, make sure your furnace is working because the temperature can dip to 40 degrees at night.
If you approach Camp Sherman from the west on Highway 20, you’ll still see evidence of the devastating fire from the summer of 2003. About 95,000 acres along the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range between Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington burned, but luckily Camp Sherman escaped the flames and the community’s natural beauty and allure remain intact.
Of all the unassuming attributes that make miniature Camp Sherman unique, it’s the feeling of peace and solitude that turns first-timers into repeat visitors. It’s a smaller world in Camp Sherman—a place to slow down and enjoy, as well as return to. n
In addition to writing about her travels on the Great Escapes blog at rvlife.com, Denise Seith assists businesses with their graphic design, copywriting and marketing needs. She can be reached through DeniseSeith.com or (503) 623-2062.
IF YOU GO:
Metolius Recreation Association
Camp Sherman, OR 97730
(541) 595-6331 or (800) 797-6331
Camp Sherman Store
P.O. Box 638
Camp Sherman, OR 97730
Wizard Falls Hatchery
P.O. Box 130
7500 Forest Service Road 14
Camp Sherman, OR 97730
Cold Springs Resort & RV Park
25615 Cold Springs Resort Lane
Camp Sherman, Oregon 97730
Black Butte RV Park
25635 SW Forest Service Road 1419
Camp Sherman, OR 97730
Black Butte Ranch
Oregon Cascades Birding Trail
For details on the area’s Forest Service campgrounds, visit