In the last installment, we were exploring the Mosier Tunnels located in the Columbia River Gorge. An often overlooked camping option when exploring the attractions along the Columbia River are recreation areas under the jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), or sometimes just referred to as the Corps of Engineers (COE).
The Corps serves the Armed Forces and Nation by providing vital engineering services and capabilities in peacetime and times of war. We have them to thank for most of the locks and dams across the United States. Currently, the COE manages over 2,500 recreation areas on hundreds of reservoirs.
Most recreation facilities feature developed campgrounds with basic amenities like showers, restrooms, water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Recreation areas are more primitive and cater mainly to boaters and fisherman via boat launches and fishing accesses.
You typically won’t find listings for the COE primitive recreation sites listed in campground directories, but many do offer free dispersed camping which is often right on the water.
One example is Rufus Landing Recreation Area (pictured) near the town of Rufus, Oregon. The COE Portland District online listing for the recreation areas lists the following:
No fees; 14-day use limit. First come, first serve availability. No reservations. Amenities and activities: Camping (primitive), shore access to the river, vault toilets, geocaching, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and fishing. Along with driving directions: From I-84, take exit 109 at Rufus. Go north towards the river and left at the intersection.
The following are some resources to help you find COE camping opportunities:
- Here is my favorite website for finding free and pay campsites along the Columbia River.
- Click here for a website featuring an interactive map that shows COE recreation sites across the United States. Note: The non-electric sites are likely to be free dispersed camping opportunities.
- You can find a listing here of all the COE recreation areas and those with developed campgrounds by state via Recreation.gov.
- You can also read reviews on COE campgrounds on RV LIFE Campgrounds.
- Do It Yourself RV reviews 10 Scenic COE Campgrounds With Water Views here.
It sometimes takes a little online investigating to find the recreation areas that offer free dispersed camping, but it can be worth your time.
Camping with the Corps of Engineers, just another adventure in RVing!
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.