Malheur National Forest, Oregon

Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know

Oregon is well known for its rugged landscape, from long mountain ranges that jut up into the sky to its tall pine forests that stretch on for miles. Malheur National Forest gives you plenty of both. It covers over 1.4 million acres and is named for the Malheur River. In case you’re wondering, “malheur” is French for misfortune, but there’s nothing unfortunate about traveling here.

Studded with recreational opportunities, Malheur National Forest is a place where you can spend weeks at a time without getting bored. The dense forests and waterways and mountains are enough to keep you awestruck. When you factor in things like fishing and hiking, you’ll be thankful you decided to spend your entire RV vacation in this Oregon forest.

Why Visit Malheur National Forest in Your Rented RV?

Between the Blue Mountains, Strawberry Mountain, Lookout Mountain, and the acres and acres of pine forest, Malheur National Forest is the perfect place to visit in your rented RV. Add in all of the recreational opportunities, from fishing to water sports to getting around in an off-highway vehicle, and you might never want to leave.

Hiking

There are a whopping 240 miles of hiking trails in Malheur National Forest, and at least half of them are in wilderness. In fact, there are well over 50 different trails that are just considered day hikes. If you plan to get some backpacking in, it goes even further. Nearly every trail offers something a little different.

Some trails are more heavily traveled, and these are particularly well-groomed. Others have lighter foot traffic, and will likely be a little more rugged and strenuous. Good hiking boots are recommended for many trails in the area. From short, family hikes to full-fledged overnight backpacking trips, you’ll not get bored hiking these miles.

Fishing

With alpine lakes and numerous rivers and streams running through this largely untouched land, Malheur National Forest is a fishing paradise. It’s particularly nice for fly fishing, with less gear to pack in and out, but anything will work for you here. Slip out to a river or lake and enjoy some nice, relaxing fishing.

Some of the fish you can expect to catch include the Northwest salmon, steelhead, rainbow and other warm water species of fish. In order to fish in Oregon, you’ll need a proper fishing license. Always be sure to follow local ordinances and rules for each body of water—and pay attention to bag limits. 

Nature & Wildlife Viewing

From scenery to native plant species to a wide variety of wildlife, there’s lots to take in at Malheur National Forest. Nearly every campsite and trail recommends wildlife viewing, and you’ll see a different kind at nearly every spot. Cedar Grove Botanical Area is a great place to see unique, native plants. Monument Rock and Strawberry Mountain both tower above the surrounding pine forest.

Because it’s such an untouched forested area, it’s also home to loads of wildlife. You have a chance to see a little bit of everything. Coyotes are common, and while bobcats and mountain lions do exist here they’re rarer. Mule deer, antelope, and elk are all commonly sighted as well. It’s also a very popular bird watching location, so keep your eyes to the skies.

Scenic Drives

There are over 9,000 miles of roads that criss cross through the forest. Much of this is unpaved and gravel, so it’s particularly rugged, but it also leads to incredible views. While we can’t recommend taking your RV off-road, regardless of whether it’s a coach or a trailer, if you’re hauling and using a high-clearance SUV or pickup truck, you should check them out.

If you’re looking for a slightly tamer trip, try out Strawberry Mountain Loop. It’s just under 75 miles of paved road. It takes you through high country, forested grounds, wildflower valleys, and more. There are several other tours that are 50-60 miles in length as well, including the ominously named Murderers Creek Loop.

Bicycling

While no trails inside the Malheur National Forest are maintained specifically for mountain bikes, unless they’re explicitly marked as not allowed, they’re all open for bikes. It’s worth noting that some trails will have steep grades or embankments, or you may run across obstacles like fallen trees, so you’ll need to navigate those with care.

The area is also very friendly toward road cyclists—and that includes local businesses and drivers as well. The Old West Scenic Bikeway is a lovely tour of the forest and the many rural communities that surround it. It’s a two or three-day trip, and has two steep climbs, so you may find it challenging. Otherwise, there are plenty of other great roads for cycling and sightseeing you’ll definitely enjoy as well. 

Campgrounds and RV Parks for Malheur National Forest

There are campgrounds aplenty in the Malheur National Forest. While those inside the forest are about as bare-bones as you can get, there are others in the surrounding rural towns that offer a little more as far as amenities go. You should be able to find the campground that lets you have the exact RV camping experience you’re looking for.

Trout Farm Campground

Located inside the forest, Trout Farm Campground is located on a small pond and stream and it’s an ideal spot if you’re planning to do a lot of fishing on your trip. There’s not much in the way of amenities here, at least for RVers, but it’s a very welcome spot to camp. Plan on coming with a full potable water tank and an empty black water tank, and a generator for electricity. You’ll find additional drinking water onsite, but no hookups. You’ll love this quiet, hidden away spot for getting peace and quiet.

Idlewild Campground

Elsewhere in the forest is Idlewild Campground. There are 22 sites, and it’s wildly underutilized. Like Trout Farm, there are no hookups, so you’ll want to come with plenty of water and an empty black water tank and a generator for electricity. This is a quiet, easily accessible spot that you’ll really enjoy if you’re looking for a quiet spot to camp.

Grant County RV Park

Located right next to the John Day River, Grant County RV Park offers you a slightly more urban take on RV camping. There’s a restroom and shower facility with running water, pull through sites, and full utility hookups. You can also easily walk to restaurants, parks, pubs, and the city pool. There’s also a lovely trail that runs right along the river for a nice walk, no matter when you decide to take it.

Depot RV Park

Located in Prairie City, Depot RV Park gives you gorgeous views of the Malheur National Forest. There are 20 sites here with full hookups, plus restrooms, showers, and a dump station. The park is tree-lined and also has a gazebo and covered picnic area for quaint midday meals. Each site is also hooked up with cable TV. If you’re looking for something unique, there’s a small museum housed in the original train depot on-site as well.

Seneca Timbers RV Park

Also an Inn with cabins, Seneca Timbers RV Park also has 12 sites with full RV hookups. Located right in the midst of the forest at Seneca Timbers, there’s great hiking to be had right from the campsite. Feel like taking in some golf? There’s a nine-hole course across the street. Enjoy all of the beautiful views around you—and you’ll be welcome to stay here a while.

 

Places to Eat Near Malheur National Forest, Oregon

One of the beautiful things about Malheur National Forest is that there’s not much civilization around. That’s not to say you won’t find a town nearby, but your opportunities for dining may not be plentiful. The bright side is that you’ll be able to enjoy all of the beautiful, untouched nature and prepare a meal at basecamp in your RV’s kitchen.

Dining at Malheur National Forest

There really aren’t many dining options inside Malheur National Forest. This is a great opportunity to do a little meal planning and bring some food along with you. Load up the pantry and refrigerator, and plan to eat back at camp a few days. Not only will you save some money, but you’ll also have an even better opportunity to try your hand at campfire cooking for a more authentic camping experience.

Dining outside of Malheur National Forest

There really aren’t many towns nearby Malheur National Forest. Of course, that’s part of its beauty. When you’re really hungry, though, you’ll be able to find some good grub if you go looking for it.

In nearby town John Day, you’ll find several options that should satisfy your hunger, from family-friendly pizza joints to bar and grill types of places. There’s even a brewery in town for when you’re really craving a beer after a long hike. To get you going in the morning, you’ll find diners and coffee houses as well. This is Oregon, after all, and they love their local stores and restaurants.

From John Day to Canyon City, Mt. Vernon, and Prairie Springs, you'll find plenty of quaint eateries to satisfy a craving after a day in the forest. But don’t discount the opportunity to cook something up in the middle of the forest. If dinner goes awry, you can always go find a pizza.

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