Discovering Hidden Camping Gems Near Sisters and the Metolius River

As you head west on Highway 20 from the Wild West-inspired city of Sisters, you quickly leave behind the community’s clapboard façades and wooden sidewalks. After just a few short minutes, you’re engulfed by thick forests of ponderosa pine while the symmetrical peak of Black Butte and the craggy summit of Mount Washington dominate the horizon before you.

It’s an engrossing site, one that’s home to countless outdoor adventures. Get off the highway for even a few minutes, and you’ll find yourself transfixed by the crystal-clear Metolius River, the placid waters of Suttle Lake, and the friendly nature of Camp Sherman (pop: 327).

With so much natural beauty and so many memorable activities to enjoy, why not pitch a tent, park your RV, or back your trailer into a scenic campsite—and turn the quiet region into its own adventure? You’ll find several campgrounds around the humble community of Camp Sherman, near the shores of Suttle Lake, and along the banks of the Metolius River. Those overnight stays include:

Plan the perfect summer getaway with this guide to camping along the Metolius River—and camping near Sisters, Oregon.

Top Camping Near Sisters and the Metolius River

Camp Sherman Campgrounds

Ground zero for enjoying the Metolius River near Sisters is Camp Sherman—an unincorporated community that largely serves the many anglers, hikers, and campers who pass through on their adventures each year. Several campgrounds throughout the forests around Camp Sherman offer quiet, largely undeveloped experiences—and a few host riverside sites that afford up-close views of the spring-fed waters.

If you’re staying the night near Camp Sherman, you have plenty of campgrounds to choose from. The closest to town is Camp Sherman Campground, where 15 sites (all open year-round) sit close enough to hear the rushing river through the fir and pine trees. Further downstream, Smiling River Campground offers 36 tent and RV sites—with several sitting mere feet from the banks of the Metolius River. Another six miles north, Lower Bridge Campground is open year-round and hosts a dozen tent sites—most along the river and all kept cool by a canopy of cedar and pine.

Views of the rushing water at the Metolius River.

If you’re visiting for the first time, stop into the Camp Sherman Store during your travels; a local institution since 1918, the community hub sells basic food items, hearty deli sandwiches, and fishing supplies. Anglers can usually stop in for updated fishing reports and other helpful information to plan their trip.

Suttle Lake near Sisters, Oregon

Suttle Lake Campground

Three campgrounds (and one upscale lodge) surround Suttle Lake, which sits about 20 minutes northwest of Sisters, and make it easy to enjoy water sports and lake swimming in the shadow of nearby Mount Washington.

The most popular is Link Creek Campground, where campers enjoy 31 seasonal tent and RV sites, three yurts (available to rent year-round), and a variety of amenities—including a boat ramp and easy lake access. Elsewhere around the lake, Blue Bay Campground hosts nearly two-dozen sites, and South Shore Campground offers nearly 40 sites—along with an on-site boat launch.

Whichever campground you wind up at, you’ll appreciate its close proximity to Suttle Lodge and Boathouse; in addition to well-appointed lodge rooms and luxe cabins, the outpost on Suttle Lake’s eastern shore offers seasonal boat rentals (including kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards), an on-site store with basic provisions, and a cozy cocktail lounge.

Cold Springs Resort

Enjoy a peaceful retreat at Cold Springs Resort, which sits on the site of a former dairy along the Metolius River’s scenic banks. The old-school resort hosts more than a dozen cabins and cottages—each outfitted with modern amenities for groups of up to eight—alongside RV sites with full hookups. The cabins come with decks and fire pits for group hangs on sunny afternoons and cool evenings, while the RV sites include picnic tables and campfire grills.

Part of the resort’s charm is its close proximity to so much of what makes the area special. It’s a short walk from Camp Sherman; close to several waterfalls near Sisters, Oregon; less than three miles from the Head of the Metolius Observation Site—sometimes known as Metolius Springs—where visitors can watch the river emerge from an underground spring near Black Butte; and about five miles from the trailhead for the scenic West Metolius River Hike—a 5.3-mile (round-trip) trek that follows the riverbanks and ends at the family-friendly Wizard Falls Hatchery. If the trip sounds fun, learn more about it—and other trails—with our guide to hiking in Central Oregon.

Tips for Camping in Central Oregon

You’ll want to keep a few tips in mind for camping in Central Oregon. Here’s a rundown of how to have the best possible experience on your next camping trip.

Best time to camp: Most campers pitch their tents and park their trailers between June and September—when brisk mornings give way to warm, sunny afternoons and cool evenings. You may find more availability in May, late September, and early October, but campers should prepare for chillier weather. Campgrounds throughout the Deschutes National Forest are largely closed between late October and early May.

Reservation windows: Campgrounds across the Deschutes National Forest generally open for reservations on a six-month rolling basis—so if you’d like to reserve a site for the night of July 10, you can begin booking it on Recreation.gov at 7 a.m. PT January 10. Note that many sites at popular campgrounds fill up soon after they open for reservations—especially on weekends. For an easier shot at your favorite sites (and for a bit more solitude), consider a midweek stay, if possible.

First-come, first-served sites: Some campgrounds offer sites on a first-come, first-served basis in May, late September, and October (when demand is lower), while others set aside a few sites that are offered first come, first served all summer long for last-minute campers.

Campground in Central Oregon with tent, chairs, and dog.

Photo courtesy of @adventures_with_biscuits

Fire and weather conditions: Summer brings plenty of sunshine to Central Oregon. Unfortunately, wildfires (or wildfire smoke) may also arrive in the region; check the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Wildfire Information webpage for the latest updates, a map of current fires, and resources for learning more. When fire danger is high around campgrounds near Sisters, Oregon, campfires may be limited.

Passes and permits: If your outdoor adventures in Central Oregon include hiking, backpacking, fishing, or sightseeing at popular sites, you may need to purchase a recreation pass before visiting. Learn about recreation passes and permits in the Deschutes National Forest; learn about Oregon State Parks day-use parking permits—required at Tumalo State Park, Smith Rock State Park, and The Cove Palisades State Park in Central Oregon; and get the skinny on the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System if your adventures take you into some of our federally designated wilderness areas.

Fishing in the Metolius River: Anglers on the Metolius River enjoy fruitful fishing all year long. Summer brings runs of native rainbow trout, while winter is a good time to fish for bull trout on the river. (Whatever you catch, anglers can only take hatchery rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, and mountain whitefish.) Note that anglers on the upper Metolius (near the river headwaters around Camp Sherman) can only go fly fishing; artificial flies and lures are permitted only on the lower stretch of the Metolius—closer to its terminus at Lake Billy Chinook. Pick up a fishing license from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife before heading out.

Ready to plan your trip? Visit Sisters, Oregon, for some of Central Oregon’s best craft brews, a fun atmosphere, and fun attractions (like HWY 242—the McKenzie Pass Highway). The city is also home to creative food carts, down-home eateries, and fine-dining establishments; learn about the top restaurants in Sisters, Oregon, for the scoop on where to go.

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