- Your Public Lands
Umatilla National Forest (Walla Walla Ranger District)
- What To Do
This is a great part of the forest to access lower trailheads that lead into the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness area. Lick Creek Trail (#3070), Nine Mile Ridge Trail (#3072), and North Fork Umatilla River Trail (#3083) are all spectacular hikes within a few miles of any dispersed campsite.
There are several options for camping along the South Fork Umatilla River. Some spots are large enough for small RVs, but be aware that turnaround space is limited. We recommend not going further than two miles past the bridge as the road is narrow, rough, and not well maintained. There is limited space to turn around, so depending on the size of your vehicle it could be extremely challenging.
- How To Get There
Please do not solely rely on Google Maps as their route might not always reflect what is maintained. From Walla Walla, follow HWY 11 20 miles to Athena, Oregon and turn left on Pambrun Road. Travel five miles then turn left onto Spring Hollow Road and follow for six miles. Turn left onto Bingham Road/ County Road 900, cross the railroad tracks, and follow Bingham Road/ County Road 900. This road becomes NF-32 at the forest boundary. Follow Bingham Road/ County Road 900 for approximately 9.5 miles going just past the Umatilla Forks Campground and make a right turn crossing the bridge over the North Fork Umatilla River. Once over the bridge there will be dispersed sites on the river side of the road. We recommend not going further than two miles past the bridge as the road is narrow, rough, and not well maintained. There is limited space to turn around, so depending on the size of your vehicle it could be extremely challenging.
- When To Go
Late spring after the initial snow melt is a great time to start recreating in this part of the world. Call the Umatilla National Forest (Walla Walla Ranger District) before going to check on road conditions. When the river is high or at flood stage, the road does close for obvious safety reasons. We frequent this area as the lower trailheads provide more hiking under shade. Camping is also quite fun as spots are tucked near the river and, again, under the canopy of dense riparian habitat.
- What To Expect
There are multiple spots to choose from within two miles of crossing the bridge. Dispersed camping is a lot like a choose your own adventure story. We have a few favorites based on access to the river. There are no amenities at dispersed camping spots. There are vault toilets at the Umatilla Forks Campground and North Fork Umatilla River Trail. Be sure to follow the dispersed camping rules outlined under regulations and enjoy. Keeping these sites clean and minimizing impact on the environment is crucial, so practice leave no trace.
Additionally, even though we don't recommend driving more than two miles past the bridge, the family might enjoy biking the road to enjoy more river views and climb into the mountains a little bit. There are definitely areas of the road that are steep, so know your comfort level on a bike and/or make sure the little ones are paying attention.
None permits are required to camp at dispersed sites. Fishing regulations are highly specific and based on location and species. Please always consult the latest information available from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
You may camp outside of developed campgrounds in most areas on the Umatilla National Forest up to 300 feet from an open road at no charge. Potable water, toilets, and other amenities are not generally available. If you choose to camp outside developed areas, be sure to bring adequate water or be prepared to purify any water source before drinking. Check out current burn restrictions prior to your trip as there is obviously not a camp host to relay that information.
If you plan to hike one of the many nearby trails, please take note that wilderness regulations apply. The North Fork Umatilla Wilderness is literally across the river. Such restrictions include no motorized equipment, bicycles, or hang gliders to name a few. Groups larger than twelve are prohibited as well as caching or leaving equipment or supplies for longer than 72 hours. Most applicable to hikers is the fact that shortcutting a switchback on any trail is also a violation of wilderness regulations. For a complete list of wilderness regulations applicable to those within the forest, visit Umatilla National Forest website.
Pack in and pack out. There is a vault toilet at the Umatilla Forks day-use area.
- Wildlife Awareness
We are all so fortunate to recreate in the Blue Mountains. So many opportunities exist to play outside whether in a national forest, wilderness area, on a Wild and Scenic River, and more! With these opportunities comes great responsibility to appreciate that we are mere visitors and should all take pride in being good stewards of the wild. Many animals call these protected places home, including moose, elk, bear, cougar, bobcat, and snakes to name a few. Take precautions to respect their home and understand the appropriate response should an encounter occur. Additionally, many plant species thrive in the Blue Mountains, so staying on trail is always good practice. Carry First Aid supplies to better respond to accidents or encounters, and always let others know where the day's adventure is taking you.
- Field Notes
Navigation: Consider downloading the Avenza Map app. This app allows users to upload three maps (or unlimited with a subscription) to use offline. It can track your location offline and overlay GPS data from the phone onto the map. The vehicle use maps (for trails allowing motorized vehicles) are the easiest to use. Otherwise, Geo Tracker offers similar tracking capabilities and additional details about your adventure. If no service, Geo Tracker will at least show your location. The Blue Mountains and surrounding area offer a remote recreating experience, and knowing your location is paramount to staying safe. Always make sure to bring paper maps. Tell others where your adventure is taking you and when you expect to return.
Difficulty Level: Here is what we are thinking when we assign a difficulty level: Day Tripper--You don't have much experience in the area but want to get outside! Great for families of all ages. Adventurer--You know your way around the Blue Mountains and love a leisurely day outdoors. Mountaineer--You are ready for a challenge. Wild places excite you and sweat is the goal. Small children beware. Keep in mind some activities may apply to multiple difficulty levels based on usage.
Pets: In general, pets are allowed on a leash and under control throughout jurisdictions. The only restrictions we have encountered are around swimming areas. As a best practice, be mindful of riparian habitat in general. You never know where a precious spawning area might be located. Pack it in and pack it out applies to your furry friend as well.