U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Malheur National Forest


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Forest Information

The Malheur National Forest is located in eastern Oregon and consists of 1,465,396 acres. There are 26 developed campgrounds of which 10 meet the selection criteria.

Malheur National Forest is a little forest that does recreation well. With a wide variety of landscape, ranging from grasslands, sage, and juniper, forests of pine, fir, and other species of trees, to beautiful alpine lakes and meadows, the Malheur offers visitors many recreational opportunities. Some of the activities are hiking, biking, and fishing, and campgrounds well-suited to car, tent, and recreation vehicle (RV) camping enthusiasts.

The Malheur National Forest includes some of the Blue Mountains and most of the Strawberry Mountains. These mountains hold several alpine lakes and high mountain meadows that are hidden gems. Possibly the most popular hike in the whole forest is to one of these alpine lakes called Strawberry Lake, which is located in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness south of Prairie City, Oregon. Visitors can access Strawberry Lake only by foot via a trail out of the little tent-only Strawberry campground (with only nine campsites it is not included in this campground review). After about an hour of hiking, then around a bend, and the clear pristine sapphire blue of Strawberry Lake appears. Ideal for a picnic lunch and a little afternoon trout fishing, it is little wonder why Strawberry Lake is so very popular.

Almost as attractive as Strawberry Lake but far easier to reach is Magone Lake. North of John Day, Oregon, Magone Lake features an attractive little campground well-suited to campers in an RV, tent, or car. Formed by a landslide before the first Europeans came to the area, the story goes Major Magone initially stocked the lake when he brought two buckets of brook trout to the lake. Whether completely true or not, Magone Lake is a very popular fishing location with both humans and ospreys. Other wildlife, such as beavers, muskrat, blue heron, and more, also enjoy Magone Lake's bounty. Campers find ample shade, cooler temperatures, good boating and water-play opportunities at Magone Lake. Overall, this 50-acres lake has a lot to offer its two and four-legged visitors.

With a peaceful, tranquil and open feeling far from the crowds, Middle Fork campground offers a level of solitude more often found in a wilderness. The Middle Fork of John Day River is another draw for many to this campground. With a similar atmosphere but no fishing opportunity and adjacent to the well traveled US Rt. 26, is Dixie campground. This campground, in a dense stand of mixed conifers, meanders over a hillside far enough away from the highway to avoid all traffic noise. Another campground that might be considered good for transient campers of all types is Idlewild. North of Burns on US Rt. 395, Idlewild campground abounds with pull-throughs for RV enthusiasts and many back-ins for car campers. Additional attractions at Idlewild are several trails for both hikers and mountain bikers, and the Firefighters Memorial garden.

To provide the best recreation opportunities possible, the Malheur National Forest works hard at maintaining healthy, robust, and viable forest ecosystems. One way they do this is working with local ranchers carefully to manage permits on meadows and open range grazing. It is normal to find free ranging cattle grazing on the Malheur National Forest. Drivers should always drive with this in mind.

While the Malheur National Forest does have a lot of recreation, there are many non-forest sights to see and things to do in the area. One of the larger attractions is the Sheep Rock section of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Others possible sightseeing opportunities from the Forest's campgrounds that deserve mention are: Murderers Creek Wild Horse Territory, the Murderers Creek's historic Guard Station (built in 1906), Cedar Grove home of Alaskan Cedar, the Wild and Scenic North Fork of Malheur River, and Kam Wah Chung State Historic Site (former Chinese apothecary) where the living history exhibits show life in John Day's Chinese community at the turn of the 20th century. There are also a variety of community-sponsored sights to enjoy like the DeWitt Museum in Prairie City and a major Quilt Show in Burns. (Check the communities' website for dates and more information.)

While Malheur National Forest isn't as large in area as many forests, it does have almost as much to do as much larger national forests. Camping, hiking, biking, swimming, boating, fishing, and so many more recreational opportunities await visitors to the little Malheur National Forest.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS POB 909 John Day, Oregon 97845 541-575-3000 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Emigrant Creek 265 Highway 20 South Hines, Oregon 97738 541-573-4300 Prairie City POB 337 Prairie City, Oregon 97869 541-820-3800

Fred and Suzi Dow