Boondocking Site Review – Rufus Landing Recreation Area, Rufus, OR
A WINDY, but gorgeous and easy boondocking site along the Columbia River Gorge in northern Oregon.
Location: Rufus Landing Recreation Area, just west of the John Day Dam in Rufus, OR. Link to all COE parks in the Columbia Gorge Area HERE.
Coordinates: Entry to park is from Hwy 84, Exit Rufus (109). Approx. coordinates of boondocking area 45.693161, -120.755286. Link to map location HERE.
Cost: FREE. 14-day stay limit (within any 30 consecutive-day period)
How We Found It: We noticed this spot driving past a few years ago, heard about it from other RV friends and also found it on freecampsites.net.
Nearest Dump/Water: NO dump, water or trash onsite (you are asked to “pack it in, pack it out”), however there is a decent on-site pit toilet. Nearest dump is in the town of Rufus.
- Access – 5/5
Super easy access to this site, even for the biggest rigs. Take the 109 exit off Hwy 84, drive under the overpass towards the river and take a left at the first junction. You will pass a sign that says “Rufus Landing Recreation Area”. Continue on this road until the pavement ends and you will see a large cleared-out area for boondocking/dispersed camping. You can park anywhere here. The ground is a mix of hard-packed dirt & rocks and *can* be soft in some areas, especially some of the sites directly next to the river, so big rigs should scout out ahead of pulling in. Also be aware that this is a popular windsurfing & kite-surfing area so you will get lots of cars coming for day-use parking by the river on high wind days. The easiest river-access points get the most cars, so if you want to have some privacy park away from these areas.
- Nature – 4/5
This is a gorgeous spot. You are right on the Columbia River with sweeping views all-around of the water and mountains. Only dings are that you are also close to Hwy 84 and the train tracks, so you will hear & experience noise from both.
- Isolation – 1.5/5
This is a well-known boondocking spot, as well as being a popular windsurfing/kite-surfing area so you are very unlikely to be alone. The positive is that the (notorious) high winds tend to keep most folks away, so it is rarely over-crowded despite the somewhat limited parking area. There were around 10 other rigs in the area while we were there, plus we had ~15 cars come in for day-use.
- Pet Friendliness – 5/5
Excellent spot for doggie. Lots of space in camp and super-easy access to the Columbia River for a play/swim by the water. Not much in the way of hiking at the site except for around the boondocking peninsula, but there is PLENTY of hiking ~15 mins drive west at Deschutes River Recreation Area.
Overall Rating = 3.9
BONUS ALERT = Camp with sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge!
Summary: We noticed this boondocking spot a few years back during our first drive along the Columbia River Gorge and made a point to come back and try it next time we were in the area. Rufus Landing Recreation Area is managed by the Corps of Engineers (COE) and is a free camping spot that is well-known in the area. The big positives are that it is super-easy to get to (right off Hwy 84), it has space for plenty of rigs and the setting is absolutely superb. You are right next to the Columbia River with sweeping views of the mountains and easy access to the water. It’s such a pretty spot! Also you are in an interesting area to visit including the nearby Deschutes River Recreation Area (hiking),the Maryhill Winery (excellent!), Maryhill Museum & Maryhill Fruit Stands, plus the unique Stonehenge Memorial. The negatives are the nearby noise from the train tracks & Hwy 84 (it’s pretty consistent all day) and the WIND! This is a well-known windsurfing/kite-surfing area because of it’s super-consistent and strong winds. So, not only can you expect regular day-use traffic from windsurfers, but you will undoubtedly experience the notorious Gorge winds while you are here. For this reason it’s best to park slightly away from the easiest water-access and with your RV butt facing West (wind-facing) to minimize rocking & rolling. Overall we LOVED our view, had fun with doggie by the river and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the surrounding area, but could only manage a few nights stay due to the high winds (gusts got up to 40 MPH while we were there). If we come back to the area we’ll likely chose to stay at the more protected Deschutes River Recreation Area (Oregon State Park, see below) just ~15 mins west of here.
Extra Info: Excellent cell signal, 5 bars LTE on Verizon and 4 bars 4G on ATT. NO water, dump or trash, but there are on-site pit toilets which are stocked & clean.
Extra, Extra Info: Other CAMPING?
There are actually several other excellent camping options within 10 miles of this area:
- Giles French Park (COE) – This is another FREE boondocking area just east of where we stayed on the Oregon side of the Gorge. It’s at the same exit (Rufus/109) off Hwy 84 except you simply follow the road to the right at the fork (once you go under the overpass) instead of to the left. Sites are blacktop parking right next to the John Day Dam and have excellent water views, but they are also exposed to the high Gorge winds (similar to Rufus Landing). 14-day stay limit. See park info HERE.
- Le Page Park (COE) – This is a PAID COE park ($22/night) at the corner of John Day and Columbia River just ~15 mins east of where we stayed. Sites are pull-through’s along a river and somewhat tight, but you do get 50% off the camping price here if you have a NPS (Golden Age/Senior) passport. See park info HERE.
- Deschutes River Recreation Area (Oregon State Park) – This lovely little state park is along the Deschutes River just ~15 mins west of where we stayed. Sites are paved with electric/water ($22/night) as well as dry-camping ($10/night) options. Sites have good separation, lovely shade/trees and many have excellent views of the river. The advantages of this park are it’s much more protected from the Gorge winds, plus you have access to many miles of wonderful hiking trails along the Deschutes River. We would be able to fit here and if we come back to the area this is likely where we will stay. See park info HERE.
- Maryhill State Park (Washington State Park) – This 99-acre park is on the other side of the river just ~15 miles west of where we stayed. It’s a highly-rated park and for good reason. The sites are absolutely lovely with lots of green & space, and several have excellent water views. It’s also quieter than the OR side since it’s further from the main highway on that side. However sites are pricey at $38-$50/night (full hookups). See park info HERE.