Free Camping Near La Grande, Oregon
Spring Creek Dispersed Area is located inside Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. It lies along I-84 about a few miles west of Hilgard, OR. It’s managed by the U.S. Forest Service. It’s not to be confused with Spring Creek Campground, a free developed campground located in the same area. The dispersed area covers much larger area, perhaps up to five miles in diameter. Exit 248 from the Interstate takes you on to NF-21, ad then you head southwest towards Spring Creek. Once in this area, there’s lots of places for boondocking. Some sites are very close to the road, while others take you 50 to 100 feet into enclosures of pine trees.
Spring Creek Dispersed Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon
Named for a tiny creek that roughly parallels I-84, Spring Creek Dispersed Area is an area of Wallowa-Whitman National Forest popular with campers, hikers, and hunters. Forest road NF-21 takes you into the heart of the area where you will find numerous other roads branching off it, leading you to dozens of free, boondocking sites that offers lots of quiet, privacy, and the experience of Nature at its finest.
This area of the forest lies along a mountain range, and elevation here ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 feet. You’ll experience temperatures in the 70s mostly, with occasional 80s, even in August.
There is also a developed campground along NF-21, named “Spring Creek Campground“, only about 2 miles from the I-84 off-ramp. This campground offers only four campsites, yet is totally free, with no hookups. It does offer a pit toilet and an information kiosk explaining the flora and fauna in the area.
Forestry crews can be seen driving their trucks along these forest roads, but for the most part these are workers cutting down dead trees. The good news is that they cut up the trunks and limbs and leave them in piles. You can gather them up and take them back to your camp. You’ll have to split them into smaller chunks, however.
Forest rangers still make their way through the greater Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, but they don’t seem concerned with campers. They’re mostly interested in unlicensed hunters.
Pros and Cons
Pros: beautiful thick woods, strong scent of pine, lots of privacy and quiet, completely free to camp, generally easy access, firm solid ground, seclusion from the Interstate, cooler temperatures in Summer.
Cons: Most sites tend to be smaller, accommodating only small to mid-sized rigs, weak, but usable Verizon cell coverage, noise from the Interstate can be heard, no amenities, lots of mice in the area
Spring Creek Dispersed Area offers no amenities. The closest amenity is the pit toilet at Spring Creek Campground.
The town of La Grande is located about 15 miles along I-84 to the east and offers grocery stores, hardware stores, fuel stations.
RV Dump – If you plan to drive further west along I-84, the Arrowhead Travel Plaza in Pendleton, OR has a free RV dump with potable water. If you plan to drive further east, the Pilot/Flying J in Caldwell, ID has a dump station with potable water.
Cellphone Signal Strength
Verizon 4G comes in weak here. The best we got was 2/5 bars, but it was still usable. We often drove into La Grande and worked at the Starbucks there. If you can find a campsite with higher elevation, you’ll get better signal strength. strong here.
Insects, Pests, & Wildlife
There are some flies and gnats, and even a light amount of mosquitoes, but we found this area to be otherwise quite tolerable.
Mice can be a problem in this area. We caught six of them inside our trailer. We advise buying standard, spring & bar traps, and keep them on hand. These mice are very skilled at stealing food from traps, so you may have to modify the trigger to make the traps more sensitive.
Black bears thrive in this area, though we didn’t see any. We did hear coyotes howling on one night.
The dispersed area starts right at Exit 248 off of I-84, and spreads for several miles towards Spring Creek itself. Where we camped, we could still hear the traffic, but it was light and very tolerable. We occasionally heard gun fire, but we camped closer to the forest roads to make sure we were not in the direction of fire.
Safe or Sketchy?
Spring Creek Dispersed Area seems to be safe camping. We did see other campers around, but they are very spread out, usually at least 1/4 mile away. We did have a couple of people wander into our camp, but we think they were hikers who happened upon us accidentally. We often left our trailer unattended to go into La Grande and never had a problem.
How Crowded Is It?
It’s not crowded at all. We camped there during the high point of Summer, and every day there were plenty of campsites waiting for takers.
Lots of secluded campsites further down NF-21 you go, though Verizon 4G gets weaker as well.
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