The Hiker Mama

camping with kids metolius river kids in nature

Metolius River Camping Trip

wildflowers eastern Oregon Sisters Camp Sherman
Lupines in Camp

As a child growing up in Oregon, we had a tradition of camping every year on Mother’s Day weekend with my extended family.  The campground of choice was on the Metolius River in the Camp Sherman area near Sisters.  I have many fond memories from those years, such as running all over the campground with my cousins, making boats from the bark of the Ponderosa pines to float down the river, going on hikes, and of course, eating S’mores.

wildflowers eastern Oregon native plants
Western Columbine – Aquilegia formosa

Now my cousins are all grown up.  Most of us have children of our own.  And though we stopped going there for several years after we all dispersed into young adulthood, we have begun the tradition anew.  This year we moved the trip to Father’s Day weekend, a bit of a warmer time to be in the eastern Cascades.

Oregon native wildflowers
Wlid Blue Flax

I went down to my parents’, and drove with them and the kids for this camping weekend.  Sadly, Aaron had to stay home to work.  Papa drove the truck with the trailer, and we all piled in.  We left on Thursday to make the 4-hour drive from my parents’ place.  My uncle and aunt would meet us there with one of my cousin’s kids.  We would save enough space for the others, who would be coming on Friday.

native plants oregon wildflowers
Fendler’s Waterleaf

We left the greyness of western Oregon and crossed the Santiam Pass, marveling at the forest fire damage from several years ago near Suttle Lake.  Shortly after that is the turnoff north, running near Black Butte and paralleling the Metolius River, from its head for several miles.  The campground we were all meeting at was the Gorge, a smaller, dry campground with choice river spots.  Uncle Hal had managed to get one of those prized spots, and we took two on the corner nearest that one.  These spots gave lots of room to run around for the kids.  We set up camp, my dad with the trailer in one, and the kids and I in tents we borrowed from my brother in the next site.

camping with kids metolius river kids in nature
A Boy and His Tent

Gabe wanted to sleep in his own tent.  We had a solo tent from when I was a kid, and we set it up next to the larger one Annika and I were using.  This was also going to be a test for my new sleeping bag and air mattress, to see if they would cut it for the backpacking trips I want to take this summer.  I liked how colorful my bag and mat looked next to Annika’s in the tent.

camping with kids gear
Colorful Bags

The weather was warm and sunny and dry.  Sage and pines mingle with tamaracks and many flowers and shrubs.  We spent some time exploring the campground after we got everything set up. Penstemon, blue flax, columbine, pine drops, wild strawberries, lupines, and many other species were blooming all around us.

Oregon native plants wildflowers
Woodland pinedrops, Pterospora andomedea
oregon native plants
Last Year’s Pinedrops

Birds sang cheerfully from the riverside and from the trees in the quiet campground.  We had a western tanager in camp, my first wild sighting of one. Lava rocks jut out from behind our spot, providing a neat lookout for the kids to climb.  The air was fresh with the piney, sagey fragrance in the warm sun.

Oregon native plants wildflowers
Sage Flowers

Over the weekend we saw many birds and other wildlife.  Ravens, song sparrows, robins, stellar’s jays, chickadees, turkey vultures, and ospreys could all be seen around our camp.  We heard many other birds that we couldn’t identify.  We saw a couple of red-tailed hawks.  Nighthawks came out at dusk, just before the bats became active.  The stars shone brilliant at night.


insects oregon
Little Ant Hills Everywhere
oregon bugs insects
Tent Caterpillars Everywhere

The kids got their bikes out and made their first of many loops around the campground.  This site is perfect for youngsters, and last year both my kids had learned to ride here – Annika with training wheels, Gabe without.  This year it would be Annika’s turn to try without training wheels, and she worked really hard the whole weekend.

kids riding bikes camping with kids
Annika Learning to Balance

She had to trade bikes with her cousin, who had a smaller bike that allowed Annika to reach the ground.  Her cousin used Papa’s larger bike that he brought along.  Annika started out coasting down the slight incline, steadying herself with her feet on the ground.  For two days she practiced, going down the slope over and over, dismounting to walk back up the gentle curve to try again.  She was so determined, yet also cautious.  She wasn’t going to crash if she could help it.  By Saturday she was ready to try learning to pedal, and worked hard some more to figure out how to get those feet to coordinate with the pedals, while still keeping her handle bars straight.

kids riding bikes camping with kids
She’s Got It!

By the middle of the day on Saturday, she had it mastered, able to complete the loop in the campground without touching her feet down.  We did have a crash or two (once when a bee flew into her and scared her) and at one point we counted 8 different bandaids on her body.  But she got right back on and kept working.  She got stronger and steadier, and was keeping up with the older kids by the end of the day.  This was one of my proudest moments, watching her go through this process.

Thursday night was cold, down to about 38*.  It was a good test for my new bag, and it performed well.  Last year we came on Memorial Day weekend, and it got below freezing for a couple of nights, with rain and cold the whole time.  I toughed it out in my ancient, worn-out synthetic sleeping bag, but knew I’d have to get a new one before doing any more serious overnighters.  I was finally able to get a bag this spring, the REI Lyra.  I also got the Exped UL 7 air mattress.  Together they worked great; I was comfortable and warm on the coldest nights, and actually too warm on the warmer nights, needing to unzip the bag.  The kids did great in their bags and mats (the REI Trekker), so we will be good to go this summer.  Gabriel wasn’t scared in his tent by himself.  He really liked his independence.

On Friday the rest of the family arrived.  My brother and his wife and kids pulled in before noon, and another cousin and his wife and kids came in the late afternoon.  At times it looked like redneck heaven, with trailers, trucks, kids, bikes and dogs.  It was more hectic than my normal trips, but it sure was fun for us all to be together.

camping with kids campfires
Making S’Mores

Every night we had S’mores, and the kids rode for hours around and around the campground.

camping with kids oregon
Bumps on a Log

They ran all over the place, too, making up games (creating medicines to heal people) and playing hide-and-seek and walkie-talkies among the sage.

camping with kids in nature
Making “Medicine”
camping with kids in nature
Fishing with Marshmallows

On Friday we walked over to a place we called “the fort,” where there was a rock outcropping the kids could climb on.

camping with kids in nature
“The Fort”

On Saturday we went to the nearby Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, where we fed the fish.

camping with kids metolius river
Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery
camping with kids
Feeding the Fish

The resident bald eagle was again in the tree, and Gabe found some snakes in the rocks.

kids in nature camping with kids
Snake Charmer

He caught one, but it was really feisty and trying hard to bite him, so I made him put it down.  Butterflies were everywhere around camp, and at the hatchery there were some puddling.  Annika managed to catch one from a flower.

camping with kids in nature
Butterfly Whisperer

After the hatchery, we went to the Camp Sherman store and got ice cream.

Camp Sherman Metolius River
Cool Ice Cream on a Warm Day


Every night the kids were filthy from the dust, sunscreen, marshmallows and sweat.

camping with kids children in nature

We’d wash them down before bed time.  One day Katie had the kids do a scavenger hunt, and they made creations from what they brought back.

camping with kids, nature art
Gabe’s Landscape Architecture

On Saturday night they put on a talent show for the grown-ups.  Gabe and Emilie wrote the script and MC’d it, and everyone got to perform a talent on the tailgate of Papa’s trailer.

camping with kids
Taking Their Bows

We felt sad to say goodbye to all the cousins on Sunday.  Most of the adults had to go back to work the next day.  We got to stay an extra day, and the campground really cleared out, leaving it nice and peaceful for us.  We sat around and read (I was working through Wildby Cheryl Strayed, about her time on the Pacific Crest Trail), while the kids played or did artwork.  After lunch, a hawk came swooping right through camp, sending the panicked ground squirrels scurrying to their hidey holes.

oregon wildlife
Lucky Squirrel

Papa taught Gabe how to put lures on a fishing line, and took the kids fishing down at Bridge 99.

camping with kids fishing with grandpa
Learning About Lures
camping with kids learning to fish
Annika’s First Time Fishing

They didn’t catch anything, but I know it was a fun memory they’ll have. An osprey nest was right next to the river, and two of the great birds soared above us or perched on nearby trees.

birds oregon
Osprey Nest

There were more interesting plants along this section, too.

oregon native plants
Bug on Pacific Ninebark
native plants oregon
Some Kind of Scroph…
native plants oregon
Twinberry, Lonicera involucrata

I let the kids wade in the river in a shallow point here, too; there aren’t many safe places to play in the water in this wild and scenic river.  We also drove up the back roads to one of the more remote camp sites.  It would be cool to explore up there; it’s sure beautiful country.

oregon wildflowers native plants
Scarlet Gilia

Saturday evening began to get cooler, and Papa and I gave the kids a lesson in fire building.  Papa showed us how to find and use pitch to help our fires, and both the kids managed to light a fire from scratch, without paper.  When I was a kid, we always tried to make a one-match fire, with no paper to help.  I got pretty good at it, and it’s neat to pass these skills along to my kiddos.  Both the kids were able to get little fires going in the fire pit.

camping with children nature skill
Gabriel’s Fire


The weather changed on Sunday night, and we awoke to the sound of raindrops on the tent.  We managed to get the tents and all our gear packed up between light showers, but we felt like it was definitely time to move out.  It was sad to say goodbye to our camping weekend.  But we did have one more stop to make, the Headwaters of the Metolius.

oregon river
Headwaters of Meolius

This short, paved trail takes you from the parking area to the place where the river bubbles out of the mountain.  Scientists think this water comes from snow in the high mountains, running through a fault.  The river is full and wide from the very beginning, allowing lush growth along the shores.  On a clear day you can see Mt. Jefferson in the distance, but this weekend it was cloudy, so we missed that view.

camping with children
My Mom and the Kids

We drove back up over the pass, into the rain and grey on the west side.  It had been a great time to unplug and reset our minds.  We did miss Daddy for Father’s Day.  We really hope he can join us next year.





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