When I was a boy scout Camp Wilkerson was a decent jamboree and camping site. After scouting I didn’t think about it much until Matt and I began our Columbia County Reptiles and Amphibians project. Now that I’ve been back to visit 30 years later it’s turned into a gorgeous family hiking destination with beautiful grown-up forest.
Last summer I took Sophia there for a father-daughter hiking excursion. We sort of wandered the trails without a clear plan, just keeping track of where we were on the map. The Camp Wilkerson trail system accommodates a realm of possibilities but also allows for a lot of confusion. If you took every trail and logging road available you could hike over 13 miles.
Sophia and I spent much of our time on the Liahona Trail, a 3.6 mile loop around the outskirts of the park that passes through much of the prettiest forest land. The path switches between well-trod hiking trail and dirt road, with both signs and color-coded arrows marking your way. On one of the wider segments we saw several horseback riders – Camp Wilkerson is a favorite destination for horse enthusiasts.
We put in the miles and after a while Sophia got tired of walking and transferred to my shoulders. The Liahona Trail has ~950 feet of elevation gain and loss around the loop, so don’t expect a casual stroll if you do the whole thing. There are, however, plenty of easy flat stretches if you stick close to camp.
Here and there we stopped to look for little forest creatures. Wilkerson’s forests have a good variety of mollusks and amphibians, though most folk probably never notice they’re there.
The map shows numerous crossing trails that connect the main trails at various points. I have to warn you – some of these are very overgrown! Sophie didn’t mind but at one point we were practically bushwacking.
There are a few spots where small creeks cross the trail, always with safe bridges to get over them. I inexplicably forgot to take pictures of the creeks, but did at least photograph a couple amphibian friends we found in them.
Other highlights of the hike were picking salmonberries (Sophia stuffed her mouth when she could even if she had to brave the thorns) and seeing some decently old trees. Parts of the forest appear 70-80 years old, not quite true mature forest but still a rarity in our neck of the woods. Unfortunately other sections have been clearcut recently, meaning some parts of the park are now kinda ugly.
Newspaper articles show the camp was originally donated for the youth of the county in 1935 and built on logged-over land in the 1940s, so at least those oldest stands have been growing ever since its founding. I pray they preserve those original stretches. Perhaps one day decades from now we’ll have mature forest in Columbia County once again.
Day use fees for Camp Wilkerson are $5 per vehicle. If you’re thinking about staying overnight it has some very nice sites with the options of tent camping, Adirondacks, cabins, and a horse camp. You can see more pictures of these facilities on our Camp Wilkerson Overview page and make camping reservations at the Camp America website.
Thanks for taking a look!
Camp Wilkerson at a glance
What: camping, hiking
Where: From Hwy 47 turn east on Apiary Road (9 miles north of Vernonia or 19 miles south of Clatskanie) and drive 5.8 miles until reaching 65866 Apiary Road, Rainier (45.9331, -123.0593).
Alternatively, from Hwy 30 turn south on Apiary Road (4 miles west of Rainier or 8 miles east of Clatskanie) and drive 13.4 miles to reach the camp.
Can also access from the Deer Island area by going west on Canaan Road from Hwy 30, continuing west as it becomes Meissner, and then turning south onto Apiary.
Hiking: There is a 3.6 mile hiking loop trail (Liahona) that gains and loses 950 feet over the loop (map is here). Numerous other trails and logging roads combine for over 13 miles of hiking. Look for the colored-coded arrows to follow a particular route.
Camping: 11 tent sites, horse camp, 25 Adirondaks, 3 cabins, 2 RV sites
Notable Wildlife: Columbian Black-tailed Deer, Roosevelt Elk, Canada Jay, Northern Pygmy Owl, woodland amphibians
Property status: Columbia County Parks
Website: Columbia County: Camp Wilkerson
Reserve America: Camp Wilkerson
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