Students access Oregon’s outdoors on a budget

One of the most popular offerings of Lewis & Clark that draws students here is our unique College Outdoors (CO) program. While CO is an excellent resource for granola pros and nature newbies alike, trips fill up quickly due to their popularity. They can also be too expensive for some, especially with limited scholarship capacity. Others simply have a difficult time making the time commitment work with their schedules. 

Luckily, Portland is a city surrounded by many lush and varying landscapes and CO is not the only option to get out and explore them. It takes a bit more planning and research to orchestrate a camping or backpacking trip on one’s own, but it is not as difficult as it might seem.

One of the primary obstacles for independent camping trips is lack of transportation. As someone who loves the outdoors but doesn’t have a car, I rely heavily on buses. A shuttle called Mt. Hood Express serves six metro areas along Highway 26 and goes to various roads and trailheads around Mt. Hood. This shuttle operates seven days a week and is incredibly affordable: only $2 one-way and $5 for a day pass.

The Mt. Hood Express is only the beginning of what public transit has to offer, though. Visit to find a comprehensive list of buses and shuttles that connect urban residents to wilderness areas. Read carefully, because only some of these routes include Portland; some go to other Oregon cities such as Eugene and Bend.

Another challenge can be picking a destination. While there are enticing locations farther away, like the Wallowa Mountains, Mt. St. Helens and the Oregon Coast, there are also many less well known options closer to Portland. 

One of these is Oxbow Regional Park, a smaller but nevertheless beautiful spot on the Sandy River east of Gresham that has 74 drive-up campsites offered for $25 a night. Another option just 34 miles west of Portland is L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, located in the foothills of the Northern Oregon Coast Range and offering reservable campsites for $11 a night. This is an excellent place to see wildflowers in May and June. An hour’s drive from Portland lies the wonderful Beacon Rock State Park, full of stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge and campsites for $30 a night. These options all have access to bathrooms and showers.

For those who are interested in backpacking rather than camping at designated sites, there are seemingly endless routes available that span mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and forests. To review them, visit websites like, or Many places listed are free of charge and simply require registering for a wilderness permit ahead of time. 

As for acquiring gear, REI provides inexpensive rental options including sleeping bags, bear canisters, tents, stoves and much more weather-specific and specialized equipment. Other outdoor equipment stores also rent gear, such as Mountain Shop and Next Adventure. And of course, our very own CO program is also an excellent resource for borrowing and renting supplies.  

If renting supplies does not feel preferable to buying, there are also a number of discounted options for buying secondhand gear and hiking clothing. Well known companies like REI and Patagonia have used gear and clothing available for purchase online. Some lesser known brands such as GearTrade also offer used products. 

Some products are difficult to come by secondhand, like hiking boots that fit, so if you do make the investment to buy a pair new, keep in mind the option to resell them to these same companies. Not only can you get a portion of what you spent back, but you can also help somebody else by providing them with affordable options.

Food can be another area where costs add up. Many backpackers rely on pre-packaged freeze dried meals, but at $10-$15 for a couple servings, it is not the most cost-efficient choice. Buying easily rehydratable grains in bulk, such as couscous, is much cheaper. Paired with tuna or chicken from a pouch, which can be bought at most grocery stores for just a few dollars, and dried veggies, you can easily create a tasty, filling meal for a fraction of the price.

Your peers are also some of the best resources you can ask for. Many LC students own lots of camping gear and might be willing to lend it out. Some might even want to join you on your trip and would be willing to drive their car. Do not hesitate to ask around about outdoor opportunities, because more often than not, students will be thrilled to share their knowledge and help make the profound experience of immersing oneself in nature more accessible.

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