Camping With Kids Report: Crescent Lake, Oregon

We Try To Go to Crescent Lake Every Year For At Least One Trip

Hey all! We just got back from another camping trip. I love camping with the kids, and this last week, I was very excited to take the kids up to Crescent Lake, a small lake near the blip of a town called Crescent, Oregon.

Crescent, Oregon is near what is known as Central Oregon. If you are driving east, the town is about 10-15 minutes of driving past the summit where the Willamette Pass ski area is located.

The lake is not what I would call “remote.” It is far from official civilization, but close enough to Crescent that you could drive in daily to get ice (or even order takeout).

There are only a few campgrounds on Crescent Lake, though there are also cabins, private dwellings, group sites, and some campgrounds away from the lake itself.

camping with kids
Frog hunting in the marshy area between Spring Campground and Contorta Flat Campground

Not too many campgrounds to choose from

Since we love playing in the water, we chose one of the campgrounds on the lake. The options are Crescent Lake Campground, Contorta Flat Campground, and Spring Campground. Crescent Lake Campground is right next to the Crescent Lake cabins and lodge, which has a boat launch and a small restaurant, as well as a swimming area. I tend to avoid crowded areas where there are lots of people and noise (otherwise what is the point?)

We chose Spring Campground, which I have camped at before (with kids). Contorta Flat is a beautiful campground, but it doesn’t have any potable water, and while the campground is small (only about 20 sites or so), all of the sites are crammed in together. Contorta Flat is an awesome place to camp when it is empty, but it is a ZOO when it is full.

We actually walked down to Contorta Flat from Spring (there is a really pretty trail connecting the two campgrounds), and the place was full of RVs and campers and motorcycles and dirt bikes and side by sides and people blasting music and playing cornhole and more. It was overwhelming. I wouldn’t stay there when it was full. But when it is empty, it is a really wonderful, quiet, campground that I highly recommended.

Spring is just down the road, but it is so much more calm. The campground has about 70 sites, but they are spread out over a much larger footprint. The site we got (52) was HUGE… was easily the size of 5-6 sites over at Contorta Flat.

Plus, that end of the campground wasn’t even full, so at one point there were no other people within our eye-view (meaning we couldn’t see anyone else, though there were other people in the campground).

Each Trip With Kids is Different

And how was it?

Well, camping with young children is fun, but also a pretty big challenge. I tend to pack as light as possible, because otherwise packing is a two week ordeal. I don’t cook extravagantly like some people do, and I tend to just make basics from the food groups rather than making meals. I don’t pack tons of toys, and encourage the kids to make friends in the campground, and to utilize the natural area as “toys.”

Here’s the thing: little kids don’t help put up tents, make fires, cook, clean up, even though they might want to help you. So I worked my rear end off for the four days that we were there.

The environment challenged us this time, more than our trip from a few weeks ago to the North Fork of the Willamette (above Westfir). The mosquitoes were fierce this time, and nothing short of DEET helped keep them away.

The Mosquitoes at Crescent Lake Are Bad Until Early August

Even with repellent and other measures, we all got bitten multiple times, especially the littlest one, because she did nothing to try and keep the bugs away, and consistently stripped off the layers I put on her to keep her skin safe. We ended up planning to eat dinner early and then get into the tents early, at about sundown, and then in the morning, stayed in the tents until the sun got high enough for the mosquitoes to die down.

The wind was also bad this time. I have been up to Crescent Lake a lot of times during the month of July, and while it tends to get windy in the afternoon, it generally isn’t too bad in the morning or early evening. This trip? The wind screamed from sunup to sundown.

This was great for the mosquitoes, but it was really brutal down by the lake for my two-year old. She got very over stimulated by the sun, wind, water, noise, heat, etc. She was really whiny on the lake beach and wanted to hide on my lap underneath my sweatshirt or a towel more often that I would have liked.

Water Sports Are A Big Deal

Most of the people who come to Crescent Lake bring kayaks, stand-up-paddle boards, rafts, or some other flotation device to enjoy. The wind was a real bummer for almost everyone, because it made it really difficult to use any of these devices.

The temp was good during the day, in the high 80s and didn’t get too cold at night, nothing below the upper 40s. It was about 10-15 degrees cooler down by the water than it was in the campsite. I have camped there in July with temps up over 100 degrees, so I was pretty happy with the 80s.

The lake is not terribly warm, but it is generally not deep at the shores of the campgrounds, so parents don’t have to worry every second about drowning. I was able to sit in a chair and read my book, with one eye on the kids instead of standing over them every second to keep them alive.

The chipmunks were very aggressive and numerous this year. We had to put all food away when we weren’t using it, and not just at night. The critters climbed into the pantry food box, stole food off the table while we were sitting at it, opened bags, chewed holes in garbage bags, and were a general menace.

Since we do not have a dog, the kids got a kick out of chasing the chipmunks away from the site, yelling at them (I am sure our neighbors, when we had some, enjoyed that).

Fire Season Wasn’t Too Bad in 2019

While everything is obviously very dry (starting a fire was no trouble at all), fire danger had not yet taken hold and we were able to have a fire, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and use the smoke from the fire to battle mosquitoes.

What else did we do? We rode bikes and scooters. The boys caught hundreds of frogs (they had all recently turned from tadpoles to little froggies) and then released them. Seriously, hundreds. We saw birds dive for fish, and got to ride in the boat (and break the boat, but that is another story). We read a little, ate a lot, met up with some friends, slept in the tents.

But I have to be honest, we threw in the towel a day early. The mosquitoes and the wind just did us in. My eldest son was the only one really having any fun. My daughter was very whiny the last day, and my middle son spent most of the last day hiding out in the pickup.

(Funny enough, he decided to be helpful, and wash the insides of the windows. With essential oils.)

The experience hasn’t made me less excited about camping again this summer. But I am excited about figuring out some new places to set up camp, and I’m currently doing research on locations in central Oregon, and off the Cascades Highway (Cultus Lake, Elk Lake, Davis Lake, etc).

Notes About Spring Campground

Notes about Spring Campground:

  • If you come in on Sunday nights, you can basically pick and chose where you want to stay. You can reserve sites in advance online, but most of the walk-up sites are open on Sunday afternoon
  • On Friday and Saturday nights, there are a lot of people who stay up late and party. This can mean noise, late arriving campers, and alcohol-fueled mischief.
  • The campground is VERY dusty. OMG. SO dusty. With the wind, and the kids just running around, we were just covered in a thick layer of dust. I do think that this did help a big with the mosquitoes, actually, but it was really grimy, and really, really dirty. And there was almost no way to avoid it, aside from not moving. I probably told the kids to stop kicking the dirt 1,000 times.
  • There are no showers or anything like that. With kids, I couldn’t go without cleaning them up. The older kids did well by jumping in the lake at least once during the day to clean up hands and feet and wash off the dust and dirt. With the younger children, I couldn’t get them reliably into the lake (which was not warm). And even if I did, but bedtime they would be atrociously dirty again.
  • Here’s how I wash the baby while camping. I always bring a large bucket. And then I heat up some water on the fire and mix it up with some cold water in the bucket, and let the smallest ones sit in the bucket in the warm water. Surprisingly, they really love it, especially as the night air cools everything off, which it does even on the hottest days up in the mountains. And when the bath in the bucket is over, I take them straight to the tent to dress and for bedtime.
  • There are a lot of ants. If you are sleeping in tents, watch where you set it up, because there are tiny ant hills everywhere.
fear based parenting
  • Wood can be purchased, but it costs $7 a bundle.
  • It is possible to get cell service in certain spots at Spring with a few of the carriers (I was able to get service occasionally with my Verizon phone). I had the best luck down by the water’s edge of the lake. However, when we went over to Contorta Flat there was no signal for anyone anywhere I walked.
  • There’s no ice, you have to drive up to the lodge or into Crescent (about 20 minutes).
  • The basic sites cost $18 a night (while the sites at Contorta Flat cost $12 a night)
  • A lot of people staying at Contorta Flat drive over to Spring and fill up on water (for free).
  • As noted, there are no showers, but there are pit toilets
  • The campground is SUPER clean. The camp host there was super professional, the sites were very clean and organized, and there was no garbage anywhere.
  • Bring water shoes–there are sandy beaches but the sand is not so fine, and your feet will quickly become tender.
  • The road in is very easy to drive, it is just over 2 hours from Eugene.
  • Crescent is 20 minutes away, so you can buy gas, ice, snacks, basic groceries, and there are a few restaurants, so if you have a big day and don’t feel like cooking (or just want to escape the mosquitoes), you can go to town and have a meal in comfortable air conditioning, or pick up take out to take back with you.

Wrap Up

All in all, I recommend Crescent Lake as a place to camp with kids. I have a feeling that we will go back in 2020.

Have you been to Crescent Lake with kids? Or are you thinking of going? Let us know your questions in the comments section below.