Skip to Content

Rising camping numbers on Deschutes National Forest bring challenges — and more garbage

(Update: Adding video, Forest Service comments)

Responsible camping urged: 'If you pack it in, can you pack it out?'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) --The number of campers in the Deschutes National Forest has increased dramatically in the past year, as COVID-19-weary residents and visitors flock to the great outdoors -- and it shows no sign of slowing down.

Jean Nelson-Dean, public affairs officer for the forest, said recreational camping increased by 40% last year at both built campgrounds and dispersed camping.

Nelson-Dean said Monday the Forest Service expects another challenging year of crowds in the forests. She doesn't expect the demand to go down this summer.

"Most of those campgrounds are 100% reserved already, so the expectation is that we are going to continue to see a lot more dispersed camping on the Deschutes National Forest as we get more visitation and as our capacity in our campgrounds is exceeded," Nelson-Dean said.

When people choose to do dispersed camping instead of staying in built campgrounds, they are not required to obtain a permit for their stay and are allowed to stay for up to 14 days in the forest.

As more people visit the forest, Nelson-Dean asks that people recreate within the areas responsibly. That means staying on designated paths and especially cleaning up after yourself.

"If people are coming to the Deschutes National Forest, whether they are going to a developed campground that's obvious or deciding to do dispersed camping, getting a 40% increase in use in one year -- we do not have the staffing to deal with all the garbage and all the waste that is left behind," she said. "So just as you would if you're going hiking, if you pack it in, can you pack it out?"

The Deschutes National Forest had about 4.5 million visitors last year, and Nelson-Dean said a lot of trash was left behind in recreational areas.

"Our staff had to make multiple, multiple trips, sometimes even to even our developed campgrounds, just to pick up trash. It would be nice if people kind of helped deal with that themselves," Nelson-Dean said.

Nelson-Dean said not only does all the trash left behind affect the aesthetics of the forest, it also negatively impacts the wildlife and plants in the area.

Author Profile Photo

Leslie Cano

Leslie Cano is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Leslie here.



  1. Wonder if DNF will ever expand existing campgrounds or build new ones?
    Personally, I disperse camp to avoid crowds, but I get not everyone likes that style of camping.

    1. I do too, although it ticks me off that there are no first come, first served sites. I cannot plan my camping trips months in advance.

  2. With an increase in the number of campers comes with it an increase in the threat of fire. Hope that the forest service is planning on a lot more enforcement/education.

  3. With all this demand, it seems rather bone head to close Quinn River and Sheep’s bridge for the ENTIRE Summer due to hazard trees. When the weather created a bunch of hazard trees in the campground at big Cultus a few years back they rushed in and took care of it in a couple weeks. Wonder what changed to drive this new lack of public focus?

  4. 14 DAYS they have the ******** nerve to bring that up.when they won’t do anything(their job)about the squatters on our public lands. like china hat road and everywhere you look’

  5. …and the last new campground built was when? Oregon’s population has likely doubled since the last campground was built in Central Oregon.

  6. If a lot of people called our Congressman and once a month or so followed up, and it was few 100 people, you’d see more campgrounds. As for the litter, it has to be picked up fast otherwise people are more apt to litter in places where there is already litter. A few $1000 fines for littering and things might change. But in more populated areas some places have been totally destroyed.

    1. Right? of course when I lived in Cali I hated when the Oregon slob tourists came down and left trash all over our forests, so I get your issue!

    1. lol no, they will pay contractors for that…special no bid contractors as a special favor for good campaign contributions.

      FS Employees hike around and staff kiosks. Although it seems most kiosks are staffed with

  7. Old people like me were taught to leave a campsite in better condition when you depart, than it was when you found it. Of course, that requires a modicum of personal responsibility. It is not nice to expect people to do things like pick up after themselves. That’s someone elses job.

  8. Slobs live everywhere (including Central Oregon).

    A visit to Suttle Lake, 2 years ago (pre-pandemic). Arrived early. Trash abounded. Plastic water bottles, baby diapers etc. It was astounding and gross.

    Paddled around the lake, returned to hoardes of people (no doubt locals) arriving. It was a zoo. Everybody bringing their “stuff” (consumer crap) to enhance their outdoor experience. We left.

    I was raised to pack out what you brought in. If everyone did ~ it would help reduce the load. Make sites more available.

    1. Your definition of local likely differs from mine. Carpet bagging johnny come lately californicators that have no roots of their own are the human equivalent of Spotted Knapweed. They ruin everywhere they spread their seed and put down their roots.

Leave a Reply

Skip to content