(The cabins at the Metolius River Lodges are on the river | Photo by Ronni Wilde)
While Central Oregon has become a travel destination for people from around the world, there is a tiny jewel nestled in the backcountry near Sisters that not everyone knows about — yet. Camp Sherman, located just 35 miles northwest of Bend and about 15 miles northwest of Sisters, sits on the spectacular Metolius River, tucked back in the woods away from the noise, traffic and bustling activity of the rest of the region. For those who want nightlife, Camp Sherman is not the place to be. But for those who wish to escape to the pristine forest interrupted only by the sounds of pine trees rustling in the wind and the flowing of a wild and scenic river, this little enclave can provide a restful recharge for locals and tourists alike. The only rushing you’ll find here is that of the river water.
With a current population estimated at about 215 people, it’s likely that the local deer outnumber the humans. From Highway 20 not far from Black Butte Ranch, Camp Sherman is reached by turning off the highway onto the Metolius River Camp Sherman exit and following the signs for about five miles. Once off Highway 20, the area is dotted with private residences, resorts, trailheads and then the unincorporated community of Camp Sherman, which consists of a general store, cabins and resorts and a series of campgrounds along the banks of the river. The Metolius is a fly-fishing mecca, and the area is also home to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. For Central Oregon locals, Camp Sherman can make for an awesome day trip, and for those coming from farther away, a stay of a few days or a week or two is sure to rejuvenate.
“This is a good place to just come and get away,” says Ted Reid, manager of the Metolius River Lodges, a resort with a series of cabins that were built in the 1930s. “You kind of self-isolate here; you are generally by yourself. Everyone is very respectful of keeping their distance and wearing their masks. It’s a great place to get away and enjoy the scenery, and the fishing is very popular. It’s been a good season.” He says Camp Sherman is a wonderful place to find solitude; the only modern amenity is Wi-Fi, and there is currently very limited cell service in the area, depending upon your provider.
The Metolius River Lodges, family owned for 22 years by John and Vicky Hornbeck, is one of a number of resorts in the area. It has 13 unique cabins — each on the river and each with its own name — and is open year-round. Reid, who has worked for the resort for 15 years and managed it for five, says they have been extremely busy since the pandemic began. “I’m surprised at how busy we’ve been. COVID hasn’t really affected business at all; I think it’s actually increased business,” he says. “Customers are more from out of the area. A lot come from the Portland area, but people come from all over.” He continues, “We advertise in several magazines, like the Oregon travel guides, and they find us through the internet on our website, as well as a lot of word of mouth.” Reid says that in the summer, about 50 percent of their clientele are return customers who come back every year. “We have people come stay for a week in the summer, and even up to three weeks. You have the river running right outside the cabins, some wildlife that comes in and cozy fireplaces for wintertime,” he says.
Roger White, co-owner of the iconic Camp Sherman Store for 25 years along with his wife, Kathy, says they have enjoyed getting to know their return customers over the years. “There has been a laugh a day for 25 years, always with somebody, never at somebody,” he says about running the store, which was established in 1918 by farmers from Sherman County and has been in business ever since. For 103 years, the store has served as a community hub and contains a fly-fishing shop, bakery and deli counter and a market with food, clothing, camping and outdoor recreation supplies, gifts and souvenirs.
White says he and Kathy purchased the shop after Kathy had grown up vacationing in Camp Sherman with her family, and then working in the store during summer breaks from college. When the couple learned that the previous owners were planning to sell, they drove into Camp Sherman and signed the papers. “Kathy’s dream had always been to own the store, so we came up and made a deal,” says White. “That was in 1996. The rest is history. We have had the great fortune to have good folks and friends who were able to come up and work here. It’s been a wonderful run; we’ve made friends from all over the country.” White recalls two different couples who spent their honeymoon in Camp Sherman, and then came back years later to introduce their children. “They wanted their little ones to see where they had stayed on their honeymoon,” he says. “One time, we had an actress come in who was filming in the area, and she wore a big floppy hat and sunglasses to remain anonymous. But she stuck out like a Hollywood actress because she didn’t look like a typical Camp Sherman person,” he says with a chuckle.
A couple of years ago, White says the Camp Sherman store entered the spotlight when a writer had come to the area with his boys. “He wound up writing a big feature story in the New York Times travel section about spending 36 hours in Bend. He concluded the story by saying that a trip to Bend should end with a trip to Camp Sherman and a visit to the store. We didn’t know this was coming. He wrote that the Camp Sherman store is the coolest general store in the west. That was really a neat thing.”
The store is now once again for sale, but White says they aren’t advertising it too extensively yet. “We figured we’d put the store on the market before we started getting grumpy,” he says with a laugh. “Our daughters are getting older, and we have a few things we’d like to do, like travel a little and relax a little. We both have alternative careers; Kathy is a glass-fusing artist, and I was a neon tube bender.” He adds, “We were lucky enough to buy a cabin on the river, so we will still have pretty firm roots here.” So far, there are no prospective buyers, he says. “It’s for somebody, but not for a lot of people. It’s a way of life for some, but not others.”
For those who do choose to spend time in Camp Sherman, the resorts and store aren’t the only attractions: campgrounds (recreation.gov) and the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery (541-595-6611) are also popular destinations. There are more than a dozen campgrounds sprinkled along the river that can accommodate tents and RVs, and there are trails on both sides of the river that connect them all and allow for easy and convenient hiking. The campgrounds can make for an excellent home base during kayaking, mountain biking or backpacking expeditions. The Fish Hatchery is located at 7500 Forest Service Road 14 and offers a beautiful parklike setting. A great spot for a picnic or hiking turnaround point, it has a rainbow trout stock that supplies fish to the Deschutes sub-basin and southeast Oregon, and it is used for incubation and rearing of salmon and trout used for recreational fishing.
The region is also known for the Head of the Metolius, where the spring-fed river sprouts up from underground and bursts through to the surface; the House on Metolius, a privately owned resort and nature preserve on 200 acres that is available to rent for weddings and other gatherings; the historic Black Butte Trail, which leads to the summit of Black Butte and the old Cupola Fire Lookout building; and a few restaurants attached to the resorts, including an Hola (541-595-6420) that is open May through October. Views of Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack are visible from higher elevations, and creeks and lakes are abundant in and around the area.
At an elevation of just below 3,000 feet, Camp Sherman weather is similar to the rest of Central Oregon, and although the store is only open on weekends during winter, the main road is plowed into the area throughout the winter. “The biggest challenge here is the snow,” says White. “It is beautiful, but four or five years ago when Snowmageddon hit, the best thing I ever bought was a backpack blower. I just walked around the store and made trails. Then an hour later, it was back.” He adds, “There is never a dull moment here in running the store, but sometimes we can just relax and stare at the snow or listen to the wind. I walk through the woods sometimes, and there is just complete silence. No planes or cars, just absolute, complete silence. It’s very hard to get that anymore.” He adds, “It’s darned amazing here.”