West Coast RV trips

Driving with Donna: 5 Epic West Coast RV Trips

We arrived home a few weeks ago. “Home” being relative and applicable to the place near Atlanta where we’ve landed around mid-October for the past two years to dog sit, take care of those pesky adulting appointments and enjoy holidays with family. In this case, we’d been gone since January, and despite following our travels on social media and frequent calls and emails to catch up, the family always wants to know where we’ve been and what our favorite place was.

We’ve done a couple of West Coast RV trips in the past two years. Each ran a similar track – traveling west for a couple of months, enjoying one place for an extended period while we volunteered or workamped, then enjoying a few more months on the road before trekking back east. Of the two, I think the Colorado leg and month spent on the Olympic Peninsula this summer were our favorites! Here are the highlights:

1. Durango, Colorado

We camped at Junction Creek Campground in the beautiful San Juan National Forest just five miles north of Durango. You have to drive a really bumpy road with a serious grade to get there, but once you do, the sites are spacious and offer nice forest scenery.

From our basecamp location, we had easy access to Mesa Verde National Park, a section of the Colorado Trail and other spur trails along the Animas River, and of course, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The six-mile paved multi-use trail along the Animas River that wound through downtown Durango made for a fun ebike ride. We took advantage of the local community center for the necessary shower every now and then, as well as a soak in the sauna since the campground had no showers.

Campsite in Durango ColoradoCampsite in Durango Colorado

After we’d had all the fun we could stand in one day, hitting the town for the lively food and music scene was easy. The ragtime pianist at the historic Strater Hotel was a highlight, but we also enjoyed the food trucks and open mic talent at 11th Street Station. For a more sophisticated dinner, we splurged at Seasons, enjoying locally sourced and expertly prepared dishes paired with delicious regional wines. There are countless brew pubs and casual restaurants all along the six-block Main Street area downtown, and none of them we tried were bad in any way.

Durango is one of the few places we know we aren’t finished with yet. There’s so much to see and do, and the people were just plain lovely. The folks at the Durango Welcome Center were more than happy to tell us about lesser-known attractions that are often overlooked but give a peek into the local history and culture. We were sad when our ten days there came to an end.

2. Up the Colorado Western Slope

From Durango, we wound our way north along the Western Slope and enjoyed our stays in Coaldale at Big Horn RV Park, and on the Dillon Reservoir at Prospector Campground. Coaldale is along US 50 and made a great home base for our visits to the Great Sand Dunes, The Royal Gorge, and the cute little town of Salida.

We found Dillon less ideal for our interests, but it was within striking distance of Denver and was a nice three-day respite from all the touristing we’d been doing. We were able to resupply and relax before we made it to the last Colorado stop in Granby where we splurged on a Sun Outdoors RV Park and took full advantage of their pool and bicycle paths. And no stay in Granby is complete without a trek into Rocky Mountain National Park. Entering through the Western entrance is magical and allows for some of the best views without the crowds.

In all, we spent four weeks in Colorado and barely scraped the surface of places to visit and enjoy. In a happy coincidence, my son moved to Denver amid our travels there, and now we have even more reasons to go back.

From Durango, we wound our way north along the Western Slope and enjoyed our stays in Coaldale at Big Horn RV Park, and on the Dillon Reservoir at Prospector Campground. Coaldale is along US 50 and made a great home base for our visits to the Great Sand Dunes, The Royal Gorge, and the cute little town of Salida.

We found Dillon less ideal for our interests, but it was within striking distance of Denver and was a nice three-day respite from all the touristing we’d been doing. We were able to resupply and relax before we made it to the last Colorado stop in Granby where we splurged on a Sun Outdoors RV Park and took full advantage of their pool and bicycle paths. And no stay in Granby is complete without a trek into Rocky Mountain National Park. Entering through the Western entrance is magical and allows for some of the best views without the crowds.

In all, we spent four weeks in Colorado and barely scraped the surface of places to visit and enjoy. In a happy coincidence, my son moved to Denver amid our travels there, and now we have even more reasons to go back.

View of the mountains in ColoradoView of the mountains in Colorado

3. Pacific Northwest - Oregon

On our trip home from California in 2021, we detoured north and got a glimpse of the Oregon coast, then went east along the Columbia River Gorge and knew immediately that we had to spend more time there. So, Oregon was our destination for our 2022 travels with an anchor at Cape Lookout State Park where we were committed to volunteer during the month of September. We didn’t secure that spot in time to snag any choice beachside campsites at the numerous Oregon state parks along the way, so we opted to spend three weeks traveling the Olympic Peninsula. And we are so happy we did!

Our PNW adventures began in Sisters, Oregon, where we dry camped on public lands in Deschutes National Forest. This was a great spot for exploring the Three Sisters region of the Cascade Mountains, including a full day scenic drive along the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway with a midway stop at a hot springs resort for a nice soak and a quick picnic lunch. And of course, we had to visit the last standing Blockbuster Video store in America.

To really get the most out of the scenic drives, we enjoyed listening to audio guides that gave local color and history to the scenic vistas. The folks at Together Anywhere became trusted companions throughout our Oregon travels. (Pro tip: They have more guides for Apple than Android, so if you have a choice, download the Apple app!)

If you aren’t a fan of dry camping, Tumaloo State Park is a pretty nice home base in this area, and just one mile from Pisanos Woodfired Pizza restaurant. We not only enjoyed their food twice during our stay in Sisters, but we also planned our route home from the coast specifically to go back there two months later! Finding good pizza by Vic’s NY/NJ standards is always a fun challenge on our travels, and this place nailed it.

From Sisters, we went south to Valley of the Rogue State Park, a tightly packed but nice campground along the Rogue River and just off the interstate. A bicycle path runs through the park and out along the river to the town of Gold Hill, and within the campground there are several places to splash in the frigid waters of the river itself. Easy access to Crater Lake and Klamath Falls made this a nice base camp location for the scenic drives.

Rogue River bike trailRogue River bike trailRogue River bike trailRogue River bike trail

Side note: If you are a VA-rated disabled Veteran, it’s worth checking out the benefits that Oregon state parks offer. Between free camping, boondocking and volunteering, I’m not sure we paid for a single night of camping in Oregon.

4. Pacific Northwest - Washington

After a stopover night at a casino just out of Portland, we made our way to the Olympic Peninsula. We’d arranged to spend seven nights in each of three locations around the peninsula allowing plenty of time to sample local cuisine, explore Olympic National Park, and just relax in the beauty of the coastal towns. Our first stop was at the lovely John Wayne RV Park in Sequim, WA. It’s mere steps from the marina and its delicious restaurant, has another miles-long bicycle trail along the bay into Sequim, and is an easy drive into Port Townsend where we had some of the best food of our entire trip at Kokopelli Grill.

John Wayne marina in Sequim WashingtonJohn Wayne marina in Sequim Washington

Pro tip: If you have a ginormous truck like we do, I highly recommend checking out the transit bus that leaves from Port Townsend and takes you to the visitor center in ONP for $1! It makes for easy parking in Port Townsend and is worth the nominal fee to avoid congestion in the park.

We were there during Lavender season, so the town was abloom with purple fragrance. If you’ve never had lavender ice cream, you must stop at Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm for a taste and a stroll among the gardens.

Lavender popsicles at Jardin du Soleil Lavender FarmLavender popsicles at Jardin du Soleil Lavender Farm

There are numerous places in Sequim to enjoy the beach or the views of Dungeness Bay. For those intrepid enough, you can take a beach hike out to the lighthouse, but only around low tide!

Our second week was spent in Forks, WA, which fans of the Twilight Saga might know well. We aren’t, and we didn’t, but there is definitely a Dark Shadows vibe there. The town itself was limited on dining and doing, but this was our closest access to ONP Hoh Rain Forest hikes, Neah Bay, and the amazing tide pools at Kalaloch Beach. It was a quiet basecamp to enjoy the more remote part of the coast. Don’t let the threat of rain pin you indoors — the beach is amazing even on a cold cloudy day. The highlight for this week was the hike out to Cape Flattery Viewpoint on our drive to Neah Bay.

Pro tip: Pick up your $10 recreation permit in Neah Bay first. None of your national or state park passes will suffice!

Tide pools at Kalaloch BeachTide pools at Kalaloch Beach

Our last stop on the tour was Copalis, WA. Due to circumstances totally within our control (see here for the full trip planning goof-up story), we didn’t get a full week in Copalis, but we enjoyed the time we had there. Driving onto the beach, fine dining in Pacific Beach and Aberdeen, and a day trip to Westport were a few highlights. The Westport Maritime Museum was simply astonishing, mostly because you can get an up-close look at an operational Fresnal Lighthouse Lens! (Pro tip: There’s free parking at the end of the block!)

Three full weeks of coastal views, scenic drives, awe-inspiring hikes and bicycle rides dappled with some of the best seafood of our travels, made the trip around the Olympic Peninsula one of our most memorable. But we weren’t done with the PNW just yet – nor the food!

5. Pacific Northwest – Oregon (Part 2!)

After leaving Washington state, we still had about ten days before we reported to Cape Lookout for our volunteer gig. Recalling that we really enjoyed the drive along the Columbia River Gorge the year before, we opted for ten days at Memaloose State Park, another of Oregon’s state parks tucked between a rest stop and a river. From here, it was an easy drive into Portland where there was no shortage of Food Pods and amazing restaurants – all worth the one-hour drive there and back!

Oyster stewOyster stew
Fish board at KachkaFish board at Kachka
Fresh local oystersFresh local oysters

When we weren’t stuffing our faces, we enjoyed riding our bicycles along the Riverfront Trail in The Dalles or along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. (Pro tip: That 5-mile bike ride will take way longer than you’d expect because there is so much to stop and awe at, so start early and take lots of water! The Columbia River Gorge Discovery Center was a nice respite after our ride!)

We spent one full day driving and trekking down a few hiking trails along the Waterfall Corridor. Memaloose was our most active stop along any of our West Coast road trips. And it’s a good thing because between the gelatos in Hood River while we watched foil and wind surfers, the delicious food carts at the Portland Mercado and the Russian and Italian delights at Kachka and Grassa, we needed the exercise!

Waterfall in PortlandWaterfall in Portland

Alas, August drew to a close and we headed to the coast for our month-long stay at Cape Lookout State Park. The work was easy and afforded days off to drive back to Portland for more yummy food, as well as just lazing about on the beach. Just as we when we left, sitting here writing about this trip has left me wanting to return. I’ve spent several months at different times in the Pacific Northwest – all between May and September, and I am certain I’m still not done with it. But it will have to wait for 2024…we visit the other Portland food town next summer!

About Donna

Lippert Scouts Donna Weathers and Vic Mulieri are retired veterans who have been traveling the U.S. full-time for the past two years. They alternate their time between months-long volunteer gigs at state and national parks and road tripping in between those opportunities. Unencumbered by deadlines, pets or kids, they often have no idea what day it is and have forgotten how to set alarms. Their home on wheels is a 5th wheel toy hauler and they love exploring the outdoors, historic places and great restaurants wherever they visit. To follow Donna and Vic’s RV adventures, be sure to subscribe to Donna’s blog at wheretonowus.travel.blog.

Donna WeathersDonna Weathers