Essential RV Oregon:
Bucket List Destinations
in the Beaver State
by Suzanne Wright
There’s a lot of breathtaking ground to cover in Oregon. And with 29 designated scenic byways and tour routes, you can wind your way through rocky coasts, dense evergreen and redwood forests, mountain valleys, volcanic plateaus, and high desert. The farm-to-table movement has spurred agritourism. The numbers tell the story: there are more than 38,000 farms scattered across the state, some 750 wineries, and 300 craft breweries—and counting. Sports enthusiasts will adore the array of outdoor pursuits, from mountain biking and hiking, to rock climbing and white-water rafting, to skiing and snowboarding. Oregon’s relaxed culture encourages authentic encounters with its enthusiastic makers and experts, and promises postcard-worthy memories.
The southernmost part of Oregon is blessed with the state’s number-one attraction: awe-inspiring Crater Lake National Park. Nestled in the old-growth forest of the Cascade Mountains, the nation’s fifth-oldest national park features crystalline blue waters (pure enough that you can drink them, so refill your water bottles!) formed by a collapsed volcano. The Scenic Rim Drive is a 33-mile loop that encircles the caldera’s rim, affording views from hiking trails through meadows, past lakes and waterfalls. Mischievous golden-mantled ground squirrels are plentiful, as are mule deer, but lucky wildlife watchers might glimpse elk or black bears. Winter visitors thrill to pristine snowshoe trails. Sprawling over more than 1.6 million acres, the Willamette National Forest comprises eight wilderness areas. The most popular is the Three Sisters Wilderness, with mountain peaks topping 10,000 feet. The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, popularized in the movie Wild, challenges long-distance backpackers, but day-use sections captivate in more manageable doses. Summer explodes in a profusion of alpine wildflowers. Many of the state’s best hot springs are clustered in this region. Options include off-the-grid soaks in dense forests, wellness resorts with vegetarian dining, family-friendly pools, and clothing-optional retreats. Ashland, just 15 miles over the California border, tops many lists including the best small and art towns in America, and hosts the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival annually from March through October. Galleries, studios, and restaurants unveil new works every month during the lively First Friday Art Walk. During summer bloom, the Lavender Trail winds through the gorgeous purple majesty of a half dozen farms and nurseries. Running the Rogue River rapids, one of just eight designated scenic and wild rivers in the country, is an unforgettable experience. Skilled outfitters will guide you during the season, from May to October. Expect to spy eagles, herons, river otters, and mink.
Where to Stay:
Stay and play standouts include Crater Lake RV Park, located on 10 generously forested acres. It offers 57 widely spaced sites to suit even the biggest rigs, with private fire pits available. The pet-friendly, Ashland-convenient Southern Oregon RV Park features full hookups, and standard and premium sites for the largest of rigs. It connects to the Bear Creek Greenway.
U.S. Route 101 parallels the rugged Pacific coastline from California to Washington. We like visiting in September and October, known as “second summer” with sunny days and fewer crowds. Starting from the southern tip, work your way north to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, which dominates 40 miles of otherworldly landscape between Florence and Coos Bay. The massive golden dunes are sandwiched between the ocean and the forest, and are often kissed by mist. Sandboarding and ATVing are favorite pastimes in this terrain.
The Three Capes Scenic Loop is a leisurely day drive, with plenty of panoramic views of windswept beaches and stops along the 40-mile ride. The most famous outcropping in the state, Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, is the seasonal residence of tufted puffins. On the central coast, Newport boasts the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Seafood lovers, don’t miss the chance to tuck into a creamy bowl of clam chowder at Mo’s Seafood & Chowder. With multiple coastal locations, it’s the granddaddy of clam chowder restaurants, dishing up deliciousness since 1946. Want to try your hand at clamming? Lincoln City offers both clamming and crabbing clinics led by locals after low tide. The Tillamook Creamery—yup, the same cheese and ice cream you buy at home—allows visitors a self-guided tour and samples. The Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail connects travelers with the bounty of u-pick farms, markets, breweries, and distilleries concentrated here. Canneries and restaurants line the pedestrian boardwalk of the Astoria Riverfront. Don’t let rain dampen your visit; the Columbia River Maritime Museum is an interesting place to while away an hour or two. Whale watching excursions are available year-round. Boost your chance of spotting the marine mammals by timing your trip to coincide with winter migration to the warmer waters of Baja Mexico.
Where to Stay:
There are numerous RV parks along the stunning Oregon coast. They book up quickly, so be sure to reserve in advance. Among the best-reviewed, centrally-located ones are the forested Cape Lookout State Park near Tillamook, with 38 full hookup sites; Sea and Sand RV Park in Depoe Bay, which offers spectacular terraced oceanfront sites; and Lincoln City’s Premier RV Resort, ideal for big rigs.
Bend is one of those super cool, super friendly mountain towns that inspire immediate relocation fantasies. The active traveler will be wowed by the high desert Cascade Mountain setting with 300 days of sunshine, and a plethora of epic, all-season recreational activities. The 12-mile Deschutes River Trail is one of the most picturesque stretches in central Oregon. The mixed-use trail meanders through town, crosses the water, and is fragrant with pine and juniper. It’s a favorite of runners, cyclists, and the stroller set. And if you’re traveling with pooches, know that “Dogtown USA” welcomes your fur babies. Mt Bachelor is the U.S.’s sixth largest ski area. The Pine Marten Express chairlift slices through pristine alpine scenery to an elevation of 7,800 feet. Once atop the summit, enjoy a sunset dinner, soar through the sky on the steepest and fastest zipline in the Northwest, or try gravity-defying downhill mountain biking. Open seasonally in summer (check snow forecasts) the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a 66-mile drive that offers excellent picnicking spots, hiking, horseback riding, fly fishing, standup paddle boarding, and kayaking opportunities. Come winter, Mt Bachelor sparkles with world-class fresh powder, perfect for snowboarding and cross-country skiing. A rock climber’s magnet, Smith Rock State Park has more than 1,000 bolted routes. The Bend food scene is eclectic and diverse, boasting Italian, Mexican, and Thai restaurants, in addition to creative American cuisine. Don’t leave town without one of Sparrow Bakery’s beautiful baguettes.
Where to Stay:
Plan ahead and you can park overnight at Mt Bachelor during the summer from early June through early October. The Crown Villa RV Resort has generous back-in or pull-through spaces with full hookups, Wifi, storage lockers for bikes and golf clubs, pickleball, and recycling and garbage pick-up right from your site. The Bend/Sisters RV Resort is a Good Sam five-star rated, and features 105 asphalt sites that can easily accommodate RVs with tow vehicles.
Portland & The Columbia River Gorge Area
As the cult classic series Portlandia so brilliantly showcased, the weird and the wonderful are constantly colliding in “ecotopia.” Kick off your stay in Portland at lively Pioneer Courthouse Square, the town’s urban “living room.” People-watch, catch a concert, hit up a food truck, or attend a festival. Washington Park is home to multiple destinations, including the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Oregon Zoo, and the Portland Children’s Museum. If you’re in town over the weekend, the hip hodgepodge of vendors at the largest continuously operating outdoor market in the U.S., Saturday Market is super fun. Likewise, browsing Powell’s Books, the world’s largest indie bookstore, is a quietly rewarding experience. All the neighborhoods in Portland have their charms, but we’re partial to the trendy boutiques and eateries of the chic Pearl District.
Day trips from the City of Roses dazzle. The sweeping Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is a 4,000-ft deep, 80-mile long canyon that forms the boundary between Oregon and Washington states. The majestic Multnomah Falls is a photographer’s dream, as is Mt Hood, the iconic jewel of the Cascades, which rises to 11,250 feet. After your exertions, we suggest a locally-sourced meal and time in front of a warming fire at the historic Timberline Lodge. Oenophiles will want to explore the lovely rolling Willamette Valley Wine Country—responsibly, of course, by letting one of the numerous private tour operators do the driving so you can sip safely. Some of the 700 vineyards are sustainably certified, others are dog or family-friendly.
Where to Stay:
Roamer’s Rest RV Park in Tualatin, south of Portland and a cork’s throw from wine country, offers 93 full-service sites featuring Wifi and cable TV, laundry facilities, and propane delivery, all on a rural setting with many old-growth trees. The city-run, first-come, first-serve Clackamette RV Park in Oregon City, is an affordable option with 36 30-amp hookup sites, access to the Willamette River, and walking paths. Tucked into the Columbia River Gorge in the cute town of Troutdale, the Sandy Riverfront RV Resort has riverfront and creekside accommodations that boast full hookups with 60-foot long concrete pads, free cable and Wifi.