Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We’ve taken various routes from our winter camps in Southern California back up to Idaho, usually following the major freeways like Interstates 5 and 84 through Oregon, but this year we would like to find a good but less-traveled route where we can boondock along the way. Do you have any suggestions? —Harry and Nancy
Hi Harry and Nancy,
I’ve done that trip several times and there a few ways to do it, but one route I liked was Route 26 through the Ochoco Valley, heading east from Redmond on Route 126 toward Prineville. Just before entering town we noticed a sign for the Ochoco Valley Viewpoint. So up we went, to a plateau that offered views all the way to the Ochoco National Forest that we would pass through, and in the other direction to the Powell Buttes on the other side of the valley. A walk around the top revealed views in all directions, including eight (we counted them) snow-capped peaks that lay across the horizon.
At Prineville pick up U.S. Route 26 that follows the Ochoco River into the Ochoco National Forest. The road climbs away from the river up to 4,700-foot Ochoco Pass. The Forest Service Ochoco Divide Campground (no hookups and first-come, first-served) sits right on the top of the pass, a gem of a campground when the lower elevations are steamy hot. At this elevation, we slept with a blanket, and even on July 3rd, the campground was only half full when we arrived in late afternoon. Check first with the campground’s website to make sure it has opened for the season (usually about mid-May).
Continue on as the road winds through miles of farm and ranch lands, past the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (worth a stop for its starkness alone) to Mount Vernon, where you can pick up U.S. Route 395 north – the main north-south route in central Oregon – and back up to Interstate 84 through the Malheur and Umatilla National Forests (look for boondocking opportunities) to Pendleton and then on to Walla Walla.
This route through central Oregon is lightly traveled, with most travelers to northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, or western Idaho taking U.S. Route 97 from the Bend and Redmond areas to the Columbia River and east. Routes 26 and 126 proved to be easy to drive in an RV and full of scenic surprises.
Read more about boondocking at my BoondockBob’s Blog.
Check out my Kindle e-books about boondocking at Amazon.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .
The first time I really drove the motorhome was from Fernley, NV to Richland, WA. I wanted to avoid the interstate mainly Cabbage Hill. I took 95 up then over to Burns, then 395 up to Pendleton. Before I took it, I drove it on google Earth to check elevation changes and what was along the way. If you are heading for southern Idaho, you can go to Burns and take to 20 to Ontario or 95 from Winnemucca to Idaho. To go to northern Idaho, continue to Pendleton, then to 395 through Kennewick where you can either keep north to Spokane or cut across 12 to Lewiston, ID. Just get an atlas or map and you will find many variations. If you head towards Baker City, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day Sumptner has a flea market.
Another site to see west of the John Day Fossil beds is the Painted Hills, banded with color from a series of volcanic ash deposits with different minerals in them.
Also, from Highway 395 north from Vernon, you can take OR-7 over the mountains to Baker City through the old mining town of Sumpter (see the dredge), or you can skip 395 and take Highway 26 all the way to Ontario and cross into Idaho there.
Taking 395 all the way up from California is a great trip through the Owens valley along the eastern Sierras and avoids most of the freeways.
If you’re in the vicinity of John Day, don’t miss the Painted Hills – absolutely amazing. Prineville has a great RV park at the fairgrounds, the the Crook River Scenic Byway and reservoir are nearby. The memorial to the Prineville Hotshots in the park is touching, and the town museum is worth a visit. If you travel to Burns, go south to the Narrows RV park for a base to visit Malheur NWR and Steens Mountain. Frenchglen, on the way to the mountain , has a neat little restaurant in the hotel. The views from atop Steens Mountain are incredible. Central Oregon is an amazing area with not many people or visitors.
Great information, Bob! Thanks for sharing it.