Here’s a question from a reader of RVtravel.com about boondocking.
We’re visiting friends in Portland then on to Idaho. What can you recommend for a route where it won’t be so crowded and maybe with some boondocking along the way? Thanks, Bev and Matt
Hi Bev and Matt,
The Columbia River Gorge is not to be skipped if you’ve never been there. Waterfalls plunge from towering cliffs into glistening emerald pools, hiking trails wind through Douglas fir forests and follow streams into deep canyons, the National Historic Road tracks a slice of northwest history (especially the bike-only part of Historic Route 30), and the massive hydroelectric dams are impressive. As are the crowds…
Consider crossing the river and cruising Highway 14 on the Washington side, avoiding the rush and roar of Interstate 84’s noise tunnel down the Oregon side of the gorge, the main arterial between Portland and the Northwest’s eastern cities. You can cross the river on the skeletal Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks. (In the parking lot under the bridge on the Oregon side look for Native American fishermen selling freshly caught salmon).
Turn right and follow the undulating two-lane ribbon of Highway 14, leaving the hurry behind, winding through the green lushness of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. But don’t do it if you’re headed eastbound and your RV is 12-foot-three or higher.
At Carson, turn left for a side trip up to the Trout Lake area and to some National Forest campgrounds, boondocking opportunities, and hiking trails that are so quiet — unlike on the other side of the river — that you can hear the huckleberries dropping from the bushes. In season these delectable berries draw pickers from around the state. Pick up a brochure of picking areas from the Forest Service office.
Just before you get to the bridge connecting Hood River on the Oregon side with Bingen/White Salmon, the trees and green cloak of western Washington fade into the treeless, grass-covered brown hillsides of the dry end of the gorge in the vast rain shadow of the volcanic Cascade Range. The highway, like a great sinuous black snake, follows the contours of the hills that slope down to the mighty Columbia.
Opposite The Dalles, OR, the green patch of Horsethief Lake State Park will catch your eye, where there is a campground, picnicking, swimming, and trees to sit under to escape the midday heat. About fifteen miles beyond the park, the Maryhill Museum, originally intended as a mansion for entrepreneur Sam Hill (1857-1931), perches atop a cliff overlooking the river. This unusual art museum is worth a stop and there is plenty of parking for any size rig. A little farther, the Maryhill Winery offers a tasting room where you can sample their special wine and, in summer, a concert series in their 4,000 seat outdoor amphitheater featuring world-class entertainment.
A mile past the intersection of U.S. 97, Sam Hill built a full-size replica of Stonehenge, but unlike the real Stonehenge of England’s Salisbury Plain, Sam created his Stonehenge to what it would have looked like before the heavy stones toppled over.
It’s another 80 miles with little traffic following the river’s contour until I-82 and U.S. 395 cross the McNary Dam, bringing Highway 14 to an end. There is a campground near the small town of Plymouth and a day use area and boat launch on a small island on Lake Umatilla on the river. McNary Dam and Visitor Center and Lake Wallula are two miles upstream from the campground. You can cross the river here to return to Portland or continue on into Eastern Washington and Idaho.
Do you have a question for Bob? Email him at bob.rvtravel (at) gmail.com .