Traveling through Oregon by RV is never the same experience, and that’s part of why it’s such a wonderful place to visit. Out of all the road trips we’ve taken through Oregon, two scenic routes uniquely captured our imaginations as RV campers.
Oregon Coast to Central Oregon
The first route we’ve enjoyed exploring on our RV camping trips through Oregon is US-20, which is, incidentally, the longest highway in America. With 450 miles of this epic road in Oregon, there’s enough scenic interest for an extended vacation. US-20 is one of those two-lanes that lures you to venture into the forest, stop at a small town eatery or walk a rocky beach in search of eagles.
We started the western end of US-20 in Newport, where the beaches gave us plenty of reasons to linger. Between hunting for agates buried by the tide, watching for gray whales and eagles on the horizon and a tour of Yaquina Head Lighthouse, it made for a memorable weekend at the shore. The camping is excellent at Beverly Beach State Park, just north of Newport.
Continuing east on US-20 for a couple hours, we reached the Willamette National Forest, home to more than 1,000,000 acres of wilderness to explore. Our favorite forest spots? For camping, you can’t beat Yukwah Campground east of Sweet Home on US-20. It’s also right on the South Santiam River, with access to miles of forest hiking trails. If you have the time, drive the 80-mile McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway through the national forest for outstanding views of mountain lakes, volcanoes and waterfalls.
Because we enjoy boondocking — camping without hookups — in wilderness areas, we also made a stop along US-20 at Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area. East of Bend, this BLM preserve is a lesson in geology wrapped in stunning views. Ancient volcanic activity has created a vast area of pine-studded basalt, high-desert wilderness, with marked trails and plenty of room for dispersed camping.
Another Oregon RV road trip we recommend for those in search of jaw-dropping scenery is the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. Our route started in La Grande and swung northeast on OR-82 through Wallowa, Enterprise and Joseph. The Wallowas are a wonder, surprising us with shining lakes, rugged peaks and wild rivers flowing through grassy valleys.
We slowed our roll in Joseph to enjoy the mountain village and art colony feel, especially the large bronze sculptures that decorate downtown. Just up the byway, the town of Enterprise is no slouch either when it comes to interesting places to shop, eat and rest.
From the Enterprise/Joseph section of the byway, there are a couple of options to reach your next destination, Hells Canyon. We chose to cut across to the Hells Canyon Overlook from Joseph on OR-350, then south on National Forest Rd 39, about 35 miles on paved road, to the overlook. Another option is to follow the byway via OR-350 all the way to Imnaha, then on gravel road to Hat Point Overlook.
Once there, we couldn’t stop taking photos of Hells Canyon, the magnificent gorge that divides Oregon from Idaho. If we’d had more time, a float down the Snake River at the bottom of Hells Canyon would have made our road trip complete. We’re definitely planning for it next time!
Because we’d committed to completing the loop, we left Hells Canyon with a promise to return soon and swung back southwest toward the town of Halfway, with a side trip northeast on OR-86 to Copperfield Campground on the Snake River. We learned this campground is on the site of a former mining town destroyed by fire in the early 20th century.
After a pleasant night’s rest, we made the push to complete the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway with a run west on OR-86 through the towns of Halfway and Richland on our way to Baker City. Being history geeks, we found it fascinating that this area was once well populated with hopeful gold miners. Be sure to stop and read the signs at the site of the 1984 Hole in the Wall Landslide about midway between Richland and Baker City for a reminder that nature trumps our best efforts at civilization.
Other high points on this final stretch? Definitely make a stop at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center just before you reach Baker City. We learned a great deal about westward expansion along the 2,000-plus-mile trail, the native people those pioneers encountered and Oregon’s famous mountain men and miners.
History, scenic wonders and the people we find along Oregon’s byways keep us coming back in our RV travels. Why not pick a two-lane and see what you can find? That’s our favorite way to make our RV road trips memorable.
FYI: Here’s a great map of RV dump sites in Oregon.