Visiting the Pacific Northwest in an RV 1039

Mount hood near Hood River Oregon

Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, the PNW for short—one of the most geographically diverse landscapes in North America and hub for outdoor adventure. RVers would be wise to add this to a travel bucket list, and we’re pretty sure one visit won’t be enough.

While there’s no hard boundary to designate the Pacific Northwest, the core area consists of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Several unique geographies comprise the PNW: coastal shores, mountain ranges, old-growth forest, and high desert climates are all present in a relatively compact area.

In a day’s drive, you could find yourself peaking a mountain ridge in the Cascades, picnicking in a high desert park, and finishing the trip with a sunset view on the coast, overlooking Cannon Beach.

Home to a large watershed portion of the Columbia River, the waterfalls, rivers, streams, and alpine lakes in the PNW present waterbound adventures and scenic views for every leg of your trip. Hiking, fishing, boating, and all things exploratory are popular in this part of the country. See and do it all from the comfort of your RV along the way.

While on your outdoor tour of the PNW, don’t forget, you’re never too far from vibrant cities like Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Vancouver, or Tacoma. Each city is a destination in its own right, with world-class dining, museums, and entertainment options for a quick respite from your rugged adventures.

There’s a lot to cover, and we’ll leave the exploring to you. But here are some notable spots worth checking out. Start at these points, or finish at them. Remember, there’s always more round the bend, down the highway, or over the ridge.

ocean-coastline-in-oregon-picjumbo-com
Oregon’s Central Coast

Highlights of the Pacific Northwest

As you travel, you’ll notice the PNW presents opportunities for responsible camping enthusiasts to slip into nature. Many of the highlights below are not far from National Forests, or 16 million acres of BLM public lands. Of course, RV campgrounds abound and make a cozy home base for exploring the area on foot, bike, skis, or wheels.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Likely you’ve seen pictures of this iconic geological treasure, but nothing prepares you for the expansive overlook as you drive out from a forest-covered highway and witness Crater Lake for the first time.

Formed from the collapsed volcano of Mount Mazama, Crater Lake claims the record for the deepest lake in the United States, with a 1,949-foot depth. Tourists and visitors can travel around the rim of this crater, hundreds of feet above the shoreline, overlooking the extremely dark-blue, clear-water lake.

No tributaries or inlets flow into the lake, which attributes to the water’s clarity, and also results in the water being particularly pure. The lake was even void of fish until 1888 when Kokanee salmon and Rainbow trout were introduced. (Fishing Crater Lake is now encouraged, with no limit or size restrictions!)

Camper Looking out over Crater Lake, Oregon
The view of Crater Lake at Sunset. Wizard Island and Watchman Peak are in the Background.

Campgrounds Near Crater Lake:

Puget Sound, Washington

Point the RV towards Puget Sound, Washington for rocky coastal exploration and island hopping. Accommodations for RV’s are not hard to come by, and there’s a perfect blend here between the natural world and urban adventure.

Puget Sound consists of an interlocking system of marine waterways and inlets combined with freshwater runoff from the surrounding watershed. This makes for an incredibly unique area with both ocean and river at the ready for recreational activities. Check a new adventure off your list, and ferry your RV  across the Sound to visit nearby islands.

Four major cities are based in the area: Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett. In an RV, you’re never far from great food, entertainment, or restocking needs.

Island Hopping

RVers in the Puget Sound area have their work cut out for them if they plan to see the main attractions. You’ll have to get used to using ferries to navigate waters if you’re aiming to see unique island destinations. These ferry trips can be pricey, but these islands are must-see. Still, you can keep yourself busy exploring the mainland.

Whidbey Island

This is the largest island in Puget Sound, and home to Deception Pass State Park—a go-to for outdoor enthusiasts visiting the area. Here you’ll witness stunning views, including brilliant sunsets at Deception Pass—the most photographed site in Washington state.

Deception Pass Bridge
The Deception Pass Bridge connecting Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island in the U.S. state of Washington

RV Campgrounds Near Whidbey Island:

San Juan Islands

Find a ferry that will take you to Friday Harbor, and explore the four main islands where you’ll have access to RV campgrounds and parks. Lopez, Shaw, Orcas, and San Juan each offer scenic destination points and recreational activities where you can get some distance from the busyness of Seattle or Vancouver.

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

The Columbia River dissects the border between Oregon and Washington, and a scenic drive showcases incredible features of both states in a compact 80 miles.

The Columbia River George Scenic Byway runs between The Dalles and Troutdale, near Portland—and here you’ll see waterfalls that eventually find their way to the Columbia River below. But even further east on I-84, you’re exposed to sweeping hills topped with windmills. It’s something to see, no doubt.

columbia river visible for Hood River, Oregon
The Columbia River Gorge. Image: Shutterstock

Multnomah Falls

Visible from the highway, the waterfalls in this area are easily accessible and offer a lot of trails that are easy-to-medium difficulty level. While Multnomah Falls is one of the most popular, there are many access points to other waterfalls in the Gorge. Some trails even wrap safely behind the falls for some incredible photo opportunities.

Bonneville Lock and Dam

Driving along I-84 through the Columbia Gorge, the Bonneville Lock and Dam structures should not be overlooked. When the spillway outlets open and the white-water is flowing, the dam is mythic in scope, even just driving by. A stop at the visitor centers is well worth it to see the dam up close, including observation areas to depths of the Columbia River to see underwater wildlife. Learn about the dam, the history of the Gorge, and experience an icon of American industrial ingenuity up close and in person.

Bonneville Locke and dam
Bonneville, Oregon / USA. View to fish ladder at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia river from the visitor center.

RV Campgrounds Near Multnomah Falls

Deschutes National Forest, Oregon

Travel the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain Range in Oregon to the Deschutes National Forest and you won’t be disappointed. With over 80 campgrounds and 1.6 million acres of pristine land, it’s a perfect destination for RVers traveling the PNW.

Six rivers and streams in Central Oregon, all part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, call Deschutes National Forest home. This includes the Metolious River—a fly fishing mecca well-known to anglers across the country. Blue-ribbon hiking, backpacking, hunting and fishing, mountain biking, and skiing can all be found in Deschutes National Forest.

In nearby Bend, OR, you’ll find campgrounds and a town whose name is commonly associated with craft beer and rock climbing. Home to restaurants, breweries, wineries, lodging, and the world’s last Blockbuster—Bend is a great town for RVers passing through onto the next campground.

smith rock state park oregon
Smith Rock State Park outside of Bend, Oregon. Image: Shutterstock

RV Campgrounds Near Bend, OR

And last, but not least, check in with the Deschutes National Forest Supervisor’s Office for additional information about the park and camping in the area. As you venture into the PNW, it’s always a great idea to check in with the BLM and National Park local resource offices to get the lay of the land and learn more about RVing in the area.

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