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Celebrating People, Places & the Good Life in SW Washington State
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Road Trip! A Loop Through Southwest Washington

Ready to hit the road? Thanks to guest blogger, Joe Laing of El Monte RV Rentals for providing this post:

Southwest Washington is made for touring. You’ll want to begin your tour with Vancouver – just as if you were an early American pioneer exiting the Oregon Trail. In Vancouver, you can begin your journey with a dose of history at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Baking hardtack at Fort Vancouver

To get here (from the south), take I-5, exit 1-C (Mill Plain Boulevard), drive east, and follow the signs. Fort Vancouver was once the center of the British Hudson Bay Company’s network of fur trading posts. But it also became the site of the region’s first hospital, school, mill, and shipbuilding. Today, the site encompasses the Fort Vancouver National Historic Reserve, where you can go on guided tours. Next to the Fort, Pearson Air Museum is also well-worth a visit.

Once you’re in Vancouver, you really can’t leave until you’ve taken the time to drive east along the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Byway, from Washougal (just east of Vancouver) to Maryhill, unless you really did just come from Oregon and spent time there along Oregon’s Historic Columbia River Highway, which runs parallel to it on the other side of the river. You’ll need to budget at least a day for this trip, however, as it will take you more than two hours of driving time to reach Maryhill, and another two hours to return to the Vancouver area. But what a beautiful and relaxing drive! Once you reach Maryhill, you can visit the Maryhill Museum of Art, or, if you are a wine connosieur, the famous Maryhill Winery.

The stunning terrace at Maryhill Winery

If you arrive in a summer month, you may manage to make it to one of Maryhill Winery’s summer concerts. (The 2011 season will feature Yes & Styx, Gipsy Kings, and Michael McDonald & Boz Scaggs.) Maryhill is also the site of a World War I memorial which was built as an exact replica of Stonehenge.

You may want to plan on camping in Maryhill, at Columbia Hills State Park, which is RV-friendly, so that you can take your time and explore the area, perhaps making short trips across the river, as well. Columbia Hills is well worth your time – you’ll be able to see ancient Native American petroglyphs and walk the Tamani Pesh-wa Trail. There are more than 12 miles of hiking trails here, and you can also go boating, sailboarding, rock climbing, swimming, or even play horseshoes. At night, take some time to observe the night sky – this is a beautiful area in which to see the stars.

Sailboarding on the Columbia River

On the way to or from Maryhill, depending on your schedule, stop in Stevenson at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum. This is the place to go if you have an RV full of fidgety kids. In addition to the museum’s extensive indoor historical exhibits, kids can climb into a historic diesel locomotive outside. In addition, you may want to take time to see the Bridge of the Gods, the third oldest bridge on the Columbia River.

Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center

Leaving Vancouver again (or leaving the first time, if you choose to skip the trip to Maryhill), drive north on I-5 and take exit 14 (Pioneer St./Washington 501 W) for Ridgefield, where you can visit the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Here you will find not only a beautiful flood plain habitat (watch for sandhill cranes!), but also the townsite of Cathlapotle, which was visited by Lewis and Clark in 1806.

Cathlapotle Plankhouse

You can hike through the refuge or take the four-mile car tour. [Don’t miss this ZEST post by Sarah Coomber on hiking with children in the refuge.]

Getting back on I-5, head for Silver Lake (get off at exit 49, Castle Rock). If you enjoy fishing or hiking, you may want to spend some time here, and camp at Seaquest State Park. To reach the visitor center, head east on 504, but don’t limit yourself to Sequest’s own visitor center – if you continue east, you’ll reach the Mount St. Helens Forest Learning Center. If you’d like an alternate route to Mount St. Helens, you can exit I-5 at exit 21 near Woodland, but that route won’t take you to the visitor’s center. The center is inside the blast zone from the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, and includes an outdoor volcano playground and indoor virtual helicopter tour.

After May 15, when the road opens, you can proceed to the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center and Johnston Ridge Observatory.

The Road to Mount St. Helens

You can hike and climb in the Mount St. Helens area, but you will need to reserve a pass in advance, and you are required to stick to the trail. If you are old enough to remember the eruption, the trail will be amazing enough! If you aren’t old enough to remember the eruption, or would like a refresher, watch some archival footage before you get there. For a map of trails in the area, click here. If you are lucky enough to climb to the top of the crater, bring a dust mask – there is still occasional ashfall, and it isn’t good for your lungs.

From the Mount St. Helens area, you’ll want to head for the coast so you can see the sights that Lewis and Clark saw when they reached the Pacific. Head south again on I-5, but this time take highway 30 west toward the ocean. It will take you an hour or two to reach the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, near Chinook. Continuing along the coast to Long Beach, Washington, about 200 feet above the surf itself, at Cape Disappointment State Park, you can visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

View from the Interpretive Center

Take as much time as you can to enjoy this beautiful area, where you can beachcomb, hike, and relax. You can camp at Cape Disappointment overnight.

Continuing north to Ilwaco, you can visit the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see fresh and saltwater marshes and tidal estuaries. This is the place to go if you enjoy birdwatching – you can see pelicans, murrelets, bald eagles, great blue herons, and many other waterfowl and marsh birds.

Maybe you will have had enough driving by this point in your trip, but if you feel you just can’t leave Washington State without a trip to Mount Rainier, Washington’s highest peak, you can certainly make it – and it’s a glorious way to end your trip. Leaving the coast, get back onto I-5, exit at 68 (Morton/Yakima), and take US-12 E to WA-123 N. From here on east to Mount Rainier, the roads are closed seasonally, so check the dates when you plan your trip. Check the road status here. If you are taking the time to make the trip to Mount Rainier, plan on camping in the park and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy all that it has to offer.

You won’t want to leave Southwest Washington, so make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to poke around along the way-you’ll discover your own favorite locations and meet some of the friendliest people in the Pacific Northwest!

About the Author

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. For other great RV camping vacation ideas see the Monty’s Musings RV Camping Blog or the new
Monty’s RV Vacation Photo / Picture Gallery
.

June 19, 2011   3 Comments

Adventures on Washington State’s Cranberry Coast, Part II

Isn’t it always the case that when you travel someplace new, you wish you had more time to spend there? We just discovered that in Glasgow (and Edinburgh and Inverness and…) but that’s another blog for another day. This is about Washington State’s scenic Cranberry Coast.

We spent four days there in mid-summer and pined for more. So we returned a month later for a camping trip with long-time friends, Mary and John Tyburski. Again, we were enchanted by the area. Cranberry Coast, Part I is here.

Westport Marina

Friday afternoon. Taking I-5 north, we make our ritual stop for milkshakes at the Dairy Barn in Chehalis (Exit 77). Cookie Dough and Hazelnut shakes in hands, we head west on SR6 through PeEll, which has what must be the world’s largest stop signs, and through Frances and Lebam—a town with a name to love. It’s backwards for Mabel.

We pass the Pacific County Fair in Menlo, hurrying on to Raymond, where we pick up SR105. We’re eager to get to our campsite before sundown at Twin Harbors Beach State Park.  Setting up a campsite in the dark is not my idea of fun and it’s raining so we are grateful for our snug tent camper. Our days of sleeping on the ground are over. Guess we are getting older…

Home Away From Home

What a multi-generational community we find! Park demographics include all ages, from infants to grandparents and a diverse, well-behaved canine population. We must have missed the memo that said “bring your dog.” Two doors down, so to speak, at least 30 high school girls (also well-behaved) are on a field trip and eating dinner under the world’s largest tarp.

Much later, two cars of very polite surfers from Port Orchard set up their tents next to ours in the dark. We save them from an imminent medical emergency by lending them our hatchet. Watching a barefoot surfer try to chop wood with machete is not a pretty picture.

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November 1, 2009   No Comments

Adventures on Washington State’s Cranberry Coast, Part I

I love cranberries.  With about 30 percent of West Coast cranberry farms located along the Southwest Washington coast, it makes perfect sense that we have The Cranberry Coast to visit.

I thought this area could be easily explored in one trip. I was wrong. There is a LOT happening in this part of the state. This is Part I.

Thursday Afternoon and Evening
We leave Vancouver on a one of those frying, triple-digit July days. As we pull out of Chehalis on SR6, after our ritual stop at the Dairy Barn for milkshakes, the Wachovia clock reads 100 degrees. By the time we get to Raymond in Pacific County, less than an hour from I-5, we are down to a cool, marine 67 degrees. The Cranberry Coast is looking good already.

The Elegant Russell House

4 p.m. An Elegant Bed and Breakfast in “The Oyster Capital of the World” Our host Beverley warmly welcomes us at the historic Russell House Bed and Breakfast in South Bend. Russell House is a stunning 1891 Victorian home, built by John Russell as a 25th anniversary gift for his wife, overlooking South Bend and the Willapa River. Beverley has graciously agreed to store our tent camper and kayaks in the backyard while we are exploring the area. We settle in to the Bay Room with its turret window seat and spectacular view of the river.

6:30 p.m. Well-worn tavern, good beer, succulent oysters. Beverley recommends two diners in town for great oysters. We start with dinner at Chester Club and Oyster Bar, which more than one person points out has been written about in The New York Times. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us. A few older guys are hanging out at the bar, occasionally wandering out to smoke and greet a very popular dog in a pickup. When I taste my first oyster, I slap the table. It’s that good. Lightly battered and fried but not greasy. And it’s matched perfectly with Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale. I hope The New York Times was very, very kind to this bar. They deserve it.

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September 4, 2009   4 Comments