This trip was last minute. Originally, we were supposed to fly to New York City for my 30th birthday but we figured it’s not the best place to be during a global pandemic. After I got invited to a photography retreat in Oregon we canceled our New York flights and prepared for a trip to Oregon instead. By the time we booked our flights I was tired of planning – 7 of our thoroughly planned trips in 2020 got canceled – and I decided to look up not a single thing. Well, here is how it went —
- Fly into Portland
- Pick up camper van and go grocery shopping
- Drive to Brighton and stay first night at Kelly’s Marina
- Eat fresh crabs for dinner and watch the sunset
DAY 2 /
- Drive to Cannon Beach as early as possible
- Walk to beach – make sure to no only explore Haystack Rock but also opposite site
- Have breakfast at Pig and Pancake
- Stop at Fort Stevens State Park to see the Ship Wreck on the way north
- End your day in Astoria. Walk around, have dinner at Fort George brewery, watch sunset at Astoria column
- Disperse camp
- Travel south along the coast, stop and explore, jump on rocks, get your feet wet, run to the car to warm up again
- HIKE GOD’S THUMB – try to do it at sunset if you have an extra day!!
- Definitely check out Yaquina Lighthouse
- Check in at Harbor Village RV Park in Newport
- Walk around Newport at sunset and find the sea lions.
- Head further south and have breakfast at Chalet Restaurant & Bakery – They have Nutella Crepes!!
- Stop at Cape Perpetua and hike down to the water
- Don’t miss Third’s Well like we did
- Hike up to Hereto Head Lighthouse and buy a magnet on the way there
- End your day at Oregon Dunes National Recreation, rent a quad, feel like you are in MadMax
- Say bye to the coast and head inland
- Drive to Umpqua National Forrest and disperse camp at Toketee Lake
- Hike to Umpqua hot springs as early as possible
- Jump into the springs naked, don’t buy drugs!
- Drive to Crater National Park and enjoy the view on the lake
- Stop in Sunriver on your way to Bend – eat lunch at cafe Sintra
- Check in at the Crown Villa RV Resort in Bend
- Stroll around the old Mill district and walk along the Deschutes River at sunset
- Eat dinner at Greg’s Grill
- Paddle down the Deschutes River on a paddle-board, kayak or tube
- Or rent a bike and tour along the river – or simply do both
- Check out Downtown Bend
- Hike Misery Trail at Smith Rock State Park
- Head north to Mount Hood National forrest
- Disperse camp at parking lot of Frog Lake trailhead.
- Hike Trillium lake loop or don’t – it’s ok but nothin special
- Drive up tp Timberline Lodge and ski area – Ski, bike or just drink coffee but make sure you are early
- Head up north to Hood River and stay at Tucker Park campground – one of our favorite campgrounds
- Explore Hood River Lavender farms and drink wine at Stave and Stone Winery next door
- Drive to The Dalles and eat at Sunshine Mill
- Drive back on the Washington State side and enjoy the view
- Stay another night at Tucker Park campground
- Return your camper van
- Spend all day exploring Portland
- Stop at the Rose Garden and eat at the Melting Pot or any other restaurant
- Sleep at a hotel close to the airport
DAY 1 / Brighton
Since we wanted to vacation during a global pandemic we decided to rent a camper van. It’s the perfect solution to see as much of the area as possible and still keep your social distance. It was pretty fun picking up the van since the guy working there was from Germany as well and since it was the third time we rented with Escape (the company?) we recognized many of the vans we had seen before. Even ‘Marylin’ was there. Our van from two years ago.
This time we decided to go up a size and rent the “The Big Sur”. It’s a little longer and includes an extra row of seating. Ours was called Neapolitan. Who knows why… Did we like it? Well the van appeared a little more bulky – obviously- and the turning circle is huge!! Since the second seating row was fix we also were kind of limited on how to use the gained space. Martin would have really appreciated it as leg space… Oh and it is more expensive 😉 Next time we will probably go with the Maverick again.
Whenever we rent a van we first stop at a local grocery store or Walmart to stuff our fridge and get food, snacks and drinks for the trip.
In the past we’ve always booked at least our first night at a campground
– since you can only stay overnight legally in national forests. It gives you peace of mind when you are already stressed out and tired from traveling. As I mentioned before, this trip was pretty last minute and not planned at all so we hadn’t booked anything. Our goal for the day was to get out of Portland and find a camp spot at Nepales Falls Campground. A small and dusty road takes you along the Nehalem River. It’s very scenic and we stopped at some abandoned rail tracks but unfortunately due to the pandemic – everything was closed until further notice.
We also weren’t lucky in Wheeler and Nehalem. I started to get a little nervous because it was pretty late already and we still hadn’t found somewhere to stay. We just didn’t expect everything to be closed or so crowded that it was almost impossible to find a nice spot. Then finally we got the last open site at Kelly’s Brighton Marina. You guys, I was so happy we stayed there. It’s right by the water and that evening we ate our first fresh crab ever. Kelly – the owner of the Marina and a quite interesting guy – made fun of us that we’d left the best pieces of meat. I am proud to say that thanks to him we officially know how to properly it a crab like the natives – not the Germans!
And that was our first day, lots of driving and a good dinner. I was exhausted and fell asleep after 2 minutes.
DAY 2 / Canon Beach / Astoria
Hey shorty, it’s your birthday!! Yep that’s right, I turned 30 that day and we started it with a looooong walk at Cannon Beach. We were told that Cannon Beach is really touristy and worth just a quick visit. We tried to arrive early in the morning and instead of walking to the famous Haystack Rock to the left – which was indeed already kind of crowded – we immediately headed to the right. It was a foggy morning and the rocks in the distance almost disappeared. It felt spooky and fascinating at the same time – we don’t get a lot of fog in Charleston. Since it was low tide we were able to walk to Ecola State Park. This was also the day we found out that sea lions are molting. I honestly had no idea…
But since this area is usually cut off from the beach due to the tides the little animal probably felt safe and was surprised by people and their four-legged friends walking by all of a sudden.
The bottom of the big rocks were covered with star fish
and we only ran into one other couple on our way to the end. At some point you are not able to walk further. Also, we needed to make sure we get back in time because we didn’t really know how high the water would rise. And let’s say this, 10 minutes later and we would’ve had trouble coming back from our little excursion.
Martin and I later reviewed our trip and named our favorite experience from the vacation and we both agreed that it was the morning walk at Cannon Beach.
Were kind of hungry after our 2-hour walk and it since was my birthday we went to Pig ’N Pancake instead of eating sandwiches in the van. It’s a cute little restaurant with a hearty homestyle breakfast menu – as we later found out it’s a diner chain so probably nothing special to locals.
After dinner we headed further north to Fort Stevens State Park. Martin saw pictures on Pinterest showing a really cool ship wreck. Well, it really looks cool but it’s way smaller than it appears in the pictures. Also, it’s super crowded around the wreck since it’s right at the beach entrance. We once again kept walking to the right and after 5 minutes it was just us again. You can literally see everyone disappear in fog and dust in the distance.
Our last stop of the day was Astoria
It’s a cute, little harbor town right before the Washington border. We parked our van and randomly walked around. It really is a picturesque place but many stores were closed most likely due to the pandemic. We decided to have dinner at Fort George Brewery. I highly, highly recommend this place if you like industrial vibe, an amazing rooftop view over the city and the Columbia River and outstanding pizza.
Right around sunset we drove all the way up to the Astoria Column. Another spot I highly recommend you should check out while in town. You can watch the sunset while overlooking the entire bay and even part of Washington state.
Since the plan was to travel south along the coast for the next couple of days we drove all the way back to where we left that morning. Since there was no way to find a spot at a campground in the middle of the night we decided to just park somewhere quiet and sleep.
Well, we didn’t even get to the parking part. A police officer pulled us over and told us that sleeping in a car would be a $500.00 fine within city limits 😀 But since we are really trustworthy people we followed him to a ‘secret spot’. The Covenant Community Church right outside Manzanita. I would lie if I’d say we didn’t joke about getting robbed that night…
DAY 3 / Newport
Good news. We didn’t get robbed and we also didn’t have to join a cult that night. But we desperately needed a shower so we headed back to Kelly’s Marina. That’s the most annoying part about traveling with a camper van. You always have to find a place to shower and —thanks to Covid — many bathrooms were closed.
If you have a chance get Breakfast at Five Rivers Coffee Roasters right next to the Tillamook Creamy. Best Bagel Sandwich ever and a great way to recharge your batteries and laptops and plan the next couple of days.
Unfortunately, it was pretty foggy and cold all day and basically everywhere we went a chilly wind was blowing which made it quite uncomfortable. On our way to Newport we stopped at Yaquina Lighthouse – unfortunately partly closed right now. It’s still worth a visit since you can walk all the way and enjoy a nice view — as long as the fog is not swallowing everything. On your way you’ll see hundreds of sea lions and thousands of birds sitting on the rocks.
If you have time
I highly recommend to hike God’s Thumb at sunset. It’s a moderate but short hike with breathtaking views. Martin and I didn’t do it together – because of the outside temperature — but I’d hiked it during my retreat before Martin joined me. Click here if you still need to be convinced.
That night we stayed at Harbor Village RV Park in Newport. Definitely recommended because we had access to hot showers as long as we wanted to!! Newport has the biggest commercial fishing fleet in Oregon and before we cooked mac and chees on our propane oven we went for a sunset walk around the town. It’s pretty neat and there are sea lions laying around the dock. Really noisy, stinky and not the most graceful animals though.
DAY 4 / Cape Perpetua
We started our 4th day with breakfast at Chalet Restaurant & Bakery. Several other places were either closed or didn’t have dine-in options —Thanks Corona… but guess what we ordered… pancakes and Nutella crepes of course.
This was our last planned day at the coast before heading inland. We stopped at Cape Perpetua to jump from rock to rock, somehow managed to missed Thor’s Well and spend some time at the Hereto Head Lighthouse. My highlight was Oregon Dunes National Recreation at Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. It’s basically sand dunes as far as you can see. There are several hiking trails and the option to speed through the dunes with a quad. We decided for option one and climbed the highest dune.
When heading inland it was already pitch-black outside and we saw dozens of deer and elk on the way – kind of exhausting when driving.
We decided to camp right next to the Toketee Lake. Our goal was to stay as close as possible to the Umpqua Hot Springs so we could be there first thing in the morning.
DAY 5 / Crater Lake / Sunriver / Bend
At 6:30am we arrived at the already quite full parking lot for the Umpqua Hot Springs.To get to the springs it’s only a 0.3 miles hike but we would definitely recommend wearing boots. When we arrived almost all pools were occupied already. The place isn’t dirty as some reviews described it but it’s not really big either and unless you are super comfortable with sharing a tiny pool with naked strangers it might not become the highlight of your trip. We didn’t want to wait or use the lowest pool – where all the water from the upper pools flows into – so we left. Also, we were offered crystal meth (Welcome to the American west!) before leaving so it was kind of an interesting experience 😀
Next stop was Crater National Park.
The view was amazing but I was so tired and it was pretty cold and windy at the rim. We decided not to hike but I am pretty sure there are some incredible trails along the crater. We stopped at a couple viewpoints and admired the snow in some spots – there is not a lot of snow in Charleston.
On our way to Bend we stopped in Sunriver for lunch. Cafe Sintra is a modern looking restaurant with good food and even better pastries. Sunriver is a nice little town worth a car ride around.
Another highlight of our Oregon trip was Bend. We stayed at the Crown Villa RV Resort. Pretty expensive and more of a luxury campground. It comes with all kinds of amenities and extras and is just a 5-10 minute drive to the town. That evening we explored the Mill district and walked along the Deschutes River. Bend seems so peaceful and calm and even though we had to wear a mask everywhere you couldn’t feel the stress and tensions happening everywhere around us lately. One thing we appreciated a lot was being able to sit outside in most of the restaurants and enjoy the weather. We had an early dinner at Greg’s Grill overlooking the water and ended our day exploring Drake Park at sunset.
DAY 6 / Bend/ Smith Rock State Park
First day we slept in and enjoyed a long shower and hot coffee at our luxury resort campground. We charged our batteries, answered a couple of e-mails and started sorting through images. Martin discovered French Vanilla flavor and decided to really like it – he usually drinks his coffee black.
There are different ways you can explore the mill district in bend. Either you rent/ bring a kayak, standup paddle board or float and drift down the river or you rent a fun bike to tour around the perfect manicured paths. As you can see we opted for the bikes.
DAY 7 / Timberline Lodge and ski area / Tamanawas Falls
Early in the morning we left for our fist hike – unbelievable right? Trilium Lake loop. It’s a pretty easy ‘hike’ and perfect for warming up. Unfortunately, there was no reflection of Mount Hood on the water – as promised on all trail’s reviews – and we managed to walk in the wrong direction. Would I do it again? Hm maybe not.
We also drove all the way up to Timberline Lodge and Ski Area. It’s supposed to be the ski resort (one that stays open the longest). If you like to ski, snowboard, mountain bike or just play in the snow this is your spot! But plan to be there early. We arrived at 9:00am and the huge parking lot was already full. You can park along the street but have to walk uphill. Might not be as pleasant when packed with gear.
One coffee later we headed to our second hike that day
Tamanawas Falls is a moderate out and back hike ending at a very cool waterfall. The nice thing about it is that you can actually walk behind it. The hike was quite crowded but nothing compared to what we have experienced in parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone. Also keep in mind that this is still 2020 and Covid times!
On our way up north to Hood River we stayed at Tucker Park Campground. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to get a spot right by the river. Definitely do your research beforehand to make sure they’re open!
DAY 8 / Hood River
We started our day wandering around the Hood River Lavender Farms. You can pick your own lavender, sit down and enjoy the view or head over to the Stave and Stone Winery. It’s a really peaceful area and we spent quite some time there – they also sold lavender cookies and lemonade!
Hood River is a cute, little hillside town with river views. We parked our van and wandered around for a bit – not too long since we were super exhausted at that point and it was quite warm. If you are looking for a really artsy vibe this might be your place though.
One of our highlights
that day was the Sunshine Mill in The Dalles. On your way there you’ll feel a change of scenery. You go from really lush greens to a dessert kind of feel. Honestly there is not a lot going on in The Dalles except for the Mill. If you have time definitely plan for it. Also make sure to head back on the Washington state side since it offers the most scenic views.
We decided to spend another night at Tucker Park Campground – this time right by the river.
DAY 9 / Portland
After returning our RV early in the morning we planned one day exploring Portland. To be honest we didn’t have high expectations since various people already told us about Portland’s problem with homeless people in certain areas.
And to be fair it’s true but there is still so much to do and to explore. You could easily spend 2-3 days in the city and not get bored. We loved the rose garden and just wandering around the streets – and dinner at the Melting Pot wasn’t bad either.
As you can see we still made the most of our trip and we are still totally in love with Oregon! And yes, we would definitely go back.