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Endless Summer on the Pacific Coast Highway in Your RV

| Updated Jul 3, 2013

Well, technically not endless. How about mid-April until mid- November? Good enough? Thought so. Last year we spent as much time as we could boondocking or nearly boondocking along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Malibu to Washington, and finally got to see enough of the Pacific Ocean to make even the most discriminating of spouses happy.  Here's what we did, and how we did it.

This is the view west from Joshua Tree, and the last of the winter storms is spilling over the coastal ranges. Time to get our toes in the sand.
This is the view west from Joshua Tree, and the last of the winter storms is spilling over the coastal ranges. Time to get our toes in the sand.

Heading west on I-10, we approached the Pacific coast east of LA. We sat in the desert and watched the weather websites, waiting for the coast to clear, literally.  You don't want to be sitting on the beach during California's winter weather – rain and 50 degree temperatures. The last of the winter storms were still coming onshore, and we were high and dry in the Mojave.  By the middle of April it looked promising, so we drove I-10 to its bitter end and took a right – onto CA 1, the mother road for summer slackers.

But we were in territory not exactly friendly to boondockers – the metro LA area. We wanted to check in with one of our favorite grand-nieces, who lived there, so we plunked down in Leo Carillo State Park for a couple of days and had a nice visit. It's an OK park, as parks go, but it's over $30 a night, and you can't see the ocean.  Time to drive north, looking for open spaces.

$11 a night, and worth every penny - Kirk Creek
$11 a night, and worth every penny – Kirk Creek

Up CA 1 we drove for 250 miles, past more state parks and other signs of civilization, until we got to Los Padres National Forest, the southern end of Big Sur. And there we stayed until Memorial Day in the campgrounds along the ocean, Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek.  Again, this isn't boondocking, but it is $11 a night with a Federal Senior Pass in an area where boondocking is illegal, so we decided to cough up a little cash for oceanfront camping.

Both campgrounds have water but no dump, so we would throw the wash water out the door, and go maybe nine or ten days between trips to civilization – Monterrey, 60 miles north, for groceries, gas, propane, and other amenities. Big Sur is totally undeveloped as far as infrastructure like cell phone coverage, gas below $6 a gallon, or laundromats.  You really have to plan to bring everything you need, including your own internet and TV access if you want it, and we did.

Navarro Beach - I think it was about $12 a night here, no hookups. The beach is starting to look northern here, with driftwood and fog.
Navarro Beach – I think it was $10 a night here, no hookups. Looking northern here – driftwood and fog.

In Monterrey, we scandalized the Pebble Beach crowd by taking the Seventeen Mile Drive tour in a déclassé RV, walked along Cannery Row, and did some shopping after our time in the wilderness. After getting north of the San Francisco Bay area, we started to hit a few places on the coast where we could boondock, but it's a hectic sort of boondocking – California law says that you can park for eight hours in any place not otherwise posted, so that means a morning spot, an afternoon spot, and a night spot. Kind of a pain with the dishes. Navarro Beach, a state beach, was a stop we remembered from years past, and we had a pleasant return visit for a few days as a break from the eight hour shuffle.

Mendocino Headlands State Park
Mendocino Headlands State Park, and as far as we could persuade Fiona to advance. Sharon's out on the end for a little exhilaration and sea spray.

The Mendocino area was a nice visit, but there was no real place we could stay for a reasonable amount.  We did enjoy our visit to Mendocino Headlands State Park, with spectacular cliffs and sea rocks out in the ocean there.  Just north of Mendocino, however, is a 20 miles stretch north and south of Fort Bragg where we did a couple of weeks of boondocking, trying to stay within the eight hour rule, but an RV park owner there said it's no big thing as long as you aren't pitching tents or showing other signs of a lengthy stay. We never got hassled, so he may be right.

The last pullout before CA1 goes inland - north of Westport, CA
The last pullout before CA1 goes inland – north of Westport, CA

The Fort Bragg stretch was the first time we could really feel as if we were away from the hustle and bustle since we left Big Sur.  We shuttled back and forth along that stretch, moving often enough so that we didn't look like we were homesteading, and meeting interesting travelers, many from Europe and Australia. However, the sea cliffs get steeper and steeper as you go north until it becomes impossible to follow the coast, so CA 1 heads inland into the redwoods. So did we.

Big trees, little Roadtrek. Humboldt Redwoods SP
Big trees, little Roadtrek. Humboldt Redwoods SP

We spent a night in one of the state parks and it was a nice experience to be among the giants, but one night was enough. Dodging a biker convention around Rio Dell, we headed back out to the water around Arcata and Trinidad, where we “day camped” along the oceanside, and spent nights in the casinos in Trinidad and Blue Lake.  We went inland briefly (my idea, not Sharon's) and spent three days along the Trinity River, but the 80 degree temperatures proved to be traumatic after months of cool ocean breezes, so back out to the coast we came.   We did another few days of eight hour boondocking around Crescent City, and by then we were ready for Oregon, which has a twelve hour parking rule, not eight as in California.

The stretch of Oregon coast from Pistol River to Gold Beach
Oregon coast between Pistol River and Gold Beach

I listed the stretch of beach south of Gold Beach, OR in my top ten boondocking areas, and for good reason – it's beautiful, the locals are genuinely glad you're here buying gas and groceries, and the weather is wonderful.  Everything you need – gas, groceries, laundromats, propane, doughnuts – is just a few miles away in town, and you stay until you're ready to move on.

By now it was July and we were feeling the need to move northward and see more of the coast. We dropped by Coos Bay to pick up a care package from home at the UPS store and to get dental cleanings with our west coast dentist there, staying at the casino, and then headed on up the coast to the stretch south of Yachats, OR, for some more day camping in the oceanfront vista points and rest areas, and nights at Cook's Chasm. Before you know it, it's August – time to see the northernmost parts of the coast before summer's over.

Quinault Casino, Ocean Shores, WA
Quinault Casino, Ocean Shores, WA

Northern Oregon in August near the cities is in high tourist season and looked too much like Florida to me, with all the salt water taffy and helicopter rides and so forth, so we drove on across the Columbia to the Quinault Casino north of Ocean Shores, WA and spent a week at a wonderfully isolated section of coast. You could tell you were up north – even in August the ocean wind was cold, and the sun was welcome.

South Beach Campground - Kalaloch, Olympia National Park
South Beach Campground – Kalaloch, Olympic National Park

Moving further up the coast into Olympic National Park, we found a wonderful beach campground south of Kalaloch. Kalaloch itself is reservable online so it's crowded and most sites are back in the trees, but the beach campground was open and right on the water, our main campsite selection criterion. Five bucks a night also fit another selection criterion we have ;-).  On around the top of the Olympic Peninsula, into Seattle to visit relatives, and we were ready to turn south as Labor Day approached.

Ranger Creek, Mt Rainier NF
Ranger Creek, Mt Rainier NF

We made our Labor Day stand in dispersed camping in the Mount Rainier National Forest at Ranger Creek, which is this strange runway in the middle of the national forest where Cessnas like to land just so they can say they were there.  Rather than retrace our steps on the coast, we decided to go down the Cascades instead, so we drove on down past Mount St. Helens and stayed at our favorite spot in the Mt. Hood NF, waiting for Yan Seiner's get-together at Silver Falls.

After Silver Falls, a weekend of fun with other Roadtrek owners in a beautiful setting, we again headed inland to the High Cascades, camping at Diamond Lake and seeing Crater Lake for the first time. But the ocean called us, and by the first of October we were back at Pistol River on the south Oregon coast, watching the waves and feeling the approaching fall weather. In mid-October we returned to Trinidad, CA, revisiting the places we had found on our way north. Everyone was back in school or at work, and we had the beach to ourselves.

Goodbye, California - poppies alongside the road as we head inland
Goodbye, California – poppies alongside the road as we head inland toward Paso Robles

We spent the first two weeks of November at Kirk Creek in Big Sur, which was where we finally said goodbye to the ocean and headed inland to Paso Robles, across the southern California desert, and east on I-10, where we had started out seven months before, “home” to Florida for the holidays.

Our style of low-budget, oceanfront camping is not for everyone, but with good boondocking capabilities you can enjoy as much of the Pacific Ocean as you would ever hope to see without being able to afford one of those pricey beachfront houses. We actually felt sorry for those folks as we drove by – they had to look at the same stretch of beach every day, but we got to see new territory whenever the urge hit us.  And we never plugged in once – no store-bought electricity the whole time.   Give some of these spots a try if you're out that way. You may not make it back home for months 😉

RV Lifestyle

Published on 2013-07-03

30 Responses to “Endless Summer on the Pacific Coast Highway in Your RV”

July 21, 2014at9:18 am, Ann Riddle said:

One day…..

July 20, 2014at11:09 pm, Joe Bates said:

WOW what a view!

July 20, 2014at8:37 pm, Michael Miller said:

Oh I loved rving it was so nice

July 20, 2014at12:42 pm, Catherine Hill said:

My Husband and I ate doing this right now. The Pacific Coast highway is gorgeous. We have found some cool and fun things to do
this has been an amazing trip so far

July 20, 2014at9:05 am, Joanne Phelps said:

I like PCH, we went there last month

July 20, 2014at8:52 am, Pam Hicks said:

What a difference a summer makes, eh, Campskunk? One of my favorite articles by you. 🙂

July 20, 2014at7:25 pm, campskunk said:

no comment 😉

July 20, 2014at8:40 am, Mary Jo Alverson said:

I would do this..

July 20, 2014at4:32 am, Marc Herrera said:

Memories 🙂

July 20, 2014at3:11 am, Vicki Lang said:

Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

June 01, 2014at3:10 am, Shirley Messer said:

A great time. I am sure.

May 31, 2014at7:51 pm, Donna Gunderman said:

I love these One day i get one .not brand new used one .When i win the lotto .lol

May 31, 2014at4:22 pm, Patricia Ann Pemberton said:

On my bucket list to do

May 31, 2014at12:15 pm, Peggy Palmore Harrison said:

Where’s this? We would like to check it out.

May 31, 2014at11:59 am, Maggie Aparicio said:

Awesome place to be

May 31, 2014at10:10 am, Claire Poirier said:

Did that last year from Portland OR to LA. Beautiful trip.

May 31, 2014at8:55 am, Jim Yu said:

Was just there last weekend. Kinda spoiled when that’s a 30 mins drive from your home. 🙂

May 31, 2014at8:37 am, Pat Mesic said:

Have been there many times. It is lovely and I plan to do it again soon.

May 31, 2014at8:29 am, Rick Pulliam said:

Now that’s Awsome

August 28, 2013at2:50 pm, Will said:

Sounds great,

July 04, 2013at1:01 pm, Bob Swihart said:

Boy, I have been enjoying all of your articles. From the technical side to the lifestyle. I can not wait to get a class B and retire. Do not plan on selling the house, but do plan on long 4-6 week trips. Keep the articles coming. I will read every one of them and then my wife will read them.

July 04, 2013at1:31 pm, campskunk said:

thanks, bob! when i retired i swore i’d never do another productive thing in my life, but after three years i guess i’m backsliding. this is fun writing about because it’s my life, a subject none of my employers were ever interested in 😉

July 03, 2013at5:06 pm, Ronnie said:

Loving all these posts. Just saw the video of you and Mike. Between the two of us, we don’t have to leave the driveway. You guys are great, Laura and Jim, too!

July 03, 2013at5:37 pm, Campskunk said:

hey, that’s not supposed to be the way it works! y’all are supposed to be inspired to quit your jobs, give up all your material possessions, and jump out there onto the highways! 😉

July 03, 2013at5:05 pm, Lisa said:

Great article! Sounds so cool…….

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