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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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