Our Overlanding Adventure through Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California
Last Labour Day Weekend, 2019, Mike, Piper and I hopped in our Jeep and headed South for California.
Along the 1,800 mile drive, we camped throughout Oregon, drove the Rubicon Trail, ran along dunes with seals on California’s coastal beaches, and Piper even got a little high on opioids-by accident lol. And we did it all in nine short days!
This weekend marked a year ago to the day that we arrived home from our adventure-filled trip. And it’s taken us as long to digest and reflect back on our funny times—let alone get around to editing and organizing the photos! So without further ado, here’s our 9-day roundtrip travel log from Squamish, BC to California throughout Washington, Oregon, Nevada and back.
Squamish, BC to Washignton
The first leg of our trip took us from our home in Squamish (at the time) to Washington. We left on a Thursday night to get a head-start on the morning drive with the goal of waking up in Washington, but one thing we did not count on was the lack of free, available camp spots to call home for the night.
Where we live in Canada, there’s no shortage of services roads and backcountry dirt trails to make camp on, but as we found, Washington is a province of generous properties, and almost every road we had mapped out as a potential camp spot ended up being gated or owned by a local rancher. We drove for a good hour after sunset searching for a place to camp for the night when I found Kayak Point, a small RV/camp site in Stanwood, WA. We pulled in around 11pm so the site office was not open, and there was no online reservation system. After cruising through the site, we realized the empty camp spots had all been reserved, so given it was almost midnight, we took our chances that the Smith family wouldn’t show up enjoyed a restful night’s sleep as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. To avoid trouble, we woke early in the morning and peeled out of Kayak Point by 7am, headed straight to Oregon!
Before this trip, the furthest we had travelled to camp and stay was Washington’s Olympic National Park, so crossing the border into Oregon was super exciting for all of us. The sun-dappled roads were narrow and lined with big western red cedars. Almost immediately, the air became drier and the earth, more red.
We found camp within Mt. Hood National Forest (on the Oregon side), along Frog Creek. You don’t always know if you’ll have access to clean water when you travel/camp like we do, so even though we were pretty fresh and clean, we took the opportunity to take a dip in the river with some biodegradable shampoo. The water was cold, clean and crisp, and we were all happy to be in the wild again, not at a campsite!
After a long day driving, Piper was all smiles and pep. Stick tossing went on for a good hour while we gathered firewood, unpacked our tent, stretched our legs, and prepared a Mexican feast for dinner using our Tembo Tusk to fry up corn tortillas loaded with peppers and onions, sliced steak, cheese and lots of cilantro.
Frog Creek to Dead Indian Mountain
After a good long sleep with bellies full and hair clean, we awoke to beautiful blue skies, and a very upset Piper. After getting out of the tent first as Mike always does, he opened the Jeep door to let Piper out and she wouldn’t move. It appeared like she pulled a muscle leg, and she was not happy about it.
Now, Piper is a big baby. You must understand that even if she has a piece of tape stuck to her, she’ll take it as a sign she must be dying and she’ll hide/ask to be left alone, making it super hard to judge the severity of what’s wrong, if there is anything! Nine out of every ten times, she’s being dramatic, and it turns out this was the case here…
After she snapped at us a few times when we tried to get our arms around her to carry her out of the Jeep, we knew something might be up. She would not walk or stand up, and she’d let out a scream when we approached her back leg. So we did what any dog owner would do and made it a priority to find a vet ASAP! And it just so happened we found one along our path in Warm Springs, Oregon.
As it turned out, she had likely pulled a muscle the day before: between not using it all day in the backseat to running like a banshee, to immediately resting for 10 hours, it seized up. The vet did physical exams and scans and nothing turned out. At the same token, by now Piper’s dramatics began to wear off, and our heart-palpitations for our poor girl turned into head-shaking real quick. Another case of Piper being dramatic!
The vet prescribed her some opioids (of which we gave her one which made for a very dozey/cute/funny Piper), and we continued on our drive South toward Silver Lake.
Along our route we kept spotting signs for Fort Rock, so we followed those signs an hour off-course to discover a cool natural monument akin to a fort, as its name suggests. Its ring-shaped walls are 4,460 feet in diameter and it stands about 200 feet high. We sent the drone up to get some footage, and enjoyed a cold beer on the tailgate.
It was blazing hot outside, and given we went an hour off-route for this little adventure, we didn’t spend much time here, but if you’re ever on Highway 26 in Lake County, Oregon, it’s definitely worth a visit.
From Fort Rock we continued our trek South, passing through the tiny town of Silver Lake where we stopped for a visit and a pitstop to Silver Lake Mercantile. If you’re looking for food on this drive, Cowboy Dinner Tree is one of the only option for miles—good thing it’s highly rated!
In Southern Oregon, the roads were barren and the air was dry and crisp. Endless plains covered in straw and grass separated ranches and homes. A few disappearing lakes peppered the countryside. So did a desolate church.
We found camp in Paisley, Oregon, atop Dead Indian mountain overlooking Summer Lake in the Fremont National Forest. The trees were blackened and petrified from an old forest fire, and the mountain peaks closely were jagged, dusty and rocky. By now, Piper had a solid 10-hour Codeine-nap, and she awoke relaxed, back to her happy self.
For dinner, we made a big chicken and vegetable stir-fry over rice with our Tembo Tusk and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the lake before falling asleep early after an eventful day.
Oregon’s Fremont National Forest to Tahoe National Forest
The next morning, we took our time driving out, making our way out of Oregon and toward sunny California! We loaded up on gas and snacks at Valley Falls Store in Lakeview where we were once again reminded that it’s illegal to pump your own gas! This wasn’t the first time we found ourselves in a situation where a local emerged from his station with a big rifle and a scruffy dog at their side. And it wasn’t the last either.
After Oregon, our sights were set on California. On our drive, we made a quick visit through Nevada before we struggled to find camp for the first time on the trip. We had driven 8 hours, and every camp spot we scouted on our maps was not an available, free-to-use remote spot. We found most service roads to be gated, and many backroads (all the nice ones leading to rivers or creeks) ending at someone’s home.
Luckily we found camp on Stampede Reservoir in Tahoe National Forest, and had enough time to make a big fire and throw multiple sticks for P before tucking in for the night. This was the OHV road into our campsite:
Stampede Reservoir to Lake Tahoe and The Rubicon Trail
After enjoying a sleep-in and a sunny morning, we fuelled up on fried eggs and campfire toast before exploring Lake Tahoe and finding camp somewhere closely. There was just one problem: it was Labour Day, one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Needless to say, we were unsuccessful in finding a spot at the lake, but we enjoyed views of it while avoiding hitting the people walking all over the roads! It was packed, so we quickly got out of there and ended up in Tahoma where we stumbled upon The Rubicon Trail…
Without intending to, we found ourselves driving The Rubicon Trail with the hope of finding camp at one of the lakes along the way, and luckily, we happened upon Richardson Lake a short dirt road drive off-route. As we pulled in, a couple just happened to be packing up to leave and wished us well as we cooked up tacos and enjoyed the evening. In the morning we spotted a self-serve carwash and gave Judy a quick scrub before heading west, to the coast!
Lake Tahoe to Dillon Beach, CA
After a quick morning drive back down the Rubicon Trail (not advisable while drinking coffee), we hopped back on the highway to make a 200 mile trip west. Our eyes were set for San Fransisco—naively, we somehow thought we’d fit in a quick San Fran Airbnb experience, but time was not on our side… After experiencing two days of failure trying to find camp, we cut our losses and made it our mission to get to the ocean as quickly as possible, by any means necessary. And California’s Dillon Beach was a glorious find!
After enjoying the ocean for a few hours and grabbing a bite in town, our evening challenge began once again: finding a place to camp for the night.
In California this was a nearly impossible task. What was a flippant part of the day (finding a spot to sleep) turned into a real effort. Like we experienced in Tahoe National Forest and surrounding area, almost every spot we scouted on a map led to a home, or a locked gate, and we must have attempted 8 spots and grown quite frustrated before we found a camp site on the beach just south of Mendocino, CA.
By day six, we wanted a shower and an easy night. While this trip had been a load of fun, it was also tiring constantly tearing down, driving and setting up again. We wished we had planned it better to take advantage of two nights in some of the prettier spots, but nonetheless we trekked on, though not far this time. On the short drive from camp to Mendocino, we stumbled upon the coolest tiny beach (with a massive seal), and we managed to find and book an Airbnb…
Mendocino was incredible! It was such an adorable tiny town, and after a week of living and sleeping outdoors in the remote wilderness, popping into galleries, grabbing a coffee and going out for dinner was a real treat. We ate at Fog Eater Cafe, drank lots of red wine, and enjoyed a relaxing night off from cooking, cleaning, or setting up. We cannot wait to go back and do a longer stint there!
Mendocino to Whiskey Run Beach
After a lovely breakfast in Mendocino at Fiddleheads Café, we quickly made our way North through Redwood National State Park and discovered and enjoyed the day at the Bandon Sand Dunes.
By nightfall, we made camp at Whiskey Run Beach and vowed to each other that next time we did this kind of trip, we stay more than one night at each spot. The beach was so gorgeous, and we had it all to ourselves. In hindsight, if and when we do this trip again, our plan is to head straight for the coast after Oregon.
Whiskey Run Beach to Portland
We woke on the second last day of our trip ready to enjoy a hot shower and some city vibes, and Portland served us just that. We booked a room at The Hoxton which was dog-friendly and designed impeccably. After filling up at Lion & Owl, we had a fun evening walking around and filling up on street food.
Portland marked the last night of our big trip, and we both can’t wait to return again! One day was not enough time to enjoy everything it had to offer us, but we found that to be true for almost every town or beach we stumbled upon on the adventure. We packed a lot of travel in a little week, so our rainy drive home from Portland was a quiet one. Needless to say, all three of us enjoyed a lazy Sunday on the couch. f laundry that ensued. Until next time! x, S
Portland marked the last night of our big trip, and we both can’t wait to return again! One day was not enough time to enjoy everything it had to offer us, but we found that to be true for almost every town or beach we stumbled upon on the adventure. We packed a lot of travel in a little week, so our rainy drive home from Portland was a quiet one. Needless to say, all three of us enjoyed a lazy Sunday on the couch followed by long baths and lots of laundry.