Oregon was not originally on my bucket list, however when some of our family friends moved there, we thought we’d make this our big holiday for 2019. We contacted Britt and she suggested we incorporate it with a road trip. We have two young boys, aged two and three, and we thought they’d LOVE the idea of sleeping in a ‘bus.’ After Britt showed us some route suggestions and some of the beautiful locations we would see, we were sold!
Our trip was to last for 20 days and so we decided to fly to San Francisco, drive to Portland and fly back from Portland to San Francisco, then home to London. If you are looking to save money, it is much cheaper to do a round trip to drop off and pick up at the same location.
Legally, you aren’t allowed to drive a camper van on the day you arrive from an international flight. I’d recommend a few days in a hotel anyway, to give you a chance to acclimatise to the time zone before hitting the road – particularly with kids!
We spent four nights in San Francisco, including a day at the zoo. I’m not really a fan of zoos – I don’t like seeing animals in cages, but it was great for the kids. We only managed to see half of the zoo even though we spent most of the day there, and there was a great play park and a train ride too.
We used another of our days to visit Washington State Park, a really big, beautiful park in the heart of San Francisco. We rented pedal boats, bought lunch at the boating lake and had a picnic under some trees in the playground. It was so relaxing and the kids were happy.
Another highlight was our tram-trip to the Aquarium of the Bay on Pier 39, where we rented some bikes from pier 40 and cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge. I loved this – it was definitely my favourite part of San Francisco! They had tow-along bikes, toddler seats and trailers for all ages. We cycled along the bike path, over the bridge to Sausalito, had an early dinner there and then took the ferry back.
San Francisco to Sonoma
We picked up our van just outside San Francisco and drove to Sonoma. I would recommend not going far on the first day – we had a wait to get the van and it took some time getting used to it, unpacking, doing some food shopping and unfortunately, we hit rush hour traffic, so we only got to Sonoma in the evening. We stayed at Petaluma Koa for two nights, a great family friendly campsite with a big pool just outside Sonoma.
We didn’t think driving a 30ft long, 12ft high, 10ft wide camper van up to wine farms would be a good idea, so we decided to rent bikes from Sonoma Valley Bike Tours, conveniently located next to Train Town. Having two train mad boys, we thought it was only fair that they join us for wine tasting before we took them to Train Town!
Sonoma to Ashland
The Californian redwoods were recommended to us, so we stopped for lunch and a hike at River Front Regional Park, just north of Sonoma. The great thing about having an RV was that it took little planning – we could stop wherever and whenever we wanted. There were a number of times when we felt the kids were getting a bit bored, but there was nearly always a beautiful picnic location nearby, where we could fire up the generator and have a hot meal ready in minutes. If the weather changed, or we forgot something, we had everything we needed to hand. One day, we spontaneously stopped at a beautiful picnic location next to a river and the boys had the most fun in the water. It was one of our favourite memories from the trip, just because it was so unplanned.
This was our longest drive on the whole trip, about six hours. I wouldn’t generally recommend driving more than four hours a day with little ones but there were few places to stop between Sonoma and Ashland. Our ideal driving schedule was to drive for an hour in the morning, enjoy a family activity and then drive for two or three hours in the afternoon while the kids napped in the back.
Ashland had some great wine farms (known for their Pinot Noir) and some amazing hiking and mountain biking trails. There were also many great lakes that you can visit as day trips. We went to Howard Prairie Lake and participated in an adult mountain biking and wine tasting adventure day.
Ashland to Diamond Lake
Our next stop was Diamond Lake where we camped for two nights. A two-hour drive from Ashland, we were able to enjoy a short hike on the way to see the Natural Bridge, an underground lava tube that the water channelled through to create a ‘bridge’ over the river.
We were spellbound by miles and miles of beautiful forests, which left us without phone signal or WIFI for two days, giving us a much-needed and refreshing break from the real world.
Diamond Lake was beautiful; the boys couldn’t have been happier playing in the dirt next to the RV and it really made us appreciate how little you need in life to be happy. Our day trip to Crater Lake was a highlight of the trip. Despite our mid-June visit, we were surprised to find snow on the ground even though our starting point had been as hot as 30 degrees! We tried to do a hike, but it was early in the season and most of the trails were closed due to the snow. If you are lucky enough to visit, make sure to pack a light jacket and do not forget the mosquito repellent and sun cream for that part of the trip!
We took two Tula Toddler Carriers with us and I can really recommend them. They were small enough to take travelling, great for in the airport and super comfortable – I was able to carry my 18kg three-year-old up mountains in it when he got tired!
Diamond Lake to Bend
Diamond Lake was situated near the Umpqua National forest, an area with lots of waterfalls and a long hike you could join at various points to walk short distances. We decided to hike up to Watson Falls (as it looked like the most impressive waterfall that was easy to get to) and trekked up to the Umpqua Hot Springs. The natural hot springs had an amazing view over the beautiful forest valley and clothing was optional at this time of year, resulting in a few surprised shrieks from us as we glanced around!
We drove from Diamond Lake to Bend via the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This detour probably added about half an hour to the drive, but we thought it was worth it. If we did the trip again, we’d spend more time hiking in the Umpqua valley and stop for a night at Cascade lakes. It was so beautiful; we were happy that we had randomly stopped the van next to a lake to take a quick photo. I want to go back!
Bend is known for its craft breweries and so we went to Bend Brewing Company for lunch, and then had dinner at Crux Fermentation Project, renting a six-seater cycle to travel between the two. Both breweries were family friendly, with games and a grassy area for the kids to play on. Crux also had great food trucks.
Bend to Portland
Smith Rock State Park was definitely somewhere we wanted to go and I wish we had allocated more time to it. We stopped there on the way to Portland, but we didn’t have time to see the famous Monkey Face Rock as we were in a bit of a rush to drop the van off. It was still an enjoyable, beautiful hike and we have agreed to spend the night there on our next visit.
We spent two nights at Portland, feeling sad that our holiday was coming to an end and that we had to say goodbye to our mobile home that we’d had so much fun in. It was definitely an awesome holiday that I’d recommend to any families looking for a bit of an adventure.
Thank you Britt, for helping us plan such an epic journey! Oregon is definitely one of the most underrated tourist destinations that I’ve been to!
A few practicalities to think about before you go:
- Car seats: if your kids are still in car seats, camper vans only have the two point / lap straps in the back and are therefore not compatible with UK car seats. American car seats use a tether and ratchet system and the seatbelts fasten by looping through the car seat. We decided to buy cheap Costco car seats when we got there. There is an option to fit the car seat in the front, however, toddlers are not the best at map reading, navigating and generally looking out for objects. When driving a 10-foot-wide ‘truck’ we felt those qualities were important, and so decided it was best for the adult to co-pilot in the front seat.
Also, remember, all car seats need to be forward-facing.
- We chose the C30 Motorhome as it has a separate bedroom. We thought the bedroom would be a great luxury for us, until we thought about the practicalities of two toddlers needing to be in bed by 7pm and we gave up the luxurious room in the back for the hard bed above the cab with 10 inches of space above our head! This did, however, allow us to drink a glass of wine and have some chill-out time when the boys went to bed. We also didn’t have to move the car seats to utilise the table area as a double bed.
A few top tips for kids’ jet lag:
- Don’t let them sleep a lot on the plane, and try keep them up as late as possible, our kids usually go to bed at 7pm, we kept them up until 9pm San Francisco time.
- Try to explain jet lag to them (the sun needs to go from London to California, so you’ll be tired before its night-time and awake when its daytime). This worked well with the three-year-old, but not so much with our two-year-old!
- When they wake at 2am, they’ll probably be hungry. We had bananas ready! But try to keep them quiet and in bed, with the lights off. They will fall asleep again eventually, although it took about two hours both nights before ours went back to sleep, waking again at 8am. On the third day, they slept through.
- Get them out into the sunshine during the day and try get them to nap at their normal time, for the usual length of time. You will want them to be really tired at bedtime, in order to help them sleep through the night.