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Travels with Brian

Travel staffer Brian Cantwell, his wife and their two cats traversed the Oregon shore in a rented motorhome. Read their adventures here.

April 18, 2010 at 6:00 PM

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Pros, cons and the view from the end of the road

Posted by Brian Cantwell

To see the start of this blog, click here and scroll down to the first entry, "Motorhoming the Oregon coast."


From Cape Lookout State Park, looking toward Three Arch Rocks
National Wildlife Refuge, off Netarts, Ore.

That's a wrap. After eating what felt like a trawlerful of seafood (but too few jelly donuts), burning up 896 miles of highway and almost 80 gallons of gasoline, Barbara, the cats and I are home in Seattle. A little tender in the rear suspension (all that driving) and sandy around the toes (all those beaches).

As I guessed at the outset, it beat the heck out of sitting in the office all week. Would we do it again? The trip had its pros and cons:


  • Pro: What a great way to enjoy the Oregon coast in the offseason. Campgrounds put you close to nature -- beaches outside your door, mossy trees, burbling brooks, unfurling new fronds of ferns -- while an RV makes it carefree. Pouring rain at night? (Which it did.) The tapdance on the roof just lulls you to sleep. Cold at night? (Which it was.) Just zip up the sleeping bag, pull your partner (or a cat) closer -- or turn on the heater. Because it was April, not August, we encountered few crowds and made the whole trip without reserving a single campsite in advance. And every day had some sunshine.
  • Con: The expense and carbon footprint. Our rental bill for six nights (@ $79 per night) and 896 miles (@ 32 cents per mile) = $761. Add 17 percent Oregon rental tax for a total of $890. As one reader pointed out, we could have booked a decent hotel room, if that's what you prefer, for the pre-tax equivalent of $127 per night (or $169 if you count fuel costs). And surprise, surprise, the RV was a gas hog. We chose the smallest motorhome we could find (19 feet), hoping for at least 15 mpg, not much worse than a big SUV. But our average was 11. With gas prices ranging from $2.78 per gallon (in Florence) to $2.99 per gallon almost everywhere else, we spent $252 on fuel. Was it all worth it? Debatable, but see above ("What a great way to enjoy the Oregon coast in the offseason").
  • Pro: Because we carried our kitchen with us, we saved lots compared to dining out for every meal. It's easy to spend $75 a day for two people eating out, or much more if you want to get fancy. We stayed within our grocery budget of $30 per day and ate like King Neptune. Having our own portable galley also allowed us to enjoy cooking the fresh local seafood and produce -- and we do enjoy cooking. Much more fresh local produce will be available in the summer.

  • Hold up the camera and snap: The
    RVers enjoy a picnic lunch at Heceta
    Head on the Oregon coast.

  • Con: With a rental unit, you never know for sure what will work well or not. The cooking facilities in the 19-footer included a two-burner propane stove and a combination microwave/convection oven. Tip: Test everything and be sure you know how it works before you leave the rental lot. We discovered (too late) that (A) only one burner on the stove would stay lit; (B) the microwave blew its circuit breaker every 55 seconds, so it was good for warming things but not cooking; (C) the convection oven required a doctorate to figure out how it worked. So we ended up doing lots of boiling and frying.
  • Pro: We could bring our pets in the RV, with no extra charge from Cruise America. The only restriction: When returning it, clean up so there's no sign of Fido or Fluffy having been there, from animal hair to odor.
  • Con: If you're allergic to animals, you might not want to rent an RV that's had pets aboard.
  • Pro: Not only is RV camping easier than setting up and taking down a tent every night, it enables people of different ages, abilities and tastes to enjoy and appreciate the camping experience. And you can travel farther in limited time because you don't have to spend an hour or more setting up and breaking camp every day.

  • Our run for the border.

  • Con: Because we could move faster, we committed to covering too much ground. While traversing the whole Oregon coast in one trip was a fun adventure with lots of variety, six nights wasn't enough to go from the Columbia to California and back without hurrying. Double that time allowance, if you can. There are some parts of the coast, such as the Three Capes area west of Tillamook, or Cape Perpetua Scenic Area near Yachats, that could easily merit a week on their own. Give yourself time to take lots of scenic turnoffs.
  • Pro: You sit high off the highway in an RV, and you get a good view as you drive.
  • Con: Because no RV is exactly fleet of foot, it's not as easy to stop quickly at a scenic vista, or turn and go back for an attraction you missed. And once you've parked and plugged in at your campsite, you're pretty much there for the night, with no transportation to stores or nearby attractions. (Note: Cruise America does offer bike racks. And it does allow you to tow a vehicle, but see above re: "carbon footprint" and "gas hog.")
  • Pro: The small RV we rented was much more maneuverable and easier to drive than most. And for backing up, Cruise America RVs even feature rear radar, which beeps rapidly if you're about to hit something (a very nifty feature).
  • Con: The small RV we rented had virtually no counter space in the galley and no place to even set down a glass of water in the bathroom. The only decent-sized double bed was over the cab, requiring some athletic clambering (with no hand-holds provided). When we returned our 19-footer, we inspected a 25-footer (with counters, and an aft double bed) and concluded we'd spring for that if we were to do it again. "They're not much more money, and sometimes they cost the same," our Portland rental agent said. "And once you're accustomed to driving the smaller one, it's not much different."

Tips

If you want the campground experience with some of the same advantages as RV travel but at much less expense (and with a smaller carbon footprint, if you drive a fuel-efficient car), consider yurt camping. Many Oregon parks (and Washington, too) have yurts in their campgrounds, with heat, electricity, beds and a good roof overhead, at nightly rates of $30 to $40 depending on season. For summer, reserve early; they're popular. But during this April trip, we saw many "yurts available" signs as we drove into campgrounds.

Bring supplies. Cruise America RVs don't come with cookware or any supplies unless you pop for the $100 provisioning kit and/or the $50 "personal kit" (including bedding and linens). But you probably have all that stuff at home, and you can use their list as you pack. Special tip for cooks: Raid your spice rack at home. Think beyond regular camping food, and include what you'll need for seafood. It can save you spending many dollars for spices at the Newport Fred Meyer.

More information

There are RV rentals through local dealers, online through private parties, and through national rental outlets such as Cruise America, the outift we rented through.

Cruise America, 800-671-8042

We chose to camp at Oregon State Parks: 800-551-6949 for information.

An excellent guidebook: "Oregon Coastal Access Guide, A Mile-by-Mile Guide to Scenic and Recreational Attractions," by Kenn Oberrecht (Second edition, 2008, Oregon State University Press). Includes milepost references to attractions, including "Must Stop" choices.

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