Olympic National Park Trip Planning

We used to car camp on the coast, along California 1 and US 101, in California, Oregon and Washington. Some of my favorite campsites are along those routes. We’ve decided to take the RV north on 101 to the Olympic National Park, visit friends in Seattle, and then rush home along the interstate system. We’re leaving in a few days. Here is how we planned the trip.

Early Disappointments

Earlier in the year, we decided that we would make this our fall trip for the year. We like to travel “off season”, and September once was off season, because most families have children who have to be back in school, and because fall weather is variable. In June, I started investigating places we might stay in California, and was disappointed to discover several things.

September is no longer off season. Enough older people, foreign tourists, people without children, and families willing to take children out of school for vacation travel in September that it was nearly impossible to find campgrounds that weren’t already booked for the entire month.

This was exacerbated by California’s continuing budget shortfall and the bad weather from last winter. Campgrounds were closed for the season because of lack of budget, or were closed because of weather damage. This put even more pressure on the remaining campgrounds. In particular, we had hoped to camp at Richardson Grove state park, one of our favorites.  It was closed for the season, as were several nearby state parks.

Places we had camped at in the past were not accessible to RVs.  We had once had a very cool experience camping on Gold Bluffs Beach campground, in Redwood National Park, but it didn’t allow RVs over 21 feet.  Ours is 25 feet.

The biggest disappointment came when our RV was in the shop for nine weeks in July and August, making it impossible to plan for September because of the uncertainty of the return date. For this reason, we abandoned any hope of making the trip in September.

The RV returns.

We finally got the RV back in late August. We took it out for a shakeout trip in mid September and concluded that we could make the trip in October, if we could find places to stay along the route.

For us traveling in an RV during the busy season is very different than car camping. When we car camped, we were far more spontaneous. We could throw together the camping gear and clothing and hit the road. We would drive as far as we felt like, stopping along the way where we liked and find campgrounds along the way. There are fewer campgrounds for RVs and they are usually busy. This leads to more structured trips, requiring advanced choices of camping spots, complete with reservations. The RV provides many benefits, but the cost includes this sort of planning.

The rough plan

We decided to go as soon as possible.  I have an appointment on October 4th, so we decided to leave on October 5th. We would travel slowly up the coast, taking our time for sight seeing, but return quickly.

Initially, we had thought to alternate between overnight stays and multiple day stays as we moved along the coast, but we couldn’t settle on places where we wanted to explore, so we decided to take five days driving up the coast, and then spend three nights at Sul Duc Hotsprings campground in the park.  From there we would drive to Bellevue and spend a day with our friends, before taking three days to drive home.

Taking five days to travel up the coast means that the overnight locations were spaced closely enough to allow plenty of time during the day for sight seeing. I’ve driven from Seattle home in one day, but it’s a very long day, and I was in a fast car, not a slow RV. Typically in the car we take two days, but the RV is slower, so we decided to take three days, stopping once in Oregon and once in California. It was time to look at a map and figure out the days.


  • AAA maps and guides
    • California state map
    • Oregon state map
    • Washington state map
    • Northern California travel guide
    • Oregon travel guide
    • Washington travel guide
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive My Maps
  • Woodall’s 2017 Campground Guide
  • KOA web site
  • various state and national park web sites

Arranging a route

I start by eyeballing a day’s drive on Google maps.  Even if we can’t stop at Richardson Grove, it would be nice to stop near there.  To make this trip easy, I use the KOA selection tool, asking for campgrounds near Garberville. This gives me the address of a KOA campground in Garberville. I take that address and plug it into Google maps and ask for driving directions from home to there. Maps tells me that it’s about a 4 hour drive.  We want to set up camp while there is still light and rarely get out of town before 9:30.  That seems like a reasonable distance.  I turn the address into a waypoint on My Maps.

Then I look for somewhere that’s around the same distance from Garberville.  I want to end up near Redwood National Park. That’ll make a short day, but I settle on Crescent city, where there’s another KOA.  I’m quickly falling into the habit of picking KOA campgrounds without checking Woodall’s for alternatives.

I repeat this process of eyeballing, getting directions, and making waypoints until I get to Olympic national park. In the end, I find 5 stopping points. Next I plan our route home.  I originally plan on 4 days, but we discuss this and decide that since it’s all interstate driving and we’re not interested in site seeing along I5, we’ll do it in 3.  The problem is that there’s really no good way to break it into three days and not end up driving in bay area commute traffic.  I settle on taking three different length days. The second will be very long, but that means the drive home will be short and should finish before traffic gets very bad.

On the way home, I have to break with KOA in California. There are no KOAs along the California stretch of I-5 north of Sacramento, so I ask Google maps for RV campgrounds near Red Bluff.  I select one based on customer ratings and plug it into the system.

Next I transfer all of the waypoints into BaseCamp.  My Maps can export KLM files and BaseCamp can import them. This works, after a fashion, but most of the data about each waypoint is lost. I go through each waypoint and fill in the address, phone number, and web site, changing the waypoint marker types appropriately.

BaseCamp allows you to set arrival and departure targets for each waypoint.  I set departure times and let BaseCamp calculate arrival times. All of the trip times work out so that there is plenty of time for sight seeing along the way.

Next I go online and make reservations for each of the campsites.  This goes well until I reach Astoria.  There are no slots at the KOA, so I use Google Maps again and discover a state park with open sites.  Finally I make the reservations for Olympic national park. I received email confirming each reservation.  We were set. 

Visiting Friends

When we had thought to make the trip in September, I contacted friends in Seattle to see if they’d like a visit.  They would, but they were going to go to Europe for a long vacation. Early September would be possible.  When it became impossible to predict when we would have the RV back, we had to give up on seeing them.

After I had made the trip plans, I thought to check my friends’ email and discovered that they would be back in early October.  Not thinking about them already being in Europe, I sent an email asking if the 12th of October would work for them. Fortunately, they happened to check their email and we were able to arrange to visit them. This meant changing our last two reservations.

I called each of the campsites.  Both were friendly and cooperative. There would be no problem changing the dates.  Both sent me updated email confirmations. Travel plans were complete.

Bicycles and Wiis

About a month ago, I started riding bike again after twenty years.  I’m in terrible shape. If I miss a few days, I’ve effectively started over again.  I had done some research on racks for RVs, but we’d decided to wait.  Out of curiosity, I checked deliver dates. We could get one by the 3rd, giving us a chance to set it up before we left.  I ordered one. It was the wrong one.  I tried to cancel the order, but it was too late.  I’ll have to wait to return it once we receive it.  I ordered the right one.  It should be here before we leave, but I may need other pieces, so we may not be able to take it. I’m hoping that we will.

A few weeks ago, as part of a cleanup campaign, I mentioned to my wife that I was going to see our Wii, which we hadn’t used in years.  She objected, so I decided to keep it. Since I’ve started exercising again, I bought a balance board and started using it. My wife mentioned that she had briefly thought of taking the Wii with us, but realized that we couldn’t because the motion sensor bar is attached to the top of the TV.  A quick check on Amazon determined that one would be available in time and inexpensive. It’s on order. Hopefully it will be working when it arrives and we’ll be able to take it.

But Wait, There’s More

The logistics of RV travel include meal planning, making sure that everything is loaded and properly stowed, making sure that there are sufficient quantities of prescription medications, and dozens of small details.  We have checklists for that now and have started working through them. There’s a lot to do. It’s very different than throwing a few things into a car and heading out.

But the planning is done and the doing is next. There are batteries to charge, supplies to buy, house sitters to arrange, clothes to clean and so forth.

Manchester Beach KOA

We arrived Thursday, around 4 pm. It had taken 2.5 hours of slow but steady progress to fill the RV but we had managed to leave Mountain View at 9:30.  I drove. At that hour, traffic on north bound 101 was heavy and we moved slowly. Going through San Francisco was tedious, exacerbated by the leftmost lane of Geary being closed. It took 1.5 hours to reach the Golden Gate Bridge from Mountain View. This had worked out well, however, as we arrived in Petaluma at 11:30, which is our usual lunchtime.

We bought lunch at the Walnut Park Grill in Petaluma because we have always liked it, eating in the park across the street.  Jeanne had a pineapple burger while I had a chili cheese dog.

Our original plan was to drive up 101 to 128, take 128 to Boonville and another road to Manchester, but when I set the destination in Waze, it recommended cutting over to 1 on Bodega road, and travelling north on 1 from Bodega Bay. We decided to take this more scenic route. Jeanne drove. Although we encountered road construction in several places, the delays were short, traffic was light and the scenery excellent.

We stopped briefly at Gualala to walk the dog and change drivers. About half an hour later, we arrived near Manchester, and I made a stupid mistake that cost us forty five minutes and left the RV scratched up.  When I programmed Waze I typed ‘Man’ into the search box and “Manchester Beach State Park” came up as the first entry in the suggestions, so I selected it, knowing that the KOA was on the same road, a mile or so before the park. Unfortunately, Waze is very confused and decided the park was on Biaggi road. It is in fact, on Kinney road, further north along 1. (See map below, Biaggi road, at the bottom is highlighted, Kinney road, near the top is the correct road.  Biaggi goes nowhere near the park.)

At Biaggi, there were no signs for either the park, or the KOA and the road was dirt.  Despite that, for some incomprehensible reason, I drove down Biaggi anyway.  Worse, I kept going until I reached a locked gate, travelling through some overgrown bushes along the way.  Both on the way in and the way out, the brushes, which were taller than the RV, scratched it.  24 hours later I still don’t understand what motivated me to be that stupid.

When we reached Kinney road there were, of course, signs for both the park and the KOA.  We checked in, found the campsite, and established camp. “Established camp” sounds like some Everest expedition setting up after a grueling trek.  It couldn’t be farther from that.  First, we level the RV.  At developed campsites, the sites are already level, so this consists of parking the RV near the post for the electricity. Then we plug in electricity and hook up water. Next, we extend the pullout, allowing us to make and use the bed. Finally, I set up my CPAP machine, and we’re set for the night.

We made a mistake when we packed the RV. Since the pullout was retracted, we couldn’t get at the clothes closet, which was blocked by the bed.  Rather than extending it, we simply piled everything that belonged in the closet onto the floor.  One of those things is a glass one gallon jug that contains the distilled water that I use in the CPAP humidifier.  The jug, of course, slid along the floor, nearly to the cab, crashed over onto its side, and shattered its cap. With water everywhere, we learned that lesson: Always stow things properly before going on the road. Fortunately, the jug started out half empty, and only a small amount of water sloshed out, so I have plenty for the CPAP for our stay, but it was an expediency we shouldn’t have taken.

Jeanne took Googie for a walk while I finished stowing the clothes and set up the CPAP. When they got back, we settled in, spending time reading, until 6, when we made a meal of coleslaw and poke. Dinner finished, we took Googie for another walk, around the campsite. We met several friendly people and dogs, but the walk was short. One of the downsides of this KOA is that the state park is completely off limit to dogs, because it is a sensitive habitat for the Snowy Plover. After our walk, we settled in for the evening, which we spent reading.

The dining alcove of the RV doubles as a second bed.  When we are traveling with Googie, we leave the alcove in the bed configuration. This means that in the evening, Jeanne has the entire queen bed to herself, and I have more than enough room on the other bed. Since Jeanne goes to bed earlier than I do, this is a very good arrangement.

Most commercial RV campgrounds offer Wi-Fi . The pricing varies from completely free to several dollars an hour and the quality varies from rarely up to stellar. This KOA offers “one hour of free” Wi-Fi every day. The signal strength is good, but the bandwidth is low, making it very slow when shared by multiple users. It also has a weird bug where it will present the login page frequently when you are navigating. The slowness and login bug can make it frustrating to use at times, but that doesn’t matter much, since I wasn’t planning to use any Wi-Fi at all.

I awoke Friday to discover that Jeanne had turned the furnace on, with good reason.  It had dropped to 45 degrees outside and was 59 inside when she did. The RV was comfortably warm.  Jeanne had her usual breakfast. I had a protein bar. After breakfast I walked to the beach, which is about a mile away. I walked through a protected area. There were many signs of deer and rabbits but surprisingly few birds. I saw a tiny lizard, about an inch long and two mountain beavers. The mountain beaver, an information sign informed me, is not a true beaver.  Nor were we anywhere near a mountain. The sky was clear and the path was relatively flat. It was a pleasant walk.

We spent most of the morning in the RV, catching up on reading. By the end of the day, I had finished an introduction to constitutional law and John LeCarre’s  memoir “The Pigeon Hole.”  LeCarre writes well and there are many portraits of people he has met, along with autobiographical material. It is an excellent book.

We had a lunch of chicken breast and Cuban style beans.  Shredded, the chicken goes well with the beans. After lunch, Jeanne got out the folding chairs and we spent the afternoon alternating between sitting in the sun reading and taking walks.  Googie normally gets two walks per day, one in the early morning, and one around 4pm. He is being spoiled this trip and had five walks on Friday.  At 4pm we walked along the road from the KOA towards the beach.

The state park’ campground was closed but there was one lone motorhome sitting in it.  Near the beach is a cable station, where one of the transpacific cables comes ashore. At the station, the road turns to the right, entering the park.  Since dogs aren’t allowed anywhere in the park but the campground we turned around at the cable station. The day was clear, in the high 60s, and the wind was absent, unusual for a California beach.

We had one of my favorite cold meals for dinner, crackers, smoked salmon, and brie, along with a sea food salad for dinner.  We had a pleasant evening reading.

Waze confusion: the highlighted route, along Biaggi road, was chosen by Waze. The proper route, along Kinney road, is farther north

Saturday was almost a repeat of Friday: alternating reading and walking, and chicken for lunch. For dinner we had a chop salad and cold ham. It is pleasant to take a break from the world, especially from social media.

I stopped at the KOA store, in a quest to make the chicken less bland.  I would have liked to use a BBQ sauce, but all of their selections were high in carbohydrates. Instead, I picked up a small bottle of Liquid Smoke™. We were not impressed with it for the chicken, but I decided to use it on mine anyway. Through inattention, I poured about half the small bottle on mine.  I added garlic salt, to no particular effect and mustard, which was surprisingly effective. Now I must search for a good quality BBQ sauce with the minimum necessary carbohydrates.

Saturday night and, I suppose, every Saturday, they are showed a movie on an outdoor screen.  Saturday’s movie was “Rio 2” at 8 pm. Having not seen “Rio”, not being a fan of lawn seating, and not looking forward to sharing the lawn with a couple dozen enthusiastic children, we passed. We spent the evening reading.

We were up early Sunday, and broke camp with no problems. We took the route up 1 to 128 and from there to 101. The drive along the coast was beautiful, as was the drive through the redwoods on 128.  We had thought to stop in Boonville, but they were holding their annual festival and there was no parking to be found.

Traffic on 101 was good until just North of Petaluma, where it slowed to a crawl. We took the Petaluma avenue exit and returned to the Walnut Park Grill. I again had the Chili dog, while Jeanne had the Reuben, which was very good. Once past the Petaluma slowdown, traffic on 101 was good until we took the Park Presidio exit meaning to use 19th for the return.

We made slow progress to Lincoln avenue, where we turned west, and headed to Sunset. From Lincoln home, traffic was heavy but moving well. We quickly unloaded when we reached home. All in all, it was a good trip.

Road Trips in the 21st century: Route planning and navigation


Anatomy of a road trip

When we were kids, my mom would load us into the car, and head off for a road trip, usually a day trip. Often we would have no idea where we were going. Mom would randomly pick routes. We never used maps and we always tried to make loops.  There was no out-and-back for us.

My wife and I refined the idea for our early road trip vacations. We would select a midpoint destination, and how many days to allocate for travel there and back, but not the routes we would take. We would go until we were ready to call it a night. Where ever we were, we would randomly pick a motel, or campground, and spend the night. En route we would stop where we found something interesting, and eat at  places that seemed to be popular with the locals.

We joined AAA for the road maps, and discovered the travel guides.  Eventually, we got cell phones. We started using the travel guides to pick motels. We used the cell phones to call motels before mid afternoon to make reservations. This made it easier to find reasonable accommodations and more likely that there would be a room available.

Smartphones came along. The internet started to provide restaurant reviews, as well as tools to search for nearby restaurants. We started using the searches, sometimes relying on the reviews, to select places to eat.

Now, we pick a destination, make necessary reservations in advance, use route planning software, and online searches.  We still rely on paper travel guides and maps, though.

Tool evolution.

I learned to navigate in the 1960s. I planned longer road trips  using paper atlases and maps.  The maps were usually available for free or cheap from gas stations.  I did en route navigation with the same maps.

I purchased my first GPS receiver, a Garmin eTrex, when I started geocaching in the late 1990s.  It came with software that would allow you to download waypoints and navigate to them.  It was very good for the purpose, but severely limited.

When I bought a Honda Civic, I selected the package with a built-in GPS.  You could enter destinations and it would provide turn-by-turn navigation. I found, and continue to find, the GPS very limited because of the small display size.  I also learned that factory installed GPS quickly become obsolete.  While both of our current cars have factory installed GPS, it is not a feature we will look for in a future car. The introduction of GPS in smart phones makes this even less likely.

I now have an iPhone 5. As do all modern smartphones, it has a GPS receiver, and applications that use it. Nearly every app on the phone uses the GPS, for location services. I have four apps that are meant for navigation:

  • Motion-X GPS:  (app store) Meant to serve for outdoor navigation, with similar features to the eTrex. It does not appear to be actively updated. I use it for outdoor activities, but never for travel.
  • Apple Maps: (built in) I only have it because you can’t remove built in apps.
  • Google Maps: (app store) Meant for turn-by-turn navigation.  While it has some route planning capabilities,  it is better to do the planning online and download the route. I use this for multiple stop turn-by-turn navigation.
  • Waze: (app store) Open source app meant for turn-by-turn navigation. I use it for single destination routes. It has a real time crowd sourced database that can be very useful.

The GPS based navigation tools have a significant weakness: They rely on cell access, both for position accuracy, and to obtain the maps being used.

In 2000, I started using Microsoft Streets & Trips for route planning.  It had a very flexible interface, and many useful features.  It did not have the ability to download routes into a GPS for turn-by-turn navigation.  I upgraded it a few times. The last version I bought was 2009.  Microsoft discontinued it in 2013. As far as I know, there are no consumer level route planning software packages available with a similar feature set.  

There are online tools for route planning. After some exploration, I decided to use Google’s My Maps, because it seems to have most of the features I liked in Streets and Trips, and a simple UI, with the bonus that it can download routes to Google Maps on the iPhone.

I still use paper maps.  REI is a good source of trail maps.  AAA is my preferred source of paper road maps.