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.

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