We are all cooped up and ready to roll…am I right? This West Coast “spur-of-the-moment” road trip is proof that road tripping is still a blast…even during Covid.
How to be Flexible & Safe on a Road Trip during a Pandemic & Wildfires
This trip originated in Los Angeles August 2020. An additional unexpected road block (besides Covid 19) was dodging the wild fires ravaging California and the Western portion of the country.
I traveled with my longtime friend who shares the love of camping and an adventurous spirit. We had traveled together in Maui for a week and Italy for a month in 2018, so I was sure it would be another good ole time.
Traveling with a roady companion can be tricky. It is different than traveling with your significant other or a family member. It is important to understand each other’s budget and travel style. Offering each other some time alone during the trip is helpful. My friend works remotely, so she was able to get online and work while I stepped out for some solo side trips.
We had a blast for 8 days, and then my daughter joined me on the next leg of my summertime journey to Zion National Park for 3 days.
Our road trip was originally planned for California staying along the CA Pacific Coastal Highway and Tahoe. Most of our accommodations were booked a few weeks prior. A good portion of the State Parks in CA were closed for camping due to Covid, so we chose private campgrounds and motels.
We utilized this interactive fire map InciWeb to change plans on the road, and choose our new locations away from the smoke.
Here is a list of the stops made along the way
- Truckee, CA – 2 Nights
- Fort Klamath, OR – 1 night
- Crater Lake National Park, OR Visit
- Route 138 Umpqua National Forest, OR Visit
- Coos Bay, OR – 3 nights
- Sunset Bay State Park, OR Visit
- PCH 1 through the Southern Coast of OR
- PCH through the Northern Coast of CA
- Redcrest, CA visit
- Avenue of the Giants, Humbolt County, CA Visit
- Mendocino, CA Visit
- San Jose, CA 1 night
- St. George, UT – 2 nights
- Zion National Park, UT Visit
Truckee, CA – First Stop
We started early on a Thursday morning to head to Truckee, CA (12 miles from Tahoe). The rented mini van was packed with all types of gear for the road. The first leg was an 8 hour drive from Los Angeles.
Road Trip Necessities
- Camping gear
- sleeping bags
- coleman camping stove
- beach chairs
- clothing for the many micro climates
- rain gear – not needed this trip with the dry weather conditions
- lots of healthy snacks
- 2 coolers
- more wine
- solar lights
- cute table cloth
- and anything else to stage our pictures for cute images:)
- Masks for entering business establishments
- Lots of hand sanitizer, clorox wipes (public bathrooms, motels etc)
We headed towards Truckee, CA knowing that a local fire was causing smoke. We were invited to stay in the stunning home of a friend. As expected, upon arrival the smoke was heavy in the air and the magical views were non existent.
But…incredible hospitality, stunning accommodations and delicious California plant based cuisine, wine, and the charming town of Truckee more than made up for it.
Who doesn’t love a good ACE Hardware?! The ACE Mountain Hardware in Truckee does not disappoint! Great merchandising from outdoor gear, clothing and gorgeous home decor. A must stop.
The town of truckee is an adorable stop. Unfortunately it is know for the Donner Pass named for the Donner Family who were lost in a blizzard in 1863. You can google to read the details on that crazy saga..make sure your stomach is not upset prior! Definitely add it to your road trip list, as it is charming. The views are in normal weather conditions stunning and there are great shops and restaurants.
One of my favorite parts of a road trip is trying cuisine in different regions of the world. This is no different in the U.S.A. There were two new aspects of cuisine on this road trip. The challenge of dining in restaurants during a pandemic and my newly adapted lifestyle as a plant-based eater.
No worries on this trip. We made plant-based eating part of the fun! There is no shortage of fresh produce in California during the Summer, and we made the best of it by stopping at local road-side stands along the way. My friend is quite the foodie & chef, so I was the lucky recipient of deliciously prepared meals. One of the best resources to find yummy plant based recipes is in Forks Over Knives Magazine
We enjoyed 2 nights and 1 full day in Truckee and got back on the road headed towards Cascade Lake in Idaho where we had a campground reserved..well.. we thought we were going to Idaho! DETOUR AHEAD
Crater Lake National Park
Due to the fires near Cascade Lake in Idaho, we decided to punt those plans. We perused the fire maps and decided that the Oregon Coast was our best bet (at that point in time) for clear blue skies.
Luckily we were 2 weeks ahead of the Oregon Fires that burned many of the areas we visited…heart breaking .
On our route NW to the Oregon Coast, we decided to swing by Crater Lake National Park founded in 1902 and home to the collapsed volcano Mount Mazama. The lake is 1,954 feet deep making it the deepest lake in the USA and 9th deepest in the world! Don’t forget to stop in to get your National Parks Passport stamped..if you are a nerd like me.
This video has a view of Wizard Island, and the crater from the Watchman’s Lookout trail which is a short hike at an elevation of 8013 feet.
Make sure to review the National Park’s individual websites in advance for changes during Covid. The hours, shuttles, camping and other amenities have changed drastically.
Fort Klamath, OR – Joe’s Motel & Campground
Who knew that a tiny motel in the middle of nowhere would be one of the fun highlights along our route. No wifi, same day reservations, an organic market, the beautiful Wood River, knotty pine paneling and a wood burning stove were a few of the amenities at Joe’s Motel & Campground in Fort Klamath about 30 minutes from Crater Lake National Park.
Definitely not fancy, but wow..so quirky and charming. A hippy couple in their mid 70’s checked us in and gave us some tips on the area. We discovered Joe’s during an earlier call to a campground close by with no vacancy. The local recommended Joe’s to us as off-the-beaten path, and it was!
We called ahead and Joe said to stop in to see if they had vacancy. Out back they also offer gorgeous campsites by the Wood River. We opted for the cute 2 bedroom motel room for the night. The motto at Joe’s is
” No Wifi, No Pets, No Cable, No Crowds and No Kids”
…LOL not sure how they get away with the No Kids rule.
Umpqua National Forest, OR – Route 138
We started out early again to head West towards the Southern Oregon Coast and our campsite in Coos Bay, OR.
After a few short scenic hikes to waterfalls, we had a delicious lunch on the back patio at the Steamboat Inn. I recently looked at the news and this beautiful restaurant and inn celebrating its 40th anniversary survived the wildfires.
Coos Bay, OR – Bastendorff Beach
We continued heading West to Coos Bay, OR on the Coast and Oceanside RV Resort & Campground.
We booked this campground the day before as a last resort. There were no other options available. Man…were we lucky! This place is incredible! Mainly they are hosts to large RV’s, but they also offer adorable cottages, and spectacular beach front campsites. The pricing was super reasonable.
Coos Bay feels like it has stepped back in time. We asked local business owners if it was quiet due to Covid, but they said it is never crowded. The days were in the low 70’s and evenings cool in the low 50’s. Make sure you have a 40 degree or warmer rated sleeping bag if camping.
The beaches in Coos Bay rank in my top 10 favorite beaches visited ever. The cove beach in front of the RV Resort and Campground is called Bastendorff Beach. It is just beautiful and not crowded!
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Camping at Oceanside RV Resort and Campground
We settled into our campsite after arriving at 3 p.m. We were unable to secure a beach front site. I highly recommend reserving one of these sites in advance. They cost $35 a night (can change seasonally) for a beachfront protected spot with a fire pit. Luckily we were able to burn a fire at the time we were there. The campfire experience is my favorite part of camping. Here are directions on how to build a campfire.
Plant Based Cooking at the Campsite
Outing to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
An exhilarating and scenic outing to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is 20 miles North of Coos Bay. You can easily find an outfitter to take you on a dune buggy ride, or rent your own four wheeler for about $50 an hour. A must do and see!
South on the Coastal Highway – Southern Oregon and Northern California Coast
Southern Oregon Coast South to Northern California
I have traveled the PCH from Los Angeles to San Francisco many times, but never through Northern California and Southern Oregon along the Coast.
This drive is now one of my top favorites…up there with the Southern PCH route, the drive to Amalfi Italy, the Ring Road/Golden Circle in Iceland and the Road to Hana in Maui (Follow the blue links to learn more about the stops on my other favorite road trips)
Sites & Stops along the way!
- Dramatic views of the Pacific
- Secret coves
- Port Towns
- Picnic stops
- Sharp curves on the PCH
- Scenic bluffs
- Hiking trail heads
- Rogue rivers
- Sand Dunes
- Cute inns and restaurants
- State parks
- The Lost Coast
- Large Elk on the road
- Tasty seafood
- Big foot sitings
- The Avenue of the giants
- Incredible artisan gift stores
- Historic Victorian and New England Style homes in Mendocino
Overnight in San Jose and back to Los Angeles
It was a long day meandering down the Coastal Highway to Mendocino. A combination of a marine layer and the smoke obstructed the views in the charming rugged coastal town. We were able to spend an hour walking around admiring the mix of historic eclectic homes ranging from bungalows, cottages, Victorians and New England style architecture.
We had a bite to eat at the Fog Eater Cafe. The vegetarian cuisine was unique and delicous. The best part was the cozy slate patio and a gorgeous garden.
We headed East on route 128 towards the 101 at dusk which was a bit nerve wracking. I recommend driving route 128 in daylight without a haze of smoke.
We ended up in San Jose in a Fairfield Inn by Marriott and fully enjoyed the modern conveniences of a hotel room. The final day, we made our way back to Los Angeles with a quick stop at more farm stands near the Grapevine.
No rest for the weary!
I dropped my roady companion Julie off to meet her Son and returned our well-used mini van. We are already planning the next one! We need to visit the Eastern National Parks. Maybe The Great Smoky Mountains National Park for Fall foliage.
I had that evening to throw in some laundry and to get a good night of sleep. Early the next morning we jumped into my daughter’s car and drove 6 hours to Zion National Park.
What to Know Before Visiting Zion NP during Covid
This was my second visit to Zion National Park. My first visit was during a holiday weekend in 2017.
Zion is a VERY busy National Park for good reasons. It is dramatic and scenic. It is extremely hot during September, but very manageable.
Here are some suggested items/planning for a comfortable trip
- Book your shuttle tickets in advance as they are sold out daily during Covid. If you miss the shuttle plan on walking 8 miles up the canyon to begin the narrows hike and 8 miles back afterwards.
- Pack UPF clothing, hat, and sunscreen
- Bring a light polar fleece. The narrows hike is in the 50-60 range before the sun hits and you will get wet.
- Most of the trailheads are closed during Covid
- The crowds are light as the park system is only letting 1500 people in per day. It’s a great time to visit as long as you have your shuttle pass.
- Bring hiking poles and water shoes (Tevas, Keens, Chacos) for the Narrows Hike
- Plan to stay outside of the park during Covid unless you have made reservations well in advance.
- If possible do not leave on a Sunday if you are driving back to Southern California as you will hit the Las Vegas traffic and sit for hours.
- A hydration bladder is a great option for hiking in the desert. You can place in your back pack and it is a convenient way to carry 2 plus liters of water.
- Bring snacks and electrolytes.
- Travel in the shoulder season if possible to Zion. The crowds are much lighter.
- The ropes portion of Angel’s Landing is closed due to Covid, but that’s okay because 10 people have died since 2004 attempting that part of the hike. It is approximately 2 miles and 1200 feet elevation. Basically straight up. Views are incredible
KOA St. George Utah
This campground is located 40 minutes away from the park in St. George Utah. I am a big fan of Kampgrounds of America. Many of them offer small cabins with bathrooms. We opted for the cabin due to the hot temperatures. I would highly recommend this KOA, but if you can get accommodations inside the park…go with that for convenience.
America the Beautiful!
Wow!! I was ready to get out there again, and this trip was a dream. One of the best parts was that it was not a budget breaker. If you are not a camper, you can always research fun bed and breakfasts, and short term rentals. Although, be sure you read the fine print during Covid.
Now is the perfect time to visit the Parks in the United States. They are magical and spectacular. You do not have to be a nature or history nerd. The small towns, nature, fun food options, incredibly unique topography and people along the way are why I love it.
I hope to see you out on the road! Judy