Best Motorhome-Friendly Scenic Routes: West Coast

Best Motorhome-Friendly Scenic Routes: West Coast 1

Wherever you go, there you are! As full time RVers, we live by the motto “home is where you park it.”

For newer RVers, particularly those with motorhomes and longer 5th wheel trailers, the question of “where to park it?” leads to questioning where can they go? The easy answer is anywhere the interstate takes you, but where is the fun in that?

If you’re looking for the scenic route, as we often do, here are some of our favorite motorhome-friendly scenic routes. In our five-plus years of full-time RVing, we’ve found a few that appeal to us time and time again.

Before we get started, a word of caution – always check for current road conditions. Most states’ departments of transportation have websites that will provide you the most current information. Also, be aware of any weather conditions that may affect your drive such as rain and the dreaded high winds.

Highway 101- California: Beautiful, but Beware the Traffic!

While it’s theoretically possible to drive the entire Pacific Coast on Highway 101 from Los Angeles to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, and we have in our motorhome and trailer, you will find the most scenic stretch in Oregon. We may be biased as Oregonians, but that doesn’t mean we’re wrong!

If you do decide to start in LA, be aware that Southern California drivers can have a casual relationship with speed limits, lane change indicators, and safe driving distances from your RV. Sudden slowdowns from full speed to stopped aren’t uncommon due to accidents and the infamous traffic.

Once you reach Santa Barbara, you will be rewarded with a slower pace, perfect for enjoying iconic views of the Pacific Ocean. The area has a lot to offer from beaches, a charming walk-able mission-style old town, wineries, and more, so you might want to stay for a day or more to enjoy all the offerings and decompress from the LA traffic.

North of Santa Barbara, 101 leaves the coast and heads inland until you reach the San Francisco Bay Area. Highway 1 hugs a winding and spectacular stretch of the Pacific Coast from Morro Bay to Monterrey Bay but unfortunately, is not very motorhome friendly. If you have the time and a separate tow car, you might want to go to Big Sur for spectacular views. Morro Bay is an easy drive for any rig and a good base for exploring the area. 

The sprawling Bay Area rivals LA in terms of traffic and congestion, so you might want route around the area on I-5 to avoid it. North of the Bay Area, Hwy 101 passes through the wine country of Sonoma. If you want to see more of the coast, Highway 20 to Fort Bragg and Mendocino is a relatively motorhome friendly route. 

We have explored the area known as the Lost Coast North of Mendocino in a 4×4, but you will definitely want to avoid it in an RV and go back on Highway 20 to pick up 101. Winter can bring heavy rains and washouts so check conditions. Even Hwy 101 can be challenging to drive for motorhomes, but the more adventurous drivers will be rewarded with a chance to drive through groves of towering redwoods and more.

Photo of sunrise at Harris Beach State Park in Oregon, a stop on one of the best scenic routes for motorhomes.
Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon

Highway 101- Oregon: The Most Scenic Motorhome-Friendly Route

Once you reach Oregon, you can experience 363 miles of craggy headlands, crashing waves, and sandy beaches. All of Oregon’s beaches are protected and accessible to the public by state law since the 1960’s.

Brookings is the first city you will reach after crossing over from California, and a highly recommended stop. We think Oregon has some of the nicest state parks anywhere and Harris Beach State Park is one of the best. If you are lucky or quick with the reservation system, you can score an ocean view spot or opt for an easier-to-find site nestled in the woods. All of the spots are a short walk to the beautiful namesake Harris Beach.

Where to next? Everyone seems to have their favorite spots. Ours include Florence and Pacific City, but wherever you decide to stay make sure to use the pullouts and soak in the scenery. (These gorgeous views are a great opportunity to work on your photography skills! Check out 6 Ways to Improve Your Travel Photography.)

A scenic view of Hwy 126, one of the best scenic routes for motorhomes.
Highway 126 in Oregon

Highway 126-Oregon: Rivers, Mountains, Falls, and More

If you want to head inland and see some diverse Oregon scenery, we recommend Highway 126 out of Florence. The route passes through Eugene and the home of our alma mater, the University of Oregon. Go Ducks! Fall is a great time to see changing colors and attend a football game.

Leaving Eugene, the highway follows the McKenzie River and gently climbs into the Cascade Mountains. The McKenzie River Trail is popular with mountain bikers and hikers. Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls are easily accessible from the highway if you just want to sample some of the scenery without breaking a sweat.

Belknap Springs on the river offers RV spots and the opportunity to soak in hot spring fed mineral pools. Clear Lake is the headwaters of the McKenzie River and has a smaller campground with limited options but the lake is a beautiful place to paddle and hike. A short drive past Clear Lake, the highway climbs (relatively gently) over Santiam Pass and on to Sisters in the high desert of Central Oregon.

A view of Hwy 395 from the dashboard of a motorhome
Driving Highway 395, approaching Mono Lake, California

Highway 395- California: Take In the Sierra Nevada Mountains

You can drive Highway 395 from the Mojave Desert in California to the Canadian border in Washington State, but we would argue the most scenic stretch is in the Eastern Sierras of California. This area stretches roughly from the California border north of Reno to past the small town of Olancha. Most of the route is fairly straight with gentle climbs with the exception of the climb out of Bishop.

If you start the drive from the south, the views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains will seem like an almost  continuous granite wall with peaks. Stop in Lone Pine and head up Whitney Portal Road to Alabama Hills. If the area looks familiar, it’s because it has been featured in films from old westerns to Ironman. It’s possible to boondock in the area but the BLM has been introducing more restrictions as people have been leaving more than a little bit of a trace including toilet paper, human feces, and trash. (Here’s your friendly reminder to boondock respectfully!)

Further up the not-so-motorhome-friendly road is the start of the trail to the top of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. Note that a permit is required to travel beyond Pine Lake.

Want to go to lowest point in the US? Head east from Lone Pine to Death Valley and 282 feet below sea level at Badwater. We have done the drive in our 36ft Class A towing a Jeep, but don’t recommend it unless you are an experienced mountain RV driver.

As mentioned, the grade gets steep past Bishop, which is a good place to restock and fuel up, as the highway climbs into the high Sierras towards the resort town of Mammoth Lakes. If you are feeling a little stiff from all the driving and adventuring, you might want to stop at one of the hot springs in the area. Xscapers friends Jen and Jesse have campground hosted at June Lake, so we have made this beautiful area a stop on our annual migration back and forth from Oregon. Summer can come late and end early with snow at the 7,000+ft elevations, so always check the forecast and expect weather can change quickly.

A scenic view of the beach along Hwy 5
The view from Highway 5 in Baja California, Mexico

Highway 5- Baja California, Mexico: Beauty South of the Border

If you are looking to add an international destination with warm weather and beaches to your sticker collection, we recommend you check out Highway 5 from Mexicali. San Felipe has been a destination for Hangouts and Convergences for a few years now. In a little over two hours, you can drive down from the border in El Centro, California to San Felipe, Mexico on modern motorhome friendly roads. Stay on the beach with our amigos at Victor’s RV Park.

Once you have had your fill of tacos, margaritas, and fun, you can keep heading south on Highway 5, which is fully-paved and one of the best roads in Baja. Gonzaga Bay is probably the furthest south that would be considered motorhome friendly, and will give you a feel for remote dry camping on the beach.

You may be tempted to head further south for a chance to touch a whale, eat more incredible tacos, and see more of the amazing Baja Peninsula. Once Highway 5 meets Highway 1 the motorhome friendly section ends but is not impossible as many Xscapers have discovered.

These are our top West Coast scenic routes, given our extensive travels in the area. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure you plan ahead for weather and road conditions, and give yourself time to enjoy the journey!

Any favorite motorhome routes to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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Best Motorhome-Friendly Scenic Routes: West Coast 2
Best Motorhome-Friendly Scenic Routes: West Coast 3

Author

Scott & Jaime Sichler

Scott and Jaime are originally from Oregon, but left to pursue corporate careers in Los Angeles, California. After 17 years, they ditched the rat race and sold their house to become full-time RVers. Since 2016, they’ve been traveling throughout the US and Baja, Mexico in their 2007 Winnebago Journey with their dog Crosby. They enjoy the outdoors and document their travels at AwayWeWinnebago.com. (All photos in this post credited to Scott Sichler.)

2 Responses to “Best Motorhome-Friendly Scenic Routes: West Coast

  • Scott and Jaime Sichler
    Thomas Bordenave
    2 weeks ago

    It all sounds lovely, but I have no plans to pay the ridiculous gas prices in California.

  • Scott and Jaime Sichler
    ROBERT IDE
    2 weeks ago

    Enjoyed the article

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