Portland, OR is a large trendy city in Northwestern, Oregon. Its location on the Columbia River makes it a prime port city and the diversity of mariner traffic has added significant cultural diversity to the city. The climate here is a nearly perfect climate for gardening, and that is reflected in the lush green environments within and surrounding the city.
One of the best places to experience this is in Washington Park. This 410 acres of land covers a lot of green space with several major attractions housed within it. Here you'll find the Oregon Zoo, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, and numerous memorials and monuments. Of particular beauty is the Japanese garden which is considered by many to be the most beautiful Japanese garden in the world outside of Japan.
For a look at man-made things, try the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Here you'll find several auditoriums full of exhibits dealing with the sciences and their industrial applications. The major draws here are the giant screen theater, the planetarium, and the USS Blueback Submarine. The Planetarium uses lasers and standard projection to give amazing shows that teach about the universe around us. The USS Blueback was first launched in 1959 and was the last diesel/electric submarine to enter the US fleet. You can tour the submarine with a former submariner host for a detailed look at how the ship works and what it was like to live on one.
Sandy Riverfront RV Resort is a great place to stay in Portland for this trip. It is located on the east side of town on I-84 which will give quick access to the way out of town toward Billings. It's a large park with plenty of RV sites in a beautiful setting on the river.
The trip to Billings starts by taking I-84 east through the Columbia River Valley. At the end of the valley, you pick up I-82 North to Kennewick, Wa. From Kennewick take US-395 to I-90. I-90 east then takes you all the way to Billings.
The trip can really be divided into two sections. All the areas before Couer d'Alene are fairly flat to rolling hills. After Couer d'Alene, the Rocky Mountains start and the drive gets more difficult. I-90 does a good job carving a fairly flat path through the mountains, but there will be several passes you'll have to navigate. Nothing too tough, just be careful to maintain speed on the downhills and stay to the right if you're running slow uphill.
Immediately after leaving Portland you will enter the beautiful scenic Columbia River Gorge. The Columbia River is the major waterway in the area and it has played a critical role in the area since before Lewis and Clark's expedition traveled down it in 1805. Today, traveling the gorge is much easier and still stunningly beautiful.
I-84 runs the length of the gorge and is an easy drive as it follows the river banks closely. The older historic RT-30 runs parallel to I-84, but it meanders through the hills slightly to the south. You'll need to take a brief drive on RT-30 to reach Crown Point. This lookout is now part of a state park and it resides on a peak outcropping towering above I-84 and the Columbia River. From this vantage point, you can see the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge for miles in both directions. This is definitely a view worth stopping for.
The walls of the Columbia River Gorge lead up into the surrounding Cascade Mountains where many tall mountains including Mount Hood are found. These mountains generate a lot of rainfall as the wet Pacific winds scale their western faces. Much of that water runs down the many tributary rivers and streams that flow into the Columbia River.
The steep topology of this area creates a high density of waterfalls in this area, and some of them are real stunners. Many of them can be seen or accessed from I-84. In many cases, historic RT-30 provides better access. One of the most picturesque falls in the area are the Multnomah Falls. These falls are just a five-minute walk from the I-84 parking lot and they provide a stunning view as you witness the volumes of water cascading down the 611-foot rock face.
Walking a little further up the paved trail will bring you to Benson Bridge. This pedestrian bridge spans the river just above the second tier of the falls. It provides an amazing view of the upper falls above and raging lower falls below. An experience not to be missed.
The twin cities of Kennewick and Richland, Washington make for a great stopping point on this trip. Kennewick is a great small Washington City with good camping and great food (try the Ice Harbor Brewery for a great beer/burger combo). This area is also home to one of the most significant industrial projects in human history, and you can tour it for free.
Just Northwest of the Kennewick/Richmond metro area is the Hanford Nuclear Facility where the power of the Columbia River was harnessed during the Manhattan project to produce the nuclear fuel used in the bomb that ended World War II. Reactor B is the nuclear reactor built for that purpose and it was the world's first plutonium production reactor. It produced the plutonium used in the trinity experiment and in the “fat man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan August 9th, 1945 which ultimately led to Japanese surrender and the end of WWII.
The reactor complex itself was constructed between 1943 and 1944 during an intense 11-month project that included over 30 buildings and 20 service centers. Today, only the main reactor building, the main exhaust stack, and the cooling pump house remain. The Reactor B Tour starts with a long bus ride from the visitor's center in Richland, WA. Once at the reactor site you are taken on a guided tour of the facilities pretty much as they stood in 1945. The tour reveals the stunning complexity of the project and engineering accomplishments that allowed it to be completed in such a short time frame. It also showcases the crudeness of mid-1940s technology with what you would expect in a modern facility. This is truly a unique site with unparalleled modern historical significance.
The best place to stay in the area is at the Columbia Sun RV Resort. This is a first-rate campground with paved roads that is exceptionally easy to navigate. They also have a great pool, nice activity center, and general store.
Lake Coeur d'Alene is located in Northern Idaho and I-90 passes along its northern and eastern shores. This is the last significant city area before you head into the western Rocky Mountains and it's a beautiful place to take a break. The area is primarily a tourist destination so there are many restaurants and things to do here, mostly focused on the lake and surrounds hillsides. Watersports are popular here including boating, jet skiing, tubing, waterskiing, and even parasailing which provides stunning views of the area.
The fishing here is also outstanding with largemouth bass, chinook salmon, northern pike, and several trout species being high on the target list. Be aware that if you plan on bringing your own watercraft, they will be subject to mandatory invasive species inspection as you travel through the state. Make sure your vessels are dry inside and out prior to hitting the road.
Blackwell Island RV Park is located on the north side of the lake and it provides a great place to stay near the water. They have over 140 sites available along with 500 feet of beach and boat launch facilities. They are also close to the many activities in town.
Butte, Montana is a mining town nestled in the shadows of the Continental Divide in west-central Montana. The economy of this area was built on copper mining. In 1955, The Anaconda Company switch from underground mining to the much safer and more profitable open-pit mining and the Berkeley Pit was born.
Over the years, the pit expanded as they moved over a billion tons of earth, extracting 320 million tons of copper ore. As they dug, they used huge pumps to keep the constant flow of groundwater from filling the mine, which eventually reached over 1,000 feet deep. In 1982, they closed down and shut the pumps off. Since then, the water level in the pit has been rising several feet per year and it is projected to overflow the banks by 2023.
The geology and mining waste contained in the pit makes the water exceptionally toxic. They operate wildlife deterrents to keep migrating waterfowl out of the lake. Contact with the water will kill them pretty quickly. This is one of the few places in the US that you can see the results of man's destructive activities on a grand localized scale. It's a sobering sight, but worth the stop.
The Butte KOA provides a good place to stay in the area. It is located right off of I-90 near the downtown areas of the city. In addition to RV sites, they also have primitive sites for tent campers and cabins for the gearless travelers.
Billings, MT is a great small city in the southeastern part of the state near the junction of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. It has a frontier town feeling and the flatter surroundings provide for the “Big Sky” environment that this area and points east are famous for. It's a laid back city with many great things to do.
One of the best things to do is to drive the Beartooth Highway. This one of America's great scenic highways and it starts about an hour from downtown Billing. At the other end is the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. From Billings, the trip to park entrance will take at least three hours; longer if you stop to hike or take in any of the sights. For the old school map readers out there, the Beartooth Highway is US-212. It is mountainous and considered a tough drive in an RV so if you can, leave the RV at the campground and take your toad or tow vehicle.
Billings is a great place to explore natural beauty and wonder. One of the best places to do that is Pictograph Cave State Park. This awesome park is just outside the city and is home to three caves which you can explore. Each of the caves has pictographs painted on the walls by the ancient inhabitants of the area. There are ranger-led tours available and they do a great job showing off the art and explaining the significance of the caves to the local area.
We started this journey on the Columbia River in Portland, near where Lewis and Clark ended their journey in November of 1805. There is a site here in Billings which was also a significant site on their journey. Pompey’s Pillar is a sandstone tower located about 30 minutes east of town off of I-90. Captain Clark carved his name into the sandstone here during their return expedition in 1806 and it can still be seen today. There's more history to this rock then just Captain Clark's signature, which is all explained when you visit, making it an interesting stop in the area.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield is another significant historical area nearby. Less then an hour away from downtown Billings, this is the site of the 1876 battle between the 7th Calvary and the local native American tribes also known as “Custer's Last Stand”. While it didn't work out well for Custer, a visit here can be a very enlightening experience. The battlefield itself is well known for its scenic beauty and the visitors center has a lot of great information pertaining to the battle and the history leading up to it. They also hold reenactments in the area, which can be interesting to witness.
All the outdoor activities in the area can work up quite an appetite. To fulfill that try stopping at Montana's Rib and Chop House. This highly rated and family-friendly spot is popular with visitors and locals alike. It's one of the best places in town for a great steak which is the perfect food after a day in the wild west.
The Billings KOA Holiday is the best place to stay near town. It is located southeast of the city just off of I-90 on the banks of the Yellowstone River. They have several RV sites, tent sites and cabins available if you are traveling by car.