Portland to Phoenix Road Trip Guide


Portland in Oregon is a great city for families to live in or to visit. Founded less than two hundred years ago, the city has a fresh approach to architecture and, for being one of the top twenty-five most populated cities in the United States, is super eco-friendly. Getting in some outdoor recreation there is easy as the city has an amazing year-round mild climate, an immense acreage of public green spaces, miles of cycle lanes, and forested parklands with amazing hiking trails. There's no shortage of indoor activities either. If you want something cultural to do like a museum or gallery to visit, you'll find plenty. There are also numerous entertainment and sports complexes. Time spent in Portland could never be boring.

Having teenagers in the family is never easy though, even when you live somewhere like Portland. When they're on vacation the last thing you want them to do is spend the days in their room staring boggle-eyed at their cell phone, iPad or computer screen. Cure that by taking them on an RV road trip from Portland to Phoenix in Arizona.

If you have a week or more vacation time, head out of Portland on the I 84 eastbound then join the US 26 in Gresham. A few more miles down the highway and you'll roll into the Mount Hood National Forest where you can take them hiking around Oregon's own active stratovolcano. During the trip, you'll be able to take them kayaking on an azure blue lake or through the emerald-colored waters of a cave, hike through a desert wilderness, and test their bravado on an extreme adventure course.

As much as you might want to deprive them of their iPhone, don't. They'll want to take photos of everything they see to post on their social media to prove to their friends that on a seven-day RV road trip from Portland to Phoenix, you really can see the same amount of incredible natural wonders as you would on a world tour.

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Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 7+ days
Recommend rig: motorhome
audience: family

Point of Interest

Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center

Head south from Flagstaff along the I 17 and it'll take you alongside the Tonto National Forest. Veer off to the east just before you get to Phoenix to visit the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center. At the project, you'll be able to show the family that the US, the same as the rest of the world, has some exciting wildlife. Most of the animals at the center have been either injured or orphaned and are in the process of being rehabilitated back into their natural habitats whenever possible.

To visit the center you'll need to make a prior appointment or reserve a place on a guided wildlife tour. The tour of the center usually runs twice daily and takes around two hours to complete. During the tours, you'll get to see wolves, bears, bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes as well as plenty more small species of mammals.

Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

As you're heading toward Phoenix on your week-long road trip from Portland, make a small detour off the US 93 along the I 40 E through the Coconino National Forest to Flagstaff. In the city's Fort Tuthill County Park you'll find the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course. If your teenagers have been talking about walking through the canopies of the Amazonian rainforest, this course will give them a very similar experience, but without the monkeys.

Before they clamber up into the treetops, they'll have a thirty-minute briefing on using the equipment before being let loose on the first stage of the course. Each stage of the adventure trail has to be completed before they can move on to the next and involves various obstacles like rope nets, plank bridges, swings and ziplines. If they just want to whizz at speed high above the ground, the park has more than thirty ziplines that will keep them happy for hours.

Emerald Cave

Some of the most magical travel photographs seen on the internet are of folks kayaking through caves where the sunlight changes the water to incredible colors. While it might not seem possible to believe that a phenomenon like that exists in Arizona, it does. After you've left the Sloan Canyon Conservation Area, head east on the I 11 until you're through Boulder City and can join the US 93 southbound through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area to Willow Beach. Park up there for a few hours, there is usually a small charge, and prepare the youngsters for the paddle of their lives.

The fantastic Emerald Cave is two miles upstream from Willow Beach in Emerald Cove and can only be reached by boat. It takes a couple of hours to navigate the Colorado River as it flows through Black Canyon to get to the cove. It's a scenic paddle that just gets even better when you enter the cave where the water is a bright emerald green. If you don't have canoes or kayaks, you'll find a rental service operating from the marina in Willow Beach.

Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area

When you pull up in your rig at the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, the kids will probably groan, thinking it's just another wilderness. It is, but it's one where you can show them something different to sand and rocks. Located in the Mojave Desert of Nevada, the fifty-thousand acres contain the Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Site. The canyon where the petroglyphs are is only accessible during the day and all visitors need to register their presence at the ranger station before heading out to explore.

Set out on the Petroglyph Trail that winds its way through the base of Sloan Canyon and the teenagers will be able to see for themselves that graphic communication existed long before internet memes. The ancient rock art etched on the boulders and canyon walls are thought to be several thousands of years old. While no-one really knows their true purpose, each different design tells its own story and serves to transmit a message to the onlooker.

Steens Mountain Wilderness

After your stop at the Prineville Reservoir, continue your RV road trip from Portland to Phoenix on the US 20. Four hours of motoring will take you to the Steens Mountain Wilderness which is a great place to experience remote outback hiking. The wilderness covers an extensive area of almost two-hundred thousand acres with rugged mountains and wide valleys.

No motorized vehicles are permitted inside the marked boundaries. You'll find parking spaces and campsites near the small community of Frenchglen. The Page Springs Campground and the South Steens Campground are both managed by the BLM and operate on a first-come-first-served basis.

Pack up some backpacks with water and provisions then set out from the Page Springs Campground and you'll find trails running alongside the Blitzen River into the wilderness. To give your teenagers an extra leg stretch take them on the Wilderness Nature Trail. It's a short hike of a mile but is a steep climb up a bluff with fantastic views from the top. They'll see nature at its best but not another living soul to spoil their Instagram shots.

Prineville Reservoir State Park

Roll into the Prineville Reservoir State Park and while you won't find a remote glacial lake in the mountains, the youngsters will still be impressed with the alpine setting and the blue hue of the lake. The park is south of the town of Prineville and sits along the south-east boundary of the Ochoco National Forest.

There are developed campgrounds with hook-ups as well as dispersed camping options around the serpentine reservoir's forty-three miles of shoreline and with lots to do there, it's a great place to pitch up for a couple of days to appreciate the scenery and get in some water sports.

The Prineville Reservoir covers more than three-thousand acres and is around seventeen miles long. Launch the kids in kayaks or canoes and let them go exploring. It'll make them feel like real adventurers. If they prefer speed, then they can jet ski, wakeboard, have fun tubing or just chill out and catch some rays on the beach.

Crooked River Gorge

The Crooked River Gorge is a breathtaking five-hundred-foot deep gorge just south of the town of Madras along the eastern border of the Cove Palisades State Park in Jefferson County. The gorge is spanned by a steel bridge almost a hundred years old. The bridge is closed to vehicle traffic, so to get the full impact, you'll need to park up and walk over. Known as the Peter Skene Ogden Viewpoint, the bridge is surrounded by the eighty-plus acres of the Peter Skene Ogden State Park.

It's a great spot for grabbing some dramatic landscape photos, but if your teenagers have been talking about the swing at the end of the world in the jungles of Ecuador, you might want to test their mettle and challenge them to a bungee jump.

The bridge over the gorge is one of the most popular spots in Oregon for leaping into the void while attached to a bungee cord. It's also the highest point in the US from where you can drop – a nerve-racking total of two-hundred and fifty feet - so if they prefer to just watch, who can blame them?

Mount Hood

While the young ones might be dreaming of trekking up far-away Mount Kilimanjaro, give them a comparable experience by taking them hiking or skiing on Mount Hood. Mount Hood is located in the Mount Hood National Forest and its prominent snow-capped peak is easily visible from Portland, but that's no guarantee that the young ones have even noted its existence. Mount Hood hasn't erupted for almost two thousand years, but that doesn't mean it couldn't. Although the volcano is only a fifty-odd mile drive from the city, you'll want to pitch camp in the forest for the first night as the hike around the peak is long and difficult in places.

Inspire them for the hike to come by camping out in the Trillium Lake Campground, which is just ten miles from the trailhead to the Timberline Trail and has fantastic views of the volcano. It's just as photogenic as Kilimanjaro, if not even more so. The Timberline Trail which runs around the mountain is over forty miles long, so doing the whole thing probably won't be on your road trip agenda, but at least some of it should be.

If they're winter sports fanatics they'll be in their element as they can enjoy the glacier-clad slopes of Mount Hood all year round for skiing. Let them ride up the ski lift on the Palmer Ice Field and they'll totally forget they ever even saw Mount Kilimanjaro on the internet.


By the time you and the family roll into Phoenix after your seven-day RV road trip from Portland, they'll be totally convinced that North America has just as many Instagram-able natural wonders as the rest of the world. If they've still got space left on their memory cards for more incredible photos, take them to Papago Park where there are palm trees, a lake, and some unusual rock formations.

For a final RV road trip hike, take them trekking up Camelback Mountain. They'll be on top of the world as they look down on the city from high above and have some amazing photos to post on their social media accounts.

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