San Jose to Helena Road Trip Guide


San Jose in California is a city renowned for its modernity and connections to the technology industry. While what first catches your eye about San Jose may be the towering skyscrapers of the central business district, you'll soon discover it retains much of its Spanish heritage. Set out to explore the downtown area under the balmy sunshine of the city's Mediterranean climate and among the high rise blocks, you'll find a nucleus of structures dating back to the early 19th century.

San Jose is a city of contrasts, and that's reflected in just about every aspect of its social and cultural offerings. From the Tech Museum of Innovation, dedicated to technology and its future development to the Winchester Mystery House, a Gothic and slightly freaky late 19th-century mansion, they're as diverse as chalk and cheese. There are endless events and festivals throughout the year and whether you love jazz and want to spend your days at the Winter Jazz Festival or prefer something more tech-related like the Internet Of Things World, you'll find something you want to attend.

If you're living and working in San Jose or are visiting for a convention, it's easy to get tired of the humdrum of the modern, computerized world. When you have some free time, plan an escape with friends, pick up an RV and take a seven-day road trip from San Jose to Helena in Montana. Head north out of San Jose and you'll be motoring through some of California's most spectacular regions between the stunning Mendocino and Plumas National Forests.

You can drive all the way to Portland, Oregon on the same highway, camping overnight in some great state parks before veering east across the state to your final destination. On route, thrill your friends with a ghost story around the campfire, a dinner cruise on a paddleboat, or go on a vineyard tour together to sample some wine. Continue on from Portland to Helena and you'll be traveling through the state of Washington where you can stop off in Spokane to get back to nature.

Go hiking the trails in the Dishman Hills Natural Area, view a live volcano or go kayaking on the Spokane River. After two or three days on the road, you and your friends will soon agree that the real world is one hundred times better than the digital one on your computer screen.

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Max RV length
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Road trip length: 7+ days
Recommend rig: motorhome
audience: friends

Point of Interest

Riverside State Park

The Riverside State Park is an ideal place to pitch camp and take a break from the highway before you begin to motor through Idaho and Montana on the last leg of your road trip from San Jose to Helena. The state park has two campgrounds for RVs up to forty-five feet in length, plus a third that can accommodate campers traveling with horses. The Riverside State Park is located a few miles north-west of Spokane near Nine Mile Falls and will give you access to both Spokane River and Lake Spokane.

There are some great outdoor recreational activities to be had in the park. You can go kayaking along the river, fish, rock climb, hike or mountain bike some of the fifty-five miles of multi-use trails. There are also six-hundred acres of terrain set aside especially for off-roading. There are lots of water sport opportunities too so if you want to water ski, head out onto the lake on your paddleboard or go jet skiing, you can.

Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Before leaving the Portland area and carrying on to Helena, make a three hour detour to visit the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. It may be a little off route, but it is just too impressive a sight to miss. Mount St Helens is an active volcanic peak in the state of Washington that last erupted back in the 1980s and is frequently compared with Mount Fuji of Japan. It's a good idea to stop off first at the visitor center which is just of the I 5 in Silver Lake to pick up brochures, maps, and information.

The best way to see Mount St Helens is to drive along the well-maintained forest road known as Windy Ridge. From Silver Lake, it will take you a couple of hours to get to the main viewpoint at the end of the road, but it's a stunningly scenic drive and you'll feel it's well worth it when you're staring down into the volcano's crater.

North Clackamas Aquatic Park

Once you get as far as Portland on your road trip from San Jose to Helena, take time out to make a splash at the North Clackamas Aquatic Park. It'll make you and your friends feel like kids again. There's really nothing better than whizzing down a water slide and landing in a pool to put a smile on your face. You can enjoy the diversion no matter what the weather as the installation is all indoors and the water is always warm.

At the North Clackamas Aquatic Park, you'll have a whale of a time zooming down the ceiling-high slides, battling the surf in the wave pool or just getting in some exercise in the lap pool. There are also water aerobics classes to join in with and a special area for practicing your diving. For anyone wanting to try bouldering or traditional climbing in a controlled environment, the park has a twenty-nine-foot climbing wall to scale while being safely harnessed.

Willamette Queen Boat Cruise

If you decided to pitch camp around Salem and don't feel like hitting the road again, why not try an activity on water rather than on the land? Spoil yourself with a day of rest, then head into the city to the Riverfront Park where you'll find the moorings for the Willamette Queen. The eighty-seven foot, twin paddlewheeler makes leisurely cruises along the Willamette River while serving some scrumptious food.

Reminiscent of a Mississippi steamboat, the Willamette Queen can accommodate over a hundred passengers and has an indoor dining room as well as an outside seating area where you can sit to admire the views. Sip a cocktail on deck, then go below to tuck into an elegant dinner as you sail along the river for a couple of hours while the sunsets in the distance. If you don't want to do an evening cruise, go at lunchtime instead then head into Salem for a wild night out with your friends.

Enchanted Forest Theme Park

Keep going north on the I 5 and it won't be long before you're crossing over the border from California and heading into Oregon. You'll be motoring through some seriously scenic terrains with the Klamath National Forest to the west and the Modoc National Forest to the east. As you continue on your way, you'll enter into the Umpqua National Forest which merges with the Willamette National Forest. Yes, there's a lot of trees bordering the highway, but keep motoring northwards and you'll come across a forest that has a lot more than Douglas fir and pinyon pines.

Take the turn-off for Turner from the I 5 and you'll discover the Enchanted Forest theme park. Let your hair down and have some fun on the log ride, ice mountain roller coaster or get goosebumps in the haunted house. Wander around the European village or Western town before catching the water fountain show then heading to the Gathering Hall for some food or a drink while being entertained by a group of Irish musicians.

Castle Crags State Park

After being wowed by the subterranean world of the Lake Shasta Caverns, pull in at the Castle Crags State Park and you'll be overawed by the monumental monoliths known as the Castle Crags. The park is a fifty-mile drive from Redding and if you want a day without too much time on the road, it's the perfect place to stop at. There is a great campground in the state park that sits right alongside the Sacramento River so you can fish out something for dinner if you've got some tackle with you.

The Castle Crags State Park has twenty-eight miles worth of hiking trails winding through forested land, by the river and up to Vista Point which is the best place to view the crags from. The gray, jagged granite peaks are phenomenal and tower over the surrounding landscape to a height of six-thousand feet.

If you want to hike some more, you'll find part of the Pacific Crest Trail runs through the park too. Set out on that trail and you and your friends will feel like true outback explorers.

Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark

Once you're back on the road and heading north again, leave the suburbs of Redding behind and it won't be long before you're entering the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Although it might seem a little prompt to make a stopover, you won't want to miss visiting the spectacular Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark. The caverns are twenty miles north of Redding on the mid-west shore of Shasta Lake and comprise of a series of underground caves full of incredible geological formations.

Getting to see the caverns is a mini-adventure in itself. Park your RV in the car park at the visitor center, pick up your ticket then head down to the lakeside where there will be a catamaran waiting. Hop aboard and sail over the picturesque lake to where a bus is waiting to take you up the mountainside to the cavern entrance.

Inside, wander the wooden boardwalks through a fantasy of stalagmites, stalactites, and icicle-like soda straws. All told, the boat, bus and underground exploration of the Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark takes around two hours, so will still leave you plenty of the day to do other things.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

After you've left the tranquility of Las Trampas and have continued motoring north for a few hours, the next large city you come to will be Redding. While for convenience it might seem easy to pitch up for the night at a private RV campground there, you'll probably find the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area a lot more fun. The recreation area is just eight miles west of the city and will blow you away.

The Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is located on the eastern shore of Whiskeytown Lake and contains just about one of every feature nature created. A lake, waterfalls, beaches, forests, and mountains. As well as camping there overnight in the Oak Bottom Campground or the Brandy Creek RV Campground, you can go hiking, biking, swimming, scuba diving, climbing, boating, kayaking or meditate while performing yoga on a paddleboard. There's really no end to the outdoor recreation opportunities here. There's so many and it's such a great place you may well decide to stay for a couple of days.

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness

Make Las Trampas Regional Wilderness the first stop on your road trip from San Jose to Helena. While it may be only an hour's drive out of the city, it's a totally different world. If you have a high tension job, the wilderness is a great place to work off all that accumulated stress so you can really relax and enjoy the rest of your RV vacation.

The Las Trampas Regional Wilderness is just off the I 680 between Danville and Alamo. It's five-thousand beautiful acres of rolling green hills covered with dense woods. Park up, pick up a map from the visitor center, then hit some of the many trails winding through the countryside.

Take a picnic and drinks and you can sit on the hillsides to eat while marveling at the complete change of scenery and atmosphere that short one hour drive brought about. There's no skyscrapers or one single mega-byte of technology to be seen; just nature at its very best, so don't spoil the experience and leave your cell phone in the rig.


When you arrive in Helena after your seven-day road trip from San Jose, you and your friends will be hard put to believe all the amazing things you've seen on the way. But Helena has plenty to offer too. You can explore Reeder's Alley in the downtown district which is full of 19th-century wooden mining shacks, visit the Holter Museum of Art or spoil yourselves with an immersion at the Broadwater Hot Springs and Spa. You and your friends will have such a good time on this road trip, it won't be long before you're planning your next big escape together.

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