Day 1/Monday/October 6:
It is highly recommended that you make reservations for the Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry. If you arrive at the ferry terminal in peak season, you may wait for a long time. Also, don’t let it be a surprise if the the ferry is grounded due to tidal action (high or low). When you make your reservations on line or by phone, you can check to see if your sailing is a go. There is also an app or two for the Washington State Ferry System but I don’t have them. Fort Casey State Park is conveniently located nearby so we purchased our annual Washington State Parks Pass ($30) which was due and a Senior Off Season Camping Pass ($75 for free camping October through March and Sunday – Thursday in April). Our 12:30pm sailing departed on time.
Once on the other side (Olympic Peninsula), we drove south on Highway 20 until it connected with Highway 101. We drove southbound on 101 until turning west on the Satsop Coquallum Road for a change of scenery. Besides, we wanted to check out Schafer State Park, a 119 acre park on the Satsop River. The campground had been closed since October but we wandered around the park along the river.
From Schafer State Park, we headed toward Lake Sylvia State Park on the East Satsop Road. The park is just north of Montesano. The campground is located on lovely Lake Sylvia. Some campsites are set close by the lake shoreline, others are near a slow stream or on the interior loop. Few people were there so we were lucky enough to get a lakeside site. We guessed this would be a Popular class non-hook up site which, in the shoulder season, would cost $25 on a Monday. With our off-season pass, it would be amortized over the next 7 months.
We walked around the campground then crossed a bridge over the lake then returned for supper. We sat by the lake watching the ripples on the glassy surface until the sky turned pink. It was quiet and we slept peacefully.
Day 2/Tuesday/October 7:
We awoke to a foggy morn. We drove slowly along Highway 107 to its junction with the coastal portion of Highway 101 through Arctic, Raymond, South Bend, and along Willapa Bay to Long Beach. Traffic was light except for a few logging trucks. It was still foggy once we stopped in Long Beach to allow Toller to run on the beach. Long Beach is a dog friendly town that allows dogs to freely run and play on the very long packed sand beach of this ocean shore town. You can also drive your vehicle but you need to be mindful of soft sand.
We picked up Highway 101 again and crossed the Astoria Megler Bridge into Oregon. In Warrenton, we stopped at Fred Meyer for fuel and groceries. Back on 101, we drove through the coastal towns of Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita and Garibaldi until we went inland to Tillamook famed for its dairy products. 101 remains inland until just before Lincoln City. The drive is through pastoral dairy farms.
Just north of Depoe Bay, of the Smallest Harbor in the World fame, and just south of Lincoln City, is our favorite beach to look for agates. The beach has changed over the years yielding fewer and smaller agates. Still, it is fun to walk along the crescent beach as the ocean waves break. We missed low tide when the agates are easier to find, but did pick up a few. Polished by the ocean’s relentless pounding, they have that dull glow that sets them apart from other rocks. You can also find fossils there, mostly shells. The weather was overcast with some drizzle.
Our route south took us through Depoe Bay to our campground for the night. It had been tiring driving through the fog so we elected to stop at Beverly Beach State Park. Oregon state parks are some of the nicest anywhere, with clean campgrounds and free showers. We do not need hook ups so a tent site is $17 in the off season. The beach is long and sandy and just a short walk under the Highway 101 bridge. No agates to seek on this beach as it is mostly sand. Still, it is enjoyable to walk along the crashing surf. After a nice long walk, we ate supper and went to bed early to get an early start tomorrow.
Day 3/Wednesday/October 8:
This morning we continued down 101, stopping for another beach walk at Muriel Ponsen Wayside just north of Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park. It is easily accessible from the parking lot although the vegetation along the drive in needs pruning for the larger RVs. Last Spring when we were here, I found a few agates but wasn’t so lucky this time. Still, it is refreshing to walk along Oregon’s seaside. Oregon’s beaches are public, unlike my home state of Washington where access is limited.
In Florence, we fueled up at the Fred Meyer and bought a few last minute supplies. From Florence, it was an inland drive to Reedsport to head east on Highway 38. This is an easy drive along the Umpqua River with little traffic. At Elkton, we went southeast on Highway 138 to Sutherlin on I-5. Just a short jaunt down I-5 brought us the the eastern portion of 138. This is a very scenic drive along the North Umpqua River. One POI on our list was Susan Falls. But since it was becoming late in the day and the hike was 2.1 miles one way, we put it off for another trip. We noted that there was the Susan Falls campground nearby up the road.
We were stopped along the highway when a biker stopped to ask if we needed help. He lived nearby and advised us to check out Steamboat Campground on Steamboat Creek, a USFS facility. It was closer than Tokatee Falls, another falls on our itinerary, so we drove up the gravel road to the campground. The falls were underwhelming and were marred by a cement fish ladder. We paid our $5 fee and settled in for the night. This was a small campground and we had one neighbor who wasn’t visible through the large trees.
Day 4/Thursday/October 9:
The logging trucks began their day at 4:00 am so we were up and about earlier than we wanted. We tried to time our departure to after we heard the trucks head either up or down the road which narrowed at times to a single lane. Being Pacific Northwest natives (and a grand daughter of a logger), we are familiar with these lumbering beasts (ok, bad pun). We didn’t have a CB to check for oncoming trucks so just hurriedly drove the several miles back to 138.
The fall colors were ablaze along the North Umpqua Riverso we pulled over for a photo op. There are many trails, waterfalls and campgrounds along Highway 138 so we will definitely return. At the Tokatee Falls trailhead, there is a very large (8′ D?) wooden aquaduct that evidently was still in use as it spouted leaks. The vegetation growing out of the seams made it look like a Chia Pet. The trail is about .5 one way via 97 steps up and 125 steps down. It is a beautiful trail through the woods (big leaf maple, yew, old growth cedar and fir) along the North Umpqua River to the viewing platform. Along the trail is an overlook above a round gorge that the swirling water and sediments gouge out. The falls are spectacular: the river etches its way through a gorge that drops 40′ into a pool then plunges another 80′ into another large pool. What is a scenic bonus is the columnar basalt that the falls drops out of. A short and easy hike in, Tokatee Falls is one of the most beautiful falls I have seen.Tokatee Falls has a campground, also.
We passed by Diamond Lake where we had camped at Thielson View about a year ago. This is a beautiful campground that has many sites along this lovely lake with a view of pointy topped Mt. Thielsen. We could have dropped down to visit Crater Lake but had a schedule so turned east on Highway 138 which teed into Highway 97 at Diamond Lake Junction, an unofficial truck route that we try to avoid. A short 15 mile segment brought us to Silver Lake Road which bisects the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. The lake was dry and we saw few birds.
Just before Silver Lake, the road ended at Highway 31. Our destination was the rest area at Summer Lake, a free place to camp. It is right off the road but 31 sees little traffic. We also enjoy looking for agates nearby and always find a few pocketfuls of some nice ones. They are different from the ones we find along the Oregon Coast as they are not polished but they are larger and have a knobby opaque quality. After a fruitful rockhounding session, we returned to the rest area for supper and sleep. We were joined by three other vehicles for the night seeking a place to camp. There is a store/gas station across the road if you need to resupply or get fuel. If I remember correctly, diesel was cheaper there than in Paisley, a town further south. The Summer Lake area is one of eastern Oregon’s great places to explore from the Summer Lake Wildlife Area to the USFS roads above.
Day 5/Friday/October 10:
After a further mining of agates in the Summer Lake area, we drove toward Lakeview to fuel up and head south on 395 into California. If you wanted a shortcut over to 395 north of Abert Rim, there is a road through the XL Ranch that runs from paved Red House Road through a small canyon which becomes more rough and rocky. Eventually, as you near 395, the road becomes easier and is graded gravel. Sometime ago, we ran this route in reverse (direction, not gear) so were fooled at the beginning. Not recommended unless you like to crawl and bounce through pasture land. On the way to Lakeview, we drove through Paisley and met up with 395 at Valley Falls.
We fueled up at the Shell station on 395 just north of Lakeview but didn’t stop for groceries at the Safeway which has been in town since 1939. If you need supplies, this is one of the better stocked grocery stores for miles until you are well into California (even Alturas has less of a selection).
It is always a nice drive into California along 395, a nice highway that sees little traffic. We had to stop at the California Agriculture Department checkpoint to declare our produce on board. Sometimes it is open, sometimes not. After Alturas, we drove down 299 through Canby when it merges into 139, and Adin (nice small town with an interesting warehouse of treasures peeking through the windows) where we headed south on 139.
It was getting dark and we were a little anxious for a place to spend the night. One of my iPhone apps indicated a BLM campground near Eagle Lake. There were no signs indicating a campground but we did find a clearing off the road overlooking the lake so we pulled in and set up camp. There was little traffic to bother us and soon, after dinner, we went to sleep.
Day 6/Saturday/October 11:
We awoke early, anxious to meet up with a group of pop-up truck camper enthusiasts from the Wander the West forum at the Meadow Lake campground in the Tahoe National Forest. We stopped at the Susanville IGA for groceries and fuel then headed west on 36. From Highway 36, we took 147, the scenic route along Lake Almanor (which had water unlike poor dry Eagle Lake). We stopped at a scenic overlook for a potty break and to stretch our legs. Toller always wants out so we wander around with him so he can do his business and get some exercise.
After the overlook, we took Highway 89 south, stopping at Indian Falls. I am glad we did as it was a beautiful area and a very important spiritual and cultural area for the Maidu Tribe. There are large blue gray rock outcroppings that you scramble over to get to a better view of the falls. Even in mid-October, there was still a flow.
89 continues south and east as 89/70 through Quincy and East Quincy. Then, near Blairsden, 89 becomes its own road which we followed south to USFS Road 07. We would follow this road and USFS Road 86 near Weber Lake for 20 miles, becoming rougher until we saw a group of pop up campers at Meadow Lake campground.
We were warmly welcomed by this enthusiastic group with which we felt right at home immediately. I have been a participant on their forum for several years, getting and giving advice about campers, destinations, modifications and other areas of interest to those who explore backroads and backcountry. We soon found a place to set up camp and did a walk about to meet everyone. There was a pig roasting on a pit donated by Marc of XP Campers. Marty, of All Terrain Campers cooked up a hearty and aromatic onion soup. I think it was MarcBC who brought a homemade walnut pie. Others brought ice cream, salads, casseroles, etc. We brought home grown Honeycrisp apples from our neighbor’s orchard. We did not go hungry.
Thanks to Ted who organized it all and Bill for the decals. We weren’t the ones who came from the furthest away (Grant from British Columbia, our northern neighbor did) but we probably drove the most miles as we tend to travel back roads, all in the spirit of Wandering the West. I hope we can all meet up again to share our adventures and camping rigs. We got some great ideas and hope to incorporate some this winter. One of the campers hung a mini hummingbird feeder from a bough. Noted.
The sunny weather held all weekend. Toller enjoyed playing with the other pups who were well-behaved. They ran and frolicked among the campers. We enjoyed meeting the dogs who folks mention in their posts. After a wonderful pot luck dinner amongst folks who felt like long-time friends, we headed for bed to sleep among the pines with full tummies.
Day 7/Sunday/October 12:
Most folks headed back this morning but we stayed to walk around Meadow Lake, a reservoir that was quite low. We spoke with Smokecreek, a retired BLM archeologist, who told us to visit the Smoke Creek area east of Susanville as we would be traveling that way.
We wanted to return to Indian Falls and Burney Falls and drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park in between. We said our goodbyes to those still in camp and back tracked to Indian Falls. We stopped in Quincy for fuel then drove to Indian Falls via 89/70 for late afternoon photography. Golden reflections highlighted the water above the rock outcropping 20 feet above the pool below where the gold shimmered.
Tony disappeared with Toller and after the gold shimmers disappeared, I began to look for them. I went upriver a ways and found them in an even more beautiful location. In the distance, twin falls dropped a short distance about 20-feet apart. The entire scene was magic. Boulders and submerged rock outcroppings were scattered in Indian Creek. Placed among the rocks near the water was a beautiful large lobed leafed plant that was changing from green to red. I couldn’t have asked for a more photogenic location. I shot wide and long and everything in between.
It is difficult to describe the emotion that I feel when I am in a beautiful location and the cameras’ batteries are charged and the media cards have been formatted and are ready to fill. I really try to be restrained initially, composing with the thumb and forefingers of both hands to see the potential, trying to get a feel for the possibilities. But, the light was fading and so I just continued composing through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter, hoping that this wondrous place wasn’t a dream. I had to place my tripod at odd angles and lengths in the eroded pitted rock outcroppings, hoping that it was well enough anchored to prevent any shake.
Back at the camper, we decided to spend the night. There were no signs prohibiting overnight stays and we were the only ones remaining in the parking lot. After dinner, I reviewed my photos. I wasn’t disappointed. No one disturbed us during the night and we slept well.