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Camping Along the Columbia River Gorge

While Melissa and our Daughter dashed off to Spokane, Washington for a weekend race I could not sit at home and do yard work. I decided, instead to take a little road trip and explore the Columbia River.  I wanted to visit as many of the Columbia River Dams as possible, but my secondary goal was to scout out new camping locations and attractions that Melissa and I could return to later and explore further.

I set out after work and headed south towards Portland as Melissa headed East to Spokane. Just before reaching Portland on I-5, I took a left and traveled along Washington Highway 14 towards my first stop, the Bonneville Dam.

Booted In the Night

Arriving just after 11PM at the Hamilton Island Recreation Area just south of the dam, I found a quiet secluded spot along the river and laid down to rest for the night. I drifted right off to sleep and was out cold when Bonneville Security found me and started knocking at my door at 1:30 AM. They announced who they were and I eventually acknowledged. The security guard informed me that I could not park there until 5AM. Given that 5AM was only 3 hours away, I tried to get him to bend the rules just for me. I failed and had to find another parking spot up the road to crash for a few hours.

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 10:10 - Recreation area along the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam in Washington. Watch video from this road trip

Still in my sweats, t-shirt and comfy house slippers, I drove off into the night until I found a place to park just a mile up the road. I was parked right along the highway in front of the Bridge Of The Gods. It seemed like a good spot. I set an alarm for 5AM, no 5:15, and went back to bed.

At 5:15AM, I woke up and drove the RV back to my previous spot where I continued sleeping for a few more hours undisturbed this time.

Bonneville Dam

Just up the road was the Bonneville Dam. After some much needed coffee and breakfast, I was off to explore the Dam. From the Washington Visitor's Center, you can look right into the power house and see the turbines churning away. After watching their little video documentary about the history of power along the Columbia, I headed down to see the fish ladders. From the viewing area, there were several windows where you could watch salmon swim through the fish ladder on their way up river.

View from Beacon Rock

Just down the road from the Bonneville Dam is Beacon Rock State Park. It's basically that…I giant rock sticking up along the river. A one mile trail takes you all the way to the top where you can see panoramic views of the entire area, including the Bonneville Dam. There were so many opportunities to take stunning pictures along the way. I definitely recommend making the hike up there if you can. The trail is just short of a mile long and zig-zags its way to the top. It's not a steep hike so you should make it.

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 14:58 - View from the summit of Beacon Rock looking East towards the Bonneville Dam. Watch video from this road trip

Bridge Of The Gods

On my way East, I made a quick stop at the iconic Bridge of the Gods. The bridge, which lies along the Pacific Crest Trail, was featured recently in the movie "Wild". It was also where I slept the night before after being booted from the Bonneville Dam camp spot.


I passed through Hood River and The Dalles before stopping for the night at Maryhill State Park for a much needed good night sleep. In the morning I headed to the Stonehenge monument which was just a couple miles down the road. This Washington version of Stonehenge was built as a memorial to those who fought and died in WWI. It sits on the hillside overlooking the river and provides stunning views of the entire area including Mount Hood off in the distance.

Sat, 05/02/2015 - 10:49 - Stonehenge monument overlooking the Columbia River with Mt Hood in the distance. Watch video of this road trip

Boondocking Along The River

I reached the John Day dam but was not able to tour the complex. They had signs that said not open to visitors. Oh well…there was a lot to see from outside the fence. There were lots of folks there fishing and places to camp all up and down the river on both the Washington and Oregon side. The property is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers so I thought I'd go scope out a great boondocking spot for myself.

Sun, 05/03/2015 - 10:59 - View of Mt. Hood from our campsite along the Columbia River in Washington. Watch video of this road trip

I headed over to the Washington side of the dam which looked a little quieter and secluded. I found a great spot and decided to settle in and stay a while. I enjoyed it so much the first night, I decided to stay for a couple more days. The middle and upper Columbia River could wait for another trip when Melissa could come along.

We will definitely be returning to continue exploring up river.