Majestic Mt. Rainier

As we were leaving Hood River area I had the brilliant idea for a fun family outing that would result in one of the trips most infamous events – The Blueberry Fiasco.

Hood River has a popular tourist attraction called, the Fruit Loop – essentially a driving tour of the areas fruit farms. U-Pick farms abound and I thought I’d recreate some fond childhood memories with my own kids picking berries. Rick was skeptical, but I found an organic blueberry farm not too far off our route. The memory of my purse being stolen fresh in my mind, I felt it better to have Rick  squeeze the car and trailer down the narrow and overgrown drive than leave it parked on the side of the road – ripe for vandals.

Turns out the camper is bigger than it looks – we took out a sign and several tree limbs trying to navigate down the narrow drive. Whoops! Once Rick ran out of curse words we had fun picking nearly 3lbs of blueberries – we literally had to tear Liam away from the bushes.

Unfortunately, our initial damage on the way in wasn’t the last of it. We got snagged in a ditch trying to turn out of the driveway, bending our doorstep and skid bars which protect our water tank in the back. Our bad luck continued when an unknown road closure diverted us onto a washed-out gravel road through the National Forest for over 40 miles. We had to stop several times to ask for directions as signage was minimal. Thank goodness we weren’t still newbies or we might have thrown in the towel. It was a long day of driving and after the Blueberry Fiasco our rig was already banged up – every pothole had us wincing.

img_0255It’s no surprise that we were thrilled when we finally reached Mt. Rainier. We decided to splurge after the day we’d had and treat ourselves to full hook-ups at a private RV park. It was located just outside the park and conveniently abutted the town’s library, which the kids were excited to spend an afternoon in once we were done hiking.

We only had three days at Rainier, but we made the most of it, rising early and crossing off all the family friendly hikes the park had to offer. As far as beauty goes – Rainier tops the list. Every where you looked wildflowers were bursting in bloom, rivers and waterfalls gushed and the park’s name sake dazzled above everything.


My two favorite hikes were Comet Falls, which I found to be prettier than anything we saw at Yosemite with a fraction of the crowds, and the Silver Forest Trail. The latter took you high up in alpine meadows, everywhere you looked was a rainbow of blooms, Mt. Rainier was hard to tear your eyes from and glacial lakes dazzled turquoise in the valleys far below. If I had to recommend just one park to visit, Mt. Rainier would definitely make the short list. It’s beauty and scenery were unlike any we have visited so far.

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Minor League and Fish Hatcheries

We left Ketchum and were planning on driving straight to Mt. Rainer NP. At the last minute, however, we decided to swing by Hood River, Oregon for a couple of days because we’d had it recommended to us by several people. Along the way, we stopped in Boise, Idaho for two nights and happened to camp within walking distance to the Boise Hawks’ stadium. They were playing at home so we decided to check them out. The game was fun, but I’m still partial to the Montgomery Biscuits or the Asheville Tourists. The next day, after an early bike ride on Boise’s wonderful intown hike/bike trail and a trip to the Boise Children’s Museum, we continued on towards Hood River.

As we crossed the state line we spotted a sign for the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center located near Baker, Oregon and had to pull off. Having spent hours playing the Oregon Trail computer game as kids, Maggie and I both thought it warranted a stop. We laughed a lot reading some of the diary entries from the pioneers as we felt like we could sympathize with many of their experiences (minus the dysentery – fingers crossed). A prairie schooner is pretty much the same as a travel trailer right?

Hood River is an active, outdoorsy town located along the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. We secured a campsite at a state park located just outside of town along a railroad track. We decided to stay at the park despite the tracks since it was located on the Columbia River and offered access to several waterfalls and hikes. We were unpleasantly surprised though by the frequency with which the trains passed during the night. Liam got used to it, but CJ was pretty terrified every time it came through, which was 3 or 4 times a night.

After hiking to a few different waterfalls in the area, we decided to visit the Bonneville Dam. The Bonneville Dam was built in the 1930’s and is open to the public. In addition to information about the construction of the dam, it also allows visitors to view the fish ladder that the salmon and other fish use to swim upstream. The kids really enjoyed watching the fish through large viewing windows.

After the dam we headed a little further down the road to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, home of Herman the Sturgeon. Herman is a 79 years old and weighs a whopping 500 pounds! The kids got a kick out of seeing Herman and feeding the rainbow trout. Normally a fish hatchery wouldn’t be high on our list of tourist stops, but this one was actually pretty nice with beautifully manicured gardens and plenty for the kids to see and do.

Before we left, I was given leave to wake up at the crack of dawn to hike Mt. Defiance. The hike was only 12 miles long but gains 5,000 feet in less than 6 miles. While I enjoyed the challenge of hiking up the mountain, I did not enjoy the steep decent and had to practically run down whether I wanted to or not. While I’ve certainly done longer hikes, I can’t remember doing a tougher one than this and don’t believe I’d be doing this hike too frequently if I was a resident of Hood River.

Bend and Beyond

Excited at the prospect of seeing some familiar faces (our friends The Mackens), we started making a beeline for Idaho. Along the way we stopped at a few places in Eastern Oregon, that had it not been for the heat, we might have enjoyed.

First up was Bend, Oregon. We’d heard good things about the town so decided to stop by. It didn’t disappoint, it was definitely a cute little city, saturated with breweries and limitless outdoor opportunities. Rick lived out his vagabond dreams to the max — we boondocked in a Boy’s and Girl’s Club parking lot for the weekend. During our squatter’s stay we checked out “Lego Day” at the local library, hit up the local artists market, stopped by the Deschutes Brewery, and explored some of the city parks. We also ventured outside the city to one of the Cascade lakes near the Three Sisters mountains where we spent the day paddling. Following the weekend, we thought the fuzz might be on to us, so we moved to a more reputable and established RV park in Redmond, the neighboring town. There we gave Rick a free pass to hike Misery Ridge and several other trails in Smith Rock State Park, while the kids and I visited an alpaca farm…I’ll let you decide who had the better day. While in Redmond we also visited the rodeo that was in town, which was a fun time for all. I’m fairly certain Rick is going to be training the kids for “mutton busting” when we return (a rodeo event for kids where they try to ride a bucking sheep). The trip wouldn’t be complete without propping up the local economy, we dropped a pretty penny on new tires for both the SUV and trailer, so depending on how you look at it, Rick’s squatting in various parking lots paid off.

After Bend/Redmond, we headed further east to visit the John Day Fossil Beds. Liam is obsessed with prehistoric animals so, with the prospect of saber tooth cats and wooly mammoths, we hit the road. Temperatures continued to increase, and the scenery became more barren, but we found a cheap camping spot on the John Day River where we had the place to ourselves. When we weren’t digging for fossils or visiting the museum, we were on the river. Either canoeing or swimming, being near the water was a must. With no one around for miles and the temperature in the upper 90s we enjoyed skinny dipping at our private beach and catching crayfish in the shallows.

Gluttons for punishment, we headed next to Hells Canyon…often mentioned in the tourist literature for it’s beauty and outdoor potential we thought we’d give it a shot…although we were curious why it had been dubbed “Hells Canyon.” Upon arriving we quickly found out – it’s hotter than Hades. We sweated through three days of 100 degree temperatures that never got below the 80s. I think Rick was holding out because we found a free camping spot on the Snake River, but without electricity to run the AC, I finally revolted and convinced Rick it was time to move on. The only highlight from that miserably hot stint that I can think of, was me catching a fish on the Snake.