This week’s stops in Montana and along the Washington and Oregon border:
- Montana rest areas
- Fairgrounds camping
- Montana’s “best” huckleberry shakes
- Awesome pizza at Anelare Winery
- Nirvana Cannabis Company
- McNary Dam Army Corps of Engineers Camping
- John Day Dam Army Corps of Engineers Camping
Howdy, travelers, and thanks for following along. This post will actually cover two weeks of time, but we will call it “week 21.” That’s because I didn’t so much go RVing in Montana as much as I RVed through Montana, then spent 12 days at an Army Corps of Engineers campground (my favorites) in Washington.
I had originally planned to spend some time around the Bozeman, MT, area visiting a friend, but a new work opportunity came up that took him out of town. So I decided to leave Montana explorations for another time and get myself to the Pacific Northwest.
Big thumbs up for Montana rest areas
My first night in Montana, I discovered their rest areas far more friendly to RVers than the 3-hour limit imposed in South Dakota.
I found a beautiful spot in the late afternoon, pulled in, made dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed. Only to be loudly awakened at about 2 a.m. by a big family who pulled in next door. They loudly shouted back and forth from trailer to vehicle, unpacked what sounded like a ton of gear, took forever putting their electric slides in and out and in and out. For a quick overnight, they also had to put all their electric leveling jacks similarly up and down multiple times.
They were the EPITOME of thoughtless, rude neighbors who seemed to think the world revolved around themselves. Oh, well. It was a great spot … until they arrived. At 6:30 a.m. the whole process resumed in reverse as they got ready to leave.
OK, so I did not sleep a whole lot that night. Through no fault of Montana’s otherwise amazing rest areas. Nonetheless, the following day rewarded me with breathtaking Big Sky scenery the entire drive. I vowed to spend more time in this area on a future trip.
Huckleberry shakes and fairgrounds camping
The following day I continued motoring toward Washington.
I did need electricity and a decent internet connection for the next night. Call me cheap, but I hate spending $50-$60 just for a quick overnight stay. However, those were the going campground rates in the nearby areas.
I ended up finding an excellent bargain spot at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Deer Lodge. Just $20 for electrical hookups! Perfect.
If you are in the area, you can just pull in and hook up. Even if nobody is there, there is a drop box on the nearby barn where you can leave the money. A groundskeeper comes by once a day, at minimum, to collect it and check on things. I believe he or she lives on the property, but I am not sure exactly where.
I have played a million little fairgrounds like this in my circus days, so I was right at home. It was a perfect overnight stop.
On the next day’s drive, billboard commercials for the “World’s Best Huckleberry Shakes” frequently interrupted the spectacularly scenic drive. And I mean they interrupted a lot—not quite on the scale of Wall Drug, Rock City, or South of the Border, but almost.
The marketing worked … and by the time I arrived at the St. Regis Travel Center, I headed straight to Huck’s Grill to have one. I have nothing to compare it to so I can’t in good conscience declare it the “world’s best,” but it was darn good. Thick and with lots of berry flavor. A tad too sweet for my personal taste. But it’s a milkshake, so that is to be expected.
This is a full-service “travel stop” with Huck’s Grill restaurant serving up what looked like good burgers (although I did not indulge), a fuel station, and gift shops.
There’s plenty of RV parking and even a campground next door for those who want to stay. I needed to make more miles.
Amazing pizza at Anelare Winery
The next night I used my Harvest Hosts membership and booked an overnight stay at Anelare Winery in Benton City, WA.
Parking was quiet and scenic, and the staff was friendly.
I tried a tasting flight of wine. All were good… but not quite good enough to justify the prices, in my opinion. For a nice wine-tasting stop for a glass or to sip wine and look at the scenery with friends, the wines were fine. I just didn’t end up taking any home.
However, the pizza served here is absolutely not to be missed! Especially the Blueberry Goat.
I have eaten a lot of pizza in my life all over the world, including a pizza tour of Italy. I used to own a pizza restaurant! There are lots of different types of pizzas, but in the category of creative/gourmet pizzas, this might just be my all-time favorite.
It might sound strange but the combination of goat cheese, prosciutto, arugula and blueberries works beautifully together, creating an unforgettable dish whose sum is much greater than its parts.
I would go back again for this pizza alone. And I will be making variations of it at home, as well. In fact, I think it would also work exceptionally well with Aronia Berries, and lord knows I still have a bunch of those!
Kudos to Anelare’s pizza chef for knowing EXACTLY how to cook the perfect pizza. And for knowing his oven intimately well. I watched him tend the pizzas while we chatted.
He knew precisely where the hot spots were and, more importantly, how to use them. The finished pizza almost tasted wood-fired, and it certainly looked wood-fired, but there was no wood fire involved. Outstanding!
The pizza was so good I ordered another one to go and had it for dinner the next day.
Nirvana Cannabis Company
After traveling through so many unfriendly cannabis states lately, I was more than ready to return to the freedom of the West!
I decided to hit up a cannabis dispensary before settling into my upcoming adventures. I found a good one in Richland, WA, on the way to my next campground. Nirvana Cannabis Company offered a nice selection, reasonable prices, and an easy shopping experience. But, best of all, this cannabis dispensary has a HUGE parking lot big enough for RVers (or truckers) to park in while shopping, and plenty of space to turn around!
Plymouth Park Army Corps of Engineers Campground near McNary Dam
If you’ve been following this series, you already know I am a BIG fan of Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) campgrounds. Especially if you have a U.S. Park Pass that makes nearly all federal campgrounds half-price. Such was the case at Plymouth Park on Lake Umatilla on the Columbia River, near Umatilla, Oregon.
This was my least favorite of all the ACE campgrounds I have stayed in, which is not to say it wasn’t still a great value and good experience. It definitely was.
It’s just that there was not much to actually see and do at the campground itself as there has been at other ACE campgrounds. The public beach and day-use area of the park were closed for the season, so I am sure it’s different at other times of year.
Also, a thick line of large green trees totally obscured the view of the Columbia River that ran on the other side of them.
Nonetheless, the campground, like all other ACE campgrounds, was well kept and managed. It offered exceptional value for full hookups, with far more privacy per site than most traditional campgrounds.
Plymouth Park Campground made a good home base. I could get lots of work done and there were plenty of things to see and do nearby, including hiking around the beautiful McNary Dam a short walk or drive away. And, of course, if you are into fishing, that is a big draw around here.
The middle of the Columbia River is the dividing point between the Washington and Oregon border. When traveling around it’s easy to lose track of which side you are on. (Hint: If they pump your gas for you, you are in Oregon!)
There are small towns close by the campground on both the Washington and Oregon sides of the border. Likewise, shopping and restaurants are readily accessible. I was even able to get an issue with my Verizon hotspot looked at at a Verizon store less than 10 miles from the campground.
I took a short trip to Pendleton, OR, hoping to tour the woolens factory while not paying attention to the fact that this attraction is closed on Sundays. Instead, I walked the riverfront trail that winds through the small town and surrounding forest.
John Day Dam Army Corps of Engineers Campground
My next destination was the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, area where I was meeting family members that weekend. I planned on going slowly and finding rest area parking for the night in between leaving Plymouth Park and arriving at my Portland campground, but I happened upon an even better option, right along I-94 at the John Day Dam.
The Army Corps of Engineers has a number of HUGE dam, lock, and water control projects in this region. I had just stayed near one by the McNary Dam, but as I was driving along I-84 taking in the picture postcard views of the rolling Columbia River on my right side, I saw signs for the John Day Dam. (This has to be one of the most scenic Interstate drives in the entire country.)
As big as the McNary Dam is, the John Day Dam dwarfs it.
As I passed, I noticed a number of RVs parked along the waterfront below. The general scene reminded me of how I found another great waterfront camping spot at Walker Lake in Nevada last year.
So I got off the interstate to investigate, and I found another Army Corps of Engineers Campground. This one had no hookups, but I did not need them, having just come from having a full hookup campground. Best of all, these drop-dead-gorgeous paved waterfront campsites are free to stay in for up to 14 days!
The campground spans a fair amount of territory. The closer you get to the dam, the more crowded it gets. It appears some of these folks might be staying longer than the 14-day limit.
Less than 1/4 mile away, however, it was only me and one other truck camper in a camping area so LARGE you would not know there were any neighbors at all unless you went outside to look around.
I watched a full moon rise up over the mountains on the highway side of the scene. Eventually, it lit the river and surrounding area enough for me to go for a nighttime walk.
Fishing is HUGE here, especially salmon fishing. As I was taking my midnight stroll, a fish jumped out of the water almost right next to where I was walking. I was facing away so did not see it, but the noise was so loud it startled the crap out of me! It had to have been a whopper!
Going out after dark also revealed the John Day Dam in a spectacular new way. It was lit up in a red, white, and blue splendor that reflected the patriotic colors back from the river below. It remained that way until dawn’s early light.
Had I known about this campground, I would have spent more time here and less time at Plymouth Park, as I can easily go a week or two without hookups as long as I can put my solar panels out and the weather cooperates.
I had a strong, reliable internet signal. My space was quiet and felt safe. If not, there were other people, including Army Corps of Engineers staff, on the property.
However, I was meeting my nephew Richard and his wife, Tracy, in Portland the following night, so I made a mental note of this terrific free camping place on the Washington/Oregon border to return to on another trip.
NEXT WEEK: Riverfront camping in Portland, OR; corn maze fun; exploring the Oregon Fruit Loop.
Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:
- Week 20: Visiting Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood
- Week 19: Amazing and Amusing South Dakota Tourist Attractions
- Week 18: Three Minnesota Army Corps of Engineers Campgrounds
- Week 17: Three Great Minnesota Harvest Hosts Stops
- Week 16: Mississippi River Camping and Wisconsin Wines
- Week 15: Why you should avoid the PA Turnpike; Back to Chicago
- Week 14: The Urban RV in Baltimore and Atlantic City
- Week 13: Virginia Camping on a Civil War Battleground, Montpelier, Monticello, Fried Chicken and more!
- Week 12: Summersville Lake Camping – Almost Heaven in West Virginia
- Week 11: Ohio Turnpike Camping, Airstreams, Caverns, and Beer
- Week 10: Circus World, Wisconsin Dells, Gearing up to Go Again
- Week 9: Circus Graveyard; Taste of Chicago Festival
- Week 8: Iconic Chicago foods (get ready to drool); RV electrical issues
- Week 7: Moochdocking in the Chicago burbs; Re-evaluating this trip
- Week 6: An EXPLOSIVE tire blowout and an emotional goodbye
- Week 5: RVing in Kansas, and an amazing campground
- Week 4: Having fun on more Colorado explorations
- Week 3: RVing during Colorado’s surprise snow, and a castle!
- Week 2: Friday the 13th, road trip woes set in
- Week 1: RVing sites and attractions in Las Vegas and beyond