Big City RVing Guides: Portland, OR & Seattle, WA

Published Categorized as RVs

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Visiting Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington by utilizing Amtrak while boondocking in a remote location these days has become a bit more complicated that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Simply put, while there were once four round-trip trains per day in this corridor, those numbers have been cut in half, so making a day trip to either one of these locations is not really practical because of the time schedules.

However, an overnight trip to either one of these cities is a great option if you’re willing to leave your rig at a secure boondocking location. In this guide, I’ll share one of my favorite sites to boondock in this region and why you should stay at this gem too.

Where to stay

If you follow my articles regularly, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of boondocking America. While there are numerous places to boondock between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, one of my favorites is the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery which is located about six miles downriver from the Mayfield Dam and a short commute to the Centralia train station.

Owned by the Tacoma Power Company, this hatchery is maintained by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and is located on the Cowlitz River. Other than a portable bathroom, you’ll find no frills here at this site, however, it is a great place to launch your boat for fishing during the fall salmon run. With that said, you’re allowed to park your rig here free of charge for three days which makes an overnight trip to Seattle or Portland very affordable and convenient.

Getting to Seattle

Getting to Seattle from the Centralia, WA station is easy and affordable. Coach class tickets cost $19 each way and the travel time is approximately 2-2½ hours depending upon which train you board.

Schedules courtesy of Amtrak

As you can see by the time schedules, using Amtrak for a day-trip to Seattle while boondocking the I-5 corridor from Centralia, WA is really not that practical and I would highly recommend an overnight trip to that area. However, this can become problematic if you are traveling with pets…especially dogs. Unfortunately, Amtrak does not allow pets on board their trains unless they are certified support animals so if you have animal that needs to travel with you without this criteria, then this may not be the travel guide for you.

Staying in Seattle

Visiting Seattle is a great experience and if you do visit it by train, be sure to take the train ride into the King Street Station, which puts you into the heart of the downtown district. There’s numerous hotels in this district as well as five-star eateries so I would suggest you check-in to one of those fine hotels and then make your way toward the Seattle Space Needle for some great views of the city. Next, be sure to visit the Pike Place Fish Market on the city’s waterfront for a great dining experience as well as a look at how the Pacific Northwest’s seafood industry is marketed now and throughout its history.

Another Seattle gem to visit is the University of Washington’s Botanical Gardens and Arboretum located at Marshal Park in the city’s northeast side. Admission is free of charge, they are pet friendly, and they are open from sunrise until 8 PM. Its sprawling 230 acres contain an amazing and dynamic assortment of plants, with some found nowhere else but in the Northwest Pacific region of the United States.

Making your way toward Portland

Just like the Seattle schedule, a day trip to Portland, OR by train is just not possible when boondocking the I-5 corridor in this area. However, leaving your rig behind overnight is a great alternative and one I would recommend. Transit times for both daily trains to Portland are approximately two hours in length and the return trains are a 1½ hour journey. The cost is $24 for a one-way coach class ticket.

Schedules courtesy of Amtrak

Visiting the Portland area

When staying in Portland overnight, be sure to disembark your train at its main terminal which would be Union Station. This puts you in the heart of its historic downtown district and in the company of many quality hotels, eclectic eateries and of course its numerous breweries and coffeehouses.

The iconic Pittock Mansion is a great place to explore when you visit the Portland, OR area. Built in 1914, the Pittock Mansion was a modern home with unique architecture and the latest technology for its time. Additionally, the landscaping and gardens around their grounds is outstanding and if you’re a nature lover they should not be missed.

If you’re a fan of railroading and its history, be sure to visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Center located at 2250 SE Water Ave. This facility is free of charge to visit, but because it’s operated solely by volunteers, their hours of operation are limited to weekends only so you should plan on calling ahead and making some advanced arrangements when visiting this site.

The Portland Art Museum is another great place to visit as is the city’s various parks, riverfront and of course its eclectic streetscapes mixed with modern art and design. In short, a visit to Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington should never be missed even if it does make it an overnight adventure.

For me, staying at a free campsite while visiting these places make it even more fun. I hope it does for all of you as well. Stay safe my friends, and I hope to see you on the road sometime.

If you want to visit these places and thinking about renting an RV, be sure to read our guide on the best RV rental companies.

By Brian

Born and raised in Michigan, contributing writer Brian C. Noell is a retired hospitality industry professional that now works remotely as a visual artist, writer and photographer as he travels around the United States in an RV with his dog Lizzy, an eighty pound Appenzeller hound dog.