Cruise the Coast with the Comforts of Home

Renting an RV is a great way to enjoy all that the coast has to offer.

The oregon coast is one of the Northwest's most popular RV travel spots, and if you'd like to join in the fun for a few days, you don't have to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on a luxury motor home. Just rent one.

Equipped with many of the comforts of home, including refrigerators, microwave ovens, bathrooms, TVs and DVD players, motor homes can provide a uniquely pleasant experience for families traveling with children, elderly parents, even pets. People who feel under the weather can stretch out in comfort, while kids can take potty breaks without pulling into a rest area. And in an RV, you keep your own timetable, stopping for the night whenever you want. "It's like taking a little condo with you," says Susan Willson, owner of Willson's RV Rentals in Stayton.

According to, gas coaches typically get between 5 and 10 miles per gallon, while diesel coaches can be expected to travel between 9 and 14 miles per gallon. So you'll be paying more for gas, but saving on lodging and meals.

Several companies such as Willson's that specialize in RV rentals are scattered throughout western Oregon, from Portland to Medford. They'll teach you how to drive an RV and how to operate the appliances, and they'll usually provide 24-hour phone assistance in case you run into problems on the road. Oregon Coast residents will have to venture inland to find an RV rental outfit, since there are none on the coast. Most of those within range operate along the Interstate 5 corridor. And there aren't many of them.

So, perhaps the first thing to know about renting an RV is that you should reserve one. Eleanor McGehee, owner of Turn Key RV Rentals Inc. in Eugene, says she was busier than ever this year. Demand at Turn Key is typically heaviest the second weekend in July, ironically, because so many vacationers and family reunion planners want to avoid the Fourth of July, and the first weekend of August, because of the annual Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home. The week of the Fourth itself is sometimes not booked until a couple of days beforehand, she says. When school starts in September, people who don't want to fight the rush step up, and dealers often stay busy through October.

Story by. John Strieder

RV at a turnout

Photo by Alicia Spooner

Where to rent:

Turn Key RV Rentals Inc.

RVs to Go

Willson's RV Rental

Where can go you go with a rented RV? Get creative. People use them as a convenient place to sleep after riding their "quads" on the beach at night, McGehee says. Or they'll trek family members out to the coast for summer family reunions. Don't worry about passes in the Coast Range, McGehee says. Today's motor homes are more than powerful enough to scale them. "There are not very many places you can not take a motor home," she says. "A 26-foot or 29-foot model can go pretty much anywhere that it should go."

If the prospect of piloting one of these behemoths is making you nervous, keep in mind that dealers will get you comfortable behind the wheel before you leave the lot. When customers come to pick up an RV from Willson's dealership, she gives them a thorough walk-through, complete with a cheat sheet and owner's manual. She also lets them practice backing up on the lot.

Mark West, owner of RVs To Go Inc. in Wilsonville, says his orientation covers tail swing issues and height clearance. "People are more apprehensive when learning to drive an RV, and that's good," he says. "That's a good thing for us. They won't be daydreaming when they're driving."

When West's customers call him with problems on the road, he says, it's most often related to something that didn't sink in during the orientation. "There's a lot of power systems: AC, DL, LP. Appliances use one, two, or all three. I quiz people after my orientation. I've made some people watch it again."

Willson says that when people call her hotline with trouble, "most of the time, it's pretty simple things. I walk them through it, try this, try that."

Rv'sNewbie drivers sometimes have a hard time getting used to plugging into power at an RV park, then switching all their systems back to RV power the next morning, McGehee says. Small children fascinated by the RV toilet have been known to hold the handle down and empty all the rig's water into the sewage tank. One child flushed a whole container of Baby Wipes down a toilet, she remembers. The solution? "Guidance and gloves."

In the rare event of a flat tire, rental outfits will likely want you to wait for road service. "Sometimes people panic in terms of having a flat tire," Willson says. "You have to have road service do it."

Finding a place to park for the night is easy. RV parks operate up and down the coast, and state and national parks are RV-savvy too.

A more common problem, Willson says, is people not knowing where to find dump sites for their sewage. Oregon offers lots of options, in state and private parks and in most rest areas. Just look for the "Dump Site" sign: blue, with a white picture of a trailer and a "J" that represents a sewer hose.

Pets are usually welcome. Willson asks for a deposit. One renter's nervous poodle chewed through $800 worth of seatbelts, she notes.

Insurance is usually provided by the renter. Check with your auto insurance company to see if your plan covers motor homes, or if you can purchase a rider from your carrier.

Finally, if you are comfortable with striking out on your own, you may be able to find a private owner who will lease you his or her vehicle. You'll need to verify that the RV and all its appliances are in good shape before you take off, and keep in mind that a private owner may not be carrying commercial insurance on the RV.

Whether you rent from a dealer or private owner, make sure you're comfortable with the decision you make. Because once you hit the road in your rented RV, surrounded by all the comforts of home, you'll be ready to relax.

Oregon Coast September/October 2007

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