In October we towed our 30-foot fifth wheel from Langley, British Columbia, Canada, to San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico. Along the way we had a few lovely stops, including at golf courses and at the home of friends. We also enjoyed a sunny two weeks at Rio Bend Golf and RV Resort in El Centro, California, before tackling the border crossing into Mexico. This post includes our adventures until just before we left El Centro for Mexico. It includes some route tips for any RVers planning a similar trip south.
The photo below is of my phone on the day we were leaving. It shows the improvement in temperatures that we could look forward to as we drove south. The temperatures are in degrees Celsius.
Below is the route we took. Most of the distances were short enough that we seldom felt over-tired by the towing. Note that we changed the second-to-last leg, from Bakersfield to El Centro, in order to travel on quieter roads, and avoid traffic near Los Angeles. More details on this later on in this post.
Tulalip Casino Stop, Seattle
Our first stop was at Tulalip Casino, near Seattle, where you can park your rig for free in the enormous parking lot at the back. Unfortunately, we cannot go to any of their restaurants, because they all reek of cigarette smoke. (They try hard to filter the air, but you can’t hide cigarette smoke.) The casino is right next to the highway, and easy to get to. Once you get there, it is a bit tricky to find the RV parking. Basically, just try to get behind the casino, and then look for parked RVs. Thanks to Norrie for tipping us off about this great stop!
The casino is close to all kinds of useful shopping, so it is a great first stop after you cross the border with an empty fridge and pantry! On this occasion, we did not want to unhitch the fifth wheel. So, we walked about half a mile to Walmart and stocked up on groceries and wine for the trip south. We used our cart to get all our supplies back.
Harvest Hosts Golf Courses
As you can see, we stopped at three different golf courses on our RV trip south. We found these through Harvest Hosts, which hooks you up with golf courses, wineries, fruit farms, and museums, where you can stay overnight with your RV for free. We really enjoy our Harvest Hosts stays. It costs less than a hundred dollars per year, and saves us many hundreds of dollars on every trip. You can find out more about Harvest Hosts at this link, and also get a generous discount off the annual membership fee.
Our two best stays on this trip were at the Langdon Farms Golf Club and the Laurel Hill Golf Course. Both are easy to access and have lovely grounds and golf courses. At Langdon you park in the huge overflow parking, usually all alone. There is a very good restaurant at the club, which is open all day.
At the Laurel Hill Golf Course, you are in the corner of the main parking lot, parked under lovely oak trees. As with Langdon Farms, we were the only rig there. They had a small grill, where the super-friendly cook stayed late to make Maggie a burger after we got there (they were supposed to close at 3). So if you stop there, bear in mind that you cannot get restaurant food after 3.
We sat out under the oak trees while at the Laurel Hill Golf Course, enjoying the peace and quiet. The dogs were free to roam the lovely grounds (although they never go further than 20 feet away!)
Stopover with Friends in Redding, California
The 6751 Woodrum Circle address on the map is the address of the Redding Airport, Redding. We don’t actually stay at the airport – we stay just down the road, at the home of Nancy and Richard, good friends from our Baja California caravan trip. They own a lovely big property, where they kindly allow us to park our rig, hook up to electricity and water, and take a break from driving. We always enjoy our time with them, and the barbecues we share. And Redding itself is a hidden gem, with many lovely spots to visit.
Elkhorn Golf Club, Stockton
From Redding we headed to Elkhorn Golf Club, Stockton, also part of Harvest Hosts. RVs are supposed to park at the far end of the parking lot. The parking was easy, and the restaurant was nice, with excellent service. Unfortunately, at 5 the next morning, the entire grounds crew stood directly outside our RV window and had a very loud conversation. There was no need at all to choose just that part of the otherwise empty parking lot to have their conversation, so it was either deliberately mean or just incredibly thoughtless. Whichever, we won’t be staying there again.
Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield, via the Horrible 99
From Elkhorn Golf Club in Stockton we drove to the Orange Grove RV Park, which is probably the nicest RV park in Bakersfield. We took the 99 to Bakersfield, which was a bad mistake. It was Google Map’s first choice, and we thought it would be a quieter highway. But in fact, we should have stayed on the I5. The 99 was packed with 18-wheelers all the way, many of them being driven aggressively, and the road surface was astonishingly bad for about 40% of the trip. We will never take that route again.
We did enjoy our short stay at Orange Grove RV Park, which has good facilities and polite, friendly campers.
We enjoyed our stay at Orange Grove RV Park, even though the oranges were not ripe yet, and the pool is not heated. For the latter reason, we won’t be staying there again. I LOVE pools, but unheated pools are just basically useless in the fall. I always feel like I have been cheated when a place advertises a pool, and then when you get there, looking forward to a swim, and it is unusable. These days, I always ask if the pool still exists, and if it is heated, before I make a booking.
An Alternative Route from Bakersfield to El Centro
After Bakersfield, we took the advice of friends and took a more secondary route. Apparently, the primary route as recommended by Google Maps will take you through extremely heavy traffic near San Francisco.
Instead, we took the CA-58 E to the I-15N, to CA-247S, to CA-62 W, to I-10E , to the 865 Expressway, to the 86 (which is the best part of the whole trip, past the Salton Sea), to El Centro. Then we followed our Garmin 780 RV GPS to the Rio Bend RV and Golf Resort. This route is shown on the map below.
I added in the stops shown on the map to force Google Maps to take the route we wanted. Google Maps really, really, REALLY did not want us to take this route. But in fact, we had no stops except one at a gas station near Barstow, and one on the side of the 247 to switch drivers. There were absolutely no rest stops for the entire 7.5 hours, except for one that we found – hilariously – just 5 minutes before we reached our destination! The driving was by and large easy, apart from one or two mountains (notably the Tehachapi Mountains) and a steep descent into the Palm Springs desert area. Some of it was very quiet and desolate, as if we were in the middle of nowhere. That was on the 247, which Maggie found a little spooky.
On the other hand, there were no stressful heavy-traffic parts. Once you descend into the Yukka Valley, it is very easy driving all rest of the way. Your GPS will NOT take you on this route – you will have to keep overriding it. It was not until we were on the I10 East that our Garmin 770 RV GPS was finally on the same page as us, so we were able to follow it from there. Of course, the I10 is a super easy towing highway, so we were relieved to get to the turnoff to the I-10E from CA-62 W.
It took us onto the road for Brawley/El Centro on the 865 Expressway. This gets you to the 86, which is an easy bit of flat driving next to the Salton Sea.
This was our longest day of driving – we took turns driving for that total of 7.5 hours, which was the longest period of time we have ever towed (the map says about 6 hours, but that does not factor in towing). This route added about 50 miles and a whole lot of time to the trip.
Make Sure to Get Gas at Barstow!
Just before Barstow we exited to the CA247 and followed that south. At this exit, you can see gas stations to the left (north) and right (south). It’s a good idea to gas up there, as there are limited possibilities on the very desolate road ahead.
We chose the gas station on the right, which was a mistake. It was very difficult to access this gas station with a trailer. I had to get out and direct as Maggie reversed the fifth wheel out into traffic. And because she was so stressed, she could not find the walkie talkie, so there was a whole lot of yelling. We would have been better to have gone to one of the gas stations on the left, and then doubled back.
I am not sure we would do that route again. But if we do, we will definitely stop off in the Palm Springs area. That would be an easy stop, and the trip from there to El Centro would be a comparative walk in the park. Also, we would take more water in the truck. Two bottles of water and two teas were not enough for a 7.5 mile drive through the desert. However, there were some opportunities to stop at gas stations, so we could have got supplies if we had become really desperate.
Note that if you are doing this trip in a northward direction, you should go on the eastern side of the Salton Sea, because there is an agricultural inspection if you travel north on the western side, and it can delay you for as long as two hours. We saw traffic stopped for endless miles, waiting for that inspection. It would definitely be faster and less stressful to go around the Salton Sea.
The Rio Bend RV & Golf Resort, El Centro, California
At the end of that long drive was the peaceful oasis of the Rio Bend RV Resort. After two weeks there, we did not want to leave!
Rio Bend is one of those RV resorts that has it all – most notably, kind, helpful, and friendly strangers who quickly become good friends. We especially valued meeting John and Susan from Vancouver Island, and also Bob and Candace, from San Felipe.
The Rio Bend Resort also has a lovely pool and pool-side bar, a fabulous golf course with two man-made lakes, and the best gym I have seen in an RV resort.
Add in regular events and friendly staff, and it is a real winner! Also, the gym at Rio Bend is the best we have seen at any RV resort. It even has free weights and weight benches. I used the opportunity to tackle a lot of muscles that have not been tackled for a very long time! Note that the rates at Rio Bend are very good in October, but double in November. They do have a lot of good deals, and Passport America discounts.
One of the best things about the deserts of California, Arizona, and Mexico, are the spectacular sunsets. Below is the sunset over the lake and golf course at at Rio Bend RV & Golf Resort.
In the next post, I will tell you all about the last leg of our trip – crossing the border into Mexico, and heading south to El Dorado Ranch, San Felipe, Baja California. That post will include a video I made about the border crossing, and about how to navigate through Mexicali to Highway 5, and how to find El Dorado Ranch. Watch this space!
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