Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

We spent the first 30+ years of our lives in East Central Wisconsin but never made it up to the northern border along Lake Superior where you’ll find Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It’s a shame, because the city of Bayfield, which is the main gateway to the islands, is super cute and the lakeshore is beautiful.

Fun Fact: At 487 residents (as of the 2010 census), Bayfield is the smallest official city in Wisconsin. For a new city to be incorporated today, state regulations require a population of at least 1,000 residents, so Bayfield would be considered a village with those parameters. But don’t let the smallness scare you — the city has some great food and retail options, and of course, outdoor recreation.

As we had spent the previous three nights dry camping, we wanted to have full hookups for a few days while we were in Bayfield. There are not a lot of options in this area, so we were fortunate to get two different sites for two nights each at Apostle Islands Area Campground. The first two nights were in a full hookup site and the second two nights were in a water and electric site.

Apostle Islands Area Campground

85150 Trailer Court Rd, Bayfield, WI 54814

www.aiacamping.com

  • Partial and Full Hookups Sites
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Camper for Rent
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms
  • Pay Showers
  • Fire Ring
  • Picnic Table
  • Dump Station
  • Camp Store
  • WiFI
  • Playground
  • Boat/Trailer Parking

Navigating through the campground could end up being a little awkward due to the fact the streets are really only wide enough for one-way traffic, but two-way travel is allowed on most of them. Luckily, we never encountered an issue, but there were traffic jams near the dump station at times because of its location right on the side of a main thoroughfare. Our first site was #27, which was a full hookup (30 amp) site. It was an easy back in until we noticed after we had put the jack down and unhitched that we needed to back up about another foot in order to reach the water hookup that was in a really awkward spot. As a matter of fact, the electric hookup was in a very weird spot at this site as well, and we noticed this was a common occurrence at the full hookup sites in this section of the campground. After hitching up again, putting the jack up, and backing up another foot, we were good to go with all of our hookups. Kind of. Our sewer hose decided to fall apart on us and were worried we were going to have to drive at least a half hour to the closest Walmart to get a replacement. Luckily, the campground has a precent decent camp store with RV supplies, and had what we needed. Crisis diverted!

Site 27 is an end site, so it was very private and we had nice tree views.
Site 27 is a good size and easy to get into.
There’s a parking spot off to the side for site 27.
The electric hookup is on the wrong side, and because we had to back up so far to hook our water up, we opened the door right to the pedestal.
The water hookup is very far back and off to the side, basically in the site next door. It took us a little bit to determine this was in fact our water spigot. At least the sewer hookup was close enough that we didn’t have to break out our extension, and it was downhill, so that’s a win!

Our second site was #32 — a gigantic, woodsy, water and electric site. This was also a back-in site, but a little more difficult to get into as we had to make more than a 90-degree turn going down a steep decline. Thankfully, because of the size of the site, we had a lot of room to work with.

In site 32, a small stream ran below the back of our site.
Thankfully, the hookups at site 32 were in a much more sensical location.

Even though we had the site reserved for two nights, we ended up only staying one. We left early to avoid some weather that would have made our last day not very enjoyable. As we were moving on to a location without hookups, we made sure to fill water and stopped at the dump station before departing.

Food and Drink

Disclaimer: We still continue to diligently social distance and keep our public outings to a minimum, and on an infrequent basis, we partake in food/drink situations that are outdoors with a lot of spacing between tables. Because of this, we most likely missed out on some dining opportunities, but it gave us peace of mind.

Thanks to the weird hookups situation and having to get a new sewer hose, it took us longer than anticipated to get situated on our first day. When we finally did, we drove into town to find something to eat. It was that weird time of day between lunch and dinner and the only place serving food at the time was Greunke’s, which is both a restaurant and inn. We ordered a trout plate, which was HUGE — definitely enough for two people to share. It was the best trout we had ever had and we enjoyed it on their outdoor patio.

We picked up apple cider donuts from Erickson Orchard on two different occasions, as well as some apple cider. We enjoyed the first batch of donuts on a hike and the second batch for breakfast/travel snacks on the day we left.

We got lunch at The Deck at the Bayfield Inn on our second day. Missy got the fish tacos and Travis got a burger, and both were absolutely delicious. They were very diligent with their COVID protocols, which was nice to see. Actually, every establishment in this area strictly adhered to protocols that the city had put in place. The views were beautiful from the rooftop deck and the cocktails were tasty!

We walked along the waterfront after lunch as it was a gorgeous early fall day. We came upon the Maritime Museum that looked very intriguing from the outside, but it was closed — we wouldn’t have gone in on this trip anyways.

The last food establishment that we patronized in town was to pick up some smoked trout at Hoop’s Fish Market. You guys. It was so, so, so good! We bought two filets — only one is shown in the picture below — but we wish we would have gotten at least twice as much.

Hiking

Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail

This is an out and back that can be as long as 11 miles (where you’ll find a campsite), but the normal turnaround point for most people is at 3.6 miles. We ended up doing a little over five miles round trip, which gave us plenty of opportunity to see some nice views and enjoy our donuts at the halfway point. It’s an easy to moderately difficult trail with more elevation gain the further you go, and the first 3/4 mile is a plank trail.

Lost Creek Falls Trail

We really enjoyed this hike! It’s about 2.5 miles roundtrip and a decent stretch has boardwalks, making this fairly doable for all skill levels — though it does get a bit more aggressive toward the end. I’m assuming this trail is pretty busy during the summer, but we had the falls to ourselves on the late September Tuesday afternoon that we went.

Obviously, one of the main things to do at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is to kayak amongst the islands and various sea caves. When we visited, the kayak outfitters were no longer renting out gear for the season. I did find one that was still doing guided tours, but only on the weekends, and we were there midweek. Boo. It was probably for the better anyways. There were [rough water? rough sea? high surf advisory?] warnings while we were there, so we probably would have capsized anyways, because 2020. There are various tours offered by Apostle Islands Cruises, though the schedule was a bit diminished this season. Again, because 2020. A lot of the islands have lighthouses and camping, accessible via the tours/water taxis. There’s also a ferry to Madeline Island, which while not technically part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, is the largest island and has commercial development such as restaurants, as well as full-time residents. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to experience Apostle Islands from the water, but that’s the breaks when you still work full time — you can’t be confined by a ferry/cruise schedule.

Regardless of our waterless adventures, we enjoyed finally visiting this part of our home state.

A Harvest Hosts Stay at a UP Ski Resort

After we left Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, we drove west along the Upper Peninsula towards our next stop at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Northern Wisconsin. We spent one night at a Harvest Hosts at Big Snow Resorts’s Indianhead Mountain in Wakefield, MI. This seems to be a pretty popular stop for people, as three other RVs also spent the night. We parked at the edge of their large parking lot and our particular spot was pretty unlevel, but we were able to make it work. The SkyBar was open for food and drinks, so we stopped in to get some beverages and a basket of fries. We enjoyed the views from their large outdoor deck, which overlooked the chairlifts and the changing leaves. We walked the property for a bit, going down and then up the ski runs, to get a bit of post-drive, post-beer, post-fries exercise. Big Snow was another peaceful, enjoyable Harvest Hosts stay. If you’d like more info about Harvest Hosts or would like 15% off a one-year membership, follow this link to their website.

Of note, Wakefield is one of four counties in Michigan that is in the central timezone, while the rest of Michigan is in the eastern timezone. We didn’t realize this and it confused us for a bit.

A Brief Stay in the UP: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Bay Furnace Campground

As we drove from our previous stay at North Bay Shore County Park in Oconto, Wisconsin to Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan, we were awestruck by the beauty of the landscape of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — from the gorgeous views, homes, and towns along the shores of Green Bay and Little Bay de Noc to the northern coast of the peninsula on Lake Superior. We didn’t know much about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which helped to keep expectations low, but I can honestly say that it’s in the top few destinations for one of the most beautiful places we have visited in all of our travels.

Our original plan for visiting Pictured Rocks was to stay at Kewadin Casino, which is located across the street from the Hiawatha National Forest’s Bay Furnace Campground. The casino is free and offers a few sites with electric hookups. However, when we were about to turn into the casino, we decided to take a spin through the campground to see if there were any available sites. About half the sites are reservable and the other half first come, first served. I had previously checked on recreation.gov and all of the reservable sites were booked. Reviews on Campendium let me know that this is a very popular campground in the area, so we weren’t sure what we’d find, but figured we could just stick with our original plan of the casino if nothing was available. We arrived in the area on Thursday, September 17th at around 1:00pm. There are two loops in the campground and we passed the first to drive through the second. We immediately came upon Site 2 on the left and it was empty. It looked like a fantastic site, so we snagged it. We then did a very quick walk around the loop and only found one other site available. Site 2 was large, deep, private, and level. Its only drawback — full shade. This meant we never got much sun to our solar panels, and even in the middle of the day with a cloudless sky, it was always dark in the Airstream. Small sacrifices to make for such a great site in such a great location. There are a few sites with a decent amount of sun to be found in each of the loops, but they all seemed to be reservable sites. Also, any of the sites with views of Lake Superior (this campground sits right on the cliff overlooking the lake) were also reservation only. However, those sites seemed to be quite a bit colder due to the wind off of the lake, and it was already pretty cold during our stay.

We didn’t realize it when we were there, but right before the campground sits the Bay Furnace Historic Site, which contains the ruins of a historic blast furnace that is the only thing remaining of an iron-making settlement called Onota that was destroyed by a fire in 1877. Apparently there’s a short trail around the furnace with informative signs.

Bay Furnace Campground – Hiawatha National Forest

E7900 W, M-28, Munising, MI 49862

www.recreation.gov

  • Mixture of Reservable and First Come, First Served Sites
  • Dry Camping
  • Water Available
  • Dump Station
  • Vault Toilets
  • Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • Firewood for Sale from Camphosts
  • Day-Use Picnic Area

After getting settled into our site, we drove about 25 minutes to the Miners Falls Trail. At 50 feet tall, Miners Falls is the park’s most powerful waterfall. The trail is about 1.2 miles roundtrip and has 140 feet of elevation gain. It’s an easy, popular hike that allows dogs, but when we went at about 3:30, there were few people. The trail is wide and well defined, but does involve some stairs towards the end in order to get down to the falls.

After the Miners Falls hike, we drove over to Miners Castle Overlook, which is the most popular spot in the park. However, at 4pm on a mid-September Thursday afternoon, it wasn’t overly congested, and pretty much everyone was wearing a mask. There are three different easily-accessible overlooks giving three different viewpoints of Miners Castle, which is probably the most iconic landmark at Pictured Rocks.

From there, we headed over to Miners Beach to get an up close look at the vibrant turquoise water. Miners Beach is about a mile long and reminded us so much of a Pacific Ocean beach!

On day 2 of our Pictured Rocks visit, we did the Chapel Loop hike. Many places list this hike as 10.1 miles, but pretty much every review agrees with our assessment — it’s longer than that. We clocked almost 11.5 miles roundtrip with over 830 feet of elevation gain. The full loop took us past Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Beach and continued along the Pictured Rocks cliffs to Mosquito River and Beach, then past Mosquito Falls as we made our way back to the parking lot. It’s not a difficult trail, per say, just long. While it is a loop trail, there are a number of trails that branch off of the main trail to get to various overlooks, waterfalls, and campgrounds, and some times it’s not completely clear which way is the right way. We hit the trailhead a little after 8am on a Friday morning and there were only about 7 or 8 vehicles in the parking lot. However, when we left the parking lot around 1:30pm, the parking lot was full and there were cars at least a mile down the road. Speaking of the road, it was a really rough drive in. We were impressed that a paved road was both washboard and riddled with potholes — a feat we had never seen achieved before. When we left the parking lot after the hike, it was apparent someone had come in with many truckloads of gravel and fixed the road a decent amount while we were hiking. As a matter of fact, towards the end of the road, we ended up right behind the gravel trucks. I’m not sure if the road is always terrible and has to be repaired often, or if we caught the last day of it being crappy right before they fixed it.

Chapel Falls
Chapel Falls
Chapel Rock
Chapel Beach
Chapel Beach
View of Chapel Rock from Chapel Beach
Views Along the Cliffs
Views Along the Cliffs
Lovers Leap Arch
Grand Portal Point
Seven miles in and still smiling!
We had never seen a campground pit toilet like this before. Great view; little privacy.
At the 9-mile mark; wondering how much further.
Along the Mosquito River
Mosquito Falls

Our assessment of this trail is that while there are beautiful views for about five miles of it, most of the trail is just a hike through the forest. Don’t me wrong, we love ourselves some forest hikes, but not 6.5 miles worth on an 11.5-mile hike. We went counter clockwise, which seems to be the way most people go, which means you run into few people if you do the entire loop. Some people seem to take the trail as far as Chapel Rock and then turn around, which is about seven miles roundtrip. If you take the loop in a clockwise direction, you deal with most of the elevation gain right away. We had high expectations of this trail because of how much people gushed about it on AllTrails, some even stating it’s the best trail they’ve hiked east of the Mississippi. After that kind of build up, we were disappointed, but most likely because we’ve had the opportunity to hike some amazing trails throughout the country with jaw dropping views and wildlife experiences.

After the hike, per recommendation from another RVer, we stopped by Muldoons to pick up some pasties (pronounced past-ee as opposed to paste-ee). Pasties are an Upper Peninsula thing and are basically a handheld meat or vegetable pie. According to the Muldoons website:

In approximately 1864, Finnish immigrants, along with Cornish miners, came to find work in the “Copper Country” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pasties were the perfect, hardy meal for the miners. Their wives were able to use the potatoes and meat from leftovers, and envelope them in a crust which could be placed in the miners’ pockets in the morning, and they would still be warm at lunchtime. Pasties came to be known as a “one-handed meal.” The miners, with their dirty hands, could hold on with one hand and eat their way through the pasty, leaving only a small crust left over. To this day, pasties remain a staple food and tradition for many Upper Peninsula families.

We also picked up a box of delicious home-made fudge for dessert!

Another way to explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by boat through Pictured Rocks Cruises. Missy isn’t big on boats, especially boats on water as rough as Lake Superior was when we visited, so we opted to explore the area by land instead. There are definitely more hikes and waterfalls and shops and restaurants to experience in this area, but we feel we got a good feel for the beauty and serenity of Pictured Rocks. We 100% would visit again and would definitely try to stay at Bay Furnace Campground again.

North Bay Shore County Park – Oconto, WI

After spending eight nights at the fairgrounds in our hometown, we were ready to stay somewhere a little more rural with a lot more space. As we made our way from our week-long stay in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we spent two nights at North Bay Shore County Park. This lovely little park is in Northeastern Wisconsin on the shore of Green Bay, about halfway between Oconto and Peshtigo. North Bay Shore is less than 25 minutes from the state border cities of Marinette, Wisconsin and Menominee, Michigan, and a little more than 2.5 hours from our next destination — Bay Furnace Campground in Munising, Michigan by Pictured Rocks.

Sometimes we get dazzled when we pull into a new campground/RV park. This was one of those times. This campground is small with 34 large, spread-out sites and is very well cared for. While the sites on the inner part of the loop are a little difficult to get into due to the placement of the site number signs, all of the sites are deep and seem to be level. A handful of sites back up to the bay and all sites have nice tree cover, with leaves that were starting to turn as we moved into autumn. Some sites appear to be tent sites, but still offer electricity. The RV sites have water and electric, and there’s a dump station available. The park also offers a boat launch and a nice jetty from which to fish. The nightly rate for this campground is $30, but they offer a midweek special August to October of $15 Monday through Wednesday. We happened to stay on a Tuesday and Wednesday night, so we only paid $30 (plus $5 reservation fee) for our two-night stay.

North Bay Shore County Park

500 Bay Road, Oconto, WI 54153

www.co.oconto.wi.us

  • RV Sites with Water & Electric
  • Tent Sites with Electric
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Level, Blacktopped Sites
  • Waterfront Sites
  • Dump Station
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring (Firewood for Sale Onsite)
  • Playground
  • Boat Launch
  • Fish Cleaning Station
  • Basketball Court
  • Camp Host (Referred to as ‘Caretaker’ – Seemed to Be MIA During Our Stay)
  • Recycling
Site 10 is a level, blacktopped site with W/E hookups
We had so much space between us and the neighboring sites!
The sites across from us backed up to Green Bay.
It was pretty empty our first night, but by Wednesday night, all of the RV sites were full.
The leaves were starting to change during our stay!
Two other Airstreams parked across from us on the second day.
There’s a nice little area to fish…
…or you can head out to the jetty.
Even the easily-accessible dump station had nice views!

There isn’t a whole lot happening in the immediate vicinity, be we did check out Copper Culture State Park, which was a short drive from the campground. The park is a small historic park that contains an ancient burial ground used by the Old Copper Complex Culture of early Native Americans during the Copper Age. There’s a small museum onsite which was closed when we visited, but we did walk the grounds along a short trail that winds through fields of wildflowers.

This was a perfect and peaceful two-night stopover and we would definitely stay at North Bay Shore Park again!

A Week at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds

We rolled into our hometown of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin on September 7 and spent eight nights at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are nothing fancy, but are in a good location, have full hookups, and are only $25/night. The sites are all back in, narrow, and have the hookups in weird locations. There’s a camp host onsite that pops out of his trailer the moment you pull in in case you don’t happen to know your site number. Both the electric box and the sewer connection are locked up when not in use, so his other job seems to be to lock and unlock the utilities.

Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds

520 Fond du Lac Avenue, Fond du Lac, WI 54935

www.fdlcountyparks.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Gravel, Level Sites
  • Some Sites Have Picnic Tables

The entire fairgrounds complex consists of the fairgrounds itself, including a grandstand (more about that later); a large park area with swing sets, slides, and other playground equipment; and the Fairgrounds Family Aquatic Center, which is an outdoor pool complex with water slides and a concession stand. Our stay during the week was very quiet; however, the weekend not so much. As I mentioned earlier, the sites here are very narrow. We were barely able to fit our truck next to our Airstream without infringing on our neighbor’s space. The sites are also laid out in such a manner that there are two rows of sites that back up to each other, with a fence (where the hookups are located) in between. A number of RVs rolled in on Friday morning and didn’t leave until late Sunday. At first we thought they were there because of the hockey tournament that seemed to be taking place at the ice center next door, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Then we figured maybe they were there to take part in the tractor pull scheduled at the grandstand for Sunday — yes, a tractor pull — but that wasn’t the case either. They just seemed to be locals camping. At a fairgrounds. In the rain. In really tight spots. We couldn’t understand how staying at the fairgrounds was a good time, but to each their own! They also took advantage of the fact that there is no quiet time listed on the very brief list of rules. The tractor pull on Sunday was a good six hours of tractor noises and air heavy with diesel fumes, as well as a stand full of mask-less spectators. So, we give two thumbs up for the fairgrounds if staying during the week, but two thumbs down due to the loud, crowded weekend.

This is how things looked during the week – lots of space and hardly anyone around.
This is how things looked on the weekend — crowded without enough room to park our truck in our site due to our neighbor’s slide.
This is the view from our back window on the weekend — close neighbors and tractors.
This is after the craziness of the busy weekend, but shows how close the grandstand where the tractor pull took place is.
Here are the hookups at the back of the site. We had to run the hose and the electric cord under the trailer and use our sewer hose extension in order to reach the connections. During the weekend, the people in the site behind us had to hook up to that water spigot as well.

There are three options in the immediate area for places to stay with an RV. The fairgrounds, Columbia Park, and Breezy Hill. Just like the fairgrounds, Columbia Park is owned and operated by the Fond du Lac County Parks and Fairgrounds Department, and you can make reservations through their website or over the phone. Unlike the fairgrounds, Columbia Park is water and electric only, but does have a bathhouse and dump station. As the park is a bit outside of the city, the sites are more spacious with a more natural park setting. Columbia Park itself is located on the shore of Lake Winnebago and also offers a boat launch.  We had originally reserved part of our time in Fond du Lac at Columbia Park, but instead decided to stay put at the fairgrounds where we were closer to family and had full hookups. The woman from the Parks Department that helped us switch our reservation around over the phone was very helpful both when we changed to staying at the fairgrounds for the duration and when I initially made the reservation and there was a billing issue. We stayed at the third option, Breezy Hill, during our visit to Fond du Lac in 2018. You can read about that here.

Another Harvest Hosts Win at Garvin Heights Vineyard

After our fourth day of driving, we spent the night at Garvin Heights Vineyard, a Harvest Hosts location. If you are unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, you can visit their website here. The gist is that for one low annual membership fee, you get access to over 1,250 locations throughout the country that allow you to spend the night in your RV on their property for free. These locations can include wineries, breweries, farms, museums, etc. You are expected to purchase something from the host, and at this particular stay, we bought a bottle of wine and pack of cheese curds. If you use this link, you’ll receive 15% off.

Garvin Heights is a small property, and the parking provided to us was in their (also small) parking lot. Thankfully when we arrived, there were not a lot of cars parked in the lot and we were able to back in to our designated spot without issue. The winery is only open a handful of hours each day from Thursday to Sunday (we stayed on a Sunday), but received quite a few visitors while we were there. As we are still being diligent about our social distancing, we opted out of doing any wine tasting, and instead just picked a bottle of their Great River Rouge for purchase. The winery closed at 5pm, and from that point on, it was a VERY quiet evening. We had hoped to utilize more Harvest Hosts for the previous few nights, but Sunday was the first day it wasn’t crazy hot and the evening into overnight temps were comfortable. We spent the night with the windows open to thoroughly enjoy the crisp air and all of the chirping and buzzing of the various insects and creatures that make this area home. It was one of the best nights of sleep either of us had experienced in a long time!

After getting settled in at the winery, we drove around Winona a little bit. We found our way to Garvin Heights City Park, which offers fantastic views of the city, Mississippi River and Buffalo, Wisconsin. The city is super cute and in any other time (sans pandemic, that is), we would have done a little more exploring. Instead, we headed back to the Airstream to enjoy some wine and play Scrabble.

Dakota Sunsets RV Park – Salem, SD

As we continued our drive east along I-90, we stopped for one night at Dakota Sunsets RV Park and Campground. This is a small, well-kept RV park with level sites and lots of trees. It appeared they recently re-graveled all of the sites and roads throughout the park, and turned what were previously some back-in sites into long pull-thru sites, which is what we ended up in. When I called to make a reservation, they didn’t take a deposit, but asked if we’d call to cancel if we weren’t going to make it. I had reserved a back-in site over the phone, but when we arrived, Polly (the owner) asked if we would prefer a pull-thru as she had one available. I said I would and she gave it to us for the price of a back-in along with a veteran discount. We ended up with a very nice site for a very reasonable price. This was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, but the park was not full and our stay was a peaceful one. Located about 45 minutes west of Sioux Falls, Dakota Sunsets advertises themselves as “the perfect overnight oasis for visitors who are traveling to and from our state’s many great attractions and scenic wonders”. It really was a great place to stop for the night! We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t provide insight on those.

Dakota Sunsets RV Park and Campground

25495 US Hwy 81, Salem, SD 57058

www.dakotasunsets.com

  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Full Hookups
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Pit
  • Trash Pick-Up at Site
  • Firewood/Ice Delivery to Site
  • Laundry
  • Wifi
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Playground
  • Rec Hall
  • Tent Sites
  • Horseshoes
  • Camp Store
Site 6 is a large, level pull-thru with trees, grass, a fire pit, and picnic table.

Rapid City/Black Hills KOA – Rapid City, SD

Of all the time we’ve spent in this part of South Dakota, this was the first time we stayed at the KOA in Rapid City.

To read about our past stays in the Rapid City/Black Hills area, check out these posts:

The Badlands and the Black Hills (2018)

The Black Hills of South Dakota – Custer, Hill City, and Spearfish (2019)

As we made our way east from Bozeman to Wisconsin, we opted for a night at the Rapid City KOA for one main reason — we wanted full hookups. Until the day previous to our stop in Rapid City, we hadn’t been in the Airstream for about 2.5 months. On the morning of the day we arrived at the KOA, we had filled our freshwater tank with bleach water in order to sanitize it on the ~5-hour drive, so we needed to have a water and sewer hookup to dump and flush things out.

Even though it was the Friday of Labor Day weekend during a summer when RV sales and rentals skyrocketed, the campground wasn’t full and it was a very quiet stay. We opted for a pull-thru site, which was long, level, and gravel. Our site was on the end of a row, so we had a large front yard with no neighbor. We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on those, but the office had a plexiglass partition up at the check-in desk and the employee was wearing a mask, so COVID precautions were in place.

Rapid City/Black Hills KOA

3010 E. Hwy 44, Rapid City, SD 57703

www.koa.com

  • Full Hookup Sites
  • Some Sites with Cable
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Pit
  • Cabins
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Store
  • Dump Station
  • Propane Fill
  • Air Pump
  • Dishwashing Station
  • Enclosed Dog Area
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Playground
  • Swimming Pool
  • Game Room
Site 217 is a Full Hookup (30amp) Pull-Thru
Site 217 is an end site with no neighbor out our front door.

Even though we were only there for a night, we made sure to get out and visit a couple of sights we hadn’t seen before in Rapid City. The first was the Chapel in the Hills (c. 1969), which is an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke (c. 1100s) in Laerdal, Norway. It was gifted by a local benefactor and holds worship services every evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day (though service is not being held right now). It’s gorgeous and definitely worth a visit. There’s also a fantastic park called Canyon Lake Park as you drive to the church, though we didn’t have time to stop and explore it.

The second place we visited, which was a short drive from the Chapel, was Dinosaur Park. It’s a kitschy little stop with a few (somewhat dilapidated) dinosaur statues on Skyline Drive, with decent views of the city and a little visitor center/gift shop. It’s free and probably fun for kids, but nothing to write home about.

 

A Second Visit to 7th Ranch RV Camp

In early September, we decided to take a trip to Wisconsin to visit family. We had been in our condo in Bozeman for about two months and were getting a tad bit restless, so after the very last item we had ordered for our new place arrived, we hitched up and hit the road.

The bulk of the drive from Bozeman east to Wisconsin is along I-90 East, and anyone that has driven this stretch of Interstate knows that it’s not the most exciting. And seeing as this would not be our first time driving this route, we knew it would be even less exciting for us. However, Garryowen, Montana is a good (almost) halfway point between Bozeman and Rapid City, which was to be our next stop.

Garryowen is tiny and there isn’t much of a town to speak of, but Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located a couple miles north in Crow Agency, Montana. The monument educates about a very important time period in our country’s history and is a very worthwhile stop. A visit can be accomplished in a few hours time.

We stayed at 7th Ranch RV Camp and visited the monument in July 2018, which you can read about and see photos of here.

I’ll add a few things about both 7th Ranch RV Camp and Little Bighorn Battlefield that weren’t highlighted in that post or have changed since our last visit:

  • When you make a reservation at 7th Ranch, they don’t take a deposit or any personal information. They just ask that if you aren’t going to make it, to call. This is great for people that like to change their minds or have a last-minute change of plans for some reason. However, it makes the check-in process longer than necessary, especially when multiple RVs show up at the same time. We waited 25 minutes to check in on a very hot day when we were fifth in line. If they took a little more info over the phone, this process could be sped up.
  • While the sites are nice, long pull-thrus, our site was very unlevel side to side and required three layers of levelers to get us to an acceptable place.

  • The visitor center at Little Bighorn is currently closed due to COVID. They have also blocked off every other parking spot in order to minimize the amount of visitors at a time.

  • If you travel with dogs, this might not be a stop for you. There are signs posted that dogs are not allowed outside of vehicles. I’m assuming this is because of the nature of this monument and the fact that a large part of the property is a veteran cemetery.

 

Why We Decided to Stop Traveling Full Time

925 days.

16,807 miles.

19 states.

96 different overnight site locations.

2 countries.

18 national parks.

 

Listing the stats of our full-time travel as above reminds us of how much we’ve experienced and how far we’ve traveled, though our last few months on the road have felt anything but adventurous.

When the seriousness of COVID was realized in March, we had just left Southern California where we had spent the winter. We were at a state park in Southern Nevada and had an amazing itinerary ahead of us: Some fantastic state parks in Southeastern Nevada; the Mighty 5 in Utah; Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado; a brief stay in the Rapid City area for a doctor’s appointment; and then on to Minnesota and Wisconsin to spend time with family and celebrate holidays, a high school graduation, sporting events, and birthdays. We were then going to explore more of Wisconsin, the state we grew up in. We also had a large part of our winter mapped out, and we were finally going to hit the Southeast and East Coast: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc. We researched and planned and mapped and reserved sites the day they become available, anywhere from 6 to 13 months in advance. We woke up a handful of mornings before 5am in California to book sites that became available at 8am in Florida. We. Had. A. Plan.

And then it got blown up.

State parks started to close. Then national parks. Then counties and states started imposing non-resident travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. When a lot of our full-timing cohorts got off the road to shelter in place with family, we stayed out there. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, so we stayed as socially distant as possible and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t receive a knock on the door, email, or phone call saying we needed to move on because our current location was closing. After three reservations in a row were cancelled, we finally found a private RV park in Torrey, Utah to settle in for a month while we regrouped and figured out our next move. The uncertainty was uncomfortable. We felt in our gut that COVID was sticking around for a while and questioned whether we wanted to continue traveling during a time when the best thing to do is stay home as much as possible.

And we decided we didn’t.

We didn’t want to keep traveling at this time for a handful of reasons, some of which became more apparent as the weeks and months went by:

  • Above all, we wanted to stay healthy. And we wanted those around us to stay healthy.
  • It just wasn’t that fun to be on the road during a pandemic. People always asked us how long we were going to live this lifestyle, and our reply was always we’d stop when we didn’t enjoy it anymore. We weren’t enjoying it much, mainly for the reasons listed below.
  • It’s too damn busy out there now. A number of people around the country have turned to RVing as their preferred way to travel this summer. It’s wonderful that families are finding new ways to vacation and spend time together, but the huge uptick in RV sales and rentals means there are a lot fewer places to stay. And crowds. Campgrounds that are usually nowhere near capacity are now booked with a line out the gate waiting to get a site. A lot of people are visiting national parks during their travels, many for their first time – and they’re trashing them. Vandalism, trash, avoidable run-ins with wildlife, and human excrement have now become common place.
  • In our experience, many people aren’t being as cautious as they should be. This makes us incredibly uncomfortable and reinforces the importance of finding a safe place where we can live comfortably and keep ourselves healthy. Wear a mask and distance yourself from others whenever possible!
  • We knew when we decided to live in an Airstream we were giving up space. However, we were perfectly fine with that knowing that in return, we’d be visiting beautiful places and having some pretty great experiences. Well, when there’s a pandemic and it’s best to stay home, that once quaint and cozy small space feels smaller.

So, friends, we bought a condo in Bozeman, Montana. We had spent time in Bozeman the last two summers and really enjoyed our visits. We’ve been fond of our travels through Montana in general, and in fact, Montana is the state we’ve spent the most time in outside of California (where we would spend the winter months).

Why Bozeman?

We love its location. Three national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier – are all within a 5-6 hour drive. Bozeman is a very outdoors-oriented town, catering to hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and various other outdoor activities. Montana’s busiest airport is in Bozeman, which is important for when business trips become a thing again. While the cost of living is higher here than in other parts of the country, we find it affordable after living in San Diego County for seven years. When considering a place to settle down, we always wanted to make sure it was somewhere where we wouldn’t have to sell the Airstream due to budget constraints. Bozeman also has some great restaurants and breweries, and is incredibly dog friendly, if we ever decide to get another pupper. Also, Bozeman residents seem to be very active and welcoming. Have I mentioned that Bozeman is beautiful? From the cute downtown to the endless trails and green spaces to the mountains in all directions, the landscape really sold us.

What does this mean?

Well, it means we will no longer be living in an Airstream full time. Instead, we’ll be spending part of the year in our spacious-to-us 1100ft2 two bed, two bath condo with doors that offer privacy, a large fridge, a washer & dryer, and a king-size bed. We will definitely still travel in the Airstream as much as we can. In spite of the reasons we chose to stop full timing, we still love it and can’t imagine not traveling. There are so many places we want to visit and revisit, we’ll just do it more sporadically. In fact, we have plans for a 3-week trip to northern Washington soon, but are waiting out the heat and crowds before we embark. I think we’ll really enjoy having the luxury to decide when we travel and when we don’t.