After Bridgeport, we continued south on the 395 to another equally interesting location — Lone Pine. Lone Pine, California is best known for the numerous Western movies and TV shows that used the unusual rock formations of the Alabama Hills and the peaks of the Eastern Sierras, including the lower 48’s highest peak — Mt. … Read more Boulder Creek RV Resort – Lone Pine, CA
Bridgeport sits at almost 6500′ of elevation along the 395, which is one of the most interesting and beautiful highways we’ve driven. The town is small, maybe 500 people, there’s no real grocery store and the few services offered include a couple gas stations, a couple hotels, an auto parts store, a couple restaurants, a … Read more Paradise Shores – Bridgeport, CA
After spending more than four weeks on the Oregon Coast, we moved on to the California Coast. Trinidad, California is a beautiful little city with sweeping coastal views, shops, restaurants, and a population that consists mostly of vacationers. Azalea Glen RV Park Address: 3883 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad, CA 95570 Phone: (707) 677-3068 Amenities: Full … Read more Azalea Glen RV Park and Redwood NP
Our original plan after Winchester Bay was to make our way to Crater Lake for the Crater Lake Rim Run. Because of a wild fire burning in the northeast corner of the park, we had been keeping an eye on the air quality conditions, which got worse everyday. A few days before the race, we … Read more The Oregon Coast – Part Two
A little less than a month ago, we were sitting in Spokane, complaining about the endless heat that we had been experiencing for the previous eight weeks, and we decided enough was enough. We had a route planned from Spokane through central Oregon (Deschutes/Bend areas) to Crater Lake, where we were going to run the … Read more The Oregon Coast – Part One
We are Travis and Missy, originally from a small city in Wisconsin. After living in San Diego for seven years, we decided to purchase a 2017 Airstream International Signature 27FB. We launched our full-time life on the road on January 15, 2018. Read more About Us
Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! Send a message, leave a comment, or visit us on Instagram. If we’re on the road, connectivity may be an issue, so give us bit to get back to you. Read more Contact
We loved Zephyr Cove! This is such a beautiful campground and we are already looking forward to the day we can return. It’s also a very expensive campground, the most expensive to date for us, but we treated our five nights there as a mini vacay and that helped us justify the price ($75/night). We were in site 134, which is a nice, long pull-thru. We were so glad we got a pull-thru due to the roads being narrow throughout the campground and the smattering of trees everywhere, which made getting into sites very difficult, especially for larger rigs. Our site was considered a ‘standard’ site, though I’m not sure what the difference is from the ‘premium’ sites, most of which are back-ins. We watched many Class A motorhomes and fifth wheels struggle with both getting in to and out of their sites, so even though the website says they can handle 40+ feet, I’d say this is not a big rig friendly campground.
We pulled into Zephyr Cove on Labor Day, so it was very busy, but really cleared out the next day. The week was peaceful, with the campground filling up again on Friday night — Zephyr Cove definitely seems like a summer weekend destination.
Zephyr Cove Resort RV Park & Campground
Address: 760 US Hwy 50, Zephyr Cove, NV 89448
Phone: (775) 589-4906
Airstreams for Rent
Restrooms with Showers
The RV park and campground is across the street from the main lodge of the resort. The resort offers cabins, a restaurant, a gift shop, a beach on South Lake Tahoe with beach bar and volleyball courts, lake cruises, marina with rentals, and horseback riding. We spent a lot of time at the beach relaxing and enjoying the amazing weather. The lake is so clear and refreshing!
Heavenly Village is a short drive from the RV park, and has shops and restaurants as well as the Heavenly Mountain Resort Gondola. The gondola, which only operates on the weekend during summer, offers panoramic views of Lake Tahoe as it carries you the 2.6 miles to the top. There’s an observation deck, cafe, and gift store at the first stop of the gondola. Continue to the top of the gondola for the Tamarack Lodge, where you can get a typical ski lodge lunch that’s of average quality and overpriced. Bar 9150′ is also located there. During the winter, Heavenly Mountain offers 96 different ski trails. During the summer, visitors can enjoy climbing walls, ropes courses, zip lines, a roller coaster, tubing and hiking trails. You can also take the chair lift further up the mountain to get better views of Lake Tahoe and access more hiking trails.
Our time in Tahoe was all about relaxing. We enjoyed sitting by the fire every night (buy your firewood before getting to the campground where it’s $$$). We also enjoyed meeting up with fellow full-time Airstreamers Marc and Paola (Instagram’s Cruising Slow). The weather was perfect and the only thing we’d change is how long we stayed. We wished our stay had been longer at Zephyr Cove, which will definitely happen during our next visit!
This is a great little RV park with 50 sites; all but two are pull-thrus. It’s a couple hundred yards from the California/Nevada border, hence the name, and a 20- to 25-minute drive into downtown Reno. The sites have long, level, concrete pads with beautiful green grass. The laundry and restrooms are a little dated, but are clean and get the job done. Upon checkin, we were each given coupons for the casino for $5 in slot play, a free drink, and a $1 off food at either the deli or restaurant in the casino — and we happily used them all. The casino is small with all slots, a bar, a deli counter and a busy restaurant with phenomenal prices. The people that run the RV park are very nice and extremely accommodating and all of the other guests were very friendly. While there isn’t much to do in the immediate area, we would definitely stay here again — it’s clean, quiet, and convenient to the highway.
Staying at Hat Creek was our biggest and most costly mistake to date…
When we left the NorCal Coast city of Trinidad, we headed inland. We had booked two nights at Del Loma RV Park in Big Bar, but as we were driving, we were feeling pretty good and like we could handle a couple more hours. I called Hat Creek Hereford Ranch, which was our next destination, to see if we could add two more nights to our stay. We were able to, so we kept on driving to Hat Creek. We hadn’t paid a deposit at Del Loma, so canceling was easy and free. We should have known we were going to have an issue when we went for a stretch of almost three hours during our drive with no cell signal. When we arrived at Hat Creek, we had no signal on our AT&T phones. Before checking in, we should have checked our Verizon phone and hotspot, and tried all of our phones with our WeBoost, but we didn’t. When I checked in, the young woman at the counter mentioned that we were staying a long time – originally 7 nights, now 9. We were staying so long because we wanted to explore nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park and Burney Falls. And though we usually travel on weekends, we chose not to this particular upcoming weekend because it was Labor Day. Anyway, I made the comment we were only staying if we could get a strong enough cell signal to be able to work, seeing as we work full time. She said nothing. I paid our remaining balance and we went to our site.
After getting set up, we realized we had no cell signal with either Verizon or AT&T, and our WeBoost did nothing for us. We tried using their wifi, but that kept dropping and wasn’t even strong enough to open web pages. We were in a pickle. Seeing as it was a Sunday, we were going to stay put for the night because we didn’t need to get online for anything. After talking through our options, we decided we needed to move on the next day. There was no way we would be able to last more than a week without a cell signal. That evening, we drove up the road a bit where we noticed we had gotten a bar of signal earlier in the day when we had driven to the grocery store. We parked on the side of the road, in the darkness, and surfed the web to find a new place to stay for the remainder of the week and the holiday weekend. We found a place in Reno where we were able to cobble together two different reservations in order to cover most of the time, and then we adjusted our next reservation in Lake Tahoe to arrive a day earlier.
The next day, we explored Lassen Volcanic NP for a few hours and stopped at the tiny post office where we had had our mail sent. We headed back to Hat Creek Hereford Ranch to pack up, hitch up, check out, and hit the road. We were already fully hitched up and parked in the driveway when I went into the office to check out. The same young woman was working, along with an older woman who I assume is the owner. I told them we had to leave because there’s no signal. They seemed a little befuddled, but I explained that we work full time, and there’s just no way we could stay. The older woman asked if we had tried their wifi, and I said we had, but it was pretty slow and kept kicking us off. She explained how their wifi used to be great, but a recent wild fire caused an electric surge that basically blew up their previous setup. The internet company had replaced the equipment, but the speed wasn’t nearly as strong or fast and it would be getting fixed soon. She tried talking me in to staying a few more days, but I said that we were already hitched up and had reservations elsewhere. She then got a little defensive, saying, “Everybody knows there’s no signal here!” I explained we weren’t from the area and did not know that, but it was our fault for not doing better research. This is when I found out their refund policy, which is they don’t do refunds. If you cancel more than seven days before your reservation, they’ll refund the deposit. If you cancel within seven days of your reservation, they keep your deposit. If you’ve already checked in and paid, they refund nothing. I tried arguing that technically we hadn’t checked in yet for our original reservation, so I should get a refund minus the deposit, but it was a no go. We had nine days booked at $44 per night (plus a $5 reservation fee), for a total of $401. Yikes. She felt bad, so she did refund $100 and credited us with two free nights to use in the next two years. Seeing as we had stayed one night and were checking out late on the second day, we counted it as two nights. When subtracting the refund, the two credited nights, the two nights stayed, and the reservation fee, we ended up eating $120, or about three nights. Of course, that’s if we end up using the two nights of credit.
Lesson Learned: Do better research – on both cell signal and refund policy.
Honestly, I don’t know what happened with this one. We ALWAYS check the cell signal; both with Campendium/Google reviews and the Open Signal/Coverage apps. We totally dropped the ball. In the future, we’ll keep to weekend stays for non-signal areas.
It’s also important to note that we’ve lost money on canceling reservations before. We lost a night’s stay worth once and multiple reservation fees, but altogether it probably adds up to about $60 or $70. We do our best to avoid cancelations, but sometimes we book far in advance at national or state parks, because you have to, but then change our minds. It’s just part of the full-time lifestyle.
Hat Creek Hereford Ranch RV Park & Campground
Address: 17855 Dory Road, Hat Creek, CA 96040
Phone: (530) 335-7171
Pull-Thrus (but not really)
Restrooms with Showers
The park itself is nice and quiet. Farmland borders it, so there are happy cows and goats out your window. It’s peaceful and quaint and rustic. The layout is a little haphazard, with sites in odd locations and directions, and nothing that delineates one site from the next. Above, I mentioned that there are pull-thrus, but not really. We were able to pull into our site easy enough (after relocating the fire ring made of rocks and driving up an incline), but at the front of our site was a retaining wall. In order to drive out of our site, we had to drive at an angle down an decline. We didn’t have any neighbors, so we were able to get in and out of our site easy enough, but if we did have neighbors, neither would have been very easy. We were there for such a short amount of time that we didn’t use any of the facilities, so I can’t comment on those.
The location is pretty remote, with the small city of Burney a 22-minute drive away. That’s where you’ll find a Safeway grocery store, a Rite Aid, a post office, a few places to eat, and a few hotels. The Burney Falls Visitor Center is a 25-minute drive and the Subway Cave Lava Tubes a 20-minute drive – neither of which we had the chance to visit.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is about a 35-minute drive. If dry camping is your thing, there are plenty of places to stay outside the park (National Forest campgrounds) and within the park itself. Lassen is a mostly-unknown, little-visited National Park that has all the best stuff: Volcanoes, mountains, lakes, mud pots, sulfur springs, steam vents, waterfalls, and enough trails to satisfy every hiker from novice to expert! We’re really looking forward to a return visit to explore the park more fully like it deserves.
As we drove from Spokane to the Oregon coast, we stopped at Hood Park for one night. This is an Army Corps of Engineers campground that is located on Lake Wallula. Our National Parks Interagency Access Pass gave us 50% off the $24 nightly fee, though there is a $10 reservation fee, which means we paid $22 for the one night. All sites have electric hookups and there are water spigots available throughout the campground. There are restrooms and showers, neither of which we used. There’s also a small amphitheater where they show kids movies on Saturday nights during the summer.
We stayed at North Spokane RV Campground for six nights. When we booked it, we were unsure of Travis’s work travel schedule and we wanted to be somewhere for a week near an airport in case he needed to visit a customer onsite. That didn’t end up happening, so we spent the week doing some work, doing some exploring (though the heat made it difficult), doing laundry, getting hair cuts, getting the truck’s oil changed, picking up our mail, and various other errand-type things. It was also during this week, after many, many weeks of temps in the high 80s and 90s, that we decided to alter our upcoming route through central Oregon and make our way to the coast instead. So, we also spent a full day canceling old reservations and finding and booking new ones, which was no easy task as coastal Oregon is very busy during the summer.
North Spokane RV Campground opened in 2014 and it shows. The grounds are immaculate: beautifully manicured green grass; large, level concrete pads; smooth blacktopped roads; very nice laundry, showers, and TV room; small, but clean swimming pool. There’s also a decent dog park that was the only place within the park that really had any trees for shade. The lack of shade with temps in the mid-90s was definitely a drawback, but luckily there was virtually no wind so we were able to use our awnings from sun up to sun down.
Address: 10904 N Newport Hwy, Spokane, WA 99218
Phone: (509) 315-5561
Restrooms with Showers
It was also during this week that we made a run to Home Depot to purchase Reflectix Insulation to put in the windows in order to combat the heat. It definitely helped, and we wished we would have done it sooner!
Any service you could need is within a short drive of North Spokane RV Campground and some are even within walking distance. There’s an Anytime Fitness nearby that offers a daily rate of $5. Right across the street is a cute little restaurant called Frank’s Diner. It’s in an old railcar that serves food all day, but their breakfast is their claim to fame.
We were busy with work and errands most of the week, but we did find some time to explore a bit. One evening, we ventured down to Riverfront Park. Much of it seems to be under construction, which makes navigating around a bit difficult. The heat, still 90+ degrees well after dinner, caused us to cut our walk a bit short, though it looks like a nice park with quite a few activities.
We also checked out the Japanese garden in Manito Park. There are other gardens within the park, but we were under a time crunch, so we only had time to visit this one.
While we didn’t get to thoroughly explore Spokane, we probably won’t return. We weren’t very impressed with what the city had to offer. The layout is just odd, and many of the areas seem to be pretty run down. And the traffic — ugh. It would take 25-30 minutes to drive 5 or 6 miles. While there seemed to be a few breweries worth a visit, we didn’t find one restaurant that screamed “Eat here!” through any of our various search methods (Google, Yelp, etc.). No worries, though — we have a lot of cities left to explore!
We spent five glorious days at North American RV Park & Yurt Village in Coram, MT about 5 miles outside the West Glacier entrance of Glacier National Park. The RV park itself is nothing fancy. Site F8 was a pull-thru with full hookups and a decent-sized patch of grass to make Max happy. If we had had any other site in our row (F1-F8), we would’ve had some nice shade trees, which would have come in handy during the hot, high temps of mid-July. The restrooms and showers were very nice and clean, but we didn’t check out the laundry or lounge. The best part about this park was the location. The immediate area had a handful of restaurants/bars, a distillery, a highline course, rafting companies, and a number of lodging options. A grocery store and post office can be found down the highway in Hungry Horse. Within a short drive is the entrance to the National Park in the cute little community of West Glacier.
Address: 10649 Highway 2 East, Coram, MT 59913
Phone: (406) 387-5800
Restrooms with Showers
Ice and Firewood
We would have loved to stay within Glacier, but there are very few sites that can accommodate a 28′ trailer and truck, there are even fewer sites that can be reserved that will accommodate us, and there are no sites with hookups, which isn’t an option when you have a dog that you need to be able to run the A/C for. Also, after driving through the park, out the east St. Mary entrance, and around the south end of the park back to Coram, we decided we would never attempt to stay on the east side of the park with our Airstream in the future as it is quite a rough journey. In addition, there’s not much available outside the east side of the park for services, so you’d be pretty dependent on whatever services are available in Many Glacier and Two Medicine.
We definitely plan to return to Glacier National Park in the future, so we scoped out a few other options in the area. We found that the West Glacier KOA is the most beautiful, well-appointed RV park we had ever seen. It’s at the ‘KOA Resort’ level, which means it has extra special amenities, and apparently it’s the 2017 KOA Campground of the Year. I know, I know — a KOA? Sometimes we stay in places for $10 with nothing more than an electric hookup and sometimes we stay in what is essentially a resort for $75. When choosing a place to stay, we always need to consider our length of stay, comfort, safety, what hookups are available, cell coverage, and what services we require nearby. We plan to stay considerably longer on our next trip to Glacier, so full hookups with nice amenities would turn it into more of a vacation as opposed to just our normal everyday life.
These are a few of the places in the area we enjoyed during our stay:
Glacier Distilling: Distillery and tasting room in Coram that specializes in small-batch whiskeys, but also offers brandy, vodka, gin and rum. Travis enjoyed the Wheatfish Whiskey and bought a bottle for home.
Wandering Gringo Cafe: If you’re looking for a good burrito the size of your head, you’ve found the right place. Also in Coram, this stay-in-place food truck offers shareable-sized portions with an onsite picnic area.
Belton Grill Dining Room at Belton Chalet: This 1910 railroad chalet is located in West Glacier. They offer delicious farm-to-table options with as many grown/raised-in-Montana ingredients as possible. While a little pricy, it’s not the kind of meal you’d expect from a restaurant that’s on the proverbial front steps of a national park.
Now, for the Park itself…
Our first introduction to Glacier National Park was a stop at Lake McDonald in Apgar Village. Apgar is home to a visitor center, campground, picnic area, watercraft rentals, a hotel or two, a store and some places to eat. We returned to Lake McDonald a couple of days later to kayak, but it was so windy that there were whitecaps on the lake, which would not have made for an enjoyable experience.
On our second day visiting the park, we drove the infamous Going-to-the-Sun Road to the St. Mary Falls Trailhead. From www.visitmt.com:
The Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1932 and is a spectacular 50 mile, paved two-lane highway that bisects the park east and west. It spans the width of Glacier National Park, crossing the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass. It passes through almost every type of terrain in the park, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys to windswept alpine tundra atop the pass. Scenic viewpoints and pullouts line the road, so motorists can stop for extended views and photo opportunities. The road is well worth traveling in either direction, as the view from one side of the road is much different than from the other. In 1983 Going-To-The-Sun Road was included in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1985 was made a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
There is a 24-mile stretch of the upper portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road that has vehicle restrictions (which is why you have to drive around the outside of the park to get to the east side with a travel trailer) — nothing longer than 21 feet bumper to bumper, wider than 8 feet including mirrors, and taller than 10 feet ground to highest point of vehicle. FYI, this is the ONLY road within the park that connects the east and west sides.
The St. Mary Falls Trailhead was about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our RV park in Coram. As it’s a popular trail, we left the Airstream at 7am to get to the trailhead before the crowds. When we reached the small parking area at 8:15, it was less than half full. However, when we returned to the parking area after the hike at about 9:45, it was full and people were jockeying for a spot. Glacier offers a free hop on, hop off shuttle system that provides two-way service along Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center. There’s a shuttle stop at the St. Mary Trailhead, as well as pretty much anywhere else you’d want to go along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Another extremely busy spot is Logan Pass. There’s a visitor center and trailheads for popular hikes. When we passed it a little before 8am, the parking lot was already pretty full. When we passed it on our way back, it was pure chaos. The rule of thumb in Glacier seems to be to: Get. There. Early.
From the trailhead, the St. Mary Falls Trail is 1.1 miles one way, but it you continue on to Virginia Falls like we did, it’s 1.8. The trail is easy and can be traversed by any able-bodied person. The most difficult part of the trail is actually at the end where you have to walk up a steep incline to get back to the parking lot. Signs warn to take precautions against bear: Hike in groups, carry bear spray, make noise, and be aware of your surroundings. When we set out on the trail, we encountered only four other parties before we reached Virginia Falls. While it’s nice to have the trail to ourselves with peace and quiet, the multiple groups of people on the trail on the return trip was a little comforting.
A few more pics from stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road:
The weather in Glacier can vary greatly from day to day. One day we were at Lake McDonald, the wind was calm and the water was like glass. A couple days later, it was windy with white caps. The first time we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it was clear sky, sunny, and about 65 degrees (though the temp varies depending on what elevation you’re at). The next time we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road (when the wind at Lake McDonald thwarted our plan to kayak), it was cold and incredibly foggy, especially at the highest point, Logan Pass, where it was in the mid 40s. Be prepared and dress in layers. The following are a few pics from our second drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, demonstrating how different the weather was:
We loved our time in the Glacier National Park area and look forward to returning in the future. Besides the park, there is so much to explore in this area that we didn’t get a chance to get to: Kalispell, Whitefish, Flathead Lake.
We only spent one night in the Missoula area as we drove from Bozeman to Coram. We stayed at the Square Dance Center & Campground in Lolo, which is about a 25-minute drive into Missoula. The Square Dance Center is exactly what it sounds like – a place for square dancers, but they welcome non-square dancers at the onsite RV park as well. We didn’t use any of the amenities during our brief stay, so I can’t comment on those. The RV park is spread out through tall pines and sits far enough off the highway that you don’t hear traffic. The park claims to be dog friendly, and I suppose it is as dogs are allowed; however, when walking Max, the gentleman that checked us in was riding past on his bike and told us not to allow Max to pee on any trees or other sites – we were supposed to take him to the pet relief areas marked on the map. There were two problems with this: 1) Male dogs pee on everything and 2) All of the pet relief areas had sprinklers running. Essentially, we weren’t able to take Max on a proper walk. It’s for this reason that as long as we have Max, we would never stay here again. I also would not recommend staying here to anyone who has a dog.
Address: 9955 Lolo Creek Road, Lolo, MT 59847
Water and Electric Hookups
Dump Station and Pump Service
Pull Thru Sites
Restrooms with Shower
We went into downtown Missoula for dinner at the Red Bird Restaurant in the historic Florence Hotel, which is now a mixed-use building. The food was decent, but it was the Art Deco décor that we really enjoyed.
We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park in Bozeman, Montana for three nights. The RV park is a 15-minute drive from Bozeman’s super cute and clean downtown. The park is right next door to Bozeman Hot Springs Spa and Fitness, and staying at the park gives you free access to the hot springs. (Access to the fitness center is $5 per day for those staying at the RV park.) The sites here are a mixed bag of pull throughs and back ins, some concrete, some gravel, some with nice grass adjacent, some with a patch of weeds adjacent. Our site, J6, was a pull-through gravel site with patchy, weedy grass. Besides being a pull through, the one thing the pull-through sites have going for them is that there is shrubbery between sites, which gives some privacy and separation from the neighboring sites. At $75 a night (the most we’ve ever spent), we weren’t overly impressed by the property, but the facilities (restrooms, laundry, office) seemed fairly new and were very clean. The draw here is the hot springs, but we ultimately chose this place because there aren’t a lot of options in the Bozeman area.
Address: 81123 Gallatin Road, Bozeman, MT 59718
Phone: (888) 651-5802
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table & Fire Pit
Free Access to the Hot Springs
The Bozeman Hot Springs are the best hot springs we’ve experienced! There are 12 pools that range in temperature from 57 to 106 degrees. The entire facility is clean and inviting. They get very busy in the evenings and especially on hot, summer weekends. Live music takes place on a stage at the outdoor pools a couple of days a weeks and a food truck is available at certain times. There’s also a sauna and a steam room, as well as a well-appointed fitness center. If staying at the RV park, access to the pools is free and the fitness center is $5. Otherwise, one-time access is $8.50 for the pools and $15 to use the entire facility.
Downtown Bozeman is full of great shops, restaurants, and breweries. The area is very well maintained, making it look as though it’s brand new! We ate dinner one night at Montana Ale Works — great vibe, fantastic food, huge selection of regional craft beer, and a full bar with delicious signature cocktails. The bison-stuffed morel mushrooms were delish and Travis really enjoyed his Laughing Dog Brewing Huckleberry Cream Ale.
While in Bozeman, we also hiked the ‘M Trail’. The M Trail is so named because of the M landmark created by Montana State University students in 1915 on a hillside (mountainside?) in the Gallatin National Forest, just outside Bozeman. We conquered the 850 feet of elevation gain on the half-mile “most difficult” trail up and took the mile and a half “easiest” way down. It definitely gets the heart pumping! The difficult route up is mostly loose rock, so I would recommend wearing a good pair of hiking boots. The easiest trail is mostly dirt and tennis shoes would do just fine. There’s a parking lot and a pit toilet at the trailhead.
We really enjoyed Bozeman and look forward to visiting again to explore the area more. While the hot springs were nice, we would definitely explore other options for places to stay. We’d also probably visit a different time of year as it was pretty hot during the second week of July.
The most difficult part of route planning for us is when Travis has to fly somewhere for work. The business trips aren’t usually last-minute trips, so that helps, but sometimes we find ourselves in places that we wouldn’t otherwise be in. However, Billings is not one of those places (a place we wouldn’t otherwise be in, that is). When we started planning our route back west from our extended stay in Wisconsin in May, we knew we wanted to spend some time in Montana. We also knew that Travis would need to fly to Minneapolis during this time and that the trip would be during the week of the Fourth of July holiday. Before settling on Billings, we first made a list of all the commercial airports in the approximate area we’d be in — Wyoming and Montana. We then searched to see which ones have direct flights to Minneapolis, because who wants a layover when you’re not flying very far? Then, we had to find a safe place to stay with availability for the holiday week, not too far from the airport. I say a safe place because Travis never wants to leave me (and Max) in a questionable location, obviously. Taking all of that into consideration, we landed on the Billings KOA.
This has been our method of operation since we hit the road full time back in January. Travis has had to make a business trip once a month, so these trips have somewhat determined our route. With each booked business trip, we’ll have a specific date and location we need to be. We also throw some personal date/location combos in there too to make it even more interesting — Crater Lake Rim Run in August, our friends’ October wedding in San Diego, and the Joshua Tree half marathon in November. It forces us to plan ahead, which suits our personalities just fine. We just aren’t go-with-the-flow type of people when it comes to trip planning. Twice we’ve had gaps of a night or two in our route where we were just going to wing it and see where we end up and both times we caved and booked something last minute.
I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, we don’t like long travel days and not knowing your destination may make your day longer. Two hours is great, three hours is fine, but when we get into four to five hours, we get crabby. We can’t comprehend how some people travel eight to ten hours a day — that just sounds miserable to us and like a waste of a day. If you don’t NEED to be somewhere fast, what’s the hurry? Secondly, this has been a hot, hot summer. After boondocking Memorial Day weekend, we learned that we want and need an electric hookup. We have a 13.5-year-old dog that we want to keep comfortable and we’ve had to work some very long days, so having electricity is essential. Yes, we have a generator, but many places have limitations on generator use and when it’s really hot, we burn through gas like crazy. Also, we would never leave our generator running unattended, so we’d become prisoners to the Airstream — and that’s not fun!
Before we hit the road, we had these romantic ideas, like so many tend to, that we’d boondock nonstop and wake up next to the ocean one day, and in the mountains the next, and so on, without another human in sight. And while there are plenty of Airstreamers and RVers that do just that, we’ve determined we’re not those people. We like electricity and showering every day and doing laundry once a week (or at least every two weeks) and strong cell signals and eating great food at restaurants and exploring cities along with our country’s natural wonders. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that we’ve learned what type of full timers we are over these last six months. On the full-timer spectrum with off-the-grid boondockers on one end and snowbirds that only move twice a year on the other, I think we fall right in the middle.
Back to Billings.
We settled on Billings and I’m glad we did. We stayed from a Saturday to a Saturday (I’m actually writing this the day before we leave). KOAs are notoriously expensive and this one is no different. I don’t know if they jacked their prices because of the holiday, but our water and electric site (no sewer hookup) was $75 a night, $67.50 with our KOA membership. Thus far, the most expensive place we’ve stayed. That being said, this is such a nice KOA. It’s the first in the country and the current owners have owned it since the 70s. There’s a huge staff that meticulously maintains it and the amenities are great. There’s a decent-sized, albeit cold, swimming pool. There’s a nice little mini golf course that Travis destroyed me on. The bathrooms and showers are so, so nice — probably the nicest we’ve ever seen. We’ve used the showers a few times because we don’t have a sewer hookup and don’t want to be so concerned with the grey tank level. The onsite store is well equipped. Breakfast and dinner are offered every morning and evening (for a price). Our site is super long, allowing us to park our truck at either end of the trailer. We have a nice patio with a picnic table, porch swing, and fire pit. Now, amenities like this are definitely NOT a requirement for us, but if we’re going to pay this much, they’re nice to have.
There’s more to this KOA than just the amenities, however. The location is fantastic! It’s not far off I-90 making it extremely accessible for those that are just passing through. Downtown Billings is literally 5 minutes away. We have had some great meals here; we’d recommend Walkers and The Fieldhouse specifically. And one of the best parts — the airport is 13 minutes away! We usually have to drive 45 minutes to get to an airport, so the short drive is really a nice change.
All in all, our stay in Billings has been great. It was a little loud the night of the Fourth (I hate you, fireworks), but other than that, no issues. With the next business trip tentatively scheduled for October, we’re looking forward to moving on to Bozeman, Missoula and Coram to explore more of Montana.
We stayed at 7th Ranch RV Camp for two nights. There’s not much in the area, but it was a good location in regards to how far we needed to travel on a certain day but still be able to get a half day of work in. The property is very nice, with all the sites being pull throughs, some having water and electric only and some having full hookups. Check in and check out are both at noon, and we got there a little early as our drive didn’t take as long as we thought it would. They gave us a little bit of a hard time, which we’ve never experienced before, but still allowed us to check in as the person who had been in site A16 before us had left. The bathrooms and laundry are clean, and if we ever found ourselves in the area again, we would stay here again.
Address: 662 Reno Creek Road, Garryowen, MT 59031
Phone: (406) 638-2438
Bathrooms with Showers
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located less than 15 minutes from 7th Ranch. I would highly recommend a visit to this historic site, even if you’re just passing through the area. From their brochure: “Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument memorializes one of the last armed efforts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their ancestral way of life. Here in the valley of the Little Bighorn River on two hot June days in 1876, more than 260 soldiers and attached personnel of the U.S. Army met defeat and death at the hands of several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Among the dead were Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and every member of his immediate command. Although the Indians won the battle, they subsequently lost the war against the military’s efforts to end their independent, nomadic way of life.”
There’s a 20-minute orientation film that plays at regular intervals in the visitor center that is definitely worth watching to learn the history that led up to the battle, what happened during battle, and what was the result of the battle. I recommend getting to the monument right as it opens, if possible, at 8am, so that you beat the crowds and are able to explore and take in the site, which is somewhat haunting, without distractions from others.
Atop Last Stand Hill is a memorial dedicated to the 7th Cavalry. From this vantage point, you can see where ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ took place as there is a headstone marking the spot where he perished.
Adjacent to Last Stand Hill is the fantastic Indian Memorial.
After visiting Last Stand Hill and the Indian Memorial, walk along the quarter-mile Deep Ravine Trail to really get a sense of what took place on this site. Throughout the battlefield, there are white headstones marking where U.S. Army personnel died and there are red headstones marking where Indian warriors died.
After the trail, visit Custer National Cemetery, which is an onsite veterans cemetery.
If you still have time or interest at this point, drive the 4.5-mile road to the Reno-Benteen Battlefield, which was the first stage of the Battle of Bighorn. There are cell phone audio stops along the way that provide information as to what occurred at each location.