Pechanga RV Resort – Temecula, CA

While we were in Lone Pine, or possibly when we were in Bridgeport, we decided to change our upcoming plans a bit. After Lone Pine, we were originally supposed to drive around the south end of Sequoia National Forest, up the west side, and spend a few days right outside Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We were then going to spend a night in Bakersfield and then drive to Escondido, where we had booked four weeks. But we were tired and it was going to be a lot of driving in a short amount of time, which wasn’t very appealing at the time. We scrapped the trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia (there really should be an east entrance into the parks from Lone Pine) and booked a week at Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula. We already had plans to stay at Pechanga for three weeks later in the fall, it looked really nice, and we were familiar with the area, so it made sense to us to stay there.

Pechanga RV Resort

45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula, CA 92592

www.pechanga.com/rvresort

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Wifi
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Pool with Two Spas
  • BBQ/Grill Areas
  • Community Firepits
  • Gas Station with Mini Mart, Diesel, Car Wash and Propane Fill
  • Horseshoe Pits
  • Fenced Dog Run
  • On-Property Shuttle Service
  • Security Patrol 24/7
  • Walking Distance to Casino and Restaurants

Pechanga is a resort and casino run by the Pechanga Band of Luseño Indians. The resort itself just underwent a 300 million dollar renovation, doubling its size and becoming the largest resort/casino on the West Coast. It really is beautiful and with nine restaurants, a buffet, live entertainment, clubs, lounges, retail shops, a concert venue, a golf course, and a spa — it’s more than just a casino. And if you sign up for a player’s club card, you get a 5% discount at the shops and restaurants.

During both of our stays, we stayed in one of their deluxe sites. While the deluxe site is the lowest level of their sites, it’s one of the nicest sites we’ve ever stayed in. It is a back-in site with an 18’x55′ concrete pad and nice, green grass separating you from your direct neighbor and a tall hedge separating you from the sites behind you. The other more premium sites have amenities such as pull-thrus; sites with picnic tables; sites with a gazebo, grill, and fire pit; and buddy sites, which are sites that face each other so that if you are traveling with friends, you share a large patio area. The pull-thru sites are a little longer at 67′, but otherwise all the sites are the same size as the deluxe sites. Pechanga is probably the cleanest, most well-maintained place we’ve stayed. The pool, laundry room, and restrooms were attended to every day and spotless. Actually, the entire resort/casino property was super clean.

For the most part, things are fairly quiet at Pechanga. However, the weekends can get a little rowdy, especially if it’s a long holiday weekend like we experienced (Thanksgiving). During our four weeks there, there was one incident with one of the guests of the RV park where security had to be called who then called the Pechanga Tribal Rangers, who responded very quickly and handled the situation quite efficiently. Because of the 24/7 security and prompt response from law enforcement, we felt very safe there. I’d also like to note that the Pechanga Fire Department is directly across the street from the RV resort, which is especially reassuring during fire season in Southern California.

Pechanga is part of the Passport America network, which is a discount camping club that gives you 50% off at participating parks. Each property applies it’s 50% off savings differently, and at Pechanga, it’s Sunday through Wednesday on deluxe sites only. Sunday through Thursday has a rate of $50, while Friday and Saturday are $60, unless there’s a holiday which increases the price. The whole reason we got the Passport America membership was because we knew we’d be staying at Pechanga. During our four weeks total that we stayed there, we saved $350 (14 nights at $25 instead of $50), which really made the annual membership fee of $44 worth it.

The one drawback is that guests staying at the RV resort aren’t allowed to use the main resort’s fitness center and pool, which are both sooooo nice.

While you can’t tell from the photo, the deluxe back-in sites are super long and we had no problem fitting our truck.
The pool is very nice with a spa located on either end.
This is Buddy the security robot. He zips around in the lobby of the hotel.

While Temecula is located inland in Riverside County, it’s just north of San Diego County and east of Orange County, at about a 45-minute drive from the coast. It’s location and lower home prices have led to an increase in residents in the past few years. Because of the increasing population, there’s been a building boom when it comes to both commercial and residential properties. It seems as though most parts of Temecula are brand new and everything is beautifully maintained. While every store and/or service you could need is available, the one thing Temecula lacks is the small town, local charm you find in the beach cities of San Diego and Orange Counties — that is until you drive to Temecula’s wine country. Temecula Valley is home to about 50 wineries scattered throughout the rolling hills. You’ll also find a number of horse ranches and the opportunity for hot air balloon rides. The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is held each June, pairing the two things the area is best known for. Whether you prefer reds or whites, you’ll find something for everybody at the various wineries — some with just tasting rooms; others with restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and spas.

As we had lived in North County San Diego for a bit, we have visited Temecula a handful of times over the years — it’s always a nice place to take people that are visiting from out of town. During our stay at Pechanga, my sister and brother-in-law were celebrating her birthday in San Diego and drove out to Temecula with some friends to spend the night. Travis was out of town on business, but I was able to join them for an afternoon of lunch and wining. We started our day with a few tastings and lunch at Wilson Creek Winery, known for their Almond Sparkling Wine, and then moved on to Akash Winery & Vineyards, then Oak Mountain Winery’s tasting room, which is known as The Cave. If you’re concerned about drinking and driving, you’re able to hire a car or book a wine tasting tour that will drive you from one place to the next.

Wilson Creek Winery
It was nice to spend some time with my sister who I usually only see once or twice a year!
Akash Winery
All of the wineries are gorgeous and so peaceful!

Another part of Temecula to explore is Old Town. Old Town is the historic center of Temecula. It has an Old West vibe and offers restaurants, shops, museums, and a community theater. The area is becoming more modernized with some great, modern restaurants (1909 has great food, cocktails and beer) and new condos being built.

I didn’t take many photos of our time in Temecula because to us, it’s not a new place. That’s why it’s also a little difficult for us to give an objective review of our time at Pechanga. It’s a great RV resort and we would stay there again, but definitely for a shorter amount of time.

Literally on the Road to Financial Freedom

This post will discuss all of the financial aspects related to RVing full time, including initial costs, static bills, cost of gas, lodging costs, and the amount we’ve been able to save over the past year. This is an account of our personal financial experiences with regards to full-time travel — other people’s experiences may vary. There is A LOT to cover, but first…

A Little Background Info

Different people choose the full-time RV lifestyle for different reasons. There was not an ‘aha moment’ for us that made us decide to trade our life of living in a rented condo in La Jolla, California for life on the road in an Airstream. We had recently sold our home in San Marcos, which is in San Diego’s North County. We had no need to or set plan; it was just a really good time to sell as we were able to make a healthy profit from when we purchased three and a half years earlier. We moved to La Jolla, enjoyed ocean sunsets from our balcony, and took advantage of living in the walkable Village of La Jolla.

We had talked about full-time RVing at different times during the previous years, but there was always a reason not to. We owned a house. We had a dog with a lot of health issues that needed regular access to his vet. We had finally established a good friend group after years of living in the San Diego area with only knowing a handful of people. Travis has to travel fairly often for work and we didn’t know how easy it would be to fit that in. But all of a sudden, those reasons fell away. We sold the house. Our sweet golden doodle had passed away. We’d be able to visit our friends whenever we wanted and they could meet us somewhere on the road as well. And planning business trips would just have to be part of the route planning process, making sure we were near airports at certain times.

When the option of full timing started to creep into our conversations again, we decided to look at what RV options are available and what they cost. We visited a place in San Diego that sells Airstreams as well as every other type of RV — fifth wheels, travel trailers, motorhomes, etc. Travis had always been stuck on an Airstream, but I wanted to make sure we explored all options. Of course, we ended up deciding on an Airstream. This particular dealership didn’t have the exact layout we were interested in, so we scoured the interwebs for both used and new in the length and layout we wanted. After looking at a used Flying Cloud, we decided we definitely wanted to buy new and we definitely wanted an International. We found what we were looking for at Airstream Orange County. To read more about the buying process, check out our post Buying an Airstream.

How We Make Money on the Road

Before I get into specifics about what we paid and what our monthly expenses are, I should explain what we do for work. We own an ERP consulting business. I won’t get too detailed about what that is exactly, but the basic gist is that we install, upgrade, and customize a particular software that manufacturing companies utilize. We owned the business for six years before hitting the road full time. We typically work remote from home, but depending on what projects we’re currently working on, Travis might travel to visit a customer on site once or twice a month. As far as work was concerned, we were already living a lifestyle that made transitioning to full-time travel easy. If you’re interested in more information about our business, check out our website here: Bird Rock Solutions

Initial Expenses

There are two major expenses when choosing to travel full time — the Airstream and the truck to pull it. As stated above, we purchased our Airstream brand new from the dealership. This is definitely NOT necessary. Used, almost new Airstreams can be found if you have enough patience. Some people sell their trailers after only using them a handful of times. Now that we know what to look for, we would feel confident buying used. While Airstreams do hold their value pretty well, it’s definitely cheaper to buy used. Many people buy vintage Airstreams and renovate them, which is definitely a cost saver, but you need the right skills, a lot of time, and a good work space — three things we did not have. We ended up purchasing a 2017 27fb International Signature. We had the dealership install solar panels, Maxxair vent covers, and a Blue Ox weight distributing and sway control hitch. The total cost for the trailer with the add-ons and tax was $87,612.11.

Next, we had to buy a truck that could tow the trailer. We knew NOTHING about towing or trucks, so we did a lot of research. We ended up purchasing a 2017 Ford F-150 XLT 4×4 Supercrew with a 3.5L V6 EcoBoost engine with complete tow package. It was a demo vehicle with 249 miles, so it was considered ‘used’ which helped with the price. There was a rebate if we financed, so of course we did that, but we paid off the loan when the first payment came due. The total price for the truck with tax, which we absolutely love and has every feature we need, was $47,138.56. To read more about the truck buying process as well as it’s features, read our post Choosing a Truck.

All in, we paid $134,750.67. That’s a big number. Huge. Thanks to the proceeds from the sale of our house, both vehicles are paid off, so we own our ‘home’ outright. Again, this aspect of the full-time lifestyle can be done for much cheaper. We bought both vehicles brand new — many people buy used. We bought an Airstream — many people by SOB (some other brand) because they’re less expensive. We had decided that because we planned to full time for quite a while, we wanted to start out with two vehicles that we would know the entire history of. We would know the maintenance. We would know about any damage or malfunctions. Everything would be clean and we would be the first to use it, sit in it, sleep in it, shower in it, and use the bathroom in it.

Static Monthly Expenses

Just like anyone in a bricks and sticks house, we have monthly bills. Our static monthly bills consist of the following:

RV Insurance ————$112.20

Truck Insurance ———-$92.40

Life Insurance ———–$219.58

Disability Insurance —–$76.92

Health Insurance ——-$480.46

Storage Unit —————-$59.00

TOTAL:                     $1040.56

You’ll notice that phone and internet are not included in our monthly bills. Those items are paid for by the business, so I don’t include them in personal expenses.

Cost of Gas

This is going to greatly depend on how much you travel, your vehicles gas mileage, how much weight you’re pulling, and what speed you drive. When they first start out, many full timers spend a lot of time moving from one place to the next. We did. It’s exciting to be out there, exploring, being able to go anywhere you’d like. But it’s also expensive. And time consuming. And exhausting. We hit the road January 15, 2018 and as of November 24, 2018, have spent about $3,040.00 on gas while towing. That’s just while towing — gas used while exploring or living our everyday life is not included. We also put on over 7500 miles. Again, those are just towing miles. While towing, we generally drive 60mph and we get about 14mpg.

Lodging Costs

For lack of a better term, lodging costs include the cost of the actual site where we park the Airstream, but also reservation fees, taxes, pet fees, electricity, and park entrance fees. We’ve paid anywhere from $0/night to $75/night. There are so many options when choosing where to stay. We’ve stayed at private RV parks, KOAs, city parks, county parks, state parks, national parks, casinos, Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) campgrounds, and on a family friend’s farm.

Private RV parks usually offer nightly, weekly, and monthly rates. Staying somewhere for a month is a good way to save on monthly costs; however, where the park is located is very important. We’ve paid $340 for a month in Pahrump, NV, but have also paid as much as $1900 for a month in Escondido, CA (San Diego County). While city, county, state and national parks don’t offer different rates correlating with your length of stay, they also don’t raise prices for weekends and holidays like private parks and KOAs do. For example, we’re paying $85/night for the Thanksgiving weekend at a casino RV resort, when it would usually cost $50 for the Thursday night and $60 for the Friday and Saturday nights. In contrast to that is our four-night stay in Death Valley National Park over the New Year’s holiday. The campground in Death Valley is always $36/night, regardless of day of the week or if it’s a holiday.

In addition to the nightly, weekly, or monthly rate, you may find yourself also paying for:

  • Reservation Fees – Expect to pay a reservation fee at state or ACOE parks. The reservation fee is the same price whether you stay one night or ten, so this is something that can add up if you move around too much.
  • Electricity – Electricity is generally always included unless you are staying a month or longer somewhere. When you stay a month, expect electricity to be an additional charge.
  • Pet Fees – Some places charge them; some places don’t. Since January 15 until today, we’ve paid $32.00 in dog fees, so it’s not a very common thing.
  • Taxes – This is another one that can sneak up on you. Some states don’t have taxes. Some places include the tax in the rate. But some places tack on the tax at the end and you end up paying quite a bit more than you thought you were going to.
  • Park Entrance Fees – Another thing to consider when making a reservation is if your site is within an area that requires a daily entrance fee. National parks, national recreation areas, and state parks are definitely places that have daily entrance fees. Sometimes it makes sense to just pay the daily fee; sometimes it makes sense to pay for an annual pass.

From January 15, 2018 through November 24, 2108, we paid a total of $13,236.46 for all lodging costs. That’s an average of $42.29/day or $1268.67/month. That’s definitely higher than we would like and we’re going to work on lowering that number next year. We have about 5 and a half months worth of reservations booked next year already and we’ve been able to lower the number to $33.63/day or $1008.90/month.

There are a number of memberships that will help lower your lodging costs; these are the ones we use:

  • AAA – Many RV parks give a 10% discount. Member rates vary.
  • Good Sam – Many RV parks give a 10% discount. $27/year. I can’t even calculate the amount of money we’ve saved with our Good Sam membership; hundreds, probably.
  • KOA Value Kard Rewards – 10% off at all KOAs. Earn points that can be used as discounts on stays. $30/year. We’ve saved almost $100 this year with our membership. Additionally, we’ve earned enough points to get $25 off our next stay.
  • Harvest Hosts – A network of wineries, breweries, farms, museums and similar locations that allow RVs to park one night overnight on their property for free. Currently $49/year; increasing to $79/year 1/1/19.
  • Passport America – Save 50% at over 1800 campgrounds/RV parks across the country. $44/year. We’ve saved $410 this year with Passport America alone.
  • America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass (aka Interagency Annual Pass) – Free entrance into federally operated national recreation sites (such as national parks). Free entrance for up to four individuals at National Park Service sites where per person entrance fees are charged. If you are camping in a national park, you will need to purchase either a weekly pass or annual pass specific to that park. Prices vary from park to park. The other option is to purchase an Interagency Annual Pass for $80. Because entrance was free our Interagency Pass, we’ve visited a number of national monuments we wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

Our Current Financial Situation

Our average monthly cost to date for lodging and gas is $1560.04. This amount includes water and electricity. Pre-Airstream life, we were paying $3400/month for rent for our 2-bedroom condo in La Jolla, not including utilities. Obviously, our basic living expenses have decreased dramatically. Thanks to our lower monthly expenses and the fact that we’ve had our busiest year to date business-wise, we’ve been able to concentrate on building our savings, investments, and retirement accounts. Our business is set up as an S-Corp, allowing us to have a SEP IRA to which we can contribute up to 25% of our gross salary, which we were able to do this year. We’ve also been able to save about 16.5% and invest about 15% of our gross income. We don’t have any loans and we don’t carry a credit card balance. We are truly in the best financial state we have ever been in and the only reason we’re able to save and invest so much is because we live in our Airstream full time. While some people live the full time life in order to lower their expenses so they can work less, we plan to work the same amount for the foreseeable future in order to continue to contribute to our financial future and set ourselves up for true financial independence.

Besides the financial benefit, full-time Airstream life has allowed us to see places in our country that we would have otherwise not seen. There have been amazing places, there have been some not-so-amazing places. Every person we’ve met, every city we’ve traveled through — everything has helped us understand and have more compassion for our neighbors. Except maybe our current neighbors who allow their dogs to poop in our site and don’t clean it up.

 

 

Zephyr Cove Resort – Lake Tahoe, NV

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

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Tent Sites
  • Airstreams for Rent
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Store
  • Dump Station
  • Propane

There are three Airstreams available for rent. Looking at the Zephyr Cove website, they look to be 30′ International Signatures.

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.

Depending on where you are on the mountain, you’ll find yourself in one of two states.

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!

Bordertown Casino and RV Resort – Reno, NV

Bordertown Casino and RV Resort

Address: 19575 Hwy 395 North, Reno, NV 89508

Phone: (775) 677-0169

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Dog Run
  • Propane Fill
  • Gas Station
  • Casino with Restaurant
  • Dump Station

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.

 

Lassen Volcanic National Park and Hat Creek Hereford Ranch

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

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thrus (but not really)
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Tent Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fishing/Swimming Pond

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.

Site 3 – The four picnic tables in the photo show how close together the sites are.
The surrounding area is a beautiful country setting.

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.

 

 

Hood Park – Burbank, WA

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.

Address: 592 Camp Circle, Burbank, WA 99323

Phone: (509) 547-2048

Amenities:

  • Pull Thrus
  • Electric Hookups
  • Water Fill
  • Dump Station
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Amphitheater
  • Playground
  • Gate Locked from 10pm-6am
Site 20 – Nice and Level with Shade

North Spokane RV Campground

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

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull Thrus
  • Cable
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Swimming Pool
  • Propane Fill
  • Dump Station
  • Dog Park
  • Playground
  • TV Room
Site C1 – Level, Long and Grassy!
The sites in our row were in opposite direction every other site. This meant we somewhat shared the patio area with one neighbor, but couldn’t see our other neighbor’s hookups, which is always a little gross.

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.

Riverfront Park’s Clock Tower

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!

 

Five Days in Glacier NP

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

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Guest Lounge
  • Ice and Firewood
  • Picnic Table
  • Cabins
  • Yurts
  • Tent Sites
  • Playground
Site F8 (Notice the peek view of an Airstream next door!)

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.
Pan Seared Wild King Salmon with Morel Mushrooms, Peas, Fiddlehead Ferns and Béarnase

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.

The trail is very well marked at the trailhead, as well as along the entire route.
The first part of the trail is an area that was heavily impacted by the Reynolds Fire in 2015.

There are a couple smaller, unnamed falls along the trail, like this one.
You’ll know you’ve reached St. Mary falls when you see this bridge. The color of the water was so beautiful — and is completely unedited!
St. Mary Falls
And when you reach this bridge, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Virginia Falls!
Virginia Falls is 50′ high.
Just an FYI — It’s super wet and windy right by the falls!

A few more pics from stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road:

Jackson Glacier as seen from the Jackson Glacier Overlook

McDonald Creek

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:

At times, visibility was pretty nonexistent, as the fog (clouds?) cloaked the road.

The fog made for a moody vibe at Wild Goose Island Overlook
Wild Goose Island Overlook

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.

Square Dance Center & Campground – Lolo, MT

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

Amenities:

  • Water and Electric Hookups
  • Dump Station and Pump Service
  • Pull Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Shower
  • Cable TV

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.

Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park

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

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull Throughs
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Cable TV
  • Picnic Table & Fire Pit
  • Free Breakfast
  • Free Access to the Hot Springs
Our site was fairly long and private, but the grass needs some love.
This fat little robin hung out by us for a bit.

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.

This indoor pool ranges in temp from 100 – 106 degrees.
There are four outdoor pools with different temps that range from 80 to 104 degrees.
The naturally heated mineral water felt great after a workout or hike.

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.

The ‘M’ from a distance
This sign lets you know you’re in the right place!
The elevation gain on the “most difficult way” ain’t no joke!

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.