When we would spend prolonged periods of time in the San Diego area, we preferred to stay at Surf & Turf RV Park in Del Mar. You can read about our previous stays there here and here. This is a barebones park that is essentially a gravel parking lot (though some trees are present) surrounded by a fence. Water and electric hookups are available and a pump truck comes around three times a week to empty your tanks. However, Surf & Turf decided to upgrade its hookups and install sewer connections this year, so our usual spot was out of commission temporarily. Our plan was to wait it out in the meantime across the street at the fairgrounds, where there are 58 RV sites with full hookups. They don’t take reservations, so after spending our one night in Temecula, we contacted the fairgrounds to make sure they had a spot for us before heading that way. The response: We’re closed until December 6th. A bit of a problem seeing as it was November 20th.
Surf & Turf is also owned by the fairgrounds, so I can only assume that both places are getting a little primping at the same time. We found ourselves in quite the predicament. After driving 750 miles from our condo in Bozeman to pick up our Airstream in Clackamas, Oregon where we had some work done, and then driving more than 1,250 miles to Southern California where we planned to spend the next four months, we appeared to be without a place to stay.
We both felt sick to our stomachs. How were we going to find a place to stay in San Diego County with no notice in late November? There are not many options for extended stays in an RV in the area and there are even fewer options that would be considered anything close to affordable. It might be possible to string together a few nights here and there at various regional parks and state beach campgrounds, but that wouldn’t work for us. We had very recently scrapped a lovely part of our route that would have taken us to a beautiful olive oil ranch in San Ardo, a week in Pismo Beach, a few nights in Ventura, and a few more nights in San Juan Capistrano, in order to arrive and get settled in San Diego earlier than originally planned in order to take care of some new work commitments and a personal commitment that required an airport. We needed to be able to stay in one place for the foreseeable future. We had ever only stayed at one other RV park in San Diego County for an extended period of time – Escondido RV Resort – and there were things about it that we didn’t care for. You can read about that stay here. However, we went back to our ‘it’s best to know what to expect then not’ school of thought, and decided to reach out to them first. Ultimately, thanks to a recent cancellation and moving a guest to a different site (you’re welcome for the upgrade!) they were able to get us in that day for a one-month stay. Phew! Our plan was to move to the fairgrounds after our month was up, and then hopefully Surf & Turf would be open.
At the time, we had no idea this would be our last time hitching up, our last travel day, and the last place we ever stayed with the Airstream — more about that shortly.
We had gotten lucky. We had never left such a long stretch of time to chance like that before, and this is why. Even though we had a plan that seemed like it would work, it didn’t. After almost four years of Airstreaming, mostly full time, we continued to learn lessons and experience things we hadn’t before. Some people are able to float from one place to the next without much of a plan in place and still sleep soundly at night – we are not those people.
We made the uneventful 33-minute drive down I-15 to where we’d be spending the next two months. (That’s right, TWO months — more about THAT shortly as well.) The RV park was everything we remembered it being: cramped, noisy from the nearby interstate, and with a cell signal that for some reason drops to sometimes unusable levels the moment you drive in. We wedged ourselves into our site with zero inches to spare and breathed a sigh of relief.
Dates Stayed: November 20, 2021 – January 20, 2022
Rate: Whatever They Feel Like Charging + Electricity
Restrooms with Showers
Pool with Spa
Oh, site 66. You are divine during the sunny hot days, with all the shade you provide. However, once winter hits and the rains come, your lack of sun makes for an incredibly damp, muddy stay, made worse by the sprinklers going off every night. Also, road noise, almost constant sewer smell, and not a whole lot of outdoor space — two thumbs waaaaay down from us.
A few more notes about the RV park:
(You may want to read about our previous stay to understand where some of these are coming from.)
The bulky cable boxes have been switched our for coaxial cable hookups at the pedestals. We use streaming services, so this was not a benefit to us, but at least they’ve upgraded this since our last stay.
The AT&T signal is still atrocious within the confines of the RV park.
They offer two levels of WIFI: 850kbps speed free for 3 days, meaning you have to sign in every 3 days; and 5mbps speed available for 1 day ($5.99), 1 week ($12.95), or 1 month ($39.99). We opted for the 1-month plan, as we needed to work and the speed of the free WIFI wasn’t going to cut it.
One load of laundry costs $7.00. And you can’t make it a full load, because if you do, it won’t dry completely, even on the highest setting.
Since our last stay, they’ve shifted from being just a short-term stay RV park to having many long-term residents, or people living there. This means that it’s difficult to get one of the nicer, larger sites in the upper part of the park, as many are occupied for the foreseeable future.
You may have noticed that I wrote ‘Whatever They Feel Like Charging’ for the rate. There is no rhyme or reason to their rates. They fluctuate, they surge, and two people in two identical sites may be charged drastically different amounts. We were at their mercy. And don’t get me started about what they charge for electricity. Again, whatever they feel like charging.
Anyway, a few days after getting all settled in, we ran a bunch of errands, which included Travis getting his booster shot. He felt fine for the first 24 hours, normal fever & exhaustion for the next 24, and then started having chest pains and shortness of breath. After 24 hours, we decided to go to the ER on Thanksgiving. He ended up being admitted due to an elevated troponin level. Troponin is a protein found in heart muscles that is typically only measurable after a cardiac event. Anything above 40 usually signifies a heart attack. Travis’s was 13,000. The staff at the hospital was very calm and professional, but it was clear this was unknown territory and serious. While it seemed the booster was the culprit, the cardiac team did their due diligence and investigated any possible causes as well as thoroughly examine his heart to make sure there was no permanent damage. He had x-rays, EKGs, an echocardiogram, an angiogram, and a cardiac MRI. Everything looked great, considering, and his troponin started to trend down. He was released a few days later as there really isn’t a treatment for his diagnosis, which was myocarditis. That means one of the layers of his heart was inflamed. They confirmed Travis was one of the few people to have myocarditis as a result of receiving an mRNA vaccine. But Travis went above and beyond by having an actually unheard of troponin level — his doctor said he was a 1 in 5 million case. The staff at the VA Hospital in La Jolla was great and we felt very fortunate to be somewhere that he was able to receive such incredible medical care. After being released, he was instructed to take it easy and not lift anything greater than 5lbs. Walking was fine, but no hiking or any other activity that would get his heart rate too elevated. It was because of this, that we decided to see if we could extend our stay at Escondido RV Resort to two months, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the bit of stress that hitching up and towing can bring. They were able to extend our stay in our same site. While I’m not a fan of the RV resort’s billing practices, they were VERY accommodating.
In the following weeks, we kept a low profile so that Travis could recover, but we did get to spend some time with friends by way of lunch and dinner dates, as well as one of our favorite past times — trivia at the brewery. It was kind of a weird time. With Travis’s illness, the holidays, and COVID still hanging around, the lovely, eventful, social winter in San Diego that we had previously imagined was kind of anything but. We were somewhat detesting the RV park. The weather was crap. The annoyances of living in a small space were becoming overwhelming. We were missing our condo in Bozeman — the space, the king-size bed, the washer & dryer, the dishwasher, even the low humidity (seriously, it was SO damp in the Airstream). We had talked about selling the Airstream a number of times during the previous months, and maybe even year. There were a number of reasons discussed, and I plan to go into them in more detail in an upcoming post, but for now you can refer to this post for a few of them. But the time felt right. Like, really right. So, we listed it. And we sold it. To read more about the selling process, check out this post.
After selling the Airstream, we moved into a hotel. We weren’t ready to leave San Diego quite yet and Travis had a followup appointment with his cardiologist scheduled at the VA in La Jolla. However, after they called to change it to a virtual visit (because, COVID), we decided there was no reason to hang around any longer. We had just seen our friends again at trivia on Thursday night, the doctor called on Friday, and we bugged out Saturday morning. We spent Saturday night in St. George, Utah and made it back to Bozeman Sunday evening. We had rented out our condo for the months of November and December, so we spent many hours cleaning that night and unloading the truck. We finished getting things situated in the condo on Monday, as well as doing load after load of laundry, and then emptied out the Airstream’s storage unit.
After our stay at Anthony Chabot Regional Park in the Oakland area, we made the 3-hour drive to Pinnacles National Park in Central California. Pinnacles is definitely one of the lesser known parks in the national park system, with many Californians not even aware of its existence. Though one of the fairly newer parks receiving national park status (in 2013), Pinnacles obtained national monument status in 1908 from President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act. Pinnacles is 16th on the list of least visited national parks (if you’re curious, find that list here) and is also one of the smallest national parks at just 26,685 acres. For reference, the 10 largest national parks all measure in at over 1.5 million acres.
Because of all this, we felt staying one night at Pinnacles Campground would be sufficient. And it would have been, if we had had a little more energy to hit the purported best trail in the park, but we didn’t — more on that later.
Pinnacles has two entrances, East and West, and they are not connected by a road (you must drive outside of the park to get from one side to the other — about 2 hours). The east side of the park finds the Pinnacles Visitor Center, Pinnacles Campground (with a decent camp store), and Bear Gulch, which has picnicking, trailheads, park headquarters, and Bear Gulch Nature Center. The west side has the West Visitor Contact Station with park information, exhibits, a film, and a small bookstore. There’s also the Chaparral Parking Area, with a trailhead, visitor contact station, restrooms, and water. I thought the road into the east side was curvy and narrow, but park information warns that most of CA 146 (the highway into the west entrance) is winding, steep, and one and half lanes wide (in some places only one lane wide) — and NOT recommended for RVs, large vehicles, or trailers.
The campground offers some sites with electric hookups, which is what I reserved. In mid-November, the average temps in Pinnacles are 70 for a high and 36 for a low, but the records are 94 and 15, so I wanted to make sure we had electricity in case we needed to run the air conditioning OR the space heater. The hookups section of the campground feels very much so like a parking lot, a description that is used regularly by RVers to describe some sites, though very much valid in this situation. Apparently, the non-hookup section of the campground, which we didn’t visit, is nicer. Two odd things about this particular national park campground: 1) There’s a swimming pool (not open during our visit); and 2) They charge more for weekend nights, which is the only time we’ve encountered a price surge at a national park campground based on the night of the week.
Name: Pinnacles Campground
Address: Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA 95053
Dates Stayed: November 18, 2021 – November 19, 2021
Rate: $37 Nonelectric/$49 Electric (Add $6 if Fri or Sat); Half off with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
Firewood for Sale ($12/bundle)
WIFI for Purchase
I feel as though our site, D113, was the best site in the RV area. It was incredibly large, easy to back into, had trees behind us, and no one on the door side of our site.
As you can see below, the RV section of the campground is pretty low frills and definitely has a parking lot feel to it.
Pinnacles was national park number 20 for us!
The WIFI that was offered is actually pretty decent, so worth the purchase if you aren’t able to be completely disconnected.
As I stated earlier, we were lacking the energy to commit to the 5.5-mile Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Caves and Cliffs or the longer loop trail that would continue on to Juniper Canyon and Tunnel Trails, so we opted instead for Condor Gulch Trail and Moses Spring Trail to Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Condor Gulch Trail is a 3.4-mile out and back trail with a viewpoint at the 1-mile mark, which is where we turned around, covering a total distance of 2.15 miles with 543′ of elevation gain.
We then hiked the Moses Spring Trail to the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. We covered 1.2 miles round trip with 307′ of gain, but I think this can be made into a longer loop trail. This was actually a pretty cool cave trail (bring headlamps!) that also traversed some canyons where there’s a lot of climbing and bouldering opportunities available.
We wish we would’ve given Pinnacles a full day to experience, or at least checked in right at 1pm to give ourselves more time, but we didn’t. The park is a nesting area for the California condor and is one of few release sites in the United States and Mexico. An aggressive captive breeding program taking place at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, as well as other locations, has allowed members of the endangered species to be released back into the wild. Pinnacles is home to 33 condors, and it would have been neat to see them in their natural habitat (we’ve seen them at the Safari Park), but we had no such luck. After a few hours of exploring, a camp fire with pricy firewood purchased at the camp store, and one night in one of the more expensive national park sites we’ve stayed in, we were off to our next destination the next morning.
The roads to enter and exit the park are narrow, curvy, and a bit bumpy, so that’s how our longer-than-usual drive started when we got underway at 7:30 that morning. Eventually, the narrowness subsided, but the bumpiness was fairly constant, even along some of California’s most traveled interstates. Though I rarely wear a bra, this was NOT the day to not wear one! Anytime we stopped to use the bathroom or grab a snack, we walked in the Airstream to what can only be described as a household explosion: couch cushions and pillows on the floor; bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom cabinets slid open, allowing for clothing to tumble onto the bed below; loose screws appearing from unknown hiding places that I hope were accidentally dropped during our recent modifications and not dislodged from somewhere of importance. Add in grades, traffic, and California’s speed limit of 55mph for any truck towing a trailer, and the six-hour-and-thirty-minute drive that Google Maps promised turned into nine mind (and butt) numbing hours. We both admitted to each other the next day that after lying down in bed that night, the room was spinning. The extended drive and less-than-ideal road conditions caused us both to experience something not unlike when you spend a day on a boat but still feel the rocking motion once you get back on solid ground. The infrequency of safe places to pull over for a brief rest and the absence of signage alerting to grades adds to the annoyance that is driving in the lower two-thirds of the Golden State.
I had called ahead to Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula to reserve a site for a night during one of our few stops. The $81 they charged for that Friday night (that’s with a 10% discount, no less) was much more than we care to spend, but we just needed a place to stay and were happy it would be somewhere we were familiar with. We have stayed at Pechanga a handful of times now due to its proximity to North County San Diego and you can read about those stays here. While Pechanga’s guests fall victim to the weekend surge pricing that many RV resorts employ, the cost is sometimes worth it when you know what to expect. And when it’s been a very long day. And when you know you’ll arrive at your less expensive (or so we thought) final destination the following day. And when you’re just kind of – done.
We almost broke one of our rules, which is to not arrive at our site after dark. After the 9-hour drive that day, we backed into our site as the sun was setting. We quickly got things set up, forgoing connecting the sewer hose as we would take care of emptying the tanks at our next location, and drove to In-N-Out to grab some dinner. Once we returned to the Airstream, we slipped into our swimsuits and ambled over to the hot tub for a much-needed soak. Thankfully, we had the entire pool area to ourselves and were able to relax a bit after what turned out to be a pretty strenuous day.
The campground at Anthony Chabot Regional Park in the East Bay’s Castro Valley, just outside Oakland, is a true gem. There are 12 full hookup sites and ~60 non-hookup/tent/group sites, some of them having views of Lake Chabot. The drive in is curvy and steep and narrow, and it’s not very easy to back into a lot of the FHU sites, but we were surrounded by bright, green grass and towering eucalyptus trees. It was crazy quiet and super peaceful, and about an hour drive into SF; 25-30 minutes to Oakland. Cell signal was good and we had no issue being able to work or stream.
Dates Stayed: November 14, 2021 – November 18, 2021
Speed Test: AT&T – 31.9 Mbps down/6.54 Mbps up
Firewood for Sale ($10/bundle)
Restrooms with Showers
Gated from 10pm to 8am
I did a lot of research when reserving a site and feel we ended up with the best site in the full hookups area. The road through the campground is narrow and lined with trees, and the sites aren’t angled as much as they should be, so backing into our site was quite difficult and took a bit of time. Some of the other sites are much easier to get into, but are grouped fairly close together. Site 12 sits far enough away from the one neighboring site and has an abundance of green space around it as it sits at the end of the loop.
Some of the non-hookup sites have nice views of the lake, as seen in the pic below, and seem to be easier to get into than the sites in the FHU area. Only a couple of these sites were occupied during our stay, so the campground was very, very quiet while we were there. I do think weekends can be quite busy, but we stayed a Sunday to a Thursday and there were very few other campers during that time.
Anthony Chabot Regional Park has some nice hiking, biking, and horse trails throughout, with some leaving right from the campground.
From the campground, we took the Honker Bay Trail down to the lakeshore, walked along the lake for a little bit, and then took Huck’s Trail back up to the campground, which made for a nice 2.63-mile loop with 541′ of elevation gain.
The rangers were incredibly helpful during our stay, with one recommending the hike up Brandon Trail to get a view of the bay, downtown Oakland, downtown San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate, and the San Mateo Bridge. We walked out past the campground’s entrance along Towhee Trail until it intersected with Brandon Trail, and then followed Brandon Trail up to the viewpoint. While it may be hard to make out in the picture below, Oakland is to the right with San Francisco right in the middle and the Bay Bridge spanning the water between them. This hike was 2.12 miles roundtrip from our site with 337′ of elevation gain.
Did you know the proper collective term for a group of turkeys is a rafter? Well, you do now. This rafter of wild turkeys would stop by every day for a visit.
We went into San Francisco one day for a little sightseeing. Of course, we had to stop by for a view of the Golden Gate. The view below is near the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. When we pulled into the parking lot, there were signs posted everywhere about issues with smash and grabs and to not leave any valuables or luggage visible in your vehicle. While the parking lot at the visitor center is small, there’s a lot of traffic with plenty of people coming and going. We didn’t think too much about it, but did make sure there wasn’t anything of value in the truck. We stopped in the welcome center for a souvenir, got our shot of the bridge as seen directly below, and then followed the path along the batteries to another overlook where we got the second and third shots. We then walked back to the parking lot where we found three cars had had their windows smashed, one on either side of us. This took all of 30 minutes to happen. So, I would not recommend parking where we did. Or if you do, make sure absolutely nothing is in your car. Or have one person stay back at the car. We should have gone to a more scenic location to take in views of the bridge, but I didn’t really do any research of where to go and we weren’t really feeling driving across the bridge.
After that experience, we weren’t really in the mood to check out much else. We’ve been to San Francisco multiple times before pre-Airstream and stayed in lovely hotels in lovely neighborhoods and had a lovely time, so the smash and grabs didn’t sour us on the city — just that particular day. We then drove over to the Presidio area, picked up a quick lunch from a coffee shop, and sat by the Yoda Fountain outside Lucasfilm headquarters. The Presidio is gorgeous and wonderful and if we were in a better headspace, we would have explored it more.
On the way back to our little slice of peace and quiet at the campground, we got gas as we knew we wouldn’t be venturing out again, and stopped at the closest grocery store, which is 25 minutes away.
Anthony Chabot is a great place to stay in the Bay Area, especially the East Bay, and we would definitely stay here again. Next stop, Pinnacles National Park!
As we continued to make our way south in California, we stopped at Harvest Hosts site Milano Family Winery in Hopland, California for the night.
If you are unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, you can visit their website for more information here. That link will also give you 20% off the annual fee for the life of your membership. The gist is that for one low annual membership fee, you get access to over 2,500 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, golf courses, etc. You are expected to purchase something from the host, whether it be a bottle of wine, cheese, wool socks, admission tickets to the museum, etc. As the Harvest Hosts network continues to expand each month, some hosts are starting to offer amenities not seen in the past, such as longer stays or options for partial or full hookups. However, it’s a good rule of thumb to assume that you need to be a fully self-contained vehicle that does not need access to water, electricity, or sewer, as well as that your stay will consist of just one night. It seems many hosts have signed onto the reservation system available through the Harvest Hosts app or website, but some still prefer to be contacted via phone or email to arrange your stay. It’s important to keep in mind that these hosts are business owners whose first responsibility is their business and customers. They are not campground or RV park managers and these are not campgrounds or RV parks. Make sure to thoroughly read the instructions and rules of each host both on the Harvest Hosts website/app and whatever information the host gives you directly.
The two RV spots at Milano were located right off the highway in a gravel parking lot. There was plenty of room to maneuver, but they were a bit unlevel and had consistent road noise. We knew what to expect, though, as I had read a number of reviews in the Harvest Hosts app. After getting parked, we went in and did a wine tasting and purchased two bottles of wine. We sat at a picnic table while sipping our wine and enjoyed the menagerie of animals that call the winery home.
Back at the Airstream, we chatted with our neighbors for a while, who were also Airstreamers, albeit an Interstate van as opposed to a trailer.
Some of our favorite stays have been at Harvest Hosts, which are such a great option when you just a need a place to park for a night as you travel one place to the next:
Sanders Family Winery – Pahrump, NV – January 2019
Our very first Harvest Hosts stay was on January 1, 2019 at a beautiful and quiet winery located in Pahrump, NV. It was FREEZING, but our gracious hosts let us run our generator as the temp dipped down to 22 degrees that night. It may have been cold, but the views were beautiful!
Emerson Vineyards – Monmouth, OR – October 2019
According to the reviews, this is a popular stop that features live entertainment on Friday nights, though we were the sole RV on the Monday night that we stayed. We didn’t do any wine tasting, but did purchase a bottle of their award-winning Brother Red. Minus the sporadic distant gunshots, this was a peaceful, private stay where we were able to test our newly installed solar and lithium batteries.
Sentinel Ranch Alpacas – Belgrade, MT – August 2020
The alpaca ranch is located just outside Bozeman, Montana and is a very popular Harvest Hosts location. They graciously allowed us to film part of our House Hunters episode there that highlighted our transition from full-time Airstream living to part-time condo living. You can also visit the ranch sans RV, as they have a nice little gift shop and an area to pet and feed the alpacas.
Garvin Heights Vineyard – Winona, MN – September 2020
This was a lovely little winery that set us up in their parking lot. The weather was absolutely perfect, allowing us to leave our windows open all night to listen to the summery midwest sounds and get one of the best nights of sleep both Travis and I had had in a very long time.
Big Snow Resort – Wakefield, MI – September 2020
This was one of our favorite Harvest Hosts stays. The Sky Bar and Grille atop Big Snow’s Indianhead Mountain is open for most of the year, offering food and drink to be enjoyed on their expansive outdoor deck. Once we parked, we grabbed some drinks and a basket of fries and took in the view. We also enjoyed walking up and down the ski runs, enjoying the beautiful fall colors that started to settle in.
4e Winery – Mapleton, ND – September 2020
Another lovely winery setting with the nicest people! This Harvest Hosts is a particularly popular one, and we were thankful they had room for us. Even though the winery was closed on the day of our stay, Lisa allowed us, along with three other RVs, to stay and opened the tasting room for us. We made sure to thank her for her hospitality by purchasing a bottle of wine. They have a large, level open field for RVs to park in, and besides the hundreds (thousands?) of crickets jumping around, it was a very peaceful evening.
That’s a wrap on some of the great places we’ve stayed through Harvest Hosts! It’s a great program that we love to utilize whenever we can.
As we made our way south to our winter destination of San Diego County, we spent two nights at Azalea Glen RV Park in Trinidad, California. While it was a fairly short drive from Harris Beach State Park, the 101 along this stretch is known to have regular closures. There were multiple points where the road was only one lane due to road construction. It seems the highway isn’t the only road that’s prone to closure in this area. When I called Azalea Glen a few weeks earlier to make the reservation, they didn’t require a deposit because during this time of year, the weather can be unruly, causing downed trees, rock slides, flooding, and other issues that may close roads immediately around Azalea Glen or on the way to Azalea Glen. The woman on the phone just said to call to let them know if we couldn’t make it. Luckily, during our 2-night stay, the weather was pretty spectacular for this time of year — no rain, sunny-ish skies, and warm-ish temps.
RV Park Stats
Name: Azalea Glen RV Park
Address: 3883 Patricks Point Dr, Trinidad, CA 95570
Our site was a back-in, full hookup site that backs up to a pond. We had a wooden deck complete with chairs, fire pit, and picnic table. Fences topped with out-of-control vines gave us privacy from the sites on either side of us. There are only a handful of sites that have a deck, which was a welcome amenity considering the sites are all grass. Normally grass sites aren’t a big issue, but it’s very damp in this area, and even with the no rain and sunnier days we experienced, the grass just never dried up. So, while the deck caused our site to be much shorter than the sites without decks as we could only back up so far, it was nice to not have to deal with wet grass and mud at our doorstep. There are four pull-through sites that can accommodate any size rig, but the remaining sites are back-ins positioned at 90 degrees. We stayed at Azalea Glen a little over three years prior, and while that site was the same level of difficulty to back into, there was at least more room for our truck as it was a much longer site. My recommendation for a site here is one of the sites in the 20’s; however, many of the people staying here are permanent, or at least long-term, residents and beggars can’t be choosers.
We packed a lot into our 2-night stay: Laundry (the dryers aren’t very hot, so use extra high heat); Grocery shopping; Exploring Sue-Meg State Park (fka Patrick’s Point State Park), which is located directly across the street from Azalea Glen; Hiking the Cathedral Trees Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park; and spending a few hours chatting next to the fire with fellow Airstreamers Dirk & Kat (in the middle in the above pic) and Stuart & Brittany (on the right above).
To read about our previous stay, a little bit more about the city of Trinidad, and other locations to visit in Redwood National and State Parks, click here.
Harris Beach State Park is situated directly on the ocean along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. It’s another one of Oregon’s fantastic state parks that’s well kept and in high demand. Our site was a nice blacktopped site with water and electric hookups that just fit our 28′ Airstream and truck. In addition to the tent and water/electric sites, there are 63 full hookup sites, some of them offering pretty great ocean views (site A20 and vicinity). It’s a short walk down to the wild, sand beach with large rock formations. There’s a paved trail that leads into downtown Brookings from the park or it’s about a 5-minute drive. Brookings has all of the amenities you would need including some restaurants and breweries — be sure to check out Black Trumpet Bistro for some delicious food! There’s a lot of natural beauty to explore in the area, so just hop in the car and drive. The coast is absolutely gorgeous here and it’s only about a half hour drive to Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park.
We expected rain on our travel day from Silver Falls State Park to our one-night stay in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, but we were blessed with a beautiful, dry travel day. So much so that we almost kept driving to at least Grants Pass. No rain this time of year is a gift, and Interstate 5 is a bit curvy with some grades in this area, so we considered driving further, even discussing driving all the way to our next destination of Harris Beach State Park on the coast. However, after about three hours of driving, we decided to pull off at our intended stop and enjoy being able to set up for the night without having to do deal with any rain for a day.
Millsite Park RV Park, aka Myrtle Creek RV Park, is located in a lovely little city park. Even though the location is a short distance off I-5, it’s very quiet. There are only 14 sites, one of them occupied by the camp host, but all are pull throughs with full hookups, which is something we needed after being without a sewer hookup for the previous four nights. Our site was long and level, which made for the easiest set up we’ve had in a while. I believe I called two days before our arrival to secure a reservation, which I’m glad I did. When we showed up, there were a handful of empty sites, but by nightfall, they were all occupied. We actually saw one person turned away, so I’m assuming they showed up without a reservation, but all of the sites were already spoken for.
RV Park Stats
Name: Millsite Park RV Park or Myrtle Creek RV Park
Address: 441 SW Fourth Ave, Myrtle Creek, OR 97457
The adjacent city park has a nice trail that circles it and we were able to get a few laps in after getting the Airstream set up. There’s also a coffee shop, Mexican restaurant, and various other businesses within walking distance.
Millsite was a perfect little respite for the night!
Silver Falls State Park is known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Park system and it’s easy to see why. Located about 65 miles south of Portland and 20 miles east of Salem, the park, including the campground, is a forested, mossy, waterfall wonderland that is meticulously maintained. It’s the largest state park in Oregon and has more than 24 miles of walking/hiking trails, 14 miles of horse trails, and a 4-mile bike path. When we stayed in early November, we were able to still enjoy the fall colors, but it was very damp and rained pretty regularly. Regardless, this park definitely finds itself towards the top of our favorite state parks list.
Name: Silver Falls State Park
Address: 20024 Silver Falls Hwy SE, Sublimity, OR 97385
Our campsite was an extremely long (83 feet) back-in site with an electric and water hookup. The sites are paved, which is great with all the rain the area receives. We stayed fairly late into the season when the campground wasn’t very busy, so it was peaceful and quiet. A handful of deer seem to call the campground home as we saw a few wandering about every day. I popped into the restrooms to check them out and they were super clean, which is impressive considering all of the rain and pine needles that must get tracked in but there was no trace of. The showers are individual shower rooms and were equally as clean. We used a vault toilet at the North Falls trailhead and even that was super clean – like, the cleanest vault toilet I’ve ever seen.
The main draw to Silver Falls is the abundance of waterfalls, ten of which you can enjoy if you traverse the Trail of Ten Falls. I’ve seen the length of this trail posted as both 7.2 miles and 8.7 miles, and seeing as we only did bits and pieces of the trail, I’m not sure which is more accurate. There are also other multiple shorter loops and out and back trails that lead to some of the falls, so it is definitely not necessary to do the entire Trail of Ten Falls in order to enjoy this park.
This park/trail map is from the Oregon State Parks website:
On our first full day in the park, the rain held off for a while and we were able to visit the South Falls area of the park. This part of the park is home to a café, a store, restrooms with flush toilets, a swimming area, an off-leash dog area, and a starting point for three of the park’s trails: the Rim Trail, the Canyon Trail, and the Maple Ridge Trail. This is also where you will find the park’s most visited waterfall, South Falls. South Falls is the second largest falls in the park at 177’ tall, just one foot shy of the tallest falls, Double Falls. While there is a very short walk to a viewing platform, South Falls is best enjoyed by taking the 1-mile loop that will take you on a path down behind the falls, across a bridge at the base of the falls, and loops back up to where you started.
On our second day of exploring, we drove to the North Falls trailhead. From here we did a short out and back to North Falls, where again you can follow the trail to behind the falls. You can continue along the trail, which is the Canyon Trail and part of the Trail of Ten Falls loop, but we opted to walk back towards the parking area and follow another short out and back to Upper North Falls. My watch measured these two little out-and-backs as 1.37 miles total, but the park lists it as 1.8. I guess it depends how far past North Falls one goes in order to determine the length.
As the names suggest, North Falls is on the north-ish (more east) end of the park and South Falls is on the south-ish (more west) end of the park. As we drove from North Falls back towards the campground on the south end of the park, we stopped at the Winter Falls trailhead. We hiked the short distance to Winter Falls and then, again, returned to the trailhead. This little roundtrip was less than a half mile, so again, another very doable length to view a beautiful waterfall. If you continue past Winter Falls, you’re able to access the most remote falls in the park: Middle North Falls, Drake Falls, Lower North Falls, and Double Falls. From what I can tell from the map, this hike would be around two miles round trip.
We ended up extending our stay one night in order to avoid a travel day consisting of high winds and lots of rain, which is a pretty typical weather situation for this time of the year. Most of the day was spent inside the Airstream, but the rain did let up for a little bit, so we drove back over to the South Falls area so we could walk around and get a little exercise. There were only three other cars in the parking lot, so if you want the trails and waterfalls all to yourself, then visit while it’s raining.
Even though we stayed at Silver Falls State Park during a fairly rainy part of the year and things were quite damp, we really enjoyed our stay. A visit during the latter part of the year allowed us to enjoy the fall colors, as well as a campground and trails without very many people. I think some of the falls dry up during the warmer months, so it was nice to be able to experience them after the area received a decent amount of rain and the falls were flowing at a pretty good clip. I found myself often commenting out loud how beautiful everything was — the fog, the moss, the trees — it all felt somewhat magical!
We left Bozeman on September 26th to drive west towards Ultimate Airstreams in Clackamas, Oregon, where we were having some updates/upgrades and maintenance issues taken care of. We chose to take the longer, flatter route along US-191 south out of Bozeman to West Yellowstone, to US-20/US-26 west to Mountain Home, Idaho, and then northwest along I-84 to the Portland area. Our stops along this trip would include Juniper Campground in Ririe, Idaho; Lava Flow Campground at Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco, Idaho; Abundant Life RV Park in Caldwell, Idaho; Emigrant Springs State Park in Meacham, Oregon; and Ainsworth State Park in Corbett, Oregon.
After a beautiful drive through Gallatin Gateway and the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, we arrived at our first stop — Juniper Campground!
We only spent one night at Juniper Campground, which is a county campground located on the Ririe Reservoir (formed by the Ririe Dam). There are three loops, with Loop A being reservable, and Loops B & C being first come, first served. There are 60 RV sites, with most being full hookups, and there’s a good combination of pull throughs and back ins. A10, A12, and A14 have views of the reservoir, but these are three of the few sites without a sewer hookup. Our site was a fairly level pull-through site, though we did need to use levelers on one side. The hookups were well located and our site was surrounded by Juniper trees, giving us privacy from the sites around us. All sites have a picnic table and fire pit. Many of the back-in sites in A loop are fairly unlevel/steep front to back. C Loop has very long, wide pull throughs that will accommodate any size rig. We didn’t check out B Loop. There is a grassy area for tent camping. Each loop has a bathroom with showers. There are a few picnic pavilions throughout as well as a basketball court. There is boat access to the reservoir with the steepest and longest boat ramp I’ve ever seen. This campground was very quiet when we stayed and has a camp host that stopped by to give us his contact info and inform us about the gate, which is locked from 10pm to 5am (it does open from the inside if you need to leave during that time for some reason). This was our first night back in the Airstream in about two months, so we had some housekeeping to attend to in our brief overnight stay and we didn’t venture out anywhere except to get gas.
Dates Stayed: September 26, 2021 – September 27, 2021
Full Hookups Available
Reservation and First Come, First Served Sites
Restrooms with Showers
Next, we ventured to Craters of the Moon National Monument for a one-night stay at first come, first served Lava Flow Campground. Lava Flow is the only campground located within Craters of the Moon and it’s a beaut! It’s the most well-maintained and well-manicured NPS campground we’ve ever seen. There are 42 sites, all without hookups. The road throughout the campground is narrow and there aren’t a lot of sites that can accommodate a large rig, or even a medium-sized rig. I would highly recommend stopping at the visitor center on your way in so that you can get a campground map and see what you’re working with. We ended up in Site 2, which is actually across the street from the campground, along with Site 1. Both of these are large pull throughs that can accommodate any size rig and will save you having to drive through the campground looking for a spot. Once you find a site, there is a pay machine at the entrance that accepts credit card only. You are able to pay for one night at a time. Our site had a picnic table and grill, but no fire pit. There are both restrooms with flush toilets and showers (seasonal) and vault toilets, as well as water spigots throughout the campground. There’s also a nice little amphitheater where I assume they do ranger talks and there’s access to the Crater Flow Trail right from the campground. It can get VERY windy, so don’t leave anything outside that could blow away.
Dates Stayed: September 27, 2021 – September 28, 2021
Rate: $15.00; $7.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
First Come, First Served
Restrooms with Showers (Seasonal)
From the Craters of the Moon brochure:
Many lava flows exist on Earth’s actual moon, but astronauts confirmed that most lunar craters resulted from meteorite impacts, not volcanism. The craters of Craters of the Moon, however, are definitely of volcanic origin. But where is the volcano? These vast volumes of lava issued not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures — known collectively as the Great Rift — that cross the Snake River Plain. Beginning 15,000 years ago, lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce this vast ocean of rock. The most recent eruption occurred a mere 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that future events are likely.
Loop Road is a 7-mile scenic drive that provides access to trails that take you over, under, and around the various volcanic features of the park. Many of the sites are accessed by fairly short trails from the parking areas, or can even just be viewed from the parking areas themselves. This is definitely a park that can be done in one day, even if you choose to traverse the 3.6-mile (roundtrip) North Crater Trail.
As you can see below, the trailhead signs are very informative, but there are two things that cannot be referenced on the sign that ended up making us turn around at a little over a mile into the hike. 1) It was very dry during our visit. Like really, really dry. The humidity was 18%. That, along with the wind that didn’t ever seem to quit, just sucked all of the moisture right out of us, even giving us cotton mouth. We brought water with us on the trail, but by a mile in, we had already drank half of it, so we decided to turn around. 2) The sign lets you know about the cumulative elevation gain and loss, but does not inform you that this gain and loss continuously repeats along the trail. It’s possible that the continuous up and down of the trail wouldn’t be so noticeable if it was less windy and less dry (and we had more water with us). Regardless, this was a really great trail that had a lot of interesting views along the way and I’d highly recommend it.
You actually walk across lava flow fields while on the trail and the metal poles as seen below guide you.
It’s hard to grasp the size of this area, but there is person in a red shirt at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the inclined trail for scale.
Next, we stopped at Inferno Cone. It looks innocent from a distance, but there’s a pretty steep incline along a trail made of crushed lava rock that’s difficult to walk on, especially when the 30+mph winds are whipping it against any skin that’s uncovered.
The views from the top were pretty nice…
…but very, very windy.
We then continued along the loop to the Spatter Cones area. These are easily accessible along a paved trail.
Our last stop of the day was the cave area of the park. In order to enter the caves, you need to obtain a permit, which consisted of the person in the entrance kiosk stamping our pamphlet when we first entered the park. No one checked it before we entered the caves and it didn’t seem like they give out a limited number of permits, so I’m not really sure what the purpose is. Anyways, we didn’t feel the caves, which are actually lava tubes, were anything to write home about. They’re just caves, some more accessible than the others. I would recommend each person bring a headlamp as they’re, well, caves, and there’s not much for natural light. Seeing as bats live in some of them, you’re not supposed to wear anything into the caves that you’ve worn into any other caves in the last few years in order to prevent white noise syndrome being transferred to the bats.
We spent one night at Lava Flow Campground and that was enough to see everything. It was a very interesting place! Forewarning: Cell signal drops off basically right when you turn down the road to enter the park. It’s possible you might get a little something, but don’t count on it. Also, the last gas station coming from the east is about 20 minutes outside the park and about 30 minutes outside the park when coming from the west. When we visited, the North Crater Flow Trail, which is accessible right from the campground, was closed. This looked like a very nice, easy little trail with boardwalks that winds through some nice scenery. A ranger was set up outside the visitor center to answer any questions, as the visitor center and gift shop were closed due to “everyone being sick”. We always like to buy some souvenirs as reminders of our travels and to help support the parks, and I was able to do that by calling the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association. Their website is www.cratersofthemoonnha.org.
Probably the best feature of Craters of the Moon is that it has an International Dark Sky designation. It was definitely dark at night and we saw the most stars we’ve ever seen anywhere!
We continued west to Caldwell, Idaho, where we spent two nights at Abundant Life RV Park.
Dates Stayed: September 28, 2021 – September 30, 2021
Rate: $55.00; $49.50 with Military Discount
Bathrooms with Showers
Pond w/ Swim Beach
Enclosed Dog Park
This was a well-maintained, small park that seemed to consist mainly of full-time residents. Each site was kept nice and tidy, and the residents were very quiet. This RV park is in a commercial area and is surrounded by RV dealerships, car dealerships, a car wash, gas stations, and various other businesses. While the residents are quiet, the overall location isn’t. There’s a decent amount of traffic and train noise, but nothing so disruptive that it’s going to ruin your day or prevent you from getting a good night of sleep. Caldwell is a good-sized city, so has everything you would need, and also is home to a number of wineries, though we didn’t visit any. We actually didn’t leave the RV park except to get gas and pick up a pizza, as we stayed here during the week and had to work.
From Caldwell, we continued west (but mostly north) into Oregon, where we spent two night at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area, aka Emigrant Springs State Park. This park is along the route of the Oregon Trail and pays homage to it’s location with some information displays throughout as well as ranger talks during the busier season.
Name: Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area
Address: 65068 Old Oregon Trail Rd, Meacham, OR 97859
Dates Stayed: September 30, 2021 – October 2, 2021
16 Full Hookup Sites Available (5 Available Year Round)
Restrooms with Individual Showers
Firewood for Sale
Group Tent Site
Community Building for Rent
This is a beautiful, wooded campground that is extremely convenient when traveling along I-84. The sites are a decent length and fairly level. There are 16 full hookup sites, while the rest are without hookups. As most of the sites are pretty shady throughout, I’m not sure how well solar panels would help in the non-hookup sites. Five full hookup sites are available year round, though the water gets shut off in the winter. There is water available year round at the restrooms/shower house. The showers are accessed individually, which is always nice from a safety standpoint. There was a camp host on site and it appears there are usually two during the busier season. Wood is available for purchase for $5 for a cart load. This is a smaller park without a check-in kiosk, so it’s important to know your site number if you have a reservation.
While this campground is visually pleasing, it has two issues that make it less than optimal: 1) Interstate noise, and 2) Packrats. That semi in the picture below? Yeah, it’s on Interstate 84, which is a major thoroughfare. As you can see, the entrance to the park is literally yards away from the interstate. Some of the sites even have views of the interstate. One would think that all of the beautiful trees throughout the campground would help to buffer the interstate noise, but one would be wrong. The traffic noise is the loudest we’ve ever experienced anywhere we’ve stayed. It was not very enjoyable to sit outside, so while we spent night one outside for a few hours by the fire, we spent night two inside watching TV. Inside the Airstream, the noise was okay — it wasn’t too loud and didn’t keep us up at night. But outside — no bueno.
The second issue this campground has is packrats. Apparently. We’ve never known them to be an issue outside of the Southwest and none of the reviews on Campendium, The Dyrt, or Google mentioned them, but when we started noticing a few vehicles throughout the campground with the hoods propped open, we asked the camp host. According to him, the packrats are terrible. He’s been working at the campground a long time and has had multiple issues. While his most current truck has been untouched, he did have one making itself at home in his trailer somewhere. So, we propped open our hood at night and crossed our fingers. Thankfully, we had no issues, but because of the packrats and the traffic noise, we would never stay at this campground again. It’s a shame, because it really is a beautiful little campground that apparently existed for decades before the interstate came through. Now, it’s just not very peaceful.
The last stop on our trip to drop the Airstream off was the one I was looking forward to most — Ainsworth State Park. Ainsworth is located in the Columbia River Gorge. Our drive from Emigrant to Ainsworth was almost completely along the Columbia River and incredibly enjoyable. The weather was absolutely perfect and we had a very clear view of Mount Hood as we drove.
Name: Ainsworth State Park
Address: E Historic Columbia River Hwy, Corbett OR 97019
Our site was a pull-through with full hookups, a picnic table, and a fire pit. There’s really not too much else to say about it. The campground as a whole seems like it could use a little love, but it was a decent place to stay for two nights to explore the area, and we would definitely stay here again. While we were in B7, I would say that the best sites are probably A9 – A13, as they have nice views and a little more distance between sites than some of the others. They’re also set up a little further away from the highway. As with any campground in the Columbia River Gorge, there is both train noise and traffic noise, though nothing too bad. From the campground, there is a connector trail to the Gorge Trail #400, which runs for many miles throughout the Gorge area.
I poked my head into the bathrooms and showers to check them out and they both seemed very clean.
While Ainsworth State Park isn’t the most aesthetically desirable Oregon state park we’ve stayed at, its location makes up for what it lacks in beauty. This smaller state park is in the perfect location from which to explore the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge located along the Historic Columbia River Highway (U.S. 30).
At 620 feet, the two-tiered Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. It’s also the #1 natural tourist attraction in the Pacific Northwest. A short trail leads from the base of the falls up to Benson Bridge, which traverses the creek between the two cascades of the falls and gives a closer view of the upper, taller cascade. The Multnomah Falls Lodge, found at the base of the falls, offers a restaurant with a view of the falls, a snack bar, an espresso bar and a gift shop. The trails around the falls connect to several other Gorge trails that will take you to several other waterfalls. We visited on October 2nd and parking was still fairly limited at this time. There’s a bus called the Columbia Gorge Express that offers roundtrip transport between Portland and Multnomah Falls.
Some of the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway are visible right from the road while some require a little bit of a hike to get to them. We checked out two other falls while in the area, Wahkeena Falls and Horsetail Falls.
We actually parked at the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead when we visited Multnomah Falls, as we had driven to Multnomah Falls initially, but found parking to be nonexistent. We took the half-mile trail to Multnomah first and then returned on the same trail to then take the short trail up to the 242-foot Wahkeena Falls.
Like Multnomah Falls, the 176-foot Horsetail Falls is visible from the parking area right along the highway.
It seems as though there’s still a lot to explore in this area, such as hiking trails, more waterfalls, and the view of five mountains (Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson) from Sherrard Viewpoint on Larch Mountain — really don’t know how I missed that one when planning for this stop. I guess we’ll just have to make a return trip!
From Ainsworth State Park it was a short, albeit stressful (not a fan of driving through Portland), drive to drop the Airstream off at Ultimate Airstreams. We dropped it off early in the morning, were back on the road by 8:15am, and drove the 11 hours (we took the most direct route) back to Bozeman where we’re getting our condo prepped for our renters and packing up what we didn’t already pack into the Airstream. We’ll be spending this winter in warmer climes in the San Diego area and can’t wait! We’re also looking forward to seeing and experiencing the updates and modifications by Ultimate Airstreams that will make our Airstream life a little more comfortable.
I seem to be struggling a bit with getting posts written this summer, so this post will cover ALL of our travels from Summer 2021.
We last left off at a one-night stay at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone, MT, so that’s where our travels pick up. From West Yellowstone, we moved on to Grand Teton National Park where we spent almost two weeks at Colter Bay Campground.
There are two ways to drive to Colter Bay Campground in Teton from West Yellowstone. The first is staying outside of Yellowstone, driving south through Idaho, then start heading east at Victor, ID, where you’ll cross Teton Pass, and come down into Jackson, WY. I do not recommend this way. We did it once a couple of years ago and don’t want to do it again if we don’t have to. Long, steep grades both ascending and descending, as well as pretty curvy curves. We were lucky that the weather was fine when we drove it, even though it was the end of May and easily could have been snowing. The other way is to drive into Yellowstone at the West Yellowstone entrance and follow the road down through the park and out the south entrance, where you drive just a little bit further before you reach Colter Bay. While this is definitely a better drive than Teton Pass, there are still some grades and curves to deal with as you cross the continental divide. We were not as lucky with weather this time, as there was a constant cycle of snow/rain/sleet coming down. But we took it slow and we prevailed, utilizing some of the multiple turnouts to let faster traffic pass us and to give ourselves a break. We drove this same route less than two weeks later on our way back to Bozeman and the weather was perfect, making it a much different experience.
We stayed in the Colter Bay Area during our previous trip to Grand Teton two years prior; however, we were in the RV park instead of the campground. The RV park has full hookups while the campground is mostly no hookups (there are a few sites with electricity). You can read about that visit here.
Name: Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park
Rate: $38; $19.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
Some Sites with Electric
Restrooms with Flush Toilets and Camp Sink
Recycling and Trash
Dump Stations with Water Fill
Paths to Jackson Lake
Amphitheater with Ranger Talks
Bear Box at Each Site
We had a lovely pull-through site at the end of the loop that had a fairly private, huge front yard. H157 was in full sun, which was great during the first week of our stay when the temps were still comfortable. The Airstream warmed up nicely during the chilly mornings and we didn’t ever have to conserve battery during our stay thanks to our solar panels being fed a continuous amount of sun. As our stay progressed into week 2, it started to get much warmer (low 80s) and it would have been nice to have a site with a little shade, which most of the other sites had.
We did not have a cell signal at our site, even with our booster, so when we needed to connect, we walked or drove over to the Colter Bay Village area and were able to get a decent signal outside the store/laundry/shower building or outside the restaurant. There were a few days when we needed to have a dependable, strong signal for work, so we hung out at Jackson Lake Lodge in one of the upstairs balconies overlooking the lobby where it was quiet enough and no other people were around. Or sometimes we would find a good signal as we were driving and just pull over to the side of the road (only where parking is allowed, of course).
While the majority of our stay at Colter Bay Campground was pretty quiet and rarely saw our loop full, Memorial Day Weekend was a different story. Starting on Thursday evening, all of the sites directly around us started to fill up and by Friday afternoon, the loop was full. There was a group of about 8-10 sites with an average of 2 adults, 2.5 kids, and 1.5 dogs per site that were all there together. It seemed pretty clear that this was an annual trip for this group and it also seemed as though we screwed up the dynamic by reserving one of the sites they usually stay in. They proceeded to treat the loop as their own private campground, setting up a volleyball net next to the bathroom, corn hole in another common area, and the kids left their bikes and toys scattered throughout. They weren’t overly rowdy, though they did bend the limits of quiet time. They just never seemed to go anywhere, which was odd to us, so there never was a fully peaceful moment while they were there. But when Monday morning came, they all packed up and rolled out and we had the loop mostly to ourselves again. So my advice is to not book a site in H Loop over Memorial Day Weekend.
There are two dump stations in the campground, though only one is clearly designated on the map they give you when you check in. The one that’s easy to see is the first dump station you come to, right past the check-in area. This dump station is for use on the way out and there are two sewer connections plus freshwater fill. The dump station that should be used on your way into the campground before you head to your site is a little further up the road between the entrance and exit for Loop I. We ended up having to dump once during our stay, waiting to do so until after checkout time on Memorial Day, when the campground really cleared out and there wasn’t a line at the dump station. We never use the freshwater fill at dump stations if we can help it (we’ve seen RVers do too many gross things), so we instead filled our 6-gallon water jug at the freshwater fill located at the gas station in Colter Bay. We then dumped that into our fresh tank. We drove past the gas station every day, so it wasn’t out of our way, and even it’s not actually filtered water, we know that no one has brought a sewer hose anywhere near it.
These are the hikes we did in the order that we did them:
String and Leigh Lakes
The first few days of our stay were rainy, including the day we did a portion of the trail along String and Leigh Lakes. We kept it short, at just about 2 miles roundtrip. You can loop around String Lake, which is 3.7 miles, or just keep walking along the trail on the eastern shore, which connects to the Leigh Lake Trail. Leigh Lake is a 1.8-mile out and back. Both trails are easy and flat, but have nice views. These two lakes are also great for paddling around on SUPs or in kayaks/canoes.
Taggart and Bradley Lakes
These are lakes that can again be done separately, but most people group them together. To do Taggart Lake alone is 3 miles, but to do them as one hike is 5.9 according to the park (we clocked 5.5 miles). There are two ways to group these lakes together. One is by doing a loop, where you hike out from the main trail to Taggart Lake, and from there take a trail that connects the two lakes, and you’ll end up at Bradley Lake, after which you take a trail back to the main trail. This route can be done in the opposite direction as well, visiting Bradley Lake first. One could argue that that is the best way to start, as the views are better. The trail that connects the two lakes has a pretty good incline, and then an equally stiff decline, and is the more difficult of the two routes. Throw in snow and mud at the time of year we did the trail, and it’s definitely the more difficult way. The second way is to treat each lake as an out and back off the main trail. This will keep things a little flatter than the 450′ of elevation you experience on the connecting trail, but ends up being the same distance overall. I’ll be honest, the only way I knew the difference between the lake pictures below is from the time stamp. You can definitely get all the beauty out of just doing the Taggart Lake Trail if you’re short on time or are looking for an easier hike.
After this hike, we were blessed with a bunch of wildlife sightings as we made our way back to the campground.
Phelps Lake Overlook
Phelps Lake has a bunch of options for how to experience it. You can do like us, and just venture out to the overlook, which is 2 miles roundtrip. Or you can hike down to the lake from the overlook, which adds another 2 miles. Or you can do the Phelps Lake Loop for a total of 6.3 miles, which starts at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve as opposed to the Death Canyon trailhead where the other two options start. Either place you start, be warned that the road is unpaved and can be a little rough and the road out to Death Canyon Trailhead becomes rougher as you go. Because of this, we actually parked more than a half mile from the trailhead, which turned the 2-mile hike into a 3.3-mile hike for us. There’s about 430′ of elevation gain from the actual trailhead, which is a pretty decent amount in that one mile, so this trail is rated as moderate.
Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point to Cascade Canyon
This was our longest hike of this trip and probably the most enjoyable and least enjoyable all in one. To get to Cascade Canyon, one must first start right behind the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. We arrived in the main Jenny Lake parking lot at around 9:30 on Saturday, May 29th. I know that sounds crazy, but there was actually still a lot of parking at this time and we didn’t encounter a crazy amount of people on the trail on our way out. However, as always, when it comes to national parks, the earlier the better. And we would end up regretting our late-ish start later.
**Because we had done the hike to Hidden Falls the last time we were in the park (exactly 2 years ago to the day!), I didn’t take as many pics as I normally would have, so some of the pics below are from this year and some are from two years ago.**
The path to Cascade Canyon first takes you to Hidden Falls, which is about a 2.5-mile hike. Unless, of course, you take the shuttle across Jenny Lake. The shuttle takes you from the East Shore dock to the West Shore dock, and shaves 2 miles off the hike. As of this year, shuttle prices are $10 one way or $18 roundtrip. While the shuttle definitely saves you some distance and elevation gain, that last half mile isn’t an easy breezy jaunt — you still climb 200′ in a half mile. Anyway, we’ve never done the shuttle, but it’s definitely a way to trim some time off your trip. Kind of. You can’t purchase tickets ahead of time and the line for the shuttle can be very, very long. So maybe it doesn’t save you much time. But it definitely saves you distance. Hidden Falls is probably the most popular hike in the park because of its location, length, and the fact that you see a waterfall, so plan accordingly.
After the hike up to Hidden Falls that’s not really a walk in the park even though it’s quite literally a walk in the park, Inspiration Point is another half mile up. This half mile is also pretty steep and winds up a series of switchbacks. One you get to the top, there’s a nice panoramic view of Jenny Lake that you share with lots of other people. We sat down for a bit to enjoy the view and eat lunch. This is where most people turn around to either hike all the way back down to the visitor center or to the West Shore Shuttle Boat Dock to hop back on the shuttle to cross the lake, but we continued on.
A half mile beyond Inspiration Point is where Cascade Canyon begins. As I stated, most people turn around at Inspiration Point, but they’re missing out on the best parts! The half mile up has a little bit more elevation gain, but then the trail levels out and you can leisurely stroll along Cascade Creek and take in the views. With very few other people, I might add. Earlier when I said this hike was both the most enjoyable and the least enjoyable — this is the part that was the most enjoyable. You enter Cascade Canyon at about the 3.5-mile mark along this trail. It extends another 4 miles or so, and then branches off into the North Fork, which will take you to Lake Solitude, or the South Fork, which leads you to Hurricane Pass. We continued on until we hit 5 miles before turning around, making this a 10-mile hike roundtrip. Cascade Canyon was so quiet, and so peaceful, and just really, really beautiful. This part of the hike definitely made the trek past the crowded portions of the trail worth it!
All good things must come to an end, so back down we went.
And here’s where the least enjoyable part of the hike comes in. As I said earlier, Hidden Falls is the most popular hike in the park. Even though we started later than we’d like, the hike up wasn’t too bad as there weren’t a lot of people. However, the hike back down was a different story. We now had to contend with two-way traffic. And while I LOVE that more and more people are experiencing our National Parks and all of the awesomeness they have to offer, I HATE that the trails are so busy. We tend to hike at a pretty decent clip, but most of the people on the popular/busy trails take their time. Obviously, that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re going at a slower pace than those around you, stay single file to the righthand side of the trail, instead of spreading out in groups of 2 or 3 so no one else can get by. All I’m saying is be aware of those around you, just like if you’re walking down a sidewalk or a hallway. While we hike at a pretty good pace, there are times when we see people coming up behind us at a faster pace. We pull off to the side and allow them to pass — it’s just the courteous, decent thing to do. Rant over. But I do want to add, if you’re going to venture out on trails, make sure to be prepared. Bring enough water, dress appropriately, pack some snacks, and wear the right footwear. We have seen SO many people out on trails that are unprepared, so just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s better to be over prepared than under prepared — we have never left a trail with zero water left and have no regrets about carrying that extra weight. Okay, NOW rant over.
This was the very first hike we ever did in Teton when we visited four years ago (pre-Airstream life). We had travelled to the area to run the Teton half marathon, and after the race, just wanted an easy trail. This trail fit the bill and we even saw a moose (of course!). I’m not really sure how long this trail is supposed to be or even if we stayed on the official trail. We clocked 3.27 miles, didn’t see any moose, and realized we had really low standards for a trail four years ago. This trail definitely isn’t a ‘must do’, but it has its moments.
Food & Drink
We ate the majority of our meals at our site, but we did eat at a few places in the park as well as visit the city of Jackson twice where we got lunch on both days. We picked up sandwiches a couple of times from Cafe Court, which is right next to the Ranch House Restaurant & Bar in Colter Bay, where we ate dinner twice. The food was decent, but as it was early in the season, the staff was pretty green and the service was a little chaotic, which could also be a result of being understaffed due to the pandemic. We picked up food from the Signal Mountain Lodge a couple of times, which was take out only this season. They had great options for breakfast and lunch, as well as some yummy desserts. We also visited the Blue Heron Lounge one night for cocktails, though the usual beautiful views of the Teton Range weren’t as prominent due to some rainy weather. On a sunny day, this is a fantastic place to get a drink and sit out on the outdoor patio.
While in Jackson, we ate at Persephone Bakery Cafe. Travis got the Smoked Trout Salad and I got the Green Goddess Grain Bowl and both were absolutely delicious. We also got a huckleberry scone to go, and it was equally delicious. Our second lunch visit to Jackson was in Teton Village at the Mangy Moose. We split a bison burger topped with gouda, huckleberry compote, and arugula, and it was also very delicious.
Things to Do
A fun outing in Jackson is to take the aerial tram or the gondola to the top of the mountain. We took the aerial tram up back in 2017 and enjoyed some adult hot chocolates at Corbet’s Cabin, where food is also available. The tram appears to be closed this year for maintenance, but the gondola is available and takes you up to an area different than the tram, where you can enjoy restaurants and bars, as well as a number of activities including hiking, yoga, and the Via Ferrata. The pics below are from our visit in June 2017.
In addition to the hiking and the eating, we made sure to visit parts of the park that we’ve missed on previous trips: Lunch Tree Hill, Mormon Row, Menors Ferry, the Chapel of Transfiguration, and Oxbow Bend. Besides Oxbow Bend, most of these places are historic and much less frequented than other parts of the park, so you’re able to learn a little bit about the history of the area without crowds.
We also returned to some sites that we’ve seen in the past, but are always worthy of a stop, such as Signal Mountain and the Snake River Overlook.
As we always do whenever we’re near water, we inflated our packrafts and paddled around both Jackson and Jenny Lakes. Getting out on the water is a great way to experience any national park!
We had originally reserved two weeks in our campsite, but towards the end of our stay, the temps moved into the low 80s and our fantastically sunny site didn’t offer much respite from the heat. As we had enjoyed all of the sights we wanted to see and hikes we wanted to do (except for Delta Lake, which was still pretty iced over during our visit), we decided to pack up and head out.
Did you know that if you decide to bug out early on an NPS campground reservation that you can get a refund for the nights you aren’t staying? Just let the people in the campground check-in booth know that you’re leaving and they can cancel the rest of your reservation. In our case, because we left before someone was manning the booth in the morning, I wrote a note and attached it to our window tag and dropped them in the little box on the way out where you’re supposed to drop the window tags. About 2.5 hours later, I got an email about my refund. So, it’s possible to get money back AND have the site be available for someone else to reserve it.
So, that’s a wrap on Teton! Back to Bozeman we go.
Upon returning to Bozeman for a couple of weeks, the Airstream went back into storage and we prepared our condo to be rented out for the month of July. We already had half of the month booked at various campgrounds, so we figured why not try to rent it? About 30 minutes after listing it on Moblhom.com, it was rented, which was kind of crazy. While our condo has a pretty minimalistic aesthetic, we still needed to prep a few things and fill in some gaps in our planned travels, and had about a week to do that before we were off to Yellowstone. Finding available sites on short notice in Montana in summer can be bit of a struggle, so we decided to book a trip (by plane) to Wisconsin, where we’re originally from, to see family and fill some of the time.
With our route planned and all dates accounted for, we left the condo ready for our renter, hitched up the Airstream, and headed to Yellowstone!
This was our fourth visit to Yellowstone, third in the Airstream, but the first time we would be staying within the park boundaries. To read about our previous visits and where we stayed, check out these posts from May 2019 and May/June 2020. While we didn’t visit YNP while staying at this Idaho state park, it’s a great option as well.
Name: Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park
Address: North Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Rate: $25; $12.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
Mix of Sunny and Shady Sites
Restrooms with Flush Toilets
Recycling and Trash
Threaded Water Spigots Throughout Campground
Amphitheater with Ranger Talks
Bear Box at Each Site
Usable Cell Signal on Verizon and AT&T at Site
Mammoth Campground is the only campground in Yellowstone that is open year round and it’s tucked just inside the North Entrance, a few minutes from Gardiner, MT. This year the campground — which does not have hookups — moved from first come, first served to reservation only. As such, I was on the Recreation.gov website the moment sites became available back in March, and was able to snag the exact site I wanted for the exact dates I wanted. Site 44 is a pull-through site with nice views and has no shade, which can be good or bad depending on the time of year you visit. For us, it wasn’t great, because the temp hit 90 during our stay. However, at least half of the sites have some nice shade throughout the day, but would also offer enough sun for solar panels to do their job. The site was also incredibly unlevel side to side, but we made do with three layers of levelers. The restrooms are decent (and heated during colder months) and there are threaded water spigots throughout the campground to fill water jugs. We were graced with the presence of elk most evenings, including a mama and her spotty little babe. From Mammoth Campground, it’s only about a 5-minute drive into Gardiner, where you’ll find restaurants, bars, touristy shops, a laundromat, gas stations, and the Gardiner Market, which is a grocery store, liquor store and camping supply store all rolled into one. In the park, Mammoth Campground is less than a 5-minute drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, which means you’re able to get a good jump on the crowds in one of the more popular parts of the park. Despite the heat, we enjoyed our stay here and will definitely return, making sure to come a little earlier/later in the season or get a shadier site.
The main reason we had booked these three nights in Yellowstone is because friends of ours from Wisconsin made a trip west to explore Yellowstone and Teton. They rented a place in Gardiner, so staying at Mammoth Campground was very convenient. We actually left Bozeman around 7pm with the Airstream in tow, arriving at the campground around 8:30pm. It was so hot during this time, that we wanted to avoid the heat of the day. We gave ourselves just enough time to make the hour and half drive and get settled into our campsite before dark. Thankfully it stays light out quite late in these parts during the height of summer!
We made sure to get an early start on both of the days we explored the park, getting out of bed around 5:30am and meeting up with our friends around 6am. This ensured that we could see what we wanted to see without fighting crowds, which start to appear around 9am. Our first stop took us to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we traversed the boardwalks that wind through the hot springs area. Before we even got started, however, we were graced with a bear sighting. This chunk ambled its way across the steamy terrain right in front of the boardwalks. It was very exciting for our friends and their kids (and us!) to see a bear within 15 minutes of being in the park!
From Mammoth Hot Springs, we drove east towards the Tower-Roosevelt Junction. Along the way, we stopped at the Undine Falls Overlook, where you get a nice view of the 60-foot waterfall. This waterfall is a great example of how Yellowstone is very visitor friendly for people of all capabilities because there are a number of great overlooks off of the main road that don’t require a hike to see the sights. However, there is a 1.8-mile out and back trail that will take you closer to the falls.
While driving along this road, we also saw a black bear meandering through the wildflower-covered field.
We next stopped off at the trail for Wraith Falls, which is a little less than a mile roundtrip. This was a nice easy trail that culminates at stairs that you climb in order to get a few of the falls. These falls are definitely not high on the list of impressive falls in Yellowstone and this trail was kind of take it or leave it for us. However, if you’re with kids, which we were, this is a good trail for little legs. The sun was in the wrong spot for me to get a good shot of the falls, so please enjoy the overexposed pic below.
We continued driving to the Tower-Roosevelt picnic area, where our friends and their kids ate an early lunch. We had received some sporadic emails from a customer that needed help with an issue, so we had to drive back towards Mammoth Hot Springs where we could get a better cell signal to take care of some business. Afterwards, we walked around the Fort Yellowstone area, which we had never done before, and read up on some of the historical aspects of the park. This is taken from the Fort Yellowstone Historic District Walking Tour Pamphlet:
For the decade after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists near hot springs, along with bath and laundry facilities in the hot springs. In response, civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land. Their experience and intentions varied, and they were all under-funded and under-staffed. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble, but legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.
Yellowstone National Park turned to the U.S. Army for help. In 1886, men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory came to Yellowstone under the command of Captain Moses Harris. They began what would be 32 years of military presence in the park.
Most of the structures remain from the Army fort. Many are currently used as employee residences and administrative buildings. Amongst the buildings that still stand are multiple officers’ quarters, a chapel, a commissary, a storehouse, a granary, a blacksmith shop, and two different guardhouses — one from 1891, as pictured below, and one from 1910, which still serves as the park’s jail. Anyone who entered the park from Gardiner needed to register their vehicle and its occupants at the guardhouse, as well as have any guns they carried sealed.
Fun Fact: Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park are the only two national parks that have both jails and courtrooms, where federal judges preside over cases of misconduct that occur within those parks. They deal with things such as tourists trespassing into off-limit areas, harassing wildlife, poachers, drunk drivers, illegal drone flying, and people stealing ‘souvenirs’ from the park.
After visiting Lamar Valley, our friends met back up with us in Mammoth Hot Springs where the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, and then we caravanned down to Norris Geyser Basin. We decided to visit Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser. During an eruption, Steamboat can reach heights of 300′, but an eruption of that magnitude is few and far between. There is no rhyme or reason to Steamboats eruptions, and while 2019 saw the highest number of eruptions since they’ve been tracking them, the frequency seems to be declining again. When we visited, it had been about 4.5 weeks since the last eruption, and the next eruption occurred a week later. The trail to Steamboat Geyser is mostly boardwalks and takes you past other geothermal features like Emerald Spring.
While the chance of catching an eruption isn’t likely (they’ve occurred anywhere from 4 days to 50 years apart), Steamboat Geyser does continuously let off steam.
After exploring the Geyser Basin, the kids were about done for the day, as were we, seeing as it was starting to get very crowded everywhere.
Of note, as you can see from the picture below, most of this area is in direct sun. Come prepared with water, sunscreen, hats, etc.
We wrapped up the day by stopping at the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner and getting ice cream from one of the shops. We then went our separate ways with plans to meet up again bright and early the next morning!
Our second full day in the park was all about exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the Canyon Village area. We went to both the North and South Rims, checking out the Brink of the Lower Falls on the north side and the trail from Uncle Tom’s Point to Artist Point on the south side. This was such a nice little hike that was around 2.5 miles round trip, nicely shaded, with about 385′ of elevation gain. The trail offers a bunch of different views of the Upper Falls and culminates at Artist Point. It’s a perfect trail to take your time on, which we did, often, because three kids aged 6-12.
After the hike, we drove to Lake Village on Yellowstone Lake so the kids could splash around in the water and float around in our packrafts. This was a lovely way to beat the heat and check out an area of the park we had never been to before.
This beach was right across from the gorgeous, 1920s era Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which for some reason, I did not take any pictures of. We picked up sandwiches and drinks from their takeout cafe and enjoyed a late lunch with a view of Yellowstone Lake.
As this was our fourth visit to Yellowstone and our friends’ first, we told them to drive to wherever they wanted and we’d follow. This made for an extremely enjoyable visit, as there was no planning, no agenda, and no list to check off.
The next morning, our friend stopped at our campsite to say goodbye. They were off to Teton and we moved on to our next site not too far way on the Yellowstone River.
Fun Fact: Our friends, Eric & Abby, are the only people to have ever stayed with us in the Airstream. In February of 2018, just a few weeks after we started full timing, they flew out to meet us in Death Valley.
It was after this trip that we realized that the Airstream is just a little too small to accommodate anyone other than the two of us, which is why we had no qualms about replacing the table that could convert to a bed with a couch and the bench seat that could convert to a bed with a desk.
After spending a few nights in Yellowstone, I was able to secure two nights at Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in Livingston on short notice. This RV park is very popular and very busy (for good reason — it’s great), so I was very happy that they could get us in for a few nights. We tried for four nights, but, not surprisingly, they were booked for the July 4th holiday.
Name: Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park
Address: 3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047
We stayed at Yellowstone’s Edge last spring/summer for more than five weeks while we were in the process of buying our condo in Bozeman. Click here for a detailed account of that stay.
During our brief 2-night stay, we were in a pull-through site that had a nice tree for shade and still had a view of the Yellowstone River. Actually, they did a great job of planning the layout of this park so that pretty much every site can see the river, at least a little bit.
Seeing as it was still crazy hot, we didn’t check out any of the great hikes in the area. We again patronized Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ, which is right up the road, as well as grab some breakfast items from Wildflour Bakery, which is right next door to Follow Yer’ Nose. We also went to brunch at the nearby Sage Lodge, which is a luxury resort and spa that’s worth a visit.
While trying to figure where to head next, I kept striking out when trying to find a place for us to stay for two nights over the holiday. After our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, we ended up settling for the fairgrounds in Bozeman.
Besides the different hookup options, there really are no other amenities to speak of. You do not have access to restrooms. There is not a dump station. There are not picnic tables. The sites are narrow, though fine for our Airstream; when you involve slides is when things feel cramped. The sites are also very unlevel from back to front — we had the front end of our Airstream jacked up as high as it would go. The hookups are not conveniently located. They are at the back of the sites and a good distance away for every other site. We were not able to hook up our water, which was fine, because we had filled our tank at Yellowstone’s Edge prior to coming based on other’s reviews. We were able to hook up our sewer hose, but needed our extension hose. Also, because of how high the connection sat off the ground and due to how slanted the sites are from back to front, it was literally an uphill battle. We had to ‘walk’ the contents of our tanks down the hose many times in order to empty them — it was definitely a 2-person job! Unless a sewer hookup is paramount, I would say that it makes more sense to save $5/night and go with an electric-only site. There is also no camp host onsite, so no supervision, which meant that the night of the 4th saw fireworks being lit off a mere 100 yards away from us. That, plus train and road noise made for two not-so-quiet nights. In order to ward off permanent residents, they do have a rule that you can only stay for 10 nights in any 30-day period. Also, there are no refunds. Once you make the reservation, which you have to call to do, you pay in full and will not receive a refund if you need to cancel. So, I would say the fairgrounds are fine for a night or two, or for a last resort. The reality is is that even though Bozeman is an outdoor paradise, there are not a lot of great options for RVs, probably because of how short the season is. We’ve stayed at two other RV parks in town — Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and Bozeman Trail Campground — click on those to read more about other options in the Bozeman area.
The fairgrounds is within walking distance of the Cannery District, so we walked over there one night for dinner. We got sushi at Seven and stopped for a drink at Wild Rye Distilling. The Cannery District was once home to the Bozeman Canning Company, which opened in 1918, and canned peas (among other veggies) that were grown in Gallatin Valley, which was once known as the “pea capital of the nation” as it produced 75% of the country’s crop.
After two nights in Bozeman, we set off to Missoula, where we spent two nights before moving onto Glacier National Park. I had booked the two nights at Jim & Mary’s RV Park back when I made the reservation for Glacier’s Fish Creek Campground in January, so no scrambling needed to find a place to stay for those nights.
Jim & Mary’s is a nicely manicured, well maintained private RV park in Missoula. It gets rave reviews on various platforms, like Campendium, so we were expecting something phenomenal. For us, it was just another nice little RV park. I don’t think I’ve iterated enough how hot it was traveling throughout July around Montana. It was hot. And we were really hoping to have a shady site when we pulled into Jim & Mary’s, because of that heat and because so many pictures of the property showed these lovely, towering trees. But we didn’t get one. In fact, our site was the very last site in the whole park to be cast into shade at the end of the day. Literally, the last one. If we had had one of the sites on the interior of the park where all of the trees are, we probably would also rave about this park. But we didn’t. So, hot tip: Request a site with shade. Or a back-in site, because those seemed to be the best sites. The park is well located halfway between Bozeman and Glacier NP, right off I-90. There is a train that passes a few times a day, so you have that noise plus a little road noise from the nearby Interstate to deal with. Though, this may be because we were on the edge of the park. A more interior site might not experience any noise. The grounds really are well manicured with beautiful flowers and lawn displays throughout. It’s a quiet park as far as other campers go and while there seem to be quite a few permanent or long-term residents, their sites/RVs are well kept.
Due to the heat, we did not do much while in Missoula. We drove around a bit, checked out where you can surf the river, drove out to the KettleHouse Amphitheater, and got groceries. This was our second brief stay in the Missoula area — you can read about our first here.
Off to Glacier National Park!
This was our third visit to Glacier National Park but our first time staying in the park. To read about our previous visits and stays outside of the park, follow these links for our visits in July 2018 and August 2019.
Name: Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park
Address: Fish Creek Campground Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936
Rate: $23.00; $11.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
Restrooms with Flush Toilets
Recycling and Trash
Unthreaded Water Spigots
Dump Station with Potable Water
Some Lakefront Sites
Decent Cell Signal at Site
Fish Creek Campground is one of four campgrounds in Glacier National Park that is reservation only. Unlike when I made reservations at Colter Bay CG in Teton and Mammoth CG in Yellowstone, I did not get my first pick of site when I reserved, nor did I get a reservation for the length of time we desired. Even though I was online and ready to go the moment sites became available, I had to grab whatever site I could for the duration I could get it. Of the 180 sites in Fish Creek, just 18 sites will accommodate a rig up to 35′ and an additional 62 will fit a 27′. Essentially half the sites would not fit us, so thankfully I had entered our Airstream length into the search parameters beforehand.
We ended up with a (mostly) great site! Site B45 is a mostly shady, pull-thru site with a length limit of 27′. Our trailer is technically 28′ and I’d have to agree with the 27′ max. However, we had a heck of a time getting into our spot and then, five days later, getting out of our spot due to an errant tree stump, that if removed, would make this site A LOT more accessible. We also had to limit our electricity usage, as this site was pretty shady and our solar was only able to recharge our batteries 8%-10% every day. When we pulled out on day 5, our batteries were at 45% (which is totally fine for lithium batteries). Our site had a lovely fire pit and picnic table area that was set up a little higher than the Airstream and offered a lot of privacy due to no other sites being behind us — just lots of trees. There are plenty of unthreaded water spigots throughout the campground with which to fill pots/jugs. I can’t comment on the dump station because we didn’t use it and I never saw it.
In order to enter Glacier National Park this year at West Glacier, St. Mary, or via the Camas Road (the three entrances that give you access to Going to the Sun Road), from May 28 – September 6, you needed to have an entry ticket in addition to a park pass. If you had a service reservation such as a campground stay, boat tour, or bus tour, you were able to access the park at those three entrances for the day(s) of your reservation. Otherwise, entrance into the park was allowed before 6am and after 5pm without a ticket. You did not need a ticket to enter the park at Polebridge, Two Medicine, or Many Glacier at any time during the season. The tickets were available on Recreation.gov 60 days in advance, with more being released 48 hours in advance. This was the first year Glacier did a ticketed entry system and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not the last. The tickets allowed for less traffic throughout the park, especially at the entrance stations. The park was short-staffed in many areas, including food service, which meant multiple establishments weren’t open this season. Having a ticketed entry, which essentially controlled the number of people that were allowed to come into the park, took pressure off of areas that needed the relief. Driving along Going to the Sun Road was much more enjoyable with the noticeable decrease in traffic, and while it was still hard to find a parking space at many popular areas, we weren’t competing with as many cars.
We knew the wildfire smoke was going to start to be an issue in the coming days, so we made sure to to do our longest hike on our first full day.
The Highline Trail starts in the Logan Pass area across the street from the Visitor Center. This is a very busy area of the park, so plan accordingly. However, we arrived around 11am on Friday, July 9th and were able to (luckily) find a parking spot. This is an out and back trail that’s labeled 15.2 miles if you take it all the way to the Granite Park Chalet. You can also continue past the Chalet, but this seems to be where most people turn around. The Garden Wall Trail is less than a half mile before the Chalet. If you take this detour, you’ll find an approximately 1-mile trail with almost 1,000 feet of gain to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. The Highline Trail itself isn’t very difficult as it’s quite flat. We dealt with a lot of bugs, so be prepared for that. If you have an issue with heights, this may not be the trail for you, however. When we read reviews of the trail beforehand, everyone talked about the beginning portion of the trail where there is a cable installed on the cliff wall in an area where the trail is narrow and has steep drop-offs. This portion only lasts about a third-mile, which felt doable for me, even though I’m not good with heights. What many reviews failed to mention was that much of the trail has steep drop-offs and isn’t very wide. I have height-induced vertigo, so this trail was not the most enjoyable for me, as I felt a bit dizzy most of the time. So, due to that and the fact we got a late start, we ended up turning around at Haystack Pass. Our total distance was 7 and two-thirds miles with a little under 1,000′ of overall gain.
We had originally planned to do the Grinnell Glacier or Iceberg Lake hike on the east side of the park, but ended up opting against it. We had done Iceberg Lake in the past, but later in the season when there were no longer icebergs on the lake, which there would be this time of year. We’ve never done Grinnell Glacier, but want to make sure to see it before it melts. However, by our second full day in the park, it had gotten quite smokey. We didn’t want to make the long trek from the west side of the park to the east side to do either of these longer hikes when conditions were going to be less than ideal. We’ll keep those hikes for out next visit, during which, we’ll stay on the east side of the park which will make access easier.
Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake is a 4.6-mile out and back, though a little distance can be added if you continue along the lake. We did this same hike two years ago and did not remember it having as much elevation gain as it does. There’s about 750′ of gain overall. It’s a beautiful hike that’s quite popular and starts at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. The Trail of the Cedars is an easy 1-mile loop trail that is wheelchair and stroller accessible, with a number of benches throughout, making it a great trail for all skill levels. Once you make it about halfway through the Trail of the Cedars loop, you’ll find the trail that continues on to Avalanche Lake. Both of these trails are pretty shaded, which was great for the hot days we had while we were in Glacier. As this is another very popular area, it took us a bit to find a parking spot on the morning of July 11, which was a Sunday. We eventually found a spot and got on the trail at 10:30am. There’s also a restroom with flush toilets and sinks, which is a nice change from the pit toilets you find along most other trails.
We had noticed signs in our campground for the trail to Rocky Point, so we decided to check it out. While the park lists it as a .9-mile out and back, we somehow made this trail a 1.78-mile loop. It does culminate at Rocky Point, where you get beautiful views of Lake McDonald. This was a nice little hike that didn’t involve us having to drive anywhere, so that’s a win in our book!
Johns Lake Loop and Upper McDonald Creek Trail to McDonald Falls
This trail went a little bit off the rails for us, but ended up being a nice little surprise. We started out on the Johns Lake Loop trail, which is supposed to be a 2-mile loop. We ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere, and it turned it into a 4-mile meander instead. We did make various loops, and found ourselves backtracking at times, crossing a bridge, and even walking along what was clearly meant to be a trail for horses.
If you follow the actual loop, I think this trail is a nice little jaunt. If you want to bypass the Johns Lake portion, then the Upper McDonald Creek Trail to McDonald Falls, which is good for all skill levels, is only .6 to a mile round trip depending on where you park. This fairly unpopulated trail takes you right to the top of the Falls. In no particular order, here are a few sights you may see somewhere along along the Johns Lake Loop Trail, or not, ’cause who knows if we were on the trail when some of them were taken?:
Things to Do
Of source, we made sure to get our packrafts into Lake McDonald a couple of times. This was easy to do seeing as Fish Creek Campground is located right on the Lake and has a nice picnic area with great lake access (and cell signal!). There are also restrooms with flush toilets at the picnic area.
We also stopped at Red Rocks while we were driving around one day. This is an area with a cool, clean turquoise pool where you’ll find people jumping from the large rock formations. *Jump at your own risk.* It’s a nice area within the park to sit by the water, relax, and soak up the sun.
Other activities within the park include boat tours and the famous red bus tours. Outside the park, there’s whitewater rafting, highline courses, zip lining and other adventure-related activities. Everyone should be able to find something to do at this park, even if it just means driving along Going to the Sun Road and stopping at viewpoints along the way. The Road is an adventure in itself and the views include mountaintops, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, glaciers, and wildlife. **Make sure to know your vehicle’s specs. Anything longer than 21′ (including bumpers), wider than 8′ (including mirrors, so fold those large mirrors in), and taller than 10′ is prohibited. There are some pretty steep grades, tight switchbacks, and low-hanging rock formations that make this road a no-go for large vehicles. Also, each spring, you can bike Going to the Sun Road as far as it is open (plowed) without having to worry about vehicle traffic. There are plenty of bike rental companies located on both the west and east sides of the park that can supply all of the necessary gear and info.
Food & Drink
Whenever we’re in West Glacier, we make sure to stop and get a burrito the size of our heads from The Wandering Gringo. Glacier Distilling Company is also right outside the West Entrance. Within the park, things were a little different this year. I believe all food was takeout only this year. We picked up lunch a few times from the Lake McDonald Lodge, but other than that, we ate at our site.
After our 4-night stay in the park, we moved on to the West Glacier KOA for a 3-night stay. After a lot of dry camping at different national parks, we wanted to luxuriate with full hookups, a pool, and an onsite restaurant. Like many popular places, this KOA was basically completely booked a year in advance. At first, I was only able to secure a 1-night stay, but I kept diligently checking their website. About four months before our visit, I found a site that had three nights available and snapped it up. This would be our second stay at the West Glacier KOA — you can read about the first here. Check out at Fish Creek Campground was noon and check in at the KOA was 3pm, so we had a little time to kill before we showed up to try to get into our site. There’s plenty of parking for RVs at the Apgar Visitor Center. We parked there, ate lunch, walked around, and then headed over to the KOA about an hour early to see if we could check in. Thankfully, we had no issues checking in early.
Name: West Glacier KOA Resort
Address: 355 Halfmoon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936
Rate: $112.89; 10% off with KOA Membership (We also used $50 in KOA Rewards)
RV Sites with Tent Pads
Restrooms with Showers
Fenced Dog Park
Two Swimming Pools (1 Family, 1 Adults Only)
Cafe (Serves Breakfast & Dinner)
Ice Cream Shop
Sunday Morning Worship Service
Weekly Mobile Dog Groomer
Nightly Entertainment (Wildlife Expert, Magic Show, Music, etc.)
2.5 Miles to West Entrance of Glacier National Park
We really enjoyed our stay here two years ago, and one of the reasons why is that they have an onsite restaurant for those days you just don’t feel like cooking after a long day of exploring. The nightly site rate for this KOA is one of the highest we’ve paid, but we were able to help offset that with fairly affordable meals, many of which we shared. We were pretty disappointed to see that they had raised the prices dramatically since our last stay. The first picture below is this years menu; the second pic is from two years ago. Someone had mentioned there’s a new owner, which I didn’t confirm, so that might be why.
Because we had already hiked and explored the park while we stayed at Fish Creek Campground and because the wildfire smoke was really starting to settle into the area, we didn’t go anywhere during our stay at the KOA except to get gas the day before we left. We went to the adults-only pool every day, we went for walks around the property every day, and even though it was hot, we did enjoy one or two campfires.
We had originally planned to stay at a Harvest Host in Missoula on our way back to Bozeman, but it was too hot to be without an electric hookup. So, we opted to change up our route and drive through Helena instead. We booked one night at the Helena North KOA, which ended up being a better option than staying at a Harvest Host. This would be our last night in the Airstream for a little bit, so we were able to dump and flush our tanks properly, so everything would be all set for returning to the storage unit when we got back to Bozeman.
This was our second stay at this KOA. This visit was just a 1-night pitstop, but last time we stayed for a week on our way up to crossing into Canada. To read about that stay when we were able to explore the area, click here.
From Helena, we drove back to Bozeman where we parked the Airstream in our storage unit and checked into a hotel for the night. We had an early morning flight the next day to Wisconsin, where we spent 10 days with family and friends before flying back to Bozeman and returning to our condo.
It was a glorious spring and summer spent in some of our favorite places in the country!
Here’s a breakdown of costs for this kind of trip, which consisted of 28 nights total:
Over more than 11oo miles of driving, we spent about $350 on gas. That’s just getting from one stay to the next; not the gas we used while exploring.
We spent a total of $976.85 on site fees, including taxes and reservation fees, which comes to an average of $34.89/night. That’s a little more than we would like to spend, but there were a few expensive nights where we splurged. We try to utilize free nights at Harvest Hosts when we’re driving from one place to the next, but it was just too hot for that on this trip. The amount in the parenthesis below is per night cost.