Teton and Yellowstone and Glacier, Oh My!

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.

A nice thing about entering the park from the north is that you get the entrance sign all to yourself!

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park

Address: Colter Bay Campground Rd, Alta, WY 83414

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: May 24, 2021 – June 4, 2021

Site: H157

Rate: $38; $19.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Some Sites with Electric
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets and Camp Sink
  • Recycling and Trash
  • Dump Stations with Water Fill
  • Hiker/Biker Sites
  • Group Sites
  • 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 really loved our site, which was a decent-sized pull through at the end of the loop, so we had no neighbors behind us.
Seriously, our ‘front yard’ was HUGE!
Definitely one of the best sites we’ve ever had! When we were sitting outside, we could only see one other site, and that site was empty during half of our stay.

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).

Can’t be mad at those office views!

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.

This is the first dump station you see as you drive in. We saw a lot of people drive in the exit and try to dump or try to make the sharp turn in at the entrance.
There are two sewer connections with a freshwater fill in between at this dump station.
The potable (freshwater) fill is located a good distance from each sewer connection.
This is the correct dump station to use when dumping on your way into the campground. It’s located between the entrance and exit of Loop I and across from Loop H.
The freshwater fill, to the right side of the picture, wasn’t quite far enough away from the sewer hookup for us to feel comfortable using it when we dumped here mid-stay.
We chose to use the water filling station at the gas station to fill our water can and dump it into our freshwater tank. We also filled a couple of 1-gallon jugs each time we stopped to dump into our Berkey for drinking water.
Hikes

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.

On the trail to Taggart Lake.
Views.
Taggart Lake
Taggart Lake
Bradley Lake with a slightly different view of the same mountain peak.
If you hike to Bradley Lake first and then loop over to Taggart Lake, this is what the view looks like most of the way. If you do Taggart Lake first, and then loop over to Bradley Lake, this view will be at your back as you hike back to the trailhead.

After this hike, we were blessed with a bunch of wildlife sightings as we made our way back to the campground.

This guy or gal was hanging out right by the parking lot after finishing the Taggart and Bradley Lake hike.
This little one was right on the side of the road — this pic was shot from the truck.
And this gentleman was lounging right at the tree line along the main road not far from 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.

The Phelps Lake Overlook sits at 7200′.
A nice hike that had very few people on it even though we started at just before noon. (It was only May 28th, so a little earlier in the season than when all the crowds hit.)
And we saw another moose on this trail — just call us the moose whisperers!
This is what most of the trail looks like — well defined and easy to navigate.

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.**

This is definitely the busiest area of the park, so pack your patience!
This pic of the East Shore Shuttle Boat Dock is from two years ago. The crowds were MUCH smaller then, but we also started this hike around 4:45pm that year and got back by the boat dock around 6:30pm, so that might explain why there’s no people.

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.

Views of Jenny Lake along the trail.
There was still snow on the trail up to Hidden Falls two years ago, but that was not the case this year.
Hidden Falls is 75′-100′ tall.
Our pic from two years ago, when there was only ONE other couple at the falls the same time as us.
And our pic from this year, when there seemed to be HUNDREDS of other people at the falls the same time as us.

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.

The trail from Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point is only a half mile, but it’s a bit rugged with some good elevation gain.
A lot of that elevation gain is taken care of in a series of switch backs.
While Inspiration Point offers a panoramic view of Jenny Lake, I apparently did not feel it was necessary to take a panoramic picture of Jenny Lake, so here’s the north end of it.

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!

The gorgeous views start almost immediately upon entering the canyon!
It was so incredibly peaceful!
We carry a tiny tripod for phones with us on hikes so we can get shots like this with the two of us.
And of course, we saw another moose! Do you see it?
Here’s the last pic zoomed in. Just chillin’.
There was still snow up here, but only in the woodsy parts. It was a little sloppy, so hiking poles may be a good idea.
Gah!

All good things must come to an end, so back down we went.

Heading down from Inspiration Point.
One last shot of Jenny Lake from the trail.
We saw this little bubba hanging out by Hidden Falls, just doing some people watching.

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.

Moose Ponds

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.

Some nice views along the trail.
One of the Moose Ponds, sans moose.
No moose, but we did see this guy…
…and this guy.
Nothing too exciting, but still a pleasant little trail.
The moose at one of the Moose Ponds four years ago.
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.

Campground Stats

Name: Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park

Address: North Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: June 29, 2021 – July 2, 2021

Site: 44

Rate: $25; $12.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Mix of Sunny and Shady Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • 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.

The original guardhouse could hold 15 prisoners and 10 guards.

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.

Brink of the Lower Falls
Brink of the Lower Falls
Brink of the Lower Falls
This sign is at the Brink of the Lower Falls
View of the Upper Falls along the trail. The people standing at the top are at the Brink of the Upper Falls viewing area.
This trail has beautiful views the entire way that were able to keep the kids engaged.
Views of the canyon at Artist Point
View of Lower Falls from Artist Point
Lower Falls from Artist Point
This trail was perfect for a hot day as it’s mostly shaded and because we started early, it wasn’t very busy.

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park

Address: 3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047

Website: www.yellowstonesedgervpark.com

Dates Stayed: July 2 – 4, 2021

Site: 37

Rate: $68; 10% off with Good Sam

Amenities:

  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Waterfront Back-In Sites (Yellowstone River)
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Gameroom
  • Store
  • Community Fire Pit
  • RV Storage
  • Picnic Table

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Gallatin County Fairgrounds

Address: 901 N Black Ave, Bozeman, MT 59715

Website: www.gallatincountyfairgrounds.com

Dates Stayed: July 4 – 6, 2021

Site: 2B

Rate: $40

Amenities:

  • FHU (kind of) Sites ($40)
  • Electric Only Sites ($35)
  • Dry Sites ($20)

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.

Sites are gravel back-ins that are fairly narrow.
As you can see by how high our front end (and our neighbor’s) is jacked up, the sites are very unlevel back to front.
The electric hookup was very reachable for us, but the sewer connection sits high and a curb needs to be traversed to reach it — gravity does not work in this situation.
There are two connectors on that water spigot and one of them is for us; however, it was too far way to reach it.
The deets.

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Jim & Mary’s RV Park

Address: 9800 US Hwy 93 N, Missoula, MT 59808

Website: www.jimandmarys.com

Dates Stayed: July 6 – 8, 2021

Site: A14

Rate: $49.81; 10% off with Good Sam

Amenities:

  • FHU
  • Cable
  • Wifi
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Store
  • Live Music

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.

Our site was a pull-thru with the hookups well located.
The sites are a little unlevel, but definitely manageable.
See all of those trees?! That’s what we were hoping for with our site.

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park

Address: Fish Creek Campground Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: July 8 – 12, 2021

Site: B45

Rate: $23.00; $11.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Dry Camping
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets
  • Recycling and Trash
  • Unthreaded Water Spigots
  • Fire Pit
  • Picnic Table
  • 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.

While it looks nice and sunny, we only got sun on our panels for a few hours a day while it was directly overhead.
Our site was fantastic, even if it was difficult to get in and out of.
The fire pit was to the back of the site up a little incline, making it nice and private.
Super private!
Lots of trees from which to hang the hammock to relax and read a book!
The aforementioned tree stump, that if removed, would give an extra 4-5 feet to work with side to side while maneuvering in and out of the site.

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.

Hikes

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.

Highline Trail

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.

Here is the cables portion at the beginning of the trail, though this was taken at the end of the hike. You can see the narrowness and the steepness, as that’s Going to the Sun Road below us, which follows the trail from below a good distance.
This is what most of the trail looks like — narrow with steep drop offs.
Beautiful views throughout, though you can see that the smoke is starting to come in as it’s a little bit hazy.
One of the more scenic places we’ve eaten lunch!
Because it’s been such a dry summer, we were surprised at how green everything was!
We met some friends along the way…
Momma mountain goat with her babe!
Mr. Majestic

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.

Trail of the Cedars
Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche Gorge along the Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake – 2021 (with smoke)
Avalanche Lake – 2019 (without smoke)
The Avalanche Lake trail is beautiful and runs along side the creek.
Look at that water!

Rocky Point

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.

On the left is what the route is supposed to be, according to AllTrails. On the right is what we actually did.

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.

Campground Stats

Name: West Glacier KOA Resort

Address: 355 Halfmoon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

Website: www.koa.com

Dates Stayed: July 12 – 15, 2021

Site: 130

Rate: $112.89; 10% off with KOA Membership (We also used $50 in KOA Rewards)

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fire Pits
  • RV Sites with Tent Pads
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Dump Station
  • Nature Trail
  • Propane Fill
  • Playground
  • Basketball Court
  • Horseshoe Pits
  • Fenced Dog Park
  • Two Swimming Pools (1 Family, 1 Adults Only)
  • Gift Shop
  • 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
Our site was a pull-thru with FHU and a tree for shade, which was great, seeing as this was the least treed area of the campground.
There’s a nice little nature trail that winds through the woods along the edge of the property.

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Helena North KOA Journey

Address: 850 Lincoln Rd W, Helena, MT 59602

Website: www.koa.com

Dates Stayed: July 15 – 16, 2021

Site: 47

Rate: $64.00; 10% off with KOA Membership

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Long, Level Pull-Thrus
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Camp Store/Gift Shop
  • Propane Fill
  • Dog Park
  • Dump Station
The sites are long and level, with good placement of hookups. The ‘yards’ between sites are quite narrow, however, so you’re fairly close to your neighbor.

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.

  • 4 nights – Private RV Parks/Campgrounds ($57.76 avg)
  • 4 nights – KOA ($85.34 avg)
  • 2 nights – Fairgrounds ($41.43)
  • 18 nights – National Park Campgrounds ($17.87 avg)

However, because we rented our condo out for the month of July, the rental income covered all site costs 100%, even after subtracting the mortgage payment.

 

A Quick Stop in West Yellowstone

Six days after our two-night venture in Bozeman to get the Airstream up and running for the season, we finally departed on our first trip of the year. Seeing as winter lasts about 14 months in these parts, we had waited until the last possible weekend to de-winterize. Of course, in those six days between our stay at the Bozeman Hot Springs and leaving for our one-night stay in West Yellowstone before moving on to Grand Teton National Park, it dipped below freezing a couple of nights and it snowed again, including on the day we hit the road for West Yellowstone.

The couple of nights of below-freezing temps didn’t cause any harm to the Airstream, but when we woke up to heavy, wet, sloppy snow falling on the day of our departure, we did consider delaying the start of our trip a few days. However, we only had a little more than 90 miles to drive on a fairly flat — though, somewhat curvy — route, so we found a small weather window, hitched up, and were on our way!

The drive from Bozeman to West Yellowstone is gorgeous no matter the time of year, but it was especially spectacular on this particular day, when it’s supposedly late spring, but is actually month 18 of winter.

It really is a beautiful drive and part of it actually takes you through the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. You kind of ride the border of Montana and Wyoming for a bit, crossing into Wyoming and then back to Montana. A bonus to this route (besides its beauty), is it affords the opportunity to get a pic with an official sign without having to fight the crowds!

We had originally planned to make the entire drive to Teton from Bozeman in one day, which is about 180 miles and should take about four hours, plus or minus a few depending on weather, traffic, and bison jams. As the trip grew closer, however, it was apparent the weather wasn’t going to be ideal, so we decided to add a pitstop at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone, MT. This would break up the drive nicely and give us a chance to fill our freshwater tank before heading to our site in Colter Bay Campground in Grand Teton National Park, which was a dry camping (no hookups) site.

This was our second visit to Yellowstone Grizzly; you can be read about our first here.

We were in an easy-to-back-in-to full-hookup site along the perimeter of the park, just on the opposite side of the fence from some type of commercial business. We quickly got settled in and filled our freshwater tank. We then disconnected and put our hose away as there was a freeze warning and the park required the disconnection of hoses if there was a potential for freezing. This is a very nice, albeit expensive, RV park. After a walk around the park, we picked up some pizza from Wild West Pizzeria and snuggled in for the night. The next morning, we took long hot showers seeing as we’d be limited on water use at our next site, and then dumped the tanks and topped off the fresh water.

Off to Grand Teton National Park and Colter Bay Campground!

 

RV Parks Stats

Name: Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins

Address: 210 S. Electric Street, West Yellowstone, MT 59758

Website: www.grizzlyrv.com  

Site #: 266

Rate: $73.00 + tax (that’s with a 10% Good Sam discount)

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Cabins
  • Store
  • Dump Station
  • Recycling
  • Large Pet Walk Area
  • Picnic Table
  • 1 Mile from Yellowstone National Park West Entrance

 

Opening Up the Airstream After a Long Winter’s Sleep

Last October, we had to do something to the Airstream that we had never done in our 3+ years of owning it — we had to winterize it. While our Airstream was born in Ohio, it had always spent winter in warmer locales, with us in it. But, we decided to settle into a condo in one of the coldest places in the contiguous US where winter lasts a very long time, so we had to winterize before tucking it in to storage for a long winter’s sleep.

We aren’t expert winterizers, but we are pretty good at Googling and YouTubing, and found the process to be pretty simple. We followed the same process the factory uses — empty the tanks, drain the hot water heater, blow out the lines with an air compressor, drain the low points, and put some RV antifreeze down each drain.

The low-point valves on the 27 are found between the two tires on the driver side.
While using the compressor, open each faucet one by one to make sure all of the water is blown out.
We poured antifreeze down the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower drain, and toilet.

As I said earlier, winter lasts pretty late into the year here in Bozeman, so we didn’t get the chance to pull the Airstream out of storage until May 15th, when we booked two nights at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground to make sure all systems were go. This is not our first time staying at the hot springs — you can read about our previous stays here, here, and here. Here’s what we checked/tested during our post-winter shakedown:

  • Ran city water through kitchen, bathroom, and shower faucets, as well as the toilet, to make sure all had good water pressure and there were no visible leaks.
  • After disinfecting the fresh tank with a bleach water mix, turned on the water pump and ran water through all faucets and toilet to make sure water pressure was good and water pump seemed to function properly without any leaks.
  • Filled hot water heater with water and checked that there was hot water at all faucets, along with good hot water pressure, while first using the water heater on electric and then on propane. Also checked to make sure there were no leaks at hot water heater.
  • Made sure the fridge and freezer operated properly on both electric and propane.
  • Made sure the air conditioning operated properly.
  • Made sure the furnace operated properly.
  • Made sure the microwave worked.
  • Made sure the oven and stove both functioned properly.
  • Made sure the solar system was working properly in conjunction with the batteries.
  • Made sure the propane detector is functional.
  • Made sure the smoke/carbon monoxide detectors are functional.
  • Made sure all fans, including the fantastic fans, the vent fans in bathroom & shower, and the stove vent fan are all functional.
  • Made sure all of the lights are working properly.
  • Made sure the electric awning functioned properly.
  • Did a visual inspection of the roof.
  • Did a visual inspection of the tires and made sure the tire pressure monitoring system was working properly after reinserting the batteries into each monitor.
  • After replacing a propane tank monitor, made sure both tank monitors were reading correctly.

It was after that last item that we realized we had a problem. Up to this point, our propane had been functioning properly off of the one tank we had open. When we opened the second tank after replacing the monitor, we heard pssssshhhhhh. Not good. We had a leak, and a very substantial one at that. I was literally able to put my finger on the leak and found that the rubber ring had disintegrated and this is where the propane was leaking from.

We shut the propane off and disconnected it, and then we went in search of the parts to fix it. Thankfully, we were in our own city, so we had ideas of where to look. Unfortunately, Bozeman doesn’t have a Camping World, Tractor Supply, Cabela’s, or Gander Mountain. It was also a Sunday, so that meant that all of the RV dealerships that might have a decent parts selection were closed. We tried Lowe’s and Home Depot first, but they only had replacement hoses for propane grills, which are not the right part. We checked Ace Hardware, and they had almost the right part, but the hose was too long (15″ instead of 12″). We then went to a local hardware store called Kenyon Noble and an employee there was able to help us immediately. They had the right part, except the connecting piece wasn’t exact. Our propane hoses had what’s called an NPT thread where as the hoses at Kenyon Noble had an inverted male thread. In the pic below, our hose has the red end — you can see the difference in size between the two.

We ended up finding an adaptor that would work to make everything fit properly.

We made sure to use gas line seal tape around all threaded parts to make sure there would be a tight fit and no leaks.

We ended up replacing both hoses as the other one looked as though it could go at any time. Once we had everything reconnected, we turned the propane on and had no leaks!

I did end up finding the exact hoses we needed with the correct connecting threads, so I ordered a set to have as a backup. You can find them on Amazon here.

Luckily, this turned out to be a fairly easy fix, but this did inspire us to order a few extra things to have on hand for spare parts just in case, like more hot water heater plugs (ours looks like the next time we remove it will be the last time) and some fuses.

A reminder for all RVers: Don’t count out local hardware stores for RV supplies while you’re on the road. As you can see, we couldn’t depend on the usual suspects for parts. Our Ace Hardware has an RV supply aisle that rivals Walmart’s.

After determining we were good to go for our upcoming 2-week trip to Grand Teton, we were able to relax and enjoy an adult bevvie by the fire.

 

A Long Haul Across North Dakota, with a Harvest Hosts Stay and Some Roadside Attractions

We woke up on the morning of September 24th at Woodenfrog Campground near Voyageurs National Park in Northern Minnesota and made the 5-hour drive to our stop for that night — 4e Winery, a Harvest Host in eastern North Dakota. If you’re unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, check out their website here, and if you’re interested in signing up, use this link to receive 20% off your membership before 12/31/20, or 15% thereafter. Harvest Hosts are a great way to save some money as you travel!

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.

When we woke up the next morning, we had no idea that we had just spent our last night on the road for the year. We still had almost 750 miles to go until we got back to Bozeman. However, the weather the next few days wasn’t looking promising for safe driving due to forecasted high winds, so we decided to start early and keep on driving as far as we felt like we could.

The winery is located in Mapleton, North Dakota, which is barely over the eastern border of the state from Minnesota. Our route would take us entirely along I-94 until it met up with I-90 in Billings, Montana. Anyone who has driven in this area knows that driving across North Dakota from one end to the other is not the most exciting — sorry, North Dakota. However, there are some nice/quirky places to stop along the way. I don’t know if North Dakota is trying to compensate for something, but this route is home to three ‘World’s Largest’ statues: Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND; Sandy, the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND; and Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, ND. (DO NOT attempt to tow a trailer up to see Salem Sue.) We made sure to also incorporate getting gas, eating, stretching our legs, and ‘freshening up’ during these stops.

 

When you continue west along I-94, almost to the western border of North Dakota, you’ll eventually come to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, which is a national park visitor center and rest area all in one. From here, you get panoramic views of the Park’s badlands and have access to hiking trails. Of course, there are also restrooms, picnic shelters, and vending machines, as well as visitor center things like park info, exhibits, and a gift shop/bookstore. It’s a great place to stop for a bit, even if you don’t have time to go into the park and explore (which we were able to do last year).

Once we crossed the border into Montana, we decided we could make it the rest of the way to Bozeman and kept on trucking. Seeing as we had been without hookups the previous two nights, we stopped at Cabela’s in Billings to dump our tanks, which took way too long because someone parked too close to the dump station. From there, it should’ve taken us a little more than two hours to get home, but thanks to wind, rain, darkness and traversing Bozeman Pass in the wind, rain, and darkness, it took almost three.

We finally pulled into our parking lot at about 9:15pm (more than 14 hours after leaving Mapleton), spent 30-40 minutes unloading the important stuff, grabbed some food, showered, and went to bed. It was a very, very long day that we never want to experience again, but at least we now know that we can make a lot of ground if needed.

One Gorgeous Night at Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park is one of those under-the-radar national parks — so much so that when we told people we were stopping there on our way back to Bozeman after visiting family in Wisconsin, most people had never heard of it. Voyageurs is named for the 18th century French Canadian adventurers that canoed through the area lakes and rivers, transporting furs and other goods. It’s located along Minnesota’s northern border and some of the parks lakes are shared with Canada, so visitors to Voyageurs need to be aware of their location so as not to inadvertently improperly cross the border. The red dot on the below map of Minnesota signifies the park’s location.

Besides the three visitor centers and a couple of trails on the mainland, Voyageurs is a water centered park. Very little of the park is accessible without a boat to traverse the four major lakes — Rainy, Kabetogama, Sand Point, and Namakan. Unfortunately, COVID put the kibosh on exploring the park via one of the visitor centers (they were all closed) or a ranger-led boat tour (they were all cancelled for the year). The only camping within the park is tent camping, and requires boat access and a permit. In a typical year, some campsites can be accessed via boat tours, but many require reserving a canoe and paddling to your destination.

Woodenfrog Campground is an excellent place to stay with an RV or tent when visiting the area, as it’s centrally located on the shore of Kabetogama Lake, and about a 10-minute drive to the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center.

Woodenfrog State Forest Campground

County Road 122, Kabetogama, MN 56669

www.exploreminnesota.com

  • 61 First Come, First Served Primitive Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Vault Toilets
  • Drinking Water
  • 2 Boat Docks within Campground
  • Picnic Area, Boat Ramp, Swim Beach and Interpretive Center in Day Use Area

Due to time and weather constraints, we were only able to spend one night at Woodenfrog. We arrived at the campground around 1pm on Wednesday, September 23rd. Approximately half of the sites were available, so we were able to drive through and pick out a site that suited our needs. There are some sites with lake views, but they were all occupied, mostly by tents, probably due to how unlevel those particular sites are. The size, privacy, and levelness varies greatly from site to site, so I’m glad that it was not busy and we were able to take our time scouting out sites. (This involved Travis staying in the truck while I got out and ran up the road to check out the available sites so that we didn’t have to circle back around.) We ended up in site 43 — a very deep, very level site with a good amount of privacy that is located next to a water spigot (which was turned off by the time we visited) and across the street from a vault toilet (which we didn’t use). We were also able to get plenty of sun to keep our batteries charged via our solar panels.

Even though boat tours were not available during our visit, Arrowhead Lodge, a private resort located right next to the day use area of the campground, had canoes and kayaks available for rent. If we would have stayed another day, we definitely would have rented a kayak to get out on the water and explore some of the islands.

Late September was the perfect time to visit Voyageurs to be submerged in the beauty of the changing leaves. The campground, including our site, as well as the islands scattered across Kabetogama Lake, were all putting on a brilliant seasonal display that seemed to be at peak during our visit. We had never experienced such gorgeous fall colors and were so glad that we visited during this time, even if it was just for one night.

We would love to return to Voyageurs National Park when everything is fully operational and we’d have the opportunity to paddle out to an island to camp for a few nights. This is such a unique park and definitely worth a visit! Combine it with visits to Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore and Northern Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and you’ll get to experience some of the best the Midwest had to offer.

Northern Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

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

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

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

Apostle Islands Area Campground

85150 Trailer Court Rd, Bayfield, WI 54814

www.aiacamping.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food and Drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking

Meyers Beach Sea Cave Trail

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

Lost Creek Falls Trail

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

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

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

A Harvest Hosts Stay at a UP Ski Resort

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bay Furnace Campground – Hiawatha National Forest

E7900 W, M-28, Munising, MI 49862

www.recreation.gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Bay Shore County Park – Oconto, WI

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

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

North Bay Shore County Park

500 Bay Road, Oconto, WI 54153

www.co.oconto.wi.us

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

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

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

A Week at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds

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

Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds

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

www.fdlcountyparks.com

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

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

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

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