Crossing the Canadian Border with an Airstream and a Dog

When planning our trip to Canada, the border crossing was the biggest question mark for us. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be nothing to worry about and took less than five minutes.

We crossed at the Sweetgrass, Montana crossing, which is listed as Montana’s busiest border crossing and the only one that’s open 24 hours for commercial vehicles. There are six lanes, with one reserved for people holding a NEXUS card and two reserved for commercial purposes. There were two cars ahead of us when we pulled up, but they moved through very quickly.

When we pulled up to the window, the agent asked for our passports immediately and then asked the following questions:

Where are you headed?

How long will you be in Canada?

What’s the purpose of your visit?

Do you have any alcohol? How much?

Do you have any tobacco products?

Do you have any cannabis products?

Do you have any weapons?

Do you have a taser or pepper spray?

Do you have more than $10,000 cash with you?

Will you be selling any goods while you’re in Canada?

Americans crossing into Canada are each allowed to have 1.5 liters of wine -or- 1.14 liters (40 ounces) of liquor -or- 24 cans of beer, as well as 1 carton (200) of cigarettes, up to 50 cigars, and 200g of loose tobacco. For more information about the items you can and can’t cross with and the possible duties imposed, visit www.ezbordercrossing.com. There were also signs posted that stated “All cannabis items must be declared,” but we have no idea what the rules are for that.

He then asked to see Max’s rabies vaccination record. After that, he handed everything back to us, and we were on our way!

Approaching the border from Sweetgrass, MT…
Waiting for our turn…
And we’re through!

The city on the Canadian side of the border is Coutts, which is where we spent the night before driving up to Cochrane, just west of Calgary, the next day. There is a duty free shop in both Sweetgrass and Coutts, so you can buy all the alcohol and tobacco your heart desires without having to pay a duty fee. If we were to cross the border via this route again, we would keep driving past Coutts to Lethbridge, about 100km (60mi) north. Coutts is a tiny, dusty, agricultural city without many amenities while Lethbridge is the third largest city in Alberta, offering food and recreation options.

After spending five nights in Cochrane, AB and three nights each at Lake Louise Campground and Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff, we spent one night in Cranbrook, BC as we made our way back towards the border.

We crossed back into the U.S. at the Roosville, BC border crossing. It was much busier than when we crossed in Sweetgrass — maybe because it was a Friday instead of a Thursday, and there were only two lanes as opposed to three. The border agent gave us a hard-to-explain uneasy feeling, but again we had no issues crossing once answering his questions:

How long were you in Canada?

Do you have any fresh produce or plants?

Did you buy any items to declare?

This time, there was a gauntlet of cameras and devices to drive through before reaching the border agent’s window.

From there, it was less than a 2-hour drive to our destination of West Glacier. Be prepared and be honest when crossing the border, and you should have no issues. We recently read of a fellow Airstreamer forgetting to declare a couple pieces of produce at the same border crossing and were fined $300 and had their passports held until they paid it.

Bow RiversEdge Campground in Cochrane, AB with a bit of Calgary

We spent five nights at the beautiful Bow RiversEdge Campground in Cochrane, AB, which is 40 minutes west of downtown Calgary. The city of Cochrane is super cute and clean and we really enjoyed our stay at this park. The one drawback we experienced is that they are strict about their check in time — we arrived an hour and a half early and they wouldn’t let us check in. We can appreciate adhering to the rules, except that when we tried to pull into our site at 1:00, the previous person was still there. It was a tad frustrating, but they moved on in about 10 minutes, so we were able to get settled in without any more issues.

Bow RiversEdge Campground

900 Griffin Rd E, Cochrane, AB

www.bowriversedge.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Fire Pit
  • Picnic Table
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Coin Showers
  • Dump Station
  • Playground
  • Basketball
  • Horseshoe Pits
  • Bocce
  • Adjacent to Off-Leash Dog Area
  • Firewood for Sale
  • Recycling

Site 85 is a level pull-thru with a tree for shade, picnic table, a fire pit, and grassy area. The property is very well kept with lush, green grass throughout and hedges between the sites for privacy. We used the tidy laundry facilities, but didn’t step inside the restrooms, which have coin showers.

The campground sits along the edge of the Bow River with an off-leash walking trail in between, which was a great place to walk Max every morning and evening.

During our stay, we drove into downtown Calgary late one afternoon. It’s a 40-minute drive from Cochrane to downtown, or about 20 minutes to the outskirts of the city. Starting at the city limits, there are a number of Light Rail Transit (LRT) stations that connect to the city center, which is a good option to avoid expensive and difficult to find parking in the downtown area. Calgary is a very large city, the third largest in Canada in fact, yet very green and very beautiful. We walked around a bit along 17th Avenue, where you’ll find a lot of shops and restaurants. We also visited Olympic Plaza, the site of the medal ceremonies during the 1988 Winter Olympics where there’s a reflecting pond to enjoy on hot days that becomes a skating rink during winter months. We attempted to visit the Calgary Tower, but it was closed due to elevator repairs.

Back in Cochrane, we visited the Krang Spirits Distillery, which is a small batch distillery that makes gin, vodka, whiskey and fruit liqueurs. We got a tour of their facility and did some free tasting of their spirits. We went home with two bottles of liqueurs – Raspberry Krang Berry Spirit and Krang Krupnik Spiced Honey Spirit. The tour was very interesting and we learned that in order for an alcohol to be considered whiskey in Canada, it has to be in a wood barrel for three years.

We had delicious tacos and drinks at Half Hitch Brewing, which is only a few minutes from the campground.

Located right next door to Bow RiversEdge Campground (within walking distance) is the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre. They have a fitness center, indoor running track, aquatic centre, outdoor splash park, climbing walls, hockey arena, curling centre, indoor soccer, gymnastics, gym with basketball, and so on. We paid the drop-in rate to be able to use the fitness center. It was $20 for the two of us, but 25% off with a coupon from the campground, making it $15 Canadian, which is a little over $11 American — so, less than $6 per person, which is pretty reasonable.

Bow RiversEdge and Cochrane were beautiful and relaxing, and a great jumping off point for our two weeks in Alberta and British Columbia.

 

 

 

Gold Springs Park – Milk River, Alberta

This park was merely a place to stay for one night once we crossed the border into Canada. It was pretty hot and miserable and besides picking up a few things from the grocery store and walking Max, we didn’t leave the Airstream. Gold Springs Park Campground sits halfway between Milk River and Coutts. It seems like a place people from the local rural areas go to spend the weekend as there are quite a few seasonal sites. There are a number of sites without an electric hookup, or only 20amp, so there were people running generators. If we ever drive that route again and need to stop, we would probably keep driving north until we reach Lethbridge, which is a real city with amenities and things to do.

Gold Springs Park Campground

www.goldpsrings.ca

  • 30amp Electric Only Sites
  • 20amp Electric and Water Sites
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Restrooms with Pay Showers
  • Water Fill
  • Playground
  • Reservoir with Fishing
  • Paddleboat Rentals
  • Laundry

Our site (#40) was one of a few pull-thru sites. It was gravel/dirt and a bit unlevel with a picnic table and fire pit, though it was so hot and windy that nobody should have been having a fire (people still did). We didn’t use any of the amenities and left fairly early, so we can’t really give an in-depth review.

 

Helena, you were a nice surprise!

We stayed in Helena for a week along our route up to Canada. We had never really heard anything about the city, so didn’t know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by a beautiful, clean, quaint city that has a lot to offer and seems like a great place to live. We were able to explore quite a bit during the week and were happy that a city that was initially added to the itinerary as a place to kill time before going into Canada for reservations at Banff turned out to be a great place to spend the week.

Helena North KOA

850 W. Lincoln Road, Helena, MT 59602

www.koa.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Propane
  • Picnic Table
  • Wifi

The Helena KOA became a KOA at the beginning of this season and is still in the midst of transitioning. As a matter of fact, it seems to currently be a KOA in name only, as even their maps still say Lincoln Road RV Park. It’s missing the things KOAs are known for: Cabins, tent sites, dog park, playground, and family-style shower rooms. However, none of those things matter to us, and we found the property to be very clean, well maintained, and sufficient for our needs. The sites are level, long, and gravel with a concrete patio, picnic table, and really nice grass. The employees are all very nice and helpful. The wifi generally worked pretty well, which is a bonus seeing as we had terrible cell reception, even with a booster — good enough to make calls and texts, but was intermittently dependable for anything more than that. The location is great — very close to I-15 and you can get anywhere in Helena in about 15 minutes.

Things to Do in Helena

Montana State Capitol – A self-guided tour is available, though not necessary to appreciate the beautiful facility.

Cathedral of St. Helena – The cathedral rivals most cathedrals/churches we’ve seen around the world. Built in 1908, the cathedral was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Gates of the Mountains Boat Tour – The tour on the Missouri River lasts about two hours. The guide provides historical and environmental information about the area, which was so named by Lewis and Clark and recorded by Meriwether Lewis in their travel journal on July 19, 1805: “this evening we entered much the most remarkable clifts that we have yet seen. these clifts rise from the waters edge on either side perpendicularly to the height of 1200 feet. … the river appears to have forced its way through this immense body of solid rock for the distance of 5-3/4 Miles … I called it the gates of the rocky mountains.”

Hike Mt. Helena – There are a number of routes up Mt. Helena from the trailhead, where there’s a parking lot and a pit toilet. We chose to take the 1906 trail up, which is 1.5 miles one way with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain. We took the Powerline Trail down, which is 1 mile one way with the same 1,000+ feet of elevation, making it pretty steep and hard on the knees. The 1906 trail is definitely the better route and has nicer views than the Powerline Trail. At the top, there’s a 360-degree view of Helena.

Food & Drink – From what we saw, Helena isn’t really a culinary hub. We ate at home for most meals, but we did visit Blackfoot River Brewing Co. and Big Dipper Ice Cream, both located near the historic, walkable Last Chance Gulch area of town. We give two thumbs up for both establishments!

We really enjoyed our week in Helena and would definitely return!

 

 

Bozeman, MT: Back to the Hot Springs

As we did last year, we again went from the Billings KOA to Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park. Please read about our previous stay here, as I’m not going to repeat all of the info from that post.

We originally had booked five nights in Bozeman, but after our first night, decided to extend our stay another three nights. Because there are very few options for RVs in the area, the Hot Springs Campground is pretty much at capacity most of summer, which resulted in us staying in one site for our first five nights, a second site for one night, and a third site for our last two nights — not the most convenient, but we were able to experience different sites and realized some of the negatives we experienced during our stay last year can easily be remedied by staying in the right site.

When we got off I-90 to make our way to the campground, we found ourselves in the middle of a pretty intense rain/hail storm. We waited out the worst of it in the parking lot at the campground and then checked in and made our way to our site. Our site was completely under water. Attributing it to the recent storm and figuring there wasn’t anything we could do, we backed in and began getting set up. After hooking up the electricity, I noticed that any time I touched anything metal on the trailer I could feel an electric current. We had never experienced this before and had no clue as to whether this was a result of all the water or if there was something wrong with the electrical. I know, I know — two places in a row where we had issues with electrical. It was a bit defeating and very frustrating. We told the employees in the office what we were experiencing and they moved us to their emergency site. It was a super long pull-thru without much shade, but at least it was dry. To compensate for the trouble of moving, they gave us a night free, which was greatly appreciated.

Our second site, which was actually the third, was a pull-thru right next to the site we stayed in last year. We hated this site as much as we hated our site the previous year. The quality of the various sites is so disproportionate to the price you pay. We realized how important it is to reserve a site here a decent amount of time in advance in order to have a good selection.

Our third (fourth) site was a super long pull-thru in the same row (G) as the emergency site we first stayed in. These sites are so long that there are actually two options for hookups depending on where in the site you want to park your trailer. The G row sites are also pretty shady which comes in handy when it’s hot and sunny.

G0 – The emergency site where we spent the first five nights.
J7, our second site.
J7 – The quality of the J row sites is horrendous compared to the rest of the campground — weedy, muddy when wet, and don’t seem to receive as much attention as other sites.
G4, our third site. Lots of nice grass and trees for shade.
We could have parked the trailer back further to use the hookups offered there, but we chose more forward in the site due to the placement of the large tree.
After a few days of rain, we took advantage of the giant faux tree stump fire pit at G4.

As you can see, not all sites are created equal even though you pay the same price for many of them. We paid the same for all three sites: H4 (our original site), J7, and G4. If we were to stay here again, I would try to get a G row site. They’re huge and shady and the grass is so well maintained. C row, H row, and I row are also nice. The K row sites have concrete pads as opposed to gravel like the rest of the sites, but no shade.

The campground has a large, fenced-in dog area that I don’t recall from last year. It was nice to let Max wander around off leash for a bit.

We made sure to really take advantage of the hot springs during our stay, visiting them pretty much daily. We also used the fitness center twice, which is a great bonus option seeing as it can be hard to get a good work out in while traveling full time.

We’ll most likely return to Bozeman again, so we decided to check out the other RV options. If you need hookups, there are basically four options: Hot Springs Campground, Sunrise Campground, Bear Canyon Campground, and the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. We drove through both Sunrise and Bear Canyon and found neither to be very impressive. However, Sunrise is VERY close (about a 3-minute drive) to downtown Bozeman, so if downtown is what you’re looking for, this might be the place for you. Bear Canyon sits a little further out and some of the back-in sites have nice canyon views, but just like Sunrise, most of the sites seem to be fairly narrow and lacking privacy from your neighbor. We did not get a chance to drive through the fairgrounds. We determined that for us, even though it’s the most expensive and a bit further from downtown Bozeman than we’d like, Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park is probably the best place to stay.

The Museum of the Rockies is a must-see destination for anyone remotely interested in dinosaurs, as they have the largest collection of dinosaur remains in the United States. In addition to the multiple Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops remains, there is a nearly complete Allosaurus. You’ll also find other prehistoric mammals including mammoths and rhinos. In addition to the paleontological exhibits, historical artifacts, photo murals, and textiles help to tell the story of Montana’s past including Yellowstone, Native Americans, fur traders, gold miners, and white settlers. There’s also an extensive temporary Genghis Khan exhibit that’s fascinating — did you know he’s responsible for passports, paper money, pants, and forks, among other things? To compliment the exhibit, there’s a twice daily live performance with Mongolian artists in the auditorium. We also timed it right to catch the Capcom-Go film in the planetarium, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. If you find yourself in Bozeman, definitely visit the Museum of the Rockies. Bonus: Your ticket is good for two days.

Food & Drink

We tried three new places for food and drink during the week that are worth sharing:

The Coffee Pot Bakery Cafe is less than a half mile from the campground. They, of course, have coffee and pastries, but also sandwiches, salads, hot breakfast items, and the best chicken pot pie we’ve ever had. We picked up food to go from here a couple of times because of how close and convenient it was and were never disappointed.

Nordic Brew Works is located about halfway between the campground and downtown Bozeman. It was under construction when we visited last year, so it’s super new and clean. We had a delicious dinner and Travis enjoyed a flight of beer. We also picked up burgers to go for dinner one night, which were also fantastic.

Blackbird Kitchen is located in downtown Bozeman. It’s a small, organic Italian restaurant with a limited menu, but every bite we had was delicious.

Minus the electrical issues, we enjoyed our time in Bozeman. There’s still so much to explore, so we hope to make a return trip soon!

The KOA in Billings, MT

This was our second stay at the Billings KOA — read about our first stay here.

Billings KOA Holiday

547 Garden Avenue, Billings, MT 59101

www.koa.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Wifi
  • Game Room
  • Swimming Pool with Hot Tub
  • Family-Style Restrooms with Showers
  • Mini Golf
  • Playground
  • Basketball Court
  • Laundry
  • Convenience Store and Gift Shop
  • Breakfast and Dinner
  • Ice Cream Stand
  • Fishing Pond
  • Picnic Table
  • Dog Run
  • Fire Pit (Some Sites)

We again found ourselves in Billings over the July 4th holiday, and Travis again had to make a trip to the Midwest for work. We arrived on a Sunday to check in for our two-week stay, and the woman behind the desk told me they didn’t have us checking in until the next day. I’ve never made that mistake before (reserving a site for the wrong day(s)), but luckily they had a site for the night that would accommodate the Airstream. They put us in a spacious water and electric site that backed up to the fishing pond. The next day, we moved to our new site, but stopped at the dump station first to empty our tanks. The site we had reserved was also only water and electric, which meant we were going to have to rely on the public restrooms and showers in order to make it through the two weeks without a sewer hookup.

Site 162 was a spacious back-in site with water and electric hookups and a nice view of the pond. The only downfall is that people hang out by the pond, so they’re sometimes only a few feet from your window.

We were assigned site 121, which is a narrow pull thru with water, electric, a picnic table, and a good amount of shade. The site was plenty long for our 28 foot trailer and truck, but the surrounding fifth wheels barely fit in the neighboring sites, with some of them having to park their tow vehicles perpendicular to their trailers or on the grass in their sites.  When we first hooked up our electric, our surge protector had an ‘open ground’ error. Thinking it was a fluke, we flipped the power off, unplugged the surge protector, plugged it back in, and then flipped the power back on, this time with no error. Everything worked fine until that night, when at 2am-ish, I woke up and realized we didn’t have power. I went outside and performed the same process I had done earlier in the day, and power was restored; however, we now knew there was something up with the power at this site. An open ground means that the safety path is open, or incomplete, which can result in fire, shock, or electrocution. This is why a surge protector is so important, as it alerts you to any unsafe conditions and will cut the power to the trailer if an unsafe condition should arise. The next day I reported the power issues to the office and an employee came over right away to check things out. He opened the electric box and tightened all of the connections after finding one a little loose. We had no more issues for the next nine days.

On day nine, which was a very hot Wednesday that found Travis in Wisconsin, I started having issues with the power kicking off and the surge protector reading ‘open ground’ again. I spent about 15 minutes flipping the power on and off and unplugging and re-plugging the power cord back in, but nothing was working — I kept getting the error. I went to the office again with my issue and they sent someone over again. He opened the box, checked all the connections, and couldn’t find an issue. I went back into the office to see if we could move to a new site. The guy behind the counter, who seemed to be some type of manager, said the power issue was probably because of our surge protector and that, most likely, there was nothing wrong with the power being supplied to the box. I respectfully disagreed and returned to the Airstream. He came over to the site and along with two other employees, tested the electric box with a volt meter, which read normal. I explained that just because the right amount of power is coming through the box doesn’t mean that the power is grounded properly. I also explained that in our almost 550 consecutive nights in our trailer, we have never had an issue anywhere else. He said there’s no way of knowing if there was an issue with the power cord or with our trailer as opposed to the electric box. I explained that the site we stayed at there our first night gave us no issues and the site we stayed at there the year prior gave us no issues. He again tried to blame the use of a surge protector as the culprit, saying they only have issues with power with people who use them. I said of course that’s the case, a person without a surge protector won’t know if there’s an issue with the power unless something serious happens. I told him I’d plug in without my surge protector if he would sign something saying that they would be responsible for any damage caused by faulty power — he didn’t go for that. I showed him how both of our surge protectors (we had recently bought a new one) were giving the ‘open ground’ error even before we plugged the power cord from the trailer in, meaning the issue had to be with the electric box and not the trailer or power cord. They plugged both of our surge protectors into electric boxes at other sites and did not get the ‘open ground’ error. Finally, without admitting something was wrong with the power, the guy said he could move us to a different site, two sites down from where we currently were.

This was both great and terrifying at the same time. Obviously, I wanted to be at a site where I didn’t have to worry about the power kicking off on a 90°+ day, but I have NEVER hitched the trailer up and moved it by myself — neither of us have. Travis and I each have our own tasks that we do during arrivals and departures, and hitching up is always his thing. Also, I’ve only towed the trailer once, and that was on a wide-open highway, not within a campground with narrow streets, tight turns, narrow sites, and kids running around everywhere. I didn’t really have any other option, so I had to bury my apprehension deep down inside of me and just get it done. My neighbor put the very heavy hitch on the truck while I got everything else ready and then he directed me while I backed up the truck to hitch up. I very slowly pulled out of our site, drove through the campground, and pulled into the new site where, again, the neighbor let me know when I was positioned properly. All in all, it was an uneventful, quick move that gave me the confidence of knowing that if the occasion were to ever arise again where I needed to bug out solo, I’ll be able to do it.

I’m happy to report that we had no issues at our new site for the rest of the stay. I’m dismayed to report that the KOA put someone else in our old site immediately, though I did notice an electrician van at the site the morning after we moved.

Site 119 was our third site, just two sites down from our second. Both were shady pull-thrus with a picnic table and water and electric hookups.
We were able to see the Billings fireworks from our window!

After our second stay here, these are our takeaways:

  • Close to downtown, which has good restaurants, a grocery store, and gas stations.
  • Close to the airport, which is super easy to get in and out of.
  • There’s a lot of turnover. Most people seemed to stay only one night as they were making their way to somewhere else. The positive of this is that for a large chunk of the day, many sites are empty and the place is fairly quiet. The negatives are that people are up and leaving early, making some noise as they do so. Also, a lot of people arrive fairly late, again making noise as they do so.
  • We never ate the dinner that is offered, but we did eat breakfast a few times, and it’s pretty decent.
  • The family-style bathrooms are pretty nice. They’re very busy in the morning when people are trying to get showers in before they leave. The bathrooms are cleaned about 11am, so if you wait until about noon, you can shower in a freshly cleaned bathroom.
  • The maintenance wasn’t as pristine as it was during our visit a year ago. During our two-week stay, the water at one of the dump stations had an out of order sign the entire time. There was always as least one restroom with an out of order sign, but usually at least two. About half of both the washers and dryers had out of order signs. During our first day, the grass was mowed at most of the sites, but not ours. We kept waiting for them to come back and finish the job, but they never did. After more than a week of waiting and when our grass had gotten pretty long (which is annoying when you have a dog and it rains a lot, which it did), I went into the office to request that they mow the grass. They did mow it, fairly quickly, and then mowed all of the other sites in our row that had been missed as well.
  • The staff is pretty great and accommodating, minus the one guy who seemed to think I was overreacting when we kept losing power.
  • There’s another RV park right down the road. We drove through it out of curiosity and found that the sites are even tighter than the KOA and after looking it up online, it’s more expensive than the KOA. It looks really nice from the road, though.
  • Cottonwood trees. While we were super thankful for the shade the cottonwoods provided us, they were losing their ‘cotton’ during this time and it’s quite a mess. It attaches to everything — window screens, awnings, chairs, clothes, dog, etc. and it’s difficult not to track it into the trailer or truck. We haven’t cleaned it up yet, but a serious vacuuming of the awnings and screens is needed, as well as checking to make sure it didn’t clog up any vents or the air conditioner.

While in Billings, we visited Pompeys Pillar National Monument, which is a half hour drive from the KOA. The only remaining evidence of the Lewis & Clark Expedition can be found at Pompeys Pillar, located on the Yellowstone River 25 miles northeast of Billings. Amongst an abundance of Native American petroglyphs and early pioneers’s initials, William Clark carved his name and the date into sandstone. He documented the deed in the expedition journals and named the rock formation Pompy’s Pillar (the E was added later) after the son of expedition member Sacagawea, whom he had nicknamed Pompy. Unlike any other national monument we’ve been to, dogs are allowed here. However, no dogs are allowed in the Interpretive Center (which is pretty great) or on the stairs leading to the signature and top of the pillar.

Pompeys Pillar is part of the Bureau of Land Management and is a beautiful property along the Yellowstone River that is worth a visit.
“The natives have engraved on the face of this rock the figures of animals &c. near which I marked my name and the day of the month & the year.” -Lewis & Clark Journals – July 25, 1806
W. Clark – July 25, 1806

Would we stay here again? Last year I would have said yes. This year my answer would be only for a night if we were on our way to somewhere else. This isn’t necessarily because of the KOA, but more so about the city itself. We noticed a drastic increase in the number of sketchy people, most likely drug abusers, around the downtown area. Apparently, violent crimes related to meth have increased dramatically in recent years in Billings and with a few interactions we had with some residents, it’s very obvious there’s a drug problem. While there is definitely more to Billings than downtown and safer areas elsewhere, it’s the part of the city that’s closest to the KOA. Because of this, I didn’t feel comfortable venturing out on my own very often while Travis was gone, and that’s a sign to us that we should just keep on driving.

Medora, ND: Boots Campground & Theodore Roosevelt NP

Medora, North Dakota is probably one of the busiest small towns you’ve never heard of. It’s definitely worth a few days’ visit; however, we were only able to stay one night. Because we work full time, we try to keep our driving relegated to the weekend. As we definitely wanted to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park (and fill in North Dakota on our travel map), we drove from Spearfish, SD to Medora for Saturday night, and then moved on to Billings, MT on Sunday.

There are a handful of places to park an RV in and around Medora, but since it was so hot and we needed to have electricity to run the a/c, there were three options: Medora Campground, which was completely booked; Red Trail Campground, which had availability, but seemed quite snug; and Boots Campground, a first come, first served, no frills campground a few minutes outside of town. We opted for Boots Campground, hoping there would be a site available for us, but knowing we could fall back on Red Trail Campground if there wasn’t. Thankfully, there was a spot open — a handful, actually — and we were happy to pull in next to another Airstream.

Boots Campground

3576 East River Road, Medora, ND 58645

www.bootsbarmedora.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins

When I say no frills, I really mean no frills. According to their website, there are 16 full hookup sites, but there seem to be about eight that are readily available for temporary stays. The other eight are kind of scattered around the property amongst the cabins available for rent, occupied by what look to be longer term residents. The sites are snug, both length-wise and width-wise, and there would be great difficulty in parking tow vehicles if they were all occupied. The sites are half dirt, half weeds, but level enough that we didn’t need to use any levelers. If you look at the photos below, there is actually a site open on either side of us, which shows how narrow they really are. There no restrooms, no showers, and no laundry. There are three bonuses to staying here over the other two options: 1) There are great views of the badlands out the back window of the trailer, 2) it’s very quiet away from the crowds in town, which is less than five minutes away, and 3) it’s cheap! Boots Campground is part of the Passport America program, so the regular rate of $35.00 is discounted to $17.50, which is paid at the Boots Bar in town. This area felt very safe and we had good cell signal on both Verizon and AT&T.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There are a number of things to see and do in Medora, but number one is the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The entrance to the park is right in town and about a five-minute drive from Boots Campground. The visitor center has a nice little museum devoted to Roosevelt’s life here in the 1880s. A number of his belongings are on display, including the shirt he was wearing during an assassination attempt in Milwaukee in 1912.

Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin can be found just behind the visitor center. Built in 1883, the cabin was Roosevelt’s first home in North Dakota, though it was located seven miles south of where it now sits. The cabin was larger than most frontier homes of the time, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and sleeping loft for the ranch hands. While the rooms are partitioned off with plexiglass, you get a sense of the way he lived as a few of his personal items are on display.

The 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive offers a number of overlooks and access to the various trailheads. When we visited, a portion of the road was closed, so visitors could only drive to a certain point before they had to turn around and drive back. Because of this, and because we forgot to get gas after making our long drive from Spearfish that day, we weren’t able to drive the entire road. We drove as far as the Boicourt Overlook before we needed to turn around. During our drive, we saw a bison, a wild horse, and oodles of prairie dogs. We had heard that this park is great for viewing wildlife, but I think it was just too hot when we visited. Out of curiosity, we drove through Cottonwood Campground in the park. It sits along the Little Missouri River, has no hookups, tons of tall cottonwood trees, and the sites are surrounded by long prairie grass. Despite the heat, the campground was full.

We spent less than 24 hours in Medora, but we really enjoyed our time there. Besides getting to enjoy the gorgeous badlands of North Dakota and visiting a great national park, we also became friends with our Airstream neighbors, Aaron & Valerie, and spent the night chatting, getting to know one another, and sharing tales of the roads.

 

River’s Edge RV & Cabins Resort – Evansville, WY

We spent one night at River’s Edge as we drove from Grand Teton National Park to Custer, South Dakota. We had a pull-thru site with water and electric that backed up to the North Platte River. River’s Edge was fine for a one-night stop, but I’m not sure if I’d stay any longer. It’s all gravel, no trees for shade, and quite buggy with the river. Anything you might need is probably found in Casper, a 10-15 minute drive. We did use the laundry facilities, which were fine.

River’s Edge RV & Cabins Resort

6820 Santa Fe Circle, Evansville, WY

www.riversedgervresort.net

  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Full Hookups
  • Wifi
  • Cable
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Dump Station
  • Rec Room with TV, Pool & Book Exchange
  • Playground
  • Picnic Table
  • Cabin
  • Tent Sites
Site 70 is an end site that backs up to the river.

 

Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park and Yellowstone NP

We spent four nights at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins during the latter part of May. It was cold, with temps below freezing most nights, and enough snow to stick. The weather we experienced at Yellowstone Grizzly in West Yellowstone was only heightened at higher elevations within the park. Yellowstone Grizzly is a large RV park just a few minutes from the west gate of Yellowstone National Park. The city of West Yellowstone isn’t large, making any location you stay pretty accessible to the grocery store, post office, visitor center, shops, and restaurants.

Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park & Cabins

210 S. Electric Street, West Yellowstone, MT 59758

www.grizzlyrv.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Heated Water Spiggots
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Cabins
  • Store
  • Dump Station
  • Recycling
  • Large Pet Walk Area
  • Picnic Table

The RV park was at only about 25% capacity, which made it very quiet during our stay, but was also a source of contention for us when we arrived. Check in wasn’t until 1:00, but we arrived at 11:30ish (we were trying to beat some bad weather on the way). They would NOT let us check in early, contending that ‘people were still checking out (even though check out is 11) and all of the sites hadn’t been checked yet.’ We understand rules are rules and we try to adhere to check-in times the best we can, but depending on what time check out was at the last place we stayed or how long of a drive we had, sometimes we arrive early. We’ve NEVER been turned away and we would have no problem being turned away if it was the height of the season or they were close to capacity, but neither of those things were true. Anyway, per their recommendation, we drove over to the visitor center and parked. We walked to get some lunch, which we brought back to the Airstream to eat, and then we sat and waited. And it started to rain. Just before 1:00, we drove back over to Yellowstone Grizzly and checked in. We drove to our site and set up in the rain that soon turned to hail. It was a frustrating situation because it wasn’t necessary, but we put it behind us. Like many RV parks, the sites are fairly close together, but we were without neighbors for three of the four nights, so our site felt spacious. The laundry facilities were acceptable and the showers were decent – not the best I’ve seen, not the worst. We were in a pull-thru site, but I’d recommend to request one of the back-in sites that back up to the Gallatin National Forest so you have more privacy and a nice forest view.

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center

www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org

The Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is located two blocks from Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park. It’s a not-for-profit wildlife park and educational facility that houses grizzlies, wolves, eagles, and raptors that were injured, abandoned, orphaned, or became habituated to humans in the wild. The center also serves as a bear-resistant container testing center where bear boxes, coolers, garbage cans, and dumpsters are tested. It’s a nice place to spend a few hours learning about animals native to the area. It’s $15 per person or $14 with AAA and your pass is good for two days.

Yellowstone National Park

During our stay in West Yellowstone, the weather was not great. It was even worse when we entered the park and drove up to higher elevation. During our time in the park, we visited Mammoth Hot Springs, Steamboat Geyser, Firehole Falls, the Grand Prismatic Spring area, and Old Faithful. Pictures never do anything justice, but that’s even more true with a gray, overcast sky above and the endless threat of rain/snow. It was a little too early in the season to visit Yellowstone as some of the roads were still closed for the season and many trails were closed due to bear coming out of hibernation and on the search for food. We also had to contend with some road construction that caused a decent delay on the drive up to Mammoth Hot Springs. And of course, traffic due to wildlife is always a possibility — bison like to walk down the middle of the road. Due to the traffic delays and the expanse of the park with a lot of miles between points of interest, I think the best way to experience the park would be if you’re staying in it at one of the lodges or campgrounds.

The gloomy, snowy drive to Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs – This part of the park has a lot to explore, including Historic Fort Yellowstone
Firehole Falls
The road to Firehole Falls was closed, so we had to park by the road barrier and walk a little bit in order to get this view.
We had a brief moment of sun and blue sky when we stopped at Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world.
Sapphire Pool
Grand Prismatic Spring – I wish the boardwalk in this area was elevated a bit more so that you can actually get a good view of the springs.
Old Faithful – We visited two years ago on a clear, blue day which makes for a completely different experience.
This guy walked out of the woods and on to the road in front of us where we had to wait a bit until the other lane of traffic was clear and we could pass him.

 

Henrys Lake State Park – Island Park, ID

We spent two nights at Henrys Lake State Park – the Thursday and Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Surprisingly, for a holiday weekend, it was very quiet and peaceful, though the less-than-ideal weather might have had something to do with that. Henrys Lake is a big trout fishing destination, and on Saturday morning, the fisherman woke up to a glassy lake with a bit of sunshine. The park is home to beautiful mountain views, some nice hiking trails, and quite a bit of wildlife including moose and a variety of birds. The west entrance of Yellowstone National Park is 25 minutes away.

Check in wasn’t until 2:00, but seeing as we were arriving from West Yellowstone where we had an 11:00 check out, we arrived pretty early. Our check in day was the first day of the season the campground was open, so we had no problem checking in; though, the ladies in the entrance kiosk were VERY nice and I think as long as no one is in your site, they’ll let you check in at any time.

There are a few decent restaurants and a very small grocery store in Island Park, which is a little bit of a drive from Henrys Lake, so I’d recommend to come prepared with all of the supplies/food you need.

Henrys Lake State Park

3917 E 5100 N, Island Park, ID 83429

www.reserveamerica.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Picnic Table
  • Firepit
  • Dump Station
  • Lake Access
  • Firewood for Sale

We had a pull-thru site with full hookups, though I’d recommend one of the back-in sites numbered 46 through 51 (Caddis Loop) with water and electric only. These sites offer great views of the mountains and lake through the rear window of an RV. The bathrooms are probably the nicest and cleanest we’ve seen anywhere, offering individual shower rooms for safety and privacy, so for that reason and the fact there’s a dump station, you could get by without a sewer hookup for a week or more with no issues. Each site has a firepit and picnic table and the cell signal is strong on both Verizon and AT&T.