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.

 

I’m Not Even Sure What to Say About 2020

Where to begin?

Every year I like to write a post that wraps up the previous year’s travels with a proverbial bow, reliving all of the joy and wonderment we experienced. You can see how this is usually a fun little project by checking out the posts for 2018 and 2019. Obviously, this year is different. Like, so, so different.

We started the year spending the winter in the San Diego area as full-time Airstreamers and ended the year living in a condo in Bozeman, Montana. To say things took an unexpected turn is a bit of an understatement. I know that COVID-19 affected the life of pretty much every one on the planet, in a wide range of ways. We are so very grateful to be able to say that, as of this post, we have not personally experienced the virus, or lost loved ones to it. We know there are so many that can’t say the same, and our hearts hurt for the pain and loss others have experienced during this time. We know it’s still going to be a long road for our community, our country, and our planet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic that 2021 will eventually bring some health and happiness.

Besides the isolation, frustration, and disappointment that the pandemic brought to our lives, we also had to deal with the loss of our third amigo, our travel buddy, our faithful canine companion — Max. We said goodbye to Max on February 25th, just two days shy of his 15th birthday. When we first started our full-time travel life, we were so unsure how well Max would adapt. It turns out there was no need to worry, because he was the BEST Airstream dog. He slept through travel days like a champ and preferred so stay ‘home’ whenever Travis and I would venture out. The strangeness of not having a dog around after 15 years was compounded by the weirdness of the early days of the pandemic. Ten months later, and we still miss him dearly, but the thought of him no longer triggers a twinge in the heart.

So, yeah, 2020 hasn’t been the most enjoyable year, but we did have some good times and we were able to travel to some great places. Let’s look at some of that joy and wonderment we DID get to experience.

We travelled 4,608 miles across nine states — California, Nevada, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Dakota. Our longest travel day (which we’ll never do again) was 738 miles (you can read about that here) and our shortest travel day was 19 miles. We averaged $36.78/night for site fees, which is almost $10 less per night than 2019, so, yay us!

Michigan was the only new state we added to our travel map this year, making it our 20th state that we’ve ventured to with the Airstream. We were very happy to be able to spend some time in Michigan in fall — such a great time to be in the area!

While we had originally planned to visit a number of new National Park Service sites this year, we were able to make it to only eight, with four being new and four being return visits.

The four new sites were:

Capitol Reef National Park

Check out more from our visit to Capitol Reef here.

Voyageurs National Park

Our visit to Voyageurs makes 19 national parks visited thus far! Check out more from our visit to Voyageurs here.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Pictured Rocks here.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Apostle Islands here.

The other four sites we were able to revisit were:

Zion National Park

Due to the pandemic, the only exploring we did of Zion during this time was to take a drive up the canyon, which is usually closed to vehicles, but was open because the shuttles weren’t running.

Check out more about our visit to Zion here. Read more about our previous visit here and here.

Yellowstone National Park

Check out more from our visit to Yellowstone here. Read more about our previous visit here.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Check out more about our visit to Roosevelt NP here. Read about our previous visit here.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 

Check out more about our visit to Little Bighorn here. Read about our previous visit here.

But our year wasn’t just about the parks! Take a look at some of the other things that brought us joy this year –>

We visited some of the ‘World’s Largest’ statues:

We ran into some interesting creatures in the Anza-Borrego Desert:

We tried a new sport:

We were able to meet up with a handful of other full timers:

We enjoyed some beach days and amazing sunsets:

Pre-pandemic, we were able to spend time with some of our favorite people:

And when we didn’t think it was going to happen, we ended up being able to spend some safe, socially distanced time with family:

The pandemic forced us to change our travel plans for 2020 (goodbye, hard-earned FL state park reservations!), so we made a decision. A big one. Even though the RV lifestyle somewhat prepared us for pandemic life (you can read about that here), it didn’t make sense for us to stay on the road. After dealing with multiple reservation cancellations and watching things close as the case numbers rose, we decided that the best thing for us was to get off the road and settle down for the time being. One of the best parts of full timing is not only exploring the natural wonders of our country, but also meeting new people along the way and checking out things in each city we visit — restaurants, museums, community events, etc. With all of these things closed, traveling just wasn’t that enjoyable. And we wanted to make sure we stayed healthy. So, we purchased a condo in Bozeman, Montana in July. Read more about what led to that decision here.

We’ve been enjoying safely exploring our new city:

And we’re learning to embrace winter (kind of):

But probably the weirdest thing to happen to us personally in 2020, is our appearance on HGTV’s House Hunters!

We filmed the episode in August and it aired in December. It highlighted our transition from full-time travel to part-time condo living. It was an interesting and tiring experience!

Which brings me to what’s next for us:

We plan to continue to travel in the Airstream — A LOT. It’s nice to have a home base to return to when we need a break or something comes up, but we miss being on the road. We’ll get back out there once we feel comfortable doing so, which for us means when we’re both vaccinated. It’s been nice to take a pause and enjoy some of the things you give up when you live tiny, such as a kingsize bed, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, and easy access to our mail, medical care, and good grocery stores. There’s still so much left to explore! And we aren’t really cold winter people, so we’re looking forward to seeking out warmth in the coming winters.

We’re wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2021! Hopefully, we’ll see you somewhere out there!

 

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.

A Second Visit to 7th Ranch RV Camp

In early September, we decided to take a trip to Wisconsin to visit family. We had been in our condo in Bozeman for about two months and were getting a tad bit restless, so after the very last item we had ordered for our new place arrived, we hitched up and hit the road.

The bulk of the drive from Bozeman east to Wisconsin is along I-90 East, and anyone that has driven this stretch of Interstate knows that it’s not the most exciting. And seeing as this would not be our first time driving this route, we knew it would be even less exciting for us. However, Garryowen, Montana is a good (almost) halfway point between Bozeman and Rapid City, which was to be our next stop.

Garryowen is tiny and there isn’t much of a town to speak of, but Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located a couple miles north in Crow Agency, Montana. The monument educates about a very important time period in our country’s history and is a very worthwhile stop. A visit can be accomplished in a few hours time.

We stayed at 7th Ranch RV Camp and visited the monument in July 2018, which you can read about and see photos of here.

I’ll add a few things about both 7th Ranch RV Camp and Little Bighorn Battlefield that weren’t highlighted in that post or have changed since our last visit:

  • When you make a reservation at 7th Ranch, they don’t take a deposit or any personal information. They just ask that if you aren’t going to make it, to call. This is great for people that like to change their minds or have a last-minute change of plans for some reason. However, it makes the check-in process longer than necessary, especially when multiple RVs show up at the same time. We waited 25 minutes to check in on a very hot day when we were fifth in line. If they took a little more info over the phone, this process could be sped up.
  • While the sites are nice, long pull-thrus, our site was very unlevel side to side and required three layers of levelers to get us to an acceptable place.

  • The visitor center at Little Bighorn is currently closed due to COVID. They have also blocked off every other parking spot in order to minimize the amount of visitors at a time.

  • If you travel with dogs, this might not be a stop for you. There are signs posted that dogs are not allowed outside of vehicles. I’m assuming this is because of the nature of this monument and the fact that a large part of the property is a veteran cemetery.

 

Why We Decided to Stop Traveling Full Time

925 days.

16,807 miles.

19 states.

96 different overnight site locations.

2 countries.

18 national parks.

 

Listing the stats of our full-time travel as above reminds us of how much we’ve experienced and how far we’ve traveled, though our last few months on the road have felt anything but adventurous.

When the seriousness of COVID was realized in March, we had just left Southern California where we had spent the winter. We were at a state park in Southern Nevada and had an amazing itinerary ahead of us: Some fantastic state parks in Southeastern Nevada; the Mighty 5 in Utah; Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado; a brief stay in the Rapid City area for a doctor’s appointment; and then on to Minnesota and Wisconsin to spend time with family and celebrate holidays, a high school graduation, sporting events, and birthdays. We were then going to explore more of Wisconsin, the state we grew up in. We also had a large part of our winter mapped out, and we were finally going to hit the Southeast and East Coast: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc. We researched and planned and mapped and reserved sites the day they become available, anywhere from 6 to 13 months in advance. We woke up a handful of mornings before 5am in California to book sites that became available at 8am in Florida. We. Had. A. Plan.

And then it got blown up.

State parks started to close. Then national parks. Then counties and states started imposing non-resident travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. When a lot of our full-timing cohorts got off the road to shelter in place with family, we stayed out there. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, so we stayed as socially distant as possible and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t receive a knock on the door, email, or phone call saying we needed to move on because our current location was closing. After three reservations in a row were cancelled, we finally found a private RV park in Torrey, Utah to settle in for a month while we regrouped and figured out our next move. The uncertainty was uncomfortable. We felt in our gut that COVID was sticking around for a while and questioned whether we wanted to continue traveling during a time when the best thing to do is stay home as much as possible.

And we decided we didn’t.

We didn’t want to keep traveling at this time for a handful of reasons, some of which became more apparent as the weeks and months went by:

  • Above all, we wanted to stay healthy. And we wanted those around us to stay healthy.
  • It just wasn’t that fun to be on the road during a pandemic. People always asked us how long we were going to live this lifestyle, and our reply was always we’d stop when we didn’t enjoy it anymore. We weren’t enjoying it much, mainly for the reasons listed below.
  • It’s too damn busy out there now. A number of people around the country have turned to RVing as their preferred way to travel this summer. It’s wonderful that families are finding new ways to vacation and spend time together, but the huge uptick in RV sales and rentals means there are a lot fewer places to stay. And crowds. Campgrounds that are usually nowhere near capacity are now booked with a line out the gate waiting to get a site. A lot of people are visiting national parks during their travels, many for their first time – and they’re trashing them. Vandalism, trash, avoidable run-ins with wildlife, and human excrement have now become common place.
  • In our experience, many people aren’t being as cautious as they should be. This makes us incredibly uncomfortable and reinforces the importance of finding a safe place where we can live comfortably and keep ourselves healthy. Wear a mask and distance yourself from others whenever possible!
  • We knew when we decided to live in an Airstream we were giving up space. However, we were perfectly fine with that knowing that in return, we’d be visiting beautiful places and having some pretty great experiences. Well, when there’s a pandemic and it’s best to stay home, that once quaint and cozy small space feels smaller.

So, friends, we bought a condo in Bozeman, Montana. We had spent time in Bozeman the last two summers and really enjoyed our visits. We’ve been fond of our travels through Montana in general, and in fact, Montana is the state we’ve spent the most time in outside of California (where we would spend the winter months).

Why Bozeman?

We love its location. Three national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier – are all within a 5-6 hour drive. Bozeman is a very outdoors-oriented town, catering to hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and various other outdoor activities. Montana’s busiest airport is in Bozeman, which is important for when business trips become a thing again. While the cost of living is higher here than in other parts of the country, we find it affordable after living in San Diego County for seven years. When considering a place to settle down, we always wanted to make sure it was somewhere where we wouldn’t have to sell the Airstream due to budget constraints. Bozeman also has some great restaurants and breweries, and is incredibly dog friendly, if we ever decide to get another pupper. Also, Bozeman residents seem to be very active and welcoming. Have I mentioned that Bozeman is beautiful? From the cute downtown to the endless trails and green spaces to the mountains in all directions, the landscape really sold us.

What does this mean?

Well, it means we will no longer be living in an Airstream full time. Instead, we’ll be spending part of the year in our spacious-to-us 1100ft2 two bed, two bath condo with doors that offer privacy, a large fridge, a washer & dryer, and a king-size bed. We will definitely still travel in the Airstream as much as we can. In spite of the reasons we chose to stop full timing, we still love it and can’t imagine not traveling. There are so many places we want to visit and revisit! We’ll wait until life returns to normal a bit, and we’re able to enjoy the things we loved about full timing — meeting new people, checking out new restaurants & breweries, visiting national parks & museums, and lots and lots of hiking. So, our Airstream travel is paused for a bit, but it will continue! Who knows, we might even go back to full timing.

Stay safe and healthy!

 

Bozeman Hot Springs Campground – Third Time’s A Charm

We returned to the campground at Bozeman Hot Springs (aka Bozeman Campground) for the third summer in a row this June. As stated in my previous post ‘Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana‘, there are only a few options in the Bozeman area for RVs and none are that great. Bozeman Campground is definitely the nicest of the options, but it’s also the most expensive. (I guess when you don’t have a lot of competition, you can charge whatever you want.) I’ve highlighted the campground amenities and local attractions in our previous posts regarding Bozeman (July 2018 and July 2019), so in this post I’m going to compare the different site options at Bozeman Campground.

A Row: These are tent sites and cost $42.95/night. Seeing as that’s usually an average price for an RV site, you can see already how expensive this campground is. The tent sites are a decent size, all grass, and have a fire pit & picnic table. No electricity.

B Row: We stayed in B6 for seven nights in June 2020. These are water and electric (30amp) only sites that are pull thru. They are labeled to range in length from 25-28 feet, though our Airstream (28′ from hitch to bumper) and truck fit fine with room to spare. There is an area available to park your tow vehicle if it doesn’t fit in your site. The sites are gravel, level-ish, and have a fire pit and picnic table. At $64.95/night, these are the least expensive sites for traditional RVs. We enjoyed our stay in this site and would book a site in this row for any future stays. There is a dump station available if you need to empty your tanks before, during, or after your stay.

Site B6

C Row: I have never seen a site in C Row available via the campground’s reservation system, so I’m not sure if you have to call in order to reserve a site here. These sites are gravel, back-in, full-hookup, 30-amp sites. They have a lot of trees overhead for shade and a large grassy area behind each site which is where the fire pits are located. They sit at a 90° angle to the road, so backing in is a little more challenging than other sites. Also, these are the closest sites to the hot springs, so there may be some noise from the pools.

G Row: We stayed in G0 for five nights and G4 for two nights, both in July 2019. When we stayed in it, G0 was a pull-thru site with lots of sun that they used as an emergency site. We we were supposed to stay in H row, but had an electrical issue there, so we spent our time in G0 instead. It appears that this year G0 is now a back in site, but I’m not sure if it’s still used as an emergency site or if it can be reserved. We also stayed in G4 for two nights and really enjoyed our stay here. The G row sites are super long pull throughs and actually have hookups at both ends, so you can decide what works best for where to park your rig. There is decent shade in this area as well, and the sites are very spacious with large green lawns between them. These sites are $74.95/night.

Site G0
Site G4
Site G4

H Row: We were supposed to spend five nights in H4 in July 2019, but had a hot skin issue after hooking up electricity. We don’t know if there was a ground issue with the electrical pedestal or if the fact that we were sitting in a huge puddle of water was the issue. Regardless, they moved us to G0. These sites are back-in, full-hookup sites, and seem pretty decent. These sites are also $74.95/night.

I Row: We have not stayed in I row, but these sites seem pretty comparable to H row. They are also back-in, full-hookup sites that are available for $74.95/night.

J Row: We stayed in site J6 for three nights in July 2018 and J7 for one night in July 2019. In our opinion, the J row sites are the worst sites the campground has to offer, which is disappointing, seeing as they are also $74.95/night. They are pull-thru, gravel sites with very snug ‘grassy’ areas that have a fire pit and picnic table. I say ‘grassy’ because weedy might be a better description. These sites don’t seem to get as much attention as other sites and really should be priced less. The B row water and electric sites are much nicer. There are hedges between the sites which offers some privacy from your neighbor, so there’s that, I guess.

J6
J7
J7

K Row: K row and the two L row sites are the only sites that have cement pads. We stayed in K2 for two nights in June 2020. These sites are very large and very long back ins and nice to be in during the rainy season (which ends early to mid-July) so you don’t have to deal with the mud the gravel sites might have. We had nice, green hedges behind us, so this site felt fairly private. These sites are the most expensive in the campground at $89.95/night.

Site K2
Site K2

L Row: There are actually only two L sites mixed amongst the sites in K row. They are water and electric only back-in sites that are quite small and best suited for vans or a small Class C. They are $49.95/night, which seems like a steal considering the tent sites aren’t much cheaper.

Bozeman Campground accepts Good Sam, so if you are a member, you will get 10% off your stay.

This year’s stay at Bozeman Campground in sites K2 and B6 was so much more enjoyable than the two previous years when we had a crappy site in 2018 and an electrical issue in 2019. We wish there was a more affordable option in the area, but the price does include entrance to the hot spring pools next door as well as breakfast every morning, which came in the form of a carryout brown bag this year due to COVID.

Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park – Livingston, MT

After spending a week at one of the worst places we’ve ever stayed (see previous post), we were over the moon when we pulled into Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park and saw how beautiful and well cared for it is. Yellowstone’s Edge is about 15 miles south of Livingston, Montana (where you’ll find a grocery store) and about 35 miles north of Gardiner, Montana (where you’ll find the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park). It’s nestled between the Yellowstone River —  with a number of sites backing right up to the river — and Highway 89, though the traffic noise is pretty minimal. We had originally reserved only a week long stay, but as soon as we pulled in, we decided to extend. We had no idea where we were headed next, and Yellowstone’s Edge seemed like a great place to hang out while we figured out our next destination. We actually extended our stay three times, and ultimately stayed 5.5 weeks from May 9th to June 16th. The owners of the park (fellow Airstreamers!) were super accommodating and did their best to not make us move sites multiple times. We did end up staying in three different sites, but they were all within a few sites of each other, making moving very easy.

Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park

3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047

www.yellowstonesedgervpark.com

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

While there’s no enclosed off-leash dog area, there is a lot of grass throughout the park and plenty of room to walk your four-legged friends, with a number of dog waste bag stations throughout. There’s no pool and no playground, so Yellowstone’s Edge doesn’t necessarily cater to kids, but I think they would still enjoy staying here.

When you make a reservation at Yellowstone’s Edge online, you actually are submitting a request for a reservation. There’s a spot on the request form where you can ask to be in a specific site or site type. After referring to their park map and looking at Google Satellite, I requested to be in one of their back-in south sites (S1-S12), as I thought they would have the best views. (I was right.) Someone from the park called to confirm our reservation and site type, and we were all set! This park is VERY popular during the summer, and we talked to more than one person that was spending at least three months there. We were very lucky to get in with only a week’s notice and be able to continue extending our stay.

We stayed in sites S3, S5, and S6 and site S6 is pictured above and below. They all had a little different view and were sized a little differently, but basically all the same quality.

Sometimes we stay at a park or campground for an entire month and never get our chairs out; other times we pull them out on the first day. This is a put-the-chairs-out-on-the-first-day-and-take-a-seat kind of place. We loved sitting by the river with a view of the mountains, watching all of the fly fishers floating down the river.

But don’t let those sunny pictures above fool you, it can definitely still snow in this area when it’s crazy hot in other parts of the country already. Yellowstone’s Edge’s season doesn’t start until May 1, and there’s good reason for that. Over Memorial Day Weekend, we woke up to snow!

The only other time our Airstream has seen snow was a year prior, in nearly the same area. We were in West Yellowstone towards the end of May and woke up to snow there one day as well — so be prepared!

It was calming to watch the snow fall and the birds feed at our neighbor’s bird feeders.

As quickly as the snow came, it was gone, and the lilacs and budding trees replaced it.

It was pretty great to be able to watch the sunset over the Yellowstone River and the mountains every night from our window!

Of course, the main draw for staying in this area is visiting Yellowstone National Park. When we arrived at Yellowstone’s Edge on May 9, the park was still completely shut down due to COVID-19. The south and east entrances (located in Wyoming) reopened on May 18. Due to Montana having a 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone that traveled from outside the state (both residents and nonresidents), the west, north, and northeast entrances (which are all located in Montana) didn’t reopen until the 14-day quarantine was lifted. On June 1, all entrances of the park were finally open and we were lucky to be able to start exploring the park via the north entrance (in Gardiner, MT) less than a half hour after it opened.

We went into the park three times during the remainder of our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, and were overjoyed at how few visitors there were. We have previously visited Yellowstone NP twice in the past two years, both during summer, and it’s usually crazy town — hard to park, selfie sticks everywhere, and large crowds at the most popular attractions. While we did see an increase in traffic throughout our visits, it was still incredibly enjoyable and easy to get around.

We made sure to visit some areas of the park we had never visited before, like Lamar Valley and the Lower Falls, and we returned to some we had previously seen, like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The last two times we visited, the Fairy Falls Trail that leads to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook was closed, so we made sure to take advantage of its accessibility this time.

Here are some pics from the park:

This park is such an interesting place and definitely worth a visit, but prepared for a lot of driving — like, a lot. The various sections of the park are very spread out and will require multiple hours in the car in order to explore. Probably the best way to visit Yellowstone is to stay near each entrance — or at least near the south, west, and north entrances — for a couple of days each.

There is still so much of Yellowstone that we have left to explore, but it will have to wait until our next visit!

Prior to Yellowstone opening, we did some nice hikes in the area that weren’t too far from Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park:

Pine Creek Falls – Pine Creek/Livingston Area

This is a 2.6-mile moderately difficult trail that starts just beyond the Pine Creek Campground in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in the Gallatin National Forest. There’s a decent size parking lot with pit toilets at the trailhead, but this is a very popular trail and other trails leave from the same area, so the earlier you start, the better. It’s a beautiful little hike with about 486′ of elevation gain that culminates at Pine Creek Falls. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say the trail culminates at the falls, as you can continue on beyond the falls to Pine Creek Lake, which is about 12 miles roundtrip.

In order to get to the trailhead, you have to drive through private land where cattle graze, so heed the signs that say, “Slow – Cows On Road.”

The Hogback (aka Hogback Ridge) – Pine Creek/Livingston Area

My Apple Watch logged 865′ of elevation gain and a little over 2.5 miles of distance, but there are varying accounts of how long this trail is, probably because it’s hard to know where the trail ends. That being said, this was such a fun hike — mainly because of these two:

This is Daizy and Boaz and this is their property. The Hogback Trail is on private property that the owners graciously open to public enjoyment. Note the signs below:

The trail is steep with loose rocks, and apparently rattlesnakes are a common sight, though we saw none. There are some pretty great views throughout.

Daizy and Boaz stuck with us for the entire hike. While Boaz’s job seemed to be to terrorize Daizy, Daizy seemed to take her job of leading hikers very seriously. We got off trail a couple of times (it’s not very well defined) and she waited patiently while we found it again. We wish every trail came with canine trail guides!

Joe Brown Trailhead – Gardiner

You’ll find the Joe Brown Trailhead along Hwy 89, north of Gardiner, Montana. The trail access is across the road from the Yankee Jim Picnic Area (where there’s a pit toilet) and a boat launch. I have no idea how long this trail is, as it’s not listed in AllTrails, and a Google search doesn’t yield any results. However, I can tell you that it meets up with both the Cedar Creek Trail and the Slip & Slide Trail. We stopped to check this trail out as we were returning to Yellowstone’s Edge from Gardiner one day, so weren’t super prepared in regards to water and snacks and only hiked 1.63 miles out and back. In that short distance, there was almost 500′ of elevation gain, which mostly came at the beginning. Besides the steep beginning, I’d say this trail is fairly easy (at least what we hiked) as it winds around the side of a grassy hill/mountain. We ran into a trio of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep along the way who were incredibly disinterested in us.

While at Yellowstone’s Edge, we picked food up from Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ in Emigrant a few times. Follow Yer’ Nose is often named the best BBQ in the state, and I can assure you, the brisket was the best we’ve ever had. We also had the pulled pork and a turkey sandwich as well, and all were delicious. Wildflour Bakery is also onsite and serves breakfast and baked goods. We made sure to pick up some local beer as well!

There are a couple of hot springs in the area that we weren’t able to patronize because they were closed due to COVID. Hanging out at Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa looks like a great way to spend a day and it’s only a 10-minute drive from Yellowstone’s Edge.

Also during our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, we were able to meet up with four other full-timing couples at Eagle Creek Campground in Gardiner. This is a National Forest campground with good Verizon signal, pit toilets, campfire rings, bear boxes, and large, somewhat unlevel sites, for $7/night. From these dry camping sites, it’s about a 10-minute drive to Yellowstone’s north entrance.

We really enjoyed our time at Yellowstone’s Edge and will definitely stay here again if we’re in the area. And while Yellowstone is not one of our favorite parks, mainly due to how much driving is involved, it’s definitely an interesting, worthy place to visit that we will return to again so we can continue to explore its expansiveness.

 

 

Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana

There’s just something about Bozeman, Montana that has drawn us back for the third year in a row. That something is definitely not an array of options for RVers, however. There are three RV parks/campgrounds within the city, and none of them are anything to write home about. We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and RV Park the last two years, and you can read about those visits here and here. The other two options are Bozeman Trail Campground (formerly Sunrise Campground, which is how it’s still listed on Campendium) and Bear Canyon Campground. Another option is the Gallatin County Fairgrounds as well as a handful of national forest campgrounds.

When we were in Bozeman last year, we drove through Bozeman Trail Campground and Bear Canyon Campground to see what the other options offered. At the time, they both seemed average-ish, with smaller sites that were close together. Even though it’s pricy and some of the sites are not nearly as nice as others, in our opinion, the hot springs campground is the nicest place to stay in Bozeman.

Bozeman Trail Campground

31842 Frontage Road, Bozeman, MT 59715

www.bozemantrailcampground.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Dog Run
  • Propane Fill
  • Wifi

Bozeman Trail is the closest to what the city has to offer, being literally a 1-minute drive from Bozeman’s historic downtown. Bozeman Trail was also the only place open for us to stay when we made our way to Bozeman this year. We arrived May 2nd, and the hot springs didn’t open until May 15th and Bear Canyon didn’t open until June 1st. I don’t know if those are the opening dates every year or if they delayed opening due to COVID-19. Speaking of which, the fairgrounds and area national forest campgrounds were all closed due to COVID when we arrived. So, Bozeman Trail was literally our only option.

I had tried to glean from a number of reviews as well as Google Map satellite images what the best sites were — and I think we actually did end up with the best site. We made our reservation online, I selected site 37, and a message popped up stating that they can’t guarantee the specific site I chose unless I pay a $25 site lock fee. Seriously? Even though I definitely wanted site 37, as it was a pull-through at the end of a row, I did not pay the fee and hoped for the best. The day before we arrived, I called Bozeman Trail to request a non-contact check in and get our site number. We had done this at the last three places we stayed — actually, the last three places we stayed had contacted us. When I hadn’t heard from Bozeman Trail, I called to get our site number and they said they wouldn’t definitively know our site until the next day when we arrived. I then asked if I was able to call as we were pulling in to find out our site number so that we could have a non-contact check in and she said no, she needed me to come in to sign something. Again, seriously? During this pandemic, we kept our traveling to a minimum and our contact with others to none except for grocery stores, and that’s all we were trying to do here. But we weren’t allowed to and it pissed me off.

The next day, we arrived, I went in the office and found that zero precautions were being taken to protect staff or guests. I was wearing a mask, but the employee was not. There was no partition in place. She stood behind a podium and expected me to stand a foot away from her while signing a paper that didn’t need to be signed and writing down our license plate numbers that could have been collected during the reservation process. I grabbed the paper, walked over to a table, and signed it with my own pen. I returned to the truck and we followed a guy in a golf cart to our site. Between the site lock fee and the lack of COVID-19 precautions, we already didn’t feel great about this place.

Site 37 is on the end of a row of pull-thru sites that face every other way so that you share a front yard with your neighbor. However, seeing as 37 is on the end, we did not share a front yard, but had a decent sized grassy area. The parking pad was gravel, narrow, and a bit unlevel. It seemed as though they had just put in a new sewer hookup, because the area around the hookups was dirt, though this time of year it’s actually mud. The hookups were pretty spread out, but we didn’t have an issue hooking the electric up at the back of the site and hooking the water up towards the front of the site. Our site was large enough to park the truck, but I’m not sure that would be possible in all sites.

The campground itself is decent. The layout of some sites is a little wonky, and at first glance, it seems really run down, but that’s only because there were a number of rigs that looked as though they could never hit the road again. There are a number of RVers that get frustrated with places that have an age limit on RVs, but this campground is an example of why some places choose to have an age limit. Could it use some sprucing up? Yes; however, if you can look past some of the dilapidated vehicles, this place is okay. Ish.

But, the noise. Oh my goodness, the noise! The noise is unlike anything else we have ever experienced. The campground is nestled between a frontage road that has an active train track running parallel and I-90. This is the absolute loudest place we have ever stayed. We are not normally disturbed by highway noise or a distant train, but here, the noise was endless. And even with the door and windows closed, we could still hear the traffic. The train ran a number of times through the night, whistle and all. Some reviews for Bozeman Trail say the noise isn’t that bad, so I don’t know if it was the location of our site, or we have overly sensitive hearing, or those reviewers have diminished hearing, but it was bad. The noise is our main complaint and the reason we hope we’d never have to stay here again.

We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on those. They claim to have a playground, but it consists of one swing and one of those little boxy, plastic Little Tykes-type play sets. There are plenty of places to dispose of trash throughout and as I said earlier, the location can’t be beat for visiting downtown Bozeman.

Site 37 fit our 27′ Airstream and tuck without issue. When most other sites had picnic tables, we had that weird permanently-in-the-ground table.
Our front door faced the gravel campground road, but it wasn’t bothersome.