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 just do it more sporadically. In fact, we have plans for a 3-week trip to northern Washington soon, but are waiting out the heat and crowds before we embark. I think we’ll really enjoy having the luxury to decide when we travel and when we don’t.

 

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.

 

 

 

A Synopsis of Our Second Year on the Road

Our second year as full-time Airstream dwellers/digital nomads/travelers has come and gone. We added a few new states to our travel map (North Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho), crossed the northern border for the first time (it won’t be the last time), and traveled 7,607 miles (just 61 miles less than last year). Our longest drive day was 377 miles and our shortest was 6.5 miles. We averaged $46.63/night in lodging costs, thanks to spending 45 days in a condo/hotels at various times throughout the year while our converter was fixed, solar panels were installed, and modifications were done to the interior.

We continued to learn more about ourselves, our Airstream, our country, and the nomadic lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our second year on the road:

We visited 13 National Park Service sites, with 8 of them being new to us:

Zion National Park
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Petroglyph National Monument
Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument
Mohave National Preserve

We also revisited Death Valley, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore.

With our return visit to South Dakota, we were able to conquer the remaining 3 sites of South Dakota’s Great 8, the other 5 of which we saw last summer:

Crazy Horse Memorial
Deadwood
Jewel Cave National Monument

The other 5 are Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and the Missouri River.

We hiked, and hiked, and hiked…

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve | Desert Hot Springs, CA
Mollies Nipple Trail | Hurricane, UT
Hidden Falls Trail | Grand Teton NP
Little Devil’s Tower Trail | Custer SP – Custer, SD
Hidden Lake Trail | Glacier NP

and paddled, and paddled, and paddled…

Sand Hollow SP | Hurricane, UT
Jackson Lake | Grand Teton NP
Lake Louise | Banff NP
Moraine Lake | Banff NP

and soaked, and soaked, and soaked.

Lava Hot Springs | Lava Hot Springs, ID
Bozeman Hot Springs | Bozeman, MT
Catalina Spa RV Resort | Desert Hot Springs, CA

We chased waterfalls…

Kanarra Falls | Kanarraville, UT
Hidden Falls | Grand Teton NP
Bridal Veil Falls | Spearfish, SD
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls | Banff NP
Virginia Falls | Glacier NP

but we also stuck to the rivers…

Firehole River | Yellowstone NP
Colorado River | Moab, UT
Missouri River | Helena, MT

and the lakes that we’re (not) used to.

Utah Lake | Utah Lake SP – Provo, UT
Jackson Lake | Grand Teton NP
Lake Agnes | Banf NP
Avalanche Lake | Glacier NP
Moraine Lake | Banff NP

We drank beer…

Miner Brewing Co. | Hill City, SD
Nordic Brew Works | Bozeman, MT
Deschutes Brewery | Portland, OR
Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Paso Robles, CA

and wine…

Prairie Berry Winery | Hill City, SD
Michael David Winery | Lodi, CA
Glunz Family Winery | Paso Robles, CA

and cocktails…

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise | Banff NP
Sky Bistro | Banff, AB
Glacier Distilling Company | Coram, MT
Jake’s Del Mar | Del Mar, CA

and tea.

Lake Agnes Tea House | Banff NP
Portland Japanese Garden | Portland, OR

We rode a gondola in Palm Springs…

and one in Banff.

(Have I mentioned I don’t like gondolas?)

We saw where Forrest Gump ended his run…

Mexican Hat, UT

and where Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.

Dead Horse Point SP | Moab, UT

We saw lots of wildlife…

Death Valley NP
Beatty, NV
Grand Teton NP
Grand Teton NP
Yellowstone NP
Glacier NP
Banff NP

and visited the geographic center of the country.

Belle Fourche, SD

We added four new tires,

Discount Tire | Albuquerque, NM

two new batteries,

AM Solar | Springfield, OR

four new solar panels,

AM Solar | Springfield, OR

and a couch and a desk.

Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR
Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR
Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR

We had visitors in Las Vegas; Hurricane, UT; Custer, SD; and Glacier National Park:

 

Our second year on the road was fantastically fun and memorable, even with the issues we encountered. (I’m looking at you flat tire and junk converter.) All of the inconveniences we deal with are by far worth the amazing places we get to experience. Thanks for following along and we hope you stick around for 2020, our third year on the road — although we’re not really sure what’s in store yet!

 

Bozeman, MT: Back to the Hot Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food & Drink

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

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

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

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

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

Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park

We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park in Bozeman, Montana for three nights. The RV park is a 15-minute drive from Bozeman’s super cute and clean downtown. The park is right next door to Bozeman Hot Springs Spa and Fitness, and staying at the park gives you free access to the hot springs. (Access to the fitness center is $5 per day for those staying at the RV park.) The sites here are a mixed bag of pull throughs and back ins, some concrete, some gravel, some with nice grass adjacent, some with a patch of weeds adjacent. Our site, J6, was a pull-through gravel site with patchy, weedy grass. Besides being a pull through, the one thing the pull-through sites have going for them is that there is shrubbery between sites, which gives some privacy and separation from the neighboring sites. At $75 a night (the most we’ve ever spent), we weren’t overly impressed by the property, but the facilities (restrooms, laundry, office) seemed fairly new and were very clean. The draw here is the hot springs, but we ultimately chose this place because there aren’t a lot of options in the Bozeman area.

Address: 81123 Gallatin Road, Bozeman, MT 59718

Phone: (888) 651-5802

Amenities:

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

The Bozeman Hot Springs are the best hot springs we’ve experienced! There are 12 pools that range in temperature from 57 to 106 degrees. The entire facility is clean and inviting. They get very busy in the evenings and especially on hot, summer weekends. Live music takes place on a stage at the outdoor pools a couple of days a weeks and a food truck is available at certain times. There’s also a sauna and a steam room, as well as a well-appointed fitness center. If staying at the RV park, access to the pools is free and the fitness center is $5. Otherwise, one-time access is $8.50 for the pools and $15 to use the entire facility.

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

Downtown Bozeman is full of great shops, restaurants, and breweries. The area is very well maintained, making it look as though it’s brand new! We ate dinner one night at Montana Ale Works — great vibe, fantastic food, huge selection of regional craft beer, and a full bar with delicious signature cocktails. The bison-stuffed morel mushrooms were delish and Travis really enjoyed his Laughing Dog Brewing Huckleberry Cream Ale.

While in Bozeman, we also hiked the ‘M Trail’. The M Trail is so named because of the M landmark created by Montana State University students in 1915 on a hillside (mountainside?) in the Gallatin National Forest, just outside Bozeman. We conquered the 850 feet of elevation gain on the half-mile “most difficult” trail up and took the mile and a half “easiest” way down. It definitely gets the heart pumping! The difficult route up is mostly loose rock, so I would recommend wearing a good pair of hiking boots. The easiest trail is mostly dirt and tennis shoes would do just fine. There’s a parking lot and a pit toilet at the trailhead.

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

We really enjoyed Bozeman and look forward to visiting again to explore the area more. While the hot springs were nice, we would definitely explore other options for places to stay. We’d also probably visit a different time of year as it was pretty hot during the second week of July.

Route Planning and the Billings KOA

The most difficult part of route planning for us is when Travis has to fly somewhere for work. The business trips aren’t usually last-minute trips, so that helps, but sometimes we find ourselves in places that we wouldn’t otherwise be in. However, Billings is not one of those places (a place we wouldn’t otherwise be in, that is). When we started planning our route back west from our extended stay in Wisconsin in May, we knew we wanted to spend some time in Montana. We also knew that Travis would need to fly to Minneapolis during this time and that the trip would be during the week of the Fourth of July holiday. Before settling on Billings, we first made a list of all the commercial airports in the approximate area we’d be in — Wyoming and Montana. We then searched to see which ones have direct flights to Minneapolis, because who wants a layover when you’re not flying very far? Then, we had to find a safe place to stay with availability for the holiday week, not too far from the airport. I say a safe place because Travis never wants to leave me (and Max) in a questionable location, obviously. Taking all of that into consideration, we landed on the Billings KOA.

This has been our method of operation since we hit the road full time back in January. Travis has had to make a business trip once a month, so these trips have somewhat determined our route. With each booked business trip, we’ll have a specific date and location we need to be. We also throw some personal date/location combos in there too to make it even more interesting — Crater Lake Rim Run in August, our friends’ October wedding in San Diego, and the Joshua Tree half marathon in November. It forces us to plan ahead, which suits our personalities just fine. We just aren’t go-with-the-flow type of people when it comes to trip planning. Twice we’ve had gaps of a night or two in our route where we were just going to wing it and see where we end up and both times we caved and booked something last minute.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, we don’t like long travel days and not knowing your destination may make your day longer. Two hours is great, three hours is fine, but when we get into four to five hours, we get crabby. We can’t comprehend how some people travel eight to ten hours a day — that just sounds miserable to us and like a waste of a day. If you don’t NEED to be somewhere fast, what’s the hurry? Secondly, this has been a hot, hot summer. After boondocking Memorial Day weekend, we learned that we want and need an electric hookup. We have a 13.5-year-old dog that we want to keep comfortable and we’ve had to work some very long days, so having electricity is essential. Yes, we have a generator, but many places have limitations on generator use and when it’s really hot, we burn through gas like crazy. Also, we would never leave our generator running unattended, so we’d become prisoners to the Airstream — and that’s not fun!

Before we hit the road, we had these romantic ideas, like so many tend to, that we’d boondock nonstop and wake up next to the ocean one day, and in the mountains the next, and so on, without another human in sight. And while there are plenty of Airstreamers and RVers that do just that, we’ve determined we’re not those people. We like electricity and showering every day and doing laundry once a week (or at least every two weeks) and strong cell signals and eating great food at restaurants and exploring cities along with our country’s natural wonders. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that we’ve learned what type of full timers we are over these last six months. On the full-timer spectrum with off-the-grid boondockers on one end and snowbirds that only move twice a year on the other, I think we fall right in the middle.

Back to Billings.

We settled on Billings and I’m glad we did. We stayed from a Saturday to a Saturday (I’m actually writing this the day before we leave). KOAs are notoriously expensive and this one is no different. I don’t know if they jacked their prices because of the holiday, but our water and electric site (no sewer hookup) was $75 a night, $67.50 with our KOA membership. Thus far, the most expensive place we’ve stayed. That being said, this is such a nice KOA. It’s the first in the country and the current owners have owned it since the 70s. There’s a huge staff that meticulously maintains it and the amenities are great. There’s a decent-sized, albeit cold, swimming pool. There’s a nice little mini golf course that Travis destroyed me on. The bathrooms and showers are so, so nice — probably the nicest we’ve ever seen. We’ve used the showers a few times because we don’t have a sewer hookup and don’t want to be so concerned with the grey tank level. The onsite store is well equipped. Breakfast and dinner are offered every morning and evening (for a price). Our site is super long, allowing us to park our truck at either end of the trailer. We have a nice patio with a picnic table, porch swing, and fire pit. Now, amenities like this are definitely NOT a requirement for us, but if we’re going to pay this much, they’re nice to have.

Site 37

There’s more to this KOA than just the amenities, however. The location is fantastic! It’s not far off I-90 making it extremely accessible for those that are just passing through. Downtown Billings is literally 5 minutes away. We have had some great meals here; we’d recommend Walkers and The Fieldhouse specifically. And one of the best parts — the airport is 13 minutes away! We usually have to drive 45 minutes to get to an airport, so the short drive is really a nice change.

All in all, our stay in Billings has been great. It was a little loud the night of the Fourth (I hate you, fireworks), but other than that, no issues. With the next business trip tentatively scheduled for October, we’re looking forward to moving on to Bozeman, Missoula and Coram to explore more of Montana.