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:
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:
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…
and paddled, and paddled, and paddled…
and soaked, and soaked, and soaked.
We chased waterfalls…
but we also stuck to the rivers…
and the lakes that we’re (not) used to.
We drank beer…
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…
and where Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.
We saw lots of wildlife…
and visited the geographic center of the country.
We added four new tires,
two new batteries,
four new solar panels,
and a couch and a desk.
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!
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.
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!
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
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table & Fire Pit
Free Access to the Hot Springs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.