The beginning of 2021 found us in Bozeman, Montana, dealing with the first real winter we’ve experienced since we moved from Wisconsin to Southern California in 2011. Thanks to Covid, we decided to spend the winter in our condo that we purchased in July of 2020, instead of heading to warmer climes. Bozeman is as equally as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, but after almost six months of cold and snow, we were ready to adventure again.
Our very first night back in the Airstream for the year was May 15th. We spent two nights at a nearby campground to get the rig de-winterized and to make sure everything was still functional after its long winter sleep. Besides needing to replace the propane tank hoses, all systems were a go! It was during this first outing that we started a new tradition we refer to as #CampfireSweatshirtSeries. Here’s a sneak peak, but I’ll share more about that later:
Without further ado, our year in numbers:
States Visited: 5 | Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and California – We weren’t able to add any new states to our Airstream travel map this year, so our total sits at 20. (And that’s where it will stay, but more on that later.)
Miles Traveled: 3,410 | We opted to stay mostly close to home this year and it really made for an enjoyable spring, summer, and fall to not be putting too many miles on.
Nights on the Road: 100 | I’m actually pretty happy with this number, seeing as we spent almost the entire first half of the year in our condo.
Different Overnight Locations: 24 | We had a good mix of site types this year, with a fifth of our nights being spent in national park campgrounds; a healthy blend of city, county, & regional parks; four state parks, all in Oregon; a sprinkle of casino, Harvest Host, & fairgrounds stays; two different KOAs; and the remaining nights being spent in private RV parks/campgrounds.
Total Site Fees: $4017.79 | That number is a combination of nightly/weekly/monthly rates, tax, reservation fees, and electricity. It comes out to an average of $42.72/night, which is much higher than we like to spend. However, our not-too-ridiculously-priced place where we usually spend the winter in San Diego County was closed for maintenance and the also-not-too-spendy backup wasn’t available when we first arrived, so we had to settle for one of the holy-crap-this-is-stupid-money RV parks for the last month and a half of the year.
National Park Service Sites: 6 (Officially) | We revisited a few of our favorite national parks – Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Redwood. We also added a new one in Pinnacles. We visited Crater of the Moon National Monument as well, and minus Redwood, our 20 nights in national parks campgrounds were spread across those 5 parks. We also made it to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but didn’t officially cross the bay to Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And one of our favorite places to visit this year was the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which is actually managed by the U.S. Forest Service as opposed to the National Park Service.
You can find information about all of the places we’ve stayed and traveled to in previous blog posts.
You can find wrap ups for previous years here: 2018, 2019, and 2020.
As I mentioned earlier, we started a new thing we refer to as the #CampfireSweatshirtSeries. For some reason, we decided to start taking campfire photos at every place we stayed (with a fire pit) while I sported a ‘Campfire Sweatshirt’. Are we weird? Yes. Do these pics bring me joy when I look back at them? Also yes. We have never shared these publicly before, so enjoy!
We also did a Phase 2 of modifications at Ultimate Airstreams. You can read all about that here, but here are a few pics of what we had done:
On the personal front, we got on a plane in July for the first time in a long time to fly to Wisconsin to visit and spend time with family. We explored a lot of things we never got around to while living there, such as:
Lambeau Field Tour and Packers Hall of Fame – Green Bay | We’ve been to plenty of games and we’re even Packers shareholders, but Travis hadn’t done the tour since he was a kid and I had never done it, and neither of us had ever been to the Hall of Fame.
Harley Davidson Museum – Milwaukee | The museum is pretty great and has an onsite restaurant.
Lakeshore State Park – Milwaukee | This is a smaller, urban state park, but is nice for a walk along Lake Michigan.
While in Milwaukee, we were also able to catch the traveling Beyond Van Gogh exhibit…
…and check out Fiserv Forum a few hours before the Bucks won the championship!
Summer in Wisconsin can be pretty great!
We also flew to San Diego in September for our friends’ wedding. This trip actually felt like the kind of vacation we would take pre-Airstream life…
Speaking of pre-Airstream life…
While we didn’t put on a lot of miles this year and most of the places we spent the bulk of our time we had been to before, we really enjoyed our travels this year. However, towards the end of the year we officially decided to do something that we’ve been discussing for a looooong time — we’re selling the Airstream. There are many reasons that go into this decision and I’ll share them at some point, but for now, you can find more information regarding our rig at the blog post here, the RV Trader link here, the Airstream Marketplace link here, or the Airstream Hunter link here. If you are interested, please reach out. If you know someone who may be interested, please pass along our info.
We left Bozeman on September 26th to drive west towards Ultimate Airstreams in Clackamas, Oregon, where we were having some updates/upgrades and maintenance issues taken care of. We chose to take the longer, flatter route along US-191 south out of Bozeman to West Yellowstone, to US-20/US-26 west to Mountain Home, Idaho, and then northwest along I-84 to the Portland area. Our stops along this trip would include Juniper Campground in Ririe, Idaho; Lava Flow Campground at Craters of the Moon National Monument near Arco, Idaho; Abundant Life RV Park in Caldwell, Idaho; Emigrant Springs State Park in Meacham, Oregon; and Ainsworth State Park in Corbett, Oregon.
After a beautiful drive through Gallatin Gateway and the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, we arrived at our first stop — Juniper Campground!
We only spent one night at Juniper Campground, which is a county campground located on the Ririe Reservoir (formed by the Ririe Dam). There are three loops, with Loop A being reservable, and Loops B & C being first come, first served. There are 60 RV sites, with most being full hookups, and there’s a good combination of pull throughs and back ins. A10, A12, and A14 have views of the reservoir, but these are three of the few sites without a sewer hookup. Our site was a fairly level pull-through site, though we did need to use levelers on one side. The hookups were well located and our site was surrounded by Juniper trees, giving us privacy from the sites around us. All sites have a picnic table and fire pit. Many of the back-in sites in A loop are fairly unlevel/steep front to back. C Loop has very long, wide pull throughs that will accommodate any size rig. We didn’t check out B Loop. There is a grassy area for tent camping. Each loop has a bathroom with showers. There are a few picnic pavilions throughout as well as a basketball court. There is boat access to the reservoir with the steepest and longest boat ramp I’ve ever seen. This campground was very quiet when we stayed and has a camp host that stopped by to give us his contact info and inform us about the gate, which is locked from 10pm to 5am (it does open from the inside if you need to leave during that time for some reason). This was our first night back in the Airstream in about two months, so we had some housekeeping to attend to in our brief overnight stay and we didn’t venture out anywhere except to get gas.
Dates Stayed: September 26, 2021 – September 27, 2021
Full Hookups Available
Reservation and First Come, First Served Sites
Restrooms with Showers
Next, we ventured to Craters of the Moon National Monument for a one-night stay at first come, first served Lava Flow Campground. Lava Flow is the only campground located within Craters of the Moon and it’s a beaut! It’s the most well-maintained and well-manicured NPS campground we’ve ever seen. There are 42 sites, all without hookups. The road throughout the campground is narrow and there aren’t a lot of sites that can accommodate a large rig, or even a medium-sized rig. I would highly recommend stopping at the visitor center on your way in so that you can get a campground map and see what you’re working with. We ended up in Site 2, which is actually across the street from the campground, along with Site 1. Both of these are large pull throughs that can accommodate any size rig and will save you having to drive through the campground looking for a spot. Once you find a site, there is a pay machine at the entrance that accepts credit card only. You are able to pay for one night at a time. Our site had a picnic table and grill, but no fire pit. There are both restrooms with flush toilets and showers (seasonal) and vault toilets, as well as water spigots throughout the campground. There’s also a nice little amphitheater where I assume they do ranger talks and there’s access to the Crater Flow Trail right from the campground. It can get VERY windy, so don’t leave anything outside that could blow away.
Dates Stayed: September 27, 2021 – September 28, 2021
Rate: $15.00; $7.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
First Come, First Served
Restrooms with Showers (Seasonal)
From the Craters of the Moon brochure:
Many lava flows exist on Earth’s actual moon, but astronauts confirmed that most lunar craters resulted from meteorite impacts, not volcanism. The craters of Craters of the Moon, however, are definitely of volcanic origin. But where is the volcano? These vast volumes of lava issued not from one volcano but from a series of deep fissures — known collectively as the Great Rift — that cross the Snake River Plain. Beginning 15,000 years ago, lava welled up from the Great Rift to produce this vast ocean of rock. The most recent eruption occurred a mere 2,000 years ago, and geologists believe that future events are likely.
Loop Road is a 7-mile scenic drive that provides access to trails that take you over, under, and around the various volcanic features of the park. Many of the sites are accessed by fairly short trails from the parking areas, or can even just be viewed from the parking areas themselves. This is definitely a park that can be done in one day, even if you choose to traverse the 3.6-mile (roundtrip) North Crater Trail.
As you can see below, the trailhead signs are very informative, but there are two things that cannot be referenced on the sign that ended up making us turn around at a little over a mile into the hike. 1) It was very dry during our visit. Like really, really dry. The humidity was 18%. That, along with the wind that didn’t ever seem to quit, just sucked all of the moisture right out of us, even giving us cotton mouth. We brought water with us on the trail, but by a mile in, we had already drank half of it, so we decided to turn around. 2) The sign lets you know about the cumulative elevation gain and loss, but does not inform you that this gain and loss continuously repeats along the trail. It’s possible that the continuous up and down of the trail wouldn’t be so noticeable if it was less windy and less dry (and we had more water with us). Regardless, this was a really great trail that had a lot of interesting views along the way and I’d highly recommend it.
You actually walk across lava flow fields while on the trail and the metal poles as seen below guide you.
It’s hard to grasp the size of this area, but there is person in a red shirt at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the inclined trail for scale.
Next, we stopped at Inferno Cone. It looks innocent from a distance, but there’s a pretty steep incline along a trail made of crushed lava rock that’s difficult to walk on, especially when the 30+mph winds are whipping it against any skin that’s uncovered.
The views from the top were pretty nice…
…but very, very windy.
We then continued along the loop to the Spatter Cones area. These are easily accessible along a paved trail.
Our last stop of the day was the cave area of the park. In order to enter the caves, you need to obtain a permit, which consisted of the person in the entrance kiosk stamping our pamphlet when we first entered the park. No one checked it before we entered the caves and it didn’t seem like they give out a limited number of permits, so I’m not really sure what the purpose is. Anyways, we didn’t feel the caves, which are actually lava tubes, were anything to write home about. They’re just caves, some more accessible than the others. I would recommend each person bring a headlamp as they’re, well, caves, and there’s not much for natural light. Seeing as bats live in some of them, you’re not supposed to wear anything into the caves that you’ve worn into any other caves in the last few years in order to prevent white noise syndrome being transferred to the bats.
We spent one night at Lava Flow Campground and that was enough to see everything. It was a very interesting place! Forewarning: Cell signal drops off basically right when you turn down the road to enter the park. It’s possible you might get a little something, but don’t count on it. Also, the last gas station coming from the east is about 20 minutes outside the park and about 30 minutes outside the park when coming from the west. When we visited, the North Crater Flow Trail, which is accessible right from the campground, was closed. This looked like a very nice, easy little trail with boardwalks that winds through some nice scenery. A ranger was set up outside the visitor center to answer any questions, as the visitor center and gift shop were closed due to “everyone being sick”. We always like to buy some souvenirs as reminders of our travels and to help support the parks, and I was able to do that by calling the Craters of the Moon Natural History Association. Their website is www.cratersofthemoonnha.org.
Probably the best feature of Craters of the Moon is that it has an International Dark Sky designation. It was definitely dark at night and we saw the most stars we’ve ever seen anywhere!
We continued west to Caldwell, Idaho, where we spent two nights at Abundant Life RV Park.
Dates Stayed: September 28, 2021 – September 30, 2021
Rate: $55.00; $49.50 with Military Discount
Bathrooms with Showers
Pond w/ Swim Beach
Enclosed Dog Park
This was a well-maintained, small park that seemed to consist mainly of full-time residents. Each site was kept nice and tidy, and the residents were very quiet. This RV park is in a commercial area and is surrounded by RV dealerships, car dealerships, a car wash, gas stations, and various other businesses. While the residents are quiet, the overall location isn’t. There’s a decent amount of traffic and train noise, but nothing so disruptive that it’s going to ruin your day or prevent you from getting a good night of sleep. Caldwell is a good-sized city, so has everything you would need, and also is home to a number of wineries, though we didn’t visit any. We actually didn’t leave the RV park except to get gas and pick up a pizza, as we stayed here during the week and had to work.
From Caldwell, we continued west (but mostly north) into Oregon, where we spent two night at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area, aka Emigrant Springs State Park. This park is along the route of the Oregon Trail and pays homage to it’s location with some information displays throughout as well as ranger talks during the busier season.
Name: Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area
Address: 65068 Old Oregon Trail Rd, Meacham, OR 97859
Dates Stayed: September 30, 2021 – October 2, 2021
16 Full Hookup Sites Available (5 Available Year Round)
Restrooms with Individual Showers
Firewood for Sale
Group Tent Site
Community Building for Rent
This is a beautiful, wooded campground that is extremely convenient when traveling along I-84. The sites are a decent length and fairly level. There are 16 full hookup sites, while the rest are without hookups. As most of the sites are pretty shady throughout, I’m not sure how well solar panels would help in the non-hookup sites. Five full hookup sites are available year round, though the water gets shut off in the winter. There is water available year round at the restrooms/shower house. The showers are accessed individually, which is always nice from a safety standpoint. There was a camp host on site and it appears there are usually two during the busier season. Wood is available for purchase for $5 for a cart load. This is a smaller park without a check-in kiosk, so it’s important to know your site number if you have a reservation.
While this campground is visually pleasing, it has two issues that make it less than optimal: 1) Interstate noise, and 2) Packrats. That semi in the picture below? Yeah, it’s on Interstate 84, which is a major thoroughfare. As you can see, the entrance to the park is literally yards away from the interstate. Some of the sites even have views of the interstate. One would think that all of the beautiful trees throughout the campground would help to buffer the interstate noise, but one would be wrong. The traffic noise is the loudest we’ve ever experienced anywhere we’ve stayed. It was not very enjoyable to sit outside, so while we spent night one outside for a few hours by the fire, we spent night two inside watching TV. Inside the Airstream, the noise was okay — it wasn’t too loud and didn’t keep us up at night. But outside — no bueno.
The second issue this campground has is packrats. Apparently. We’ve never known them to be an issue outside of the Southwest and none of the reviews on Campendium, The Dyrt, or Google mentioned them, but when we started noticing a few vehicles throughout the campground with the hoods propped open, we asked the camp host. According to him, the packrats are terrible. He’s been working at the campground a long time and has had multiple issues. While his most current truck has been untouched, he did have one making itself at home in his trailer somewhere. So, we propped open our hood at night and crossed our fingers. Thankfully, we had no issues, but because of the packrats and the traffic noise, we would never stay at this campground again. It’s a shame, because it really is a beautiful little campground that apparently existed for decades before the interstate came through. Now, it’s just not very peaceful.
The last stop on our trip to drop the Airstream off was the one I was looking forward to most — Ainsworth State Park. Ainsworth is located in the Columbia River Gorge. Our drive from Emigrant to Ainsworth was almost completely along the Columbia River and incredibly enjoyable. The weather was absolutely perfect and we had a very clear view of Mount Hood as we drove.
Name: Ainsworth State Park
Address: E Historic Columbia River Hwy, Corbett OR 97019
Our site was a pull-through with full hookups, a picnic table, and a fire pit. There’s really not too much else to say about it. The campground as a whole seems like it could use a little love, but it was a decent place to stay for two nights to explore the area, and we would definitely stay here again. While we were in B7, I would say that the best sites are probably A9 – A13, as they have nice views and a little more distance between sites than some of the others. They’re also set up a little further away from the highway. As with any campground in the Columbia River Gorge, there is both train noise and traffic noise, though nothing too bad. From the campground, there is a connector trail to the Gorge Trail #400, which runs for many miles throughout the Gorge area.
I poked my head into the bathrooms and showers to check them out and they both seemed very clean.
While Ainsworth State Park isn’t the most aesthetically desirable Oregon state park we’ve stayed at, its location makes up for what it lacks in beauty. This smaller state park is in the perfect location from which to explore the waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge located along the Historic Columbia River Highway (U.S. 30).
At 620 feet, the two-tiered Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. It’s also the #1 natural tourist attraction in the Pacific Northwest. A short trail leads from the base of the falls up to Benson Bridge, which traverses the creek between the two cascades of the falls and gives a closer view of the upper, taller cascade. The Multnomah Falls Lodge, found at the base of the falls, offers a restaurant with a view of the falls, a snack bar, an espresso bar and a gift shop. The trails around the falls connect to several other Gorge trails that will take you to several other waterfalls. We visited on October 2nd and parking was still fairly limited at this time. There’s a bus called the Columbia Gorge Express that offers roundtrip transport between Portland and Multnomah Falls.
Some of the waterfalls along the Historic Columbia River Highway are visible right from the road while some require a little bit of a hike to get to them. We checked out two other falls while in the area, Wahkeena Falls and Horsetail Falls.
We actually parked at the Wahkeena Falls Trailhead when we visited Multnomah Falls, as we had driven to Multnomah Falls initially, but found parking to be nonexistent. We took the half-mile trail to Multnomah first and then returned on the same trail to then take the short trail up to the 242-foot Wahkeena Falls.
Like Multnomah Falls, the 176-foot Horsetail Falls is visible from the parking area right along the highway.
It seems as though there’s still a lot to explore in this area, such as hiking trails, more waterfalls, and the view of five mountains (Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson) from Sherrard Viewpoint on Larch Mountain — really don’t know how I missed that one when planning for this stop. I guess we’ll just have to make a return trip!
From Ainsworth State Park it was a short, albeit stressful (not a fan of driving through Portland), drive to drop the Airstream off at Ultimate Airstreams. We dropped it off early in the morning, were back on the road by 8:15am, and drove the 11 hours (we took the most direct route) back to Bozeman where we’re getting our condo prepped for our renters and packing up what we didn’t already pack into the Airstream. We’ll be spending this winter in warmer climes in the San Diego area and can’t wait! We’re also looking forward to seeing and experiencing the updates and modifications by Ultimate Airstreams that will make our Airstream life a little more comfortable.