Glacier NP and the West Glacier KOA

We visited Glacier National Park in July of last year, but were only able to spend five days — which was not nearly enough. We knew then that we would return for a longer stay in the near future, which turned out to be August 9-23 of this year. We spent two amazing weeks in West Glacier at the West Glacier KOA, which is one of only 19 KOA Resorts amongst the 480+ KOA properties throughout North America. We had friends fly in from D.C. and Tampa to help us celebrate my 40th birthday. They stayed in one of the Deluxe Cabins, which is a great way for friends and family to join RVers on the road in great destinations like Glacier. During their 4-day visit, we explored trails and lakes and waterfalls and hiked/walked almost 88,000 steps, or more than 37 miles. We drank whiskey and beer and ate burritos and churros and trout. The guys went whitewater rafting and we all enjoyed campfires in the evening. Their visit flew by, as did our 2-week stay, and we’re pretty sure that Glacier National Park will be a place we return to again and again.

Read about our July 2018 visit here.

West Glacier KOA

355 Half Moon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

www.koa.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fire Pits
  • RV Sites with Tent Pads
  • Cable TV (Limited to 4 Channels)
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Dump Station
  • Nature Trail
  • Propane Fill
  • Playground
  • Basketball Court
  • Horseshoe Pits
  • Fenced Dog Park
  • Two Swimming Pools (1 Family, 1 Adults Only)
  • Gift Shop
  • Cafe (Serves Breakfast & Dinner)
  • Ice Cream Shop
  • Sunday Morning Worship Service
  • Weekly Mobile Dog Groomer
  • Nightly Entertainment (Wildlife Expert, Magic Show, Music, etc.)
  • 2.5 Miles to West Entrance of Glacier National Park

Our site, #166, was a back-in Super Site with full hookups and a tent pad. It’s on the end of a row and backs up to a tree line. It’s next to a bathroom, which was very convenient for when we our friends were hanging out at our site. We LOVED our site. It was huge and quiet and pretty private for a KOA.

There are a number of things that we enjoyed about this KOA:

For such a large property, it’s pretty quiet. Because we were in an end site that backs up to trees, our stay may have been quieter than if we were in a different site, but overall, the place was pretty low key even though it was at max capacity most nights

The sites are well spaced apart. Again, this might have something to do with our particular site. We didn’t walk the entirety of the campground, but every site we saw looked nice.

Breakfast and dinner are available every day, which is very convenient for those days you don’t feel like making a meal or going out.They have a pretty substantial breakfast menu each morning, along with pastries for purchase. There’s also a coffee bar to get your day started right. Each evening, Gene mans the grill, where you have a choice of trout, ribs, flat iron steak, or ribeye steak. The ribs were pretty good but the trout was our favorite (we didn’t try either of the steaks).

The. Adult. Pool. Is. Everything. Due to most people staying at KOAs with kids, the family pool was always pretty busy. However, the adults only pool never had more than a half dozen other people at it and was incredibly peaceful. There are also two small hot tubs at the adult pool — again, very nice to enjoy without kids.

The location to the national park entrance gets two thumbs up. It’s only a couple of minutes drive into West Glacier Village, where you’ll find the west entrance of the park, a post office, an urgent care clinic, the newly opened West Glacier RV Park & Cabins, a motel, a food market, retail/gift shops, coffee cart, ice cream, a bar, and a cafe.

Mobile dog grooming? Yes, please. Every Saturday, a woman brings her RV that’s converted into a mobile dog grooming salon to the West Glacier KOA. There’s a sign-up sheet in the office. This was super convenient for us, as Max hadn’t been groomed in a very long time due to having a back injury. Also, it’s really hard to get a dog in for grooming on short notice in most places and we’re usually not somewhere long enough for it not to be short notice. She did a great job and Max was done in less than an hour, unlike the three hours that are normally required at other groomers.

Things to Do

Hiking

Avalanche Lake

The hike to Avalanche Lake can be anywhere from 4.6 to 6 miles roundtrip, depending on how far you continue along the lakeshore once you reach the lake. This trail can be busy, as there is a shuttle stop at the trailhead (which is actually the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead), and is accessible during the off-season months when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. There’s ample parking, but as with most trails in any national park, the earlier you get there the better. However, we didn’t arrive at the trailhead until 9am on a Saturday during mid-August and we were able to find a parking spot. The trail is rated as moderate and seemed to be popular with families. We did this hike on an overcast day, but the views from the lake were still gorgeous. We hiked the extra distance to the opposite side of the lake, as most people stop on the near side. Only a few parties continued to the far side which made it a quiet and peaceful place to drop in with our Kokopelli Packrafts and paddle around for a bit. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~32 minutes

The beginning of the trail starts on the Trail of the Cedars, which is a 0.9-mile loop.
Much of the trail is through a forested, mossy wonderland along Avalanche Creek.
This is as far as most people go, but another 0.7 mile will get you to the other side of the lake.
Even on a gloomy day, the views were beautiful!
It wasn’t the most ideal conditions for the packrafts, but any time you can paddle around on a glacial lake is a good time.

Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls

We did this hike last year when we visited and both Travis and I remembered it as being easier than it was this year. We accessed the trail from the Saint Mary Falls Trailhead, but you can also start at the Saint Mary Falls Shuttle Stop or from the boat dock on Saint Mary Lake. The first mile of the hike is pretty flat and fairly easy, and brings you to the three-tiered Saint Mary Falls. This a good place to turn around for those who aren’t very steady on their feet. If you continue an additional three-quarters mile up the trail, which starts to gain and lose elevation regularly just pass Saint Mary Falls, you’ll reach Virginia Falls, which is approximately 50 feet tall. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~1 hr, 15 min

A few tips:

  • Throughout the hike, there are a handful of smaller unnamed falls, and some people may mistake these for Virginia Falls and turn around before reaching the actual Virginia Falls.
  • The earlier in the season you visit, the more impressive the falls will be. That’s true for any of the 200+ waterfalls located throughout Glacier. We visited Glacier in mid-July last year and mid-August this year and noticed a big difference.
  • There is a third waterfall that can be reached from the Saint Mary Falls Trailhead, though the Sunrift Gorge Trailhead is a closer option. When starting the hike to Saint Mary and Virginia Falls, you’ll see a sign that says Baring Falls to the left, while the other two are to the right. We’ve never hiked it, so I can’t comment on the difficulty of the trail or the brilliance of the falls. I believe it’s about a mile to the falls from where the trail splits in two directions.
  • There’s a pit toilet near Virginia Falls if needed, though don’t expect it to be as nice as the pit toilets you find at trailheads. And pack your own toilet paper.
Saint Mary Falls
One of the unnamed falls along the trail.
Virginia Falls

Iceberg Lake

The trailhead to Iceberg Lake is found behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier area of the park. There are a number of hikes that leave from this area, so everything I read about the Iceberg Lake hike said that arriving early is important, even though there’s a very large parking lot. We did this hike on a drizzly Monday morning and when we arrived at the parking lot around 7:30am, there was quite a bit of parking still available. Maybe it was because of the weather, maybe it was because it was Monday, but whatever the reason, we probably could have shown up at 8 or 8:15 and still been fine. The park’s hiking guide rates this hike as very challenging, though AllTrails says moderate. Even though it’s about 10 miles roundtrip and has approximately 1800′ of elevation gain, I’d have to agree with moderate. About halfway along the trail is Ptarmigan Falls, which is a nice place to stop for a snack. There’s also a pit toilet here, but as with the one by Virginia Falls, it’s more of an outhouse and requires you to bring your own toilet paper. Once we reached the brilliant turquoise lake, which was sans icebergs (we missed them by a few weeks), the wind really picked up and it was freezing. We spent a short time at the lake before heading back and being treated to some moose sightings along the trail. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~2 hr, 10 min

We hit the road early and were able to see the sun rise along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Most of the trail looks like this: Fairly flat, along the side of a cliff, with views of the mountains ahead and lush, green valley below.
We were lucky to see a couple of handsome moose both on the way to and from the lake.
No icebergs to be seen, but still a nice hike.
There was a blanket of fog overhead for the majority of the morning, but it didn’t detract from the great views.
There were so many wildflowers along the way!
We did this hike the morning of my 40th birthday. In this photo, I’m pretty sure I was thinking — what a silly thing to do — wake up at 5am, drive four and half hours roundtrip, and hike 10 miles in an almost constant drizzle/rain. Silly, indeed.

Hidden Lake Overlook

This is another very popular hike in Glacier, but with good reason. It’s rated as challenging, or moderate, but is less challenging than other moderate hikes we’ve done. It’s fairly accessible, as the trailhead is right behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center. At 2.6 miles roundtrip, the payoff is pretty great without having to put a lot of miles in. The hike can be extended an additional 1.2 miles each way if you choose to hike down to the lake itself. We saw what seemed like every rodent that calls the park home as well as a momma mountain goat with her babe. It’s a busy trail, but one that I would say should be on your must-do list. We arrived at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and were lucky enough to score a parking spot without having to circle the parking lot for too long. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~1 hr, 3 min

Another gloomy day, but the view of the lake from the overlook was still pretty great.
This little guy was gorging on all of the flowers.
This grazing mom and baby mountain goat kept their distance, but didn’t seem bothered in the least by everyone watching them.
The views are this incredible along the entirety of the trail.

Whitewater Rafting

While I stayed back at the Airstream with Max, the guys went whitewater rafting with Glacier Raft Company. They enjoyed it, but it was a little tame for their liking. As with the waterfalls in the park, the water level and flow of the Flathead River peak in early June and slowly recede throughout the summer.

Food & Drink

Wandering Gringo Cafe

Delicious tacos, quesadillas, and burritos the size of your head. Cash only.

Glacier Distilling Company 

They specialize in small-batch whiskey but also offer brandy, vodka, gin, rum and liqueurs. Do some tastings, order a cocktail, or buy a bottle to take home — or all three.

La Casita

The rafting guide swore by their chimichangas, so we partook after our hike to Iceberg Lake. We also sampled the margaritas and churros. ‘Twas a delicious trifecta!

West Glacier Restaurant

Located right in West Glacier Village, a good place to stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner either on your way in or out of the park. The food was good, the service was fast, and the prices were reasonable.

Boat Club Restaurant – Lodge at Whitefish Lake

The Lodge is a 40-minute drive from the West Glacier KOA. We visited on a busy Sunday afternoon, so the service was a tad bit slow, but the views made up for it. Whitefish is a fantastic town and deserves to be explored, but we only had time for a quick lunch at the lake.

North Fork Pizza

Located in Columbia Falls, North Fork Pizza is about a 20-minute drive from the KOA. The pizza is fantastic and worthy of the drive.

In Conclusion…

The Glacier National Park area does not disappoint. It’s not the easiest to get to, but everyone should try their best to get there. When the park was established in 1910, there were 150 active glaciers. Today, only 26 remain. By 2030, that number may be zero. The park itself is mind-blowing, but there is so much in the area that we haven’t yet gotten a chance to explore — Kalispell, Whitefish, Flathead Lake, etc. We spent 45 glorious days in the great state of Montana this summer, but it looks like we’ll need to spend more.

A Very Short Week in Lake Louise and Banff

The idea of a visit to Banff National Park in Alberta can be a bit daunting — almost as daunting as trying to put all of the info about actually visiting Banff into a blog post can be. But, it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever been and completely worth the hassle it takes to get there!

So, I’ll start at the beginning:

Getting to Banff National Park

Obviously, we drove to Banff, which involved crossing the international border. We drove from Helena, MT to Milk River, AB (crossing at the Sweetgrass/Coutts border crossing) to Cochrane, AB to Banff National Park to Cranbrook, BC to West Glacier, MT (crossing at the Roosville crossing). To find out more information about crossing the border with an Airstream and a dog, read this. If you aren’t making a road trip out of your visit, then you’ll most likely be flying into Calgary. Calgary is a very large, great city that deserves a few days of exploration itself. From there, it’s a 90-minute drive to the town of Banff and an additional 45 minutes to Lake Louise. This drive can be accomplished by renting a car, taking an airport shuttle, or buying tickets for the On-It Regional Transit bus (make sure to check the schedule). Another option that many people choose is to rent an RV. We saw a lot of RVs from CanaDream, so check out their website if this interests you.

Camping in Banff

Reservations for Canada’s national parks open in January. I’m not sure if it’s the same date every year or if it changes, so keep an eye on the Parks Canada site for information. I booked our sites on January 10th this year, which I believe was the day after reservations opened. We stayed in the Lake Louise Hard-Sided Campground for three nights and the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court Campground in Banff for three nights. Lake Louise Hard-Sided is open year round and has a period of about three months during the summer when reservations are available. Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court is open from the beginning of May to the beginning of October and accepts reservations during the whole season. Two dates that you should avoid during the summer are July 1st, which is Canada Day, and the first Monday of August, which is a civic holiday. We did not know this and were in Lake Louise over the long holiday weekend at the beginning of August. According to employees in the park and at restaurants, the area was MUCH busier than normal during this weekend. There is an $11.00 CAD nonrefundable reservation fee for each reservation made and a daily park entrance fee of $9.80 CAD per adult or $19.60 per family/group. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gives you unlimited admission for 12 months from date of purchase at over 80 locations, is $67.70 CAD per adult or $136.40 per family/group. It was most cost effective for us to purchase the family annual pass, which is approximately $103.50 USD, and is valid through August of next year.

Lake Louise Hard-Sided Campground

Site: 136

Price: ~$24.50 USD ($32.30 CAD)

Amenities at Site: Pull-Through, 30amp Electric Hookup, Picnic Table

Amenities in Campground: Restrooms with Flush Toilets, Showers, Phone, Dump Station, Recycling

The sites are designed that two RVs park in each pull-through. They’re separate sites with separate hookups, but you’re close enough to each other that you can’t drive a vehicle between, especially if you have slides. We were lucky and barely had neighbors during our stay. The electric box is on the wrong side of the trailer. Most people just ran their electric cord under their trailer, but seeing as we have a second 30amp connection on the front end of the Airstream, we used that. There are restrooms with flush toilets, sinks, soap, and hand driers throughout the campground. There’s one larger restroom that has free showers. All sites have a picnic table, but not all sites have a fire ring. When you make a reservation online, it tells you if a site is with or without a fire ring. There is a dump station near the entrance/exit of the campground. We didn’t see any water fill stations (and none are listed on the map), but the map does state “all water in this facility is potable unless otherwise posted.” The campground is in a great location for exploring the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake areas, but not really walking distance to anything. I believe there’s a shuttle pickup at the front of the campground that takes you to the main park and ride where you can catch a shuttle to wherever you’re looking to go. We never saw it, but according to the public transportation map, it’s there.

Note: You HAVE to be in a hard-sided trailer to stay in this part of the campground. There’s a separate tent section that is surrounded by an electric fence and equipped with bear boxes.

The side-by-side sites are situated in opposite directions and a little snug when both are occupied. The green box is the electric hookup.

Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court Campground

Site: 607

Price: ~$29.06 USD ($38.20 CAD)

Amenities at Site: Pull-Through, Full Hookups with 30amp, Picnic Table

Amenities in Campground: Restrooms with Flush Toilets and Showers, Recycling

Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court is a 322-site campground with full hookups at each site. Most sites are single pull-throughs, but there are a few buddy sites referred to as ‘shared sites’. The Trailer Court Campground is right next to the Tunnel Mountain Village II Campground, which has a dump station, potable water, a phone, and bus stops, which according to the Camping in the Banff Area pamphlet, “Public transit is available to many top destinations and is free from most campgrounds.” Tunnel Mountain II also has oTENTiks available, which are exclusive to Parks Canada and are a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent mounted on a raised wooden floor. The sites in the Trailer Court are pretty unlevel side to side, but also fairly shady. Unlike Lake Louise Campground, the roads throughout Tunnel Mountain Campground are paved and in good condition. A short drive (or long walk) from the campground is the town of Banff, a beautiful and clean quintessential mountain town full of restaurants, shops, and other services. Yes, there is a town of about 10,000 residents in the middle of a national park, and yes, it’s gorgeous.

As you can see by the triple stack of levelers, the sites here aren’t level.
The temps were perfect when we visited at the beginning of August, but we still appreciated the amount of shade the trees offered.
There are mountain views in every direction, though I’m not sure which sites have the best.

If camping isn’t your thing, there are PLENTY of hotels, motels, hostels, resorts and short-term rentals in both Lake Louise and Banff.

Note: We had a good cell signal with AT&T in both campgrounds and most areas of Lake Louise and Banff.

Out and About in Lake Louise

Hiking

Fairview Lookout

The best place to start is with a quick hike to the Fairview Lookout. It’s a steep, 1.5-mile out and back with pretty great views of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Lake Agnes Tea House

When researching hikes in the Lake Louise area, the hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House kept coming up. It’s 2.2 miles one way with over 1300′ of elevation gain. We hit the trailhead at 7:25am in order to avoid the crowds and be able to get a parking spot — arriving any later than 7:30 on a Saturday of a holiday weekend is not a good idea. It took us 50-55 minutes to get to the top. The tea house has sat at 7005′ of elevation on the shores of Lake Agnes (and on top of a waterfall) since 1905. Known primarily for their selection of loose leaf teas, they offer other beverages as well as baked goods, soups, and sandwiches to warm you up — it was 44° when we started the hike and only 60° when we got back to the truck. We each got a piece of apple blueberry crumble and split a small pot of Madagascar Almond Spice tea. We wrapped up the remaining complimentary biscuits and jam to enjoy after the hike back down.

Two Tips:

  1. Start early. Parking is limited around Lake Louise as it’s a VERY popular area. The Tea House opens at 8:00am. We got there at about 8:20 and had to wait 15 minutes.
  2. Cash only. Preferably Canadian, but it seems they do accept US dollars as well.

Moraine Lake Rock Pile Trail

This is a short, half-mile trail with stairs that leads you to the top of an actual rock pile where you’ll have the best views of Moraine Lake.

We didn’t do any other hikes in the Moraine Lake area, but there are definitely some great ones available. On the easy end of the spectrum is the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail, which is exactly what it sounds like — a nice, flat trail that follows the shoreline of the lake with both lake and forest views. There’s also the hike to Consolation Lakes, which starts from the rock pile trail and recommends groups of four due to bear activity. This trail is rated as easy. Eiffel Lake Trail is rated as moderate and the Larch Valley Trail is rated as hard. Both trails start at the Moraine Lake lakeshore.

Food & Drink

Lake Louise

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers a range of dining options, from grab-and-go to fancy schmancy. We tried to get reservations at the Fairview Bar and Restaurant, but didn’t book far enough in advance. Priority seating is given to hotel guests, which is understandable, as they’re paying upwards of $700/night to stay there. The Fairview also offers daily afternoon tea service. The Lakeview Lounge is probably the most sophisticated hotel lobby lounge you’ll come across. We had a drink at the beautiful bar in the lounge before eating dinner at the fondue restaurant, Walliser Stube. Lago Italian Kitchen, Poppy Brassiere, Alpine Social and Chateau Deli round out the dining options at the Fairmont.

Pre-Dinner Cocktails at the Lakeview Lounge
The Fondue was Excellent at Walliser Stube

Note: If you have a reservation at one of the Fairmont restaurants, you’re able to park on their property for free (after getting the parking ticket validated).

There are plenty of other places to eat in Lake Louise, from fast casual to fancy-ish, but the only other place we ate was the Mt. Fairview Dining Room at Deer Lodge. The decor is a little worn but the food was absolutely delicious. The Samson Mall is located in the main part of the village and here you’ll find a small grocery store, a liquor store, souvenir shops, a book store, a bakery/deli, a cafe, and services including banking, postal, and car rental — everything you need to survive for a few days if eating out isn’t really your thing. Of course, the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House are also alternative dining options — you just have to work a bit to reach them.

Moraine Lake

Access to Moraine Lake is limited during the day (more about that later), so dining options at Moraine Lake are also limited. The Moraine Lake Lodge offers the only accommodations and food options in the area. The Snowshoe Cafe is open during the day and offers a number of grab-and-go selections. The Walter Wilcox Dining Room is open for breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner, with reservations being required for dinner. The lodge also has a fantastic gift/souvenir shop.

Things to Do

People are drawn to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for the beautiful views, great hikes, chance to see wildlife, and delicious food — but also, of course, the lakes! Both lakes have canoe rentals available, but at $125/hour (bananas!) it’s a little steep. Of course, people will stay pay that crazy price so they can paddle around the milky waters of Lake Louise and bright turquoise waters of Moraine Lake. We prefer to bring our own, however. Our Kokopelli Packcrafts are super convenient and give us access to areas we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We’ve used them on a number of alpine lakes, including Jackson Lake in Grand Teton NP and Avalanche Lake in Glacier NP.

As I mentioned earlier, access to Moraine Lake is limited. During the busy season, the parking lot at Moraine Lake is full most of the time, especially on the weekends. When the parking lot is full, the 11km road that leads to the Moraine Lake area is closed. The road is windy and takes a bit to drive, so they avoid an obscene amount of traffic and people sitting in their cars waiting for a parking spot by just not allowing anyone to drive it. As space becomes available, they sporadically allow people through the blockade. To avoid getting shut out, there are a few options: 1) Take the shuttle. 2) Get there early. Like, really early. 3) Ride a bike. Seeing as there’s little traffic on the road during the day, this road, though windy, is actually pretty safe to bike.

Before we move on to our stay in Banff, here are a few more pics from our time in and around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake:

Unlike most national parks in the States, dogs are allowed in most places in Canadian national parks. Before taking your dog on a specific trail, I would recommend making sure that it’s not off limits to dogs for some reason. P.S. This was taken at 9:30 at night at Moraine Lake!

Out and About in Banff

Hiking

Johnston Canyon

As an unfortunate side effect of working full time, we were only able to do one hike while staying at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff. Johnston Canyon is one of the more popular day hikes due to its family-friendly nature. The trail starts behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge. There are a couple of parking lots, but they fill pretty quickly unless you arrive early in the morning or later in the evening. The only time we could make the hike was smack dab in the middle of the day, which was not very ideal. We ended up parking along the side of the road almost a half mile from the trailhead. Again, this is a VERY popular hike and some parts of the trail are only wide enough for single file (sometimes very slow single file), so to avoid crowds, get there early.

The first part of the hike to the Lower Falls is flat, easy, and fairly short at 1.1km (.68mi). The entire hike is gorgeous as it winds through the canyon on catwalks along the creek. At the lower falls, there is a bridge across the creek that gives a better vantage point of the falls and at the other side of the bridge is a small cave. Walking through the small cave allows for a second vantage point of the falls, but beware that you may get a little wet. People wait in line in order to walk through the cave to see the falls up close, but honestly, it’s not worth the time unless this is your last stop on the trail.

Most of the hike looks like this – an easy trail through a beautiful natural setting.
Lower Falls
A shot from above of the bridge that crosses the creek in front of the Lower Falls to the cave with a closer view of the falls.
This is the view from inside the cave. While you get closer to the water, any photos taken are either dark foreground with well-lit background or well-lit foreground with a light-saturated background.

If continuing on to the Upper Falls, the trail will become a little more difficult, as this part of the trail is rated moderate due to the incline. It’s not dramatic, but substantial enough that some people may have difficulty. From Lower Falls to Upper Falls is another 1.6km (~1mi) or 2.7km overall. The same beautiful views continue and again, if you go during a busy time, you’ll find yourself in a line. Unfortunately, this line is unavoidable if you want to catch a glimpse of the Upper Falls. The way the falls are situated, you can’t see them until you are pretty much right in front of them. There’s a small platform that extends from a narrow boardwalk from which you can see the falls. Only a few people can fit on this platform at a time, so a line forms. Obviously, you don’t have to wait in line, but then there’s no point in doing the hike unless you’re just looking for some exercise.

Another long line to get to…
…this narrow platform, which is the only place you can see…
…the Upper Falls, because they’re tucked back in a corner.
The platform is so narrow that it’s difficult to get any kind of photo besides a selfie.

If we had had more time and if we didn’t waste time waiting in line at the Lower Falls, we would have continued on the trail to the Ink Pots, which are seven cold water spring pools in varying shades of blue and green. The Ink Pots are an additional 3.1km (1.93mi).

Food & Drink

Our one major dining out experience in Banff can also fall under the ‘Things To Do’ category. We purchased the Sky Experience Package, which included a round-trip gondola ride and dinner at the Sky Bistro. The Banff gondola takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, where you can find boardwalks to take in the views, an interpretive center, a theatre, a rooftop deck, a gift shop, a cafe, and two restaurants. We made the trip on an overcast day, but the views were still beautiful.

There are four people to each car and it takes about 10 minutes to get to the top.

I was really looking forward to this meal as a food and travel writer occasionally featured by Travel & Leisure said this was his best meal while in Banff. We were a bit disappointed with the quality of the food — it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great like we were expecting it to be. Unfortunately, none of the food was that flavorful.

Our meal included a starter and a main. We both got the duck confit wings as our starter.
For the main, I got the halibut and Travis got the pork tenderloin.
Tip: Make a reservation for 5:00 and you’ll get a window seat.

Make sure to get outside and walk the boardwalks in order to take in the 360° views. You might also be lucky enough to see mountain goats!

Just an FYI, there’s also a Starbucks and a second gift shop at the base of the gondola.

Things To Do

The town of Banff is full of great restaurants, great shops, and a number of things to do, including the Banff Hot Springs, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and Cascade Gardens. It’s cute and clean and offers a pretty great public transportation system. I wish we would have had more time to explore the town and the surrounding areas of the park, but we’re treating this trip as an introduction to the area and now know what to expect when we return.

The Banff sign is on Mt. Norquay Road as you enter town, across the street from the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre.
It’s difficult to capture the charm of the town of Banff, but just know that it’s exactly what you would expect a mountain town to be.
A doe and her two babes snacking in someone’s front yard.

A week is not nearly enough time to spend between Lake Louise and Banff. I would say at least two weeks, if not longer, are needed to get a better feel for the area. We were so limited with our time that we couldn’t even think about driving the Icefield Parkway, which is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world (and runs between Lake Louise and Jasper in Jasper National Park). Banff National Park really charmed us and we hope to return in the future in order to enjoy more of its beauty.

 

The Black Hills of South Dakota – Custer, Hill City, and Spearfish

We spent the month of June in the Black Hills area of South Dakota: Two weeks at Beaver Lake Campground in Custer; one week at Game Lodge Campground in Custer State Park; and we split the fourth week between Rafter J Bar Ranch in Hill City and Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort in Spearfish.

This was our second time staying in the Black Hills area with the Airstream. To read about our past trip, as well as other places we’ve visited in South Dakota, check out these blog posts:

Campgrounds/RV Parks

Beaver Lake Campground

12005 W. Hwy 16, Custer, SD 57730

www.beaverlakecampground.net

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Store
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Propane Fill
  • Dump
  • Rec Hall with Live Music
  • Swimming Pool with Slides
  • Dog Run
  • Horse Shoes
  • Playground
  • Firewood
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Pit

We were originally supposed to stay one week at Beaver Lake and two weeks at Game Lodge Campground, but after spending a few days at Beaver Lake, we decided to change it up. My parents were driving to Custer from Wisconsin during our second week in South Dakota, so we decided that staying in the city of Custer where they would be would be better than us being in Custer State Park, which was a little bit of a drive. Because of the last minute change, we stayed one week in one site at Beaver Lake and had to move to a different site during the second week. The staff was very flexible, giving us a couple of options for both our first and second sites. I think we ended up with the best site in the campground for our first week. Site 60 is a spacious back-in site with full hookups and a view of the small lake. The cell signal was a little wonky here for Travis at times, but fine for me, even though we’re on the same network. If he wasn’t within range of our WeBoost cell booster, his phone calls would cut out.

Our second site wasn’t quite as nice, but still decent. Most of the sites are fairly level side to side, but need some help from front to back. Our second site, site 10, was water and electric only, so we used the campground showers during the second week. The showers and restrooms are nice and are conveniently located near the sites that are sans sewer. The laundry room is nice as well, with a change machine, which we don’t see often. Also, beware of falling of pine cones! They fell from the tall trees with enough force to set off the truck alarm. Luckily, there were no dents to either the truck or the Airstream.

Beaver Lake is a great place to stay while exploring Custer and the surrounding areas and we would definitely stay here again!

Game Lodge Campground

Custer State Park

www.campsd.com

  • Electric Hookups
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Water Fill
  • Dump Station
  • Laundry
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Pit
  • Playground
  • Small Fishing Pond with Swim Beach

After two weeks at Beaver Lake, we spent one week at Game Lodge Campground in Custer State Park. The campgrounds in Custer can be booked up to a year in advance, so if you want to stay for an extended period of time, you need to plan ahead. There are always cancellations, so check often. For instance, we had originally booked two weeks, but changed it to one, so that one week became available less than a week ahead of time. The sites have electric only, so we filled our fresh water tank and 6-gallon water can at Beaver Lake, and that was enough to get us through the week. We used the showers every day, which are nice, and filled and emptied our dish tub in the bathroom in order to wash dishes. The sites in the campground are spaced out nicely and there’s a little distance between you and your neighbors. Some sites are fairly shady while others are almost always in direct sun, so if this is a concern for you, I’d check out the satellite view on Google Maps to determine which site will work best for you. We were in site 48, which didn’t give us a lot of shade, but since it wasn’t very hot during our stay, shade wasn’t necessary. We were pretty close to the bathrooms, which was convenient for our daily showers. The one thing that was strange is that the fire pit for this site is located opposite of the door-side of the trailer, as seen in the second picture below. Within the campground and in the Game Lodge area, we had great cell signal.

The campground is a half mile up the road from the State Game Lodge, which has a restaurant, bar, and gift shop. There are numerous lodges with restaurants, gift shops, and convenience-store type items throughout the park, though the closest decent grocery store is in Custer, which is a 25-minute drive from the Game Lodge Campground, but much closer for the campgrounds on the west side of the park. If we would stay in Custer SP again, we’d try for the Sylvan Lake Campground, as it’s close to all of the good hiking trails and closer to the attractions of the area (Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Jewel Cave, and the cities of Custer and Hill City). Game Lodge is a good location in the park if you want to explore Rapid City, which is about 40 minutes away. In fact, we used one of our days in Custer SP to run errands in Rapid City, which included a doctor’s appointment, getting an oil change, and making stops at CVS, Petco, and Walmart as well as eating lunch.

Rafter J Bar Ranch

12325 Rafter J Road, Hill City, SD 57745

www.rafterj.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Swimming Pool with Hot Tub
  • Basketball Court
  • Volleyball Court
  • Pancake Breakfast
  • Playground
  • Store
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring

Rafter J Bar Ranch is probably the most centrally-located place to stay in order to visit all of the sites in the area — Crazy Horse Memorial is 12 minutes; Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer SP is 16 minutes; Mount Rushmore is 17 minutes; Jewel Cave National Monument is 30 minutes; and Wind Cave National Park is 38 minutes. The breweries and wineries of Hill City are 10-15 minutes away; the city of Custer is 15 minutes; Rapid City is about 40 minutes; and Deadwood is about an hour. Day trips to Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument are possible.

Rafter J is a very large, spread out property that is well maintained. They have shady sites, sunny sites, sites in the trees, and sites out in the open spread amongst the seven various ‘camps’: Ranch Camp, Lower Ranch Camp, The Island, Line Camp, Base Camp, Main Camp and Cabin Camp. You have to call in order to make reservations, and this is so that they can ask you a few questions and assign a site to you that fits your needs best. When I made our reservation, I requested a shady site, thinking it was going to be hot and sunny like it was last year when we visited the area. While it wasn’t very hot, we still appreciated our site in the wooded, shady area of Ranch Camp, which is the most remote section and furthest from the office and activities. Ranch Camp is a mixture of full hookups, electric/water hookups, and tent sites and has a bathhouse with restrooms, showers, and laundry. The back of our site, site 148, sat at the top of a hill with distant views of Black Elk Peak. We had good cell signal with AT&T on this part of the property, but noticed when we were near the office by Base Camp it wasn’t so great. If we were to stay at Rafter J again, we would request to stay in The Island, where there are fewer sites, no bathhouse, and more space between sites. Sites 231, 237, 247, and 248 are ideal.

The only amenities we used while here were the laundry, which was a little pricy, and the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast that is served Thursday through Monday (they weren’t very good). You’ll find restaurants, shops, and grocery stores in both Custer and Hill City, though Custer has a better grocery store and better dining options. There were two issues we experienced while at Rafter J: 1) For some reason, a lot of people cut through our site or walked between ours and our neighbor’s site. I’m not really sure why this was such an issue here, but this is one reason we would request to be in The Island if we returned to Rafter J. 2) The pollen from the trees was so, so bad. A yellow-green dust covered everything and made for some annoying allergy symptoms.

Elkhorn Ridge RV Resort & Campground

20189 US Highway 89, Spearfish, SD 57783

www.elkhornridgeresort.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Communal Fire Pits
  • Picnic Tables
  • Large, Fenced-In Dog Park
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Propane Fill
  • Pool with Hot Tubs
  • Store
  • Playground
  • Basketball Court
  • Volleyball Court
  • Tennis Court
  • Horse Shoes
  • Event Center
  • Wifi
  • Coffee Bar

Elkhorn Ridge is a large, very nice RV resort situated equidistant between Spearfish and Deadwood. It’s clean, well maintained, and offers a number of amenities, the only of which we used was the pool — and unfortunately, the hot tubs were out of order at the time. Our site (#341) was a spacious back in with full hookups. As you can see from the picture above, we had a view of the highway out our back window. There are a lot of back in sites along this side of the property, but most had a berm behind them that blocked the view of the highway. Seeing as they had a lot of sites open, we found it odd that they’d put us in this site instead of one of the other ones. Our site was fine, though, and the road noise didn’t bother us. The property really is beautiful, with nice views of the surrounding hills. There’s a full-size basketball court and tennis court, both of which are of very high quality. The fenced-in dog park is extremely large and even has separate areas for large dogs and small dogs. The location is fantastic for exploring both Deadwood and Spearfish, including Spearfish Canyon, which is a must!

Places to Eat & Drink

Custer

We were pleasantly surprised with the food options in the city of Custer. Here are our recommendations:

  • Skogen Kitchen – Small, family-run restaurant with a limited, yet delicious menu. This is the fanciest place you’ll find in Custer, with excellent service and it is by reservation only. They are open for brunch on the weekends and dinner most nights, but check their website for exact hours.

  • Black Hills Burger & Bun – Rated by some as the best burger in South Dakota, this place does not disappoint. The menu has more than just burgers, but honestly — just get the burger. The cheese curds were delicious too and they offer a decent selection of both bottled and draft beer. As with many places in Custer, they’re closed on Sunday.

  • Pizza Mill – This is some of the best pizza we’ve ever had! You can eat in, or do as we did, and have them deliver right to the campground. The other pizza options in town — Pizza Works and Pizza Hut — don’t come close to the quality of Pizza Mill.

  • Purple Pie Palace – Hopefully you’ve left room for dessert, because the pie from the Purple Pie Palace is delicious! Whether you get it by the slice, by the pie, or ala mode, you won’t be disappointed. They also have a dining room that serves pot pies, paninis, and such, but we just sampled the pie, so I can’t comment on the food.

Custer State Park

If you’re looking for culinary masterpieces, you won’t find them here. I’d describe the food at CSP as nothing to write home about, but good enough to fill your tummy when you don’t feel like cooking.

  • State Game Lodge – The State Game Lodge has a dining room that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a lounge (in the bar) that serves food from noon to 11pm. We ate the lunch buffet twice, which is a good price at $13.75 per person, and had dinner once, which was a little underwhelming.
  • Legion Lake Lodge – We had lunch at Legion Lake once and it was fine — not good, not bad. They do, however, make delicious ice cream sundaes!

And that’s the extent of our dining in CSP. We cooked in the Airstream, mostly, and I’d recommend for those that are able to to do the same.

Hill City

Hill City is a tiny town of less than 1,000 people, but it’s the place to go if you’re looking for beer or wine in the Black Hills, as there are multiple breweries and wineries.

  • Prairie Berry Winery –  They have a great selection of berry wines and a nice little menu with soups, salads, cheese/charcuterie boards, sandwiches and pizza. The wine tasting is free and the food is delicious! They also sell jams, honeys, and compotes that are made in small batches at their winery.

  • Miner Brewing Company – This craft brewery is located right next door to Prairie Berry, as they are run by the same person. The atmosphere reminds me of the breweries you’d find in San Diego, with a small disc golf course and bocce ball court. There’s a lot of seating on the patio, which it makes it very dog friendly. The beer is good and the food menu may look familiar, as they offer a selection of Prairie Berry’s menu.

  • Firehouse Winery & Brewery: Smokejumper Station – If you’ve driven along I-90 in South Dakota, then you’re familiar with Firehouse Brewery — they advertise their Rapid City location for hundreds of miles. The Hill City location seems more winery than brewery, but that’s okay, because their wine is fantastic — we went home with four bottles! They also offer a food menu, but we didn’t partake when we visited; however, a friend said their cheese board is to die for.

Things to Do

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

What’s a trip to the Black Hills without a stop at Mount Rushmore?! Because it’s a memorial, entrance is free; however, parking is not. It costs $10 to park onsite, $5 if a senior citizen, and free for all military. Your pass is good for one year. Make sure to walk the Presidential Trail (.6 miles with 422 total stairs) to find multiple new vantage points from which to view the memorial.

Three Fun Facts:

  • 1) Originally, South Dakotan historian Doane Robinson, the man who came up with the idea of Mount Rushmore, originally wanted the carved statues to be of Wild West figures that would promote tourism to the area. People such as Lewis & Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody were possibilities. The carver of Mount Rushmore felt the presidents would offer a wider appeal.
  • 2) Originally, Jefferson was to be to Washington’s right, but because the rock was unsuitable, he was moved to the left.
  • 3) The statue below shows what the original plan for Mount Rushmore looked like. The four presidents were to be represented from the waist up, but due to budget constraints, just the faces were done.

If you want to skip the craziness of the crowds within the memorial as well as the $10 parking fee, there are two areas that I know of that you can view Mount Rushmore from outside the park. Just a bit up Hwy 244 west of the entrance to Mount Rushmore is a parking area with signage that says something like ‘profile view’. If you pull in here, you’ll get a nice profile shot of George Washington like you see below. The other place to see Mount Rushmore is through the Doane Robinson Tunnel when driving north on Iron Mountain Road, which starts just inside the east entrance of Custer State Park and ends east of Rapid City. It’s a windy road, just like Needles Highway, and also just like Needles Highway, has three vehicle-size-restrictive tunnels.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Sculptor Korcak Ziolkowski was invited to the Black Hills by Henry Standing Bear to carve the image of Crazy Horse into Thunderhead Mountain in order to honor the Lakota people. The project began in 1948 and the second and third generations of Korcak’s family continue it today. If completed as designed, it will become the world’s second largest statue. The third picture below shows the sculpture that is being used as the model, which is 1/34th the scale of the final product. Entrance is $12 per person or $30 per car if there are more than two people in the vehicle. You can pay an extra $4 to take a bus that gets you quite a bit closer. If you want to skip the entrance fee altogether, there’s a parking lot outside the entrance from which you can see Crazy Horse. When driving from Custer to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is along the route. It’s hard to say if visiting the memorial is ‘worth it’. I think it’s going to be amazingly beautiful when complete, which won’t be for at least another 50 years. The memorial receives no federal or state funding, so they count on visitors to help keep the project going.

Fun Fact: Twice a year, visitors are able to hike all the way to the top and stand eye to eye with Crazy Horse. It’s a 6-mile hike that takes place on the first weekend in June and on the same day as the Custer Buffalo Roundup in September.

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave NM is the third longest cave in the world. We took the Scenic Tour, which lasts about an hour and twenty minutes and leads you on a half-mile loop with 723 stairs (some up, some down). At the deepest point, you’ll find yourself almost 40 stories below the surface. Pretty much everyone on the tour that has visited both Jewel Cave and Wind Cave agreed that Jewel Cave was more impressive. The Scenic Tour is the only tour at Jewel Cave that you can make advance reservations for and is $12. All other tours are first come, first served, and they do reserve some day of tickets for the Scenic Tour as well.

Needles Highway – CSP

The impossibly curvy Needles Highway, completed in 1922, is a 14-mile scenic byway that should be experienced at least once. Sharp turns, steep drop-offs, snug tunnels, granite spires, and topnotch views are what’s in store for those that make the trek. When you hop on the highway in the Legion Lake area and drive towards Sylvan Lake, the first two-thirds of the drive may not be that impressive. However, the final third consists of stomach-dropping views, including the Needles Eye.

Wild Life Loop Road – CSP

From afar, we saw bison, pronghorn, coyote, and prairie dogs. We saw the infamous begging burros up close and personal towards the end of the loop. We drove the Wild Life Loop last year and the wildlife was pretty scarce at that time also. If you want to see a lot of animals up close, I’d recommend driving along Sage Creek Rim Road in Badlands NP.

Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway winds through the floor of the canyon, alongside Spearfish Creek and the towering canyon walls, with pine, spruce, aspen, and birch overhead. Bridal Veil Falls and Roughlock Falls are must-sees along the route, the latter found in the Roughlock Falls Nature Area, which is the perfect mix of natural beauty and man-made walkways that offer a variety of viewpoints of the Falls.

Mount Roosevelt Tower

Upon learning of Theodore Roosevelt’s death in January 1919, his friend, influential South Dakotan Seth Bullock, wanted a suitable memorial built to honor him. On July 4, 1919, the Roosevelt Tower, located just west of Deadwood, was dedicated. There’s a moderately difficult 0.6 mile loop trail that will take you to the tower. You’ll find parking, picnic tables, and pit toilets at the trailhead.

Mount Moriah Cemetery

I’m a sucker for old cemeteries and Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood is a beautiful one. Mount Moriah Cemetery accepted burials from 1878 until 1949. The cemetery has a number of distinct sections including a Civil War veterans section, a Jewish section, a children’s section (for those that succumbed to cholera, smallpox and typhus), a mass grave section, and previously a Chinese section, though only a few of those graves remain today. The most notable graves belong to Wild Bill Hickok, who was shot and killed while playing Poker in Deadwood in 1876; and Calamity Jane, who was buried next to Wild Bill in 1903. There’s a great view of Deadwood near the flagpole, where the flag flies 24 hours a day, due to approval by Congress during World War I, to honor all veterans who have served our country. There’s a $2/person entrance fee that is used to help with ongoing maintenance and beautification of the cemetery.

Deadwood

We weren’t really sure what to expect with Deadwood. It turned out to be a pretty nice little historic town, with cobblestone streets and gorgeous architecture. Of course, there’s a cheese factor in some parts, with actors recreating a Wild West shoot out in the streets, but there are nice casinos, museums, and spas that make Deadwood a Black Hills destination. Our favorite casino was Cadillac Jack’s Gaming Resort, with three hotel options, super clean casino, and decent food options. Also, we were happy to find that all casinos are smoke free. We wandered into the bar where Wild Bill was shot while playing poker; though, the actual location is behind closed doors and requires a fee to enter. Deadwood is definitely worthy of a visit if you’re in the Black Hills, and we wish we would’ve had more time to explore.

Belle Fourche – Geographic Center of the Nation

Our last stop in the Black Hills was by chance. We noticed as we drove north from Spearfish that the city of Belle Fourche has received the title of Geographic Center of the Nation. Even though we were towing the Airstream, it was an easy pitstop to make to view the 21-foot-diameter compass rose that commemorates the title. While the actual geographic center has been delineated by the U.S. National Geodetic Survey at a point approximately 20 miles away, the specific point will always be imprecise due to changing shorelines.

Hiking

Custer

  • Skywalk Trail to Big Rock Observation Deck – Even with a short length of approximately 1 mile roundtrip, this trail has pretty steady elevation gain (about 400′) and really gets the heart pumping. It’s a nice wide trail that is sometimes dirt, sometimes stairs, and culminates with a climb to the Big Rock Observation Deck that offers views of the city of Custer. It was a nice, close trail when we stayed at Beaver Lake Campground.

Custer State Park

  • Lovers Leap Trail – According to the trail map you get at the visitor center, Lovers Leap Trail is three miles. However, according to the sign at the trailhead, as well as my watch, it’s actually four. The trailhead is located in the Game Lodge area, so it was a very convenient hike during our stay in the campground there. The trail is a loop with a number of stream crossings, all of them over some type of makeshift bridge. There’s about 750′ of elevation gain, and you definitely feel it. Another person we ran into on the trail said she saw mountain goat at the peak, but we had no such luck.

  • Little Devil’s Tower Trail – The hike to Little Devil’s Tower is a fun one! It’s about 2.8 miles roundtrip with 700ish feet of elevation gain. It’s rated as strenuous by the park but moderate on AllTrails. I’d say it falls somewhere in between as the elevation gain isn’t too horrible but it does require a decent amount of scrambling. You have views of Black Elk Peak from the top, but beautiful views throughout the hike, as well.

After our month in the Black Hills this year and our trip last year, we conquered South Dakota’s Great 8: Mount Rushmore, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park, Deadwood, the Missouri River, Custer State Park, and Wind Cave National Park — yet, there is still so much to explore. South Dakota is our adopted home state and we always look forward to visiting the land of Great Faces and Great Places!

 

 

Colter Bay RV Park – Grand Teton National Park

We spent one glorious week at the Colter Bay RV Park in Grand Teton National Park. The RV park books out far in advance, is on the expensive side, has narrow roads and less than level sites, and the cell signal is pitiful — but it’s one of the best places we’ve stayed. Located in Colter Bay Village, you’ll find the RV park is located a short walk from the swim beach on Jackson Lake, a visitor center, a grocery store, a gift shop, a gas station, two restaurants, a bar, the marina, and the laundry room with showers. Our site was a pull-through with full hookups and a picnic table. Restrooms and trash bins with recycling are scattered throughout the campground. Because Colter Bay is an actual little village, there are plenty of roads, sidewalks, and paved pathways where we were able to walk Max, which made it one of the more dog-friendly places we’ve stayed. For the first couple days of our stay, we had a pretty strong cell signal on AT&T (thanks to our WeBoost signal booster) and were able to function as normal. As the week progressed, the signal was still usable in the morning and evenings, but we headed to Jackson Lake Lodge during the day in order use their Wi-Fi so we could work. We didn’t use the restrooms, showers, or laundry, so I can’t comment on those. The best part about our site (O106) was that it was less than a minute walk to the Jackson Lake swim beach where we were able to drop our Kokopelli Packrafts into the water and also where we were able to enjoy some beautiful sunsets. We stayed at Colter Bay May 25th to June 6th, which seemed to be the perfect time: The weather was nice, excepting the first few rainy days; the park didn’t seem to have as many visitors as I’m sure it sees during the peak summer months; there was quite a bit of bear activity during our visit, possibly because they recently came out of hibernation; and the trails were pretty passable, though there was still some snowpack at higher elevations. Our week was incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, with plenty of opportunity to spend time outdoors, as well as eat some good food at Colter Bay Village’s John Colter’s Ranch House Restaurant & Bar and Jackson Lake Lodge’s The Mural Room.

Colter Bay RV Park

Grand Teton National Park

www.gtlc.com

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Full Hookups
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms
  • Dump Station
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Propane Fill
Site O106 – Very unlevel both front to back and side to side, but we were able to get things pretty square with a few lego bricks.
The bear warnings are never ending, but seeing as the only place we saw bear was right outside the entrance to Colter Bay Village, they are necessary.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, so we enjoyed the view from a distance.
However, there are plenty of places within and right outside the campground that dogs are allowed. It wasn’t difficult to wake up in the morning to walk Max with those views!
The sunsets are pretty special!

During our stay, we took a scenic boat cruise on Jackson Lake. The Colter Bay Marina offers a few different cruise options and they can be booked right at the marina or at the activities booth located next to the general store and gift shop in Colter Bay. We learned a lot of interesting information about the park’s history as well as local wildlife, and we even saw an avalanche take place on Mount Moran. The tour guide said only 5% of visitors take advantage of the cruises offered, which is a shame, because it was very beautiful, informative, and allowed us to see aspects of the park from a different point of view.

We also did a little bit of our own cruising on the lake in our Kokopelli Packrafts!

We were pleasantly surprised by the food options available at the various restaurants within the park. We ate both breakfast and dinner at Colter Bay Village’s John Colter’s Ranch House Restaurant & Bar and Jackson Lake Lodge’s The Mural Room. The breakfast at both was okay, but dinner was fantastic. We also picked up pizza from the Cafe Court pizzeria in Colter Bay and that was delicious as well.

The Mural Room is the best place for dinner in the whole park, with fantastic views of the Teton Range.

Even if you don’t eat at The Mural Room, Jackson Lake Lodge is worth a visit. The views that are framed by the towering windows are a bit breathtaking. It was a nice place to be able to do some work for a few days when we weren’t getting a strong enough signal at our campsite. Besides The Mural Room, Jackson Lake Lodge also has a 1950s-style diner (The Pioneer Grill), a bar that serves food (The Blue Heron Lounge), and a coffee cart that also serves pastries and sandwiches. Make sure to take in the view from the outdoor terrace and you might be lucky enough to spy some moose! Of note, Jackson Lake Lodge also has a medical clinic that is open 9-5, seven days a week, May-September, no appointment necessary. The city of Jackson is a 40-minute drive, so it’s nice to know there’s help nearby in case something comes up.

There is a lot of great hiking in Grand Teton National Park for all skill levels, with trails ranging from .5 mile to 26 miles. We did the popular Hidden Falls Trails, though we started later in the day, so the trail wasn’t very busy. The trail starts in the Jenny Lake area, and is about 5 miles with 1200′ of elevation gain. The trail is rated moderate, which is a fair assessment, especially since it was quite wet and muddy at higher elevations, with some parts still snow covered. The hike offers great views of Jenny Lake and we saw a couple of moose and a number of marmots along the way.

You can take a shuttle boat across the lake to decrease the length of some of the longer trails by quite a bit.
The water in Jenny Lake is so clear!
We saw three moose along the hike. This guy and his buddy were hanging out right next to a busy part of the trail, unfazed by all the passersby.
The views are pretty great!
There was still some snow cover at higher elevations yet it was plenty warm enough for short sleeves.
Hidden Falls is approximately 100′ tall and was flowing ferociously thanks to all of the snow melt.
This is a great hike with an even better payoff!

We also did the Lakeshore Trail, which follows the Colter Bay shoreline with views of Jackson Lake and the Teton Range. It was flat and easy at 2 miles and wasn’t anything amazing, but it was close to our campsite and any time you can get outside and get some exercise, you should do it.

Any trail with views of the Tetons is a good trail!

A few miscellaneous pics…

We were lucky to see both grizzly and black bear during our visit. These guys hung out in the Pilgrim Creek area on a regular basis, so we saw them almost every day of our stay — sometimes close up, sometimes from a distance.

The view from the first overlook on Signal Mountain is pretty great. Coincidentally, you also get a great cell signal up here, thanks to the massive cell tower on top of the mountain. I believe there are some picnic tables and a pit toilet up top as well, so if you’re in need of an off-the-charts strong cell signal for an extended period of time, this is your place.

Snake River Overlook is technically outside the park, so an entrance pass isn’t required to see the spot where Ansel Adams took his famous photo of the Snake River and Teton Range in 1942 — a photo which helped promote and protect western U.S. landscapes. The trees have grown in a bit since the photo was taken, but as an Ansel fan, it was a neat feeling to stand where he once stood.

The grand lift of the Tetons is…a primal gesture of the Earth beneath a greater sky. -Ansel Adams

We drove down to Jackson one rainy day when we were getting a little stir crazy hanging out in the Airstream. Jackson is a nice little city, but was pretty busy even on this rainy, late spring day. Of course we had to get our picture under one of the infamous antler arches, but we also stopped into the Pendleton store to do a little shopping and stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few essentials.

Our week in Grand Teton was one of our favorite weeks in the 500+ days we had been on the road up to that point. We would definitely stay at Colter Bay RV Park again. It was quite peaceful, even though we arrived the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, it’s absolutely gorgeous, there are a couple of good food options, and even though dogs aren’t allowed on trails, there are so many areas that we could walk Max that I have no problem calling Grand Teton a dog-friendly park.

 

 

Magical Moab: Arches NP, Canyonlands NP & Dead Horse Point SP

We absolutely loved our time in Moab. We had a tough few weeks before arriving in Moab. We had problems with the Airstream, a large project for work that was wrapping up, and a longer than usual business trip. We needed time to decompress and unwind, and our week in Moab was just that. From the red arches to the deep canyons to strolls along the Colorado River, we spent more time in nature this week than we had in months. Moab was everything we had hoped it would be and so much more!

We visited Moab April 7th-13th, which ended up being the perfect time of year. While the temps got cold at night, it wasn’t cold enough for us to worry about pipes or tanks freezing. Even though it tried hard to snow one morning, our days were mostly sunshine and mild temps perfect for hiking. We left Moab the morning Jeep Week started, which is when 4×4 vehicles are allowed on trails they aren’t otherwise allowed on. According to locals, it gets pretty crazy in town — very busy and trafficky — and should be avoided unless you are participating.

Moab Valley RV Resort & Campground

1773 North Highway 191, Moab, UT 84532

www.sunrvresorts.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Store
  • Pool & Spa
  • Playground
  • Putting Green
  • Life-Size Chess & Checkers
  • Bike Wash & Repair
  • Tetherball
  • Dump Station
  • Wifi

We stayed at Moab Valley RV Resort & Campground during our time in Moab. It’s a little pricy at $420 for the week (that’s with a 10% Good Sam discount), but the location is perfect. We were minutes from the entrance to Arches NP, about 35 minutes from Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point SP, across the street from Lions Park which has a nice green space and paved trail along the Colorado River, and a short drive into downtown Moab for restaurants, groceries, and anything else you might need. The sites are a little shorter and narrower than other RV parks we’ve stayed at, but our 28′ trailer and truck fit with no issues. Unlike other RV parks, they have plenty of overflow parking for people whose vehicles can’t fit in their sites. In the full hookups section, the sites are laid out in every other direction, meaning you share your ‘front yard’ with the people next to you, although there is a picnic table for each site. While this layout can be a little awkward, we had very nice neighbors during our stay and the benefit is that you aren’t looking at your neighbor’s sewer hose while sitting outside your trailer. There are a lot of tent sites which were pretty popular during our stay, even though it hovered around freezing during some nights we were there. The pool is small but nice and I’m sure it’s incredibly refreshing when Moab starts to heat up. We will definitely stay here again when we return to Moab.

Shared front yards, though each site has its own picnic table and grill.
Shared front yards mean hookups are side by side in the backyard.
The 2.5 mile paved path that starts in Lions Park was a great place to walk Max in the evenings and enjoy the beauty of the Colorado River and surrounding rocks.

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch Trail: The trailhead for this 3-mile roundtrip, strenuous trail can be found at Wolfe Ranch, which is a 25-minute drive from the Park’s entrance station. The most popular times to visit are sunrise and sunset, but we made the trek at about 10am. There isn’t much shade on this trail, so make sure to be prepared with sun protection. The first half mile is a wide, fairly easy trail. Next, is the slickrock portion of the trail. This is where you’ll feel the elevation gain, which is 480ft overall.

Next, you reach a 200-yard-long ramp that hugs the side of a cliff. It’s here where people that have an extreme fear of heights may have an issue. However, the path is quite wide — wide enough for two people to walk side by side, so just stay close to the inside of the path and you’ll be fine.

Finally, you come around the corner and there it is, all 60 feet of it. It was much larger than I expected, probably because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a photo of Delicate Arch with people in it.

We did the hike on a Thursday, entering the park about 9:30am. When we reached the arch, which took us a little over a half hour, there weren’t that many people. Everyone took a few pics under the arch and then most would sit and enjoy the views for a bit before making the hike back. It was considerably busier on our way back (the picture above of the slickrock portion is from our hike back), so what we’ve experienced in other national parks seems to hold true here — the hours between 10 and 3 are the busiest and are best to be avoided, although Arches is one of the least busy parks we’ve visited. Delicate Arch is a must if you visit Arches!

Double Arch: This is any easy, half-mile trail that should be combined with a visit to North and South Windows and Turret Arch. Double Arch is the highest arch in the park and is very impressive in person.

Windows Trail: The park’s busiest trail leads to North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. It’s about 1 mile roundtrip and fairly easy.

North Window and South Window
North Window
Turret Arch

Balanced Rock: There’s a short, third-mile, wheelchair-accessible paved trail along the base of balanced rock.

Fiery Furnace: Our only experience of Fiery Furnace was from the viewpoint, but we definitely want to explore this area in the future. The Furnace is a maze of slot canyons, arches, fins, and bridges with no real trail. Because of this, a permit is required; though unless you know the Furnace well, it’s recommended to take a ranger-guided tour.

Three Gossips: The Three Gossips stand in the Courthouse Towers section of the park. Other rock formations nearby include Nefertiti, the Organ, and the Tower of Babel. The Park Avenue Trail is a one-mile, one-way trail from the Park Avenue Viewpoint to the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, passing the Three Gossips along the way.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the Devils Garden portion of the park. Arches is on the smaller side for a national park, but there is a lot to discover!

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is a difficult park to visit. The Colorado and Green Rivers have divided the park into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles. Island in the Sky is the closest to Moab, just 35 minutes from Moab Valley RV Resort. Even though the pictures below show blue sky and sunshine, not long after we entered the park, storm clouds rolled in and it began snowing. We drove the main road to the Grand View Point Overlook, but it was a white out. It seems that to thoroughly explore this park, one needs to venture onto the unpaved roads (second picture below), many of which require 4-wheel drive. As we had Max with us, we weren’t able to get any hiking in. We decided instead to head over to Dead Horse Point State Park, a short drive from Canyonlands, where Max was welcome to get out of the truck and enjoy the park with us.

Dead Horse Point State Park

The road to Dead Horse Point State Park is right outside the entrance to Canyonlands, so if you’re visiting one, you should definitely visit the other. The views at Dead Horse definitely rival those of its neighbor. The park is a popular destination for mountain biking, but it also has about seven miles of hiking trails that connect eight fantastic overlooks, with Dead Horse Point Overlook offering up a view of the muddy Colorado River and Canyonlands NP. The best part for us is that the park is completely dog friendly, so Max was able to explore with us. There are great picnic areas throughout the park as well as two campgrounds with some sites offering electricity. The entrance fee is $20, good for three days, or $75 for an annual Utah State Parks pass. Fun Fact: The final scene of Thelma & Louise was filmed here. State parks never cease to amaze us, but Dead Horse Point is one of the better ones we’ve visited!

Corona and Bowtie Arches

There are plenty of great hikes in Moab outside of the parks and the hike to Corona and Bowtie Arch is a good one. The trailhead is about four miles north of Moab and has a large gravel parking lot. We did the hike on a Friday at 10:30 and there was hardly anyone on the trail. Dogs are allowed on this trail; however, there’s a ladder and steep section with a chain handhold, so they either need to be very agile, or you’ll need to be able to carry them. The hike is 2.5 miles roundtrip, fun, and has great views. There aren’t any signs marking the trail along the way, but there are green marks on the ground that will keep you going in the right direction.

There’s a short section that’s pretty steep with chains to help you reach the top.
The ladder is easy to get up, but a little more difficult to get down. Note the green mark in the bottom center of the picture. These marks mark the majority of the trail, so keep an eye out for them.
Bowtie Arch
Corona Arch
A little arch love…
This was a great hike option for avoiding crowds with the added bonus of being free and allowing dogs!

Food

We ate at a few different places while in Moab, but two of our favorites were Moab Garage Co. and Quesadilla Mobilla.

Moab Garage Co.

Open most days from 8am-8pm, Moab Garage serves up delicious food that feels good in your tummy. The menu isn’t large, but everyone should find something they like, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner. They also have a great coffee bar and make nitrogen ice cream on the spot.

Quesadilla Mobilla

You’ll find this quesadilla food truck on Main Street, near the entrance to Moab’s Food Truck Park. They serve up delicious cheese and tortilla concoctions from 11am-6pm daily, or until they run out of food.

 

Our week in Moab was one of the best weeks we’ve had since we started Airstreaming full time. We look forward to returning in the future and exploring more of this amazing area!

Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort – Newport Beach, CA

We stayed at Newport Dunes for two weeks — the last week of November, arriving during the long Thanksgiving weekend, and the first week of December. We were originally supposed to stay at Malibu RV Resort during this time, but the Woolsey Fire, a wildfire that devestated large parts of Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, burned through Malibu the second week of November and forced the RV park to close due to damage. Newport Dunes had great reviews on Campendium, so, even though it was ridiculously expensive, we thought we’d try it.

We pulled in the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend and the place was packed. Many of the sites are barely large enough to accommodate most RVs, so tow vehicles were parked in the street at the end of each site, making the already somewhat narrow streets even narrower. Luckily, we had reserved one of the larger beachfront sites and the street was clear of trucks and people playing cornhole, which allowed us to back in to our spot without any issues. By Monday, the RV park had really emptied out and was pretty quiet the rest of our stay. We stayed at Newport Dunes during the off season, so some amenities, like the inflatable obstacle course water park and watercraft rentals, were not available. I can only imagine how busy the resort is during the high season (and how much more expensive it is).

Most of the beachfront sites are grass with a fence at the back. On the other side of the fence is a walking path, the beach, and then the bay. However, our beachfront site was sans grass and completely sand. It would have been nice to have the grass so Max didn’t get sandy paws when we let him out before bed, but seeing as we booked our site somewhat last minute, we only had six sites to choose from and the one we chose was the best option.

We didn’t use any of the amenities during our stay except for the fitness center, which wasn’t anything amazing but was better nothing. The pool looked very nice, the laundry room was large, and when we walked through the onsite market, it seemed pretty well stocked. There’s a walking path with pedestrian bridge around the bay that made for a nice 1-mile loop to walk Max every morning and evening. There’s also a security gate that is manned 24 hours, which is definitely a nice perk.

The best thing about Newport Dunes is its location. It’s minutes from the Fashion Island mall, which, besides all of the high end stores, also has great restaurants and a movie theatre. Within 20 minutes you can be at the beach in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, or Laguna Beach. Crystal Cove State Park is a short drive up Coast Highway. John Wayne Airport is less than a 15-minute drive and any store/service you could need is within 20 minutes. Also, Disneyland is a 30-40 minute drive. So, if you want to explore Orange County, Newport Dunes is really the perfect location.

Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina

1131 Back Bay Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660

www.newportdunes.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Pool & Spa
  • Fitness Center
  • Market
  • Watercraft Rental
  • Waterpark
  • Playground
  • In-Season Activities Like Movies on the Beach
  • Fire Pits on the Beach
  • Marina & Boat Launch
Site 4103 is a Beachfront Back-In Site with Full Hookups
We had a lot of rain during our stay which made for somewhat of a mess due to all of the sand, but we also saw some beautiful rainbows.
The sewer hookup was quite annoying as it was elevated, making dumping the tanks a 2-person job.
We saw some amazing sunsets, including this one by Balboa Pier on the Peninsula.
I mean…
Huntington Beach is a great beach town worth exploring!
Watching surfers from the pier in HB!
Santa has a pretty great house in Huntington Beach.
The beach at Crystal Cove is beautiful!
Crystal Cove Beach is a cute little community that was decked out for Christmas.
Crystal Cove Beach

Our stay at Newport Dunes was nice, but not necessarily because of the resort itself. We loved exploring the various beach towns and were able to spend quite a bit of time with a friend that lives in Laguna Beach. There was so much rain while we stayed there, and the wet sand was kind of a nightmare to deal with, but the biggest issue is the price. Even though we were paying winter rates, our cheapest night there was $99, with the most expensive night being $173 — and sorry Newport Dunes, you’re just not worth that much.

One Year on the Road

Today marks one year since we started living, working and traveling full time in our Airstream. One year ago feels both so incredibly distant, but also like it flew by! We have learned a lot in the last twelve months — about ourselves, about our airstream, and about what we hope to get out of this lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our first year as nomads:

We travelled 7,997 miles across 16 states:

California

Alabama Hills – Lone Pine, CA
Trinidad, CA
Poway, CA
Newport Beach, CA

Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park – Overton, NV
Las Vegas, NV
Zephyr Cove (Lake Tahoe), NV

Utah

Snow Canyon State Park – Ivins, UT
Snow Canyon State Park – Ivins, UT

Arizona

Page, AZ
Antelope Canyon – Page, AZ

New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM (We were in Santa Fe for only one night and checked out Meow Wolf, which we highly recommend!)

Colorado

Pueblo, CO
Lake Pueblo State Park – Pueblo, CO
Lake Pueblo State Park – Pueblo, CO

Kansas

Dodge City, KS (It was VERY cold and windy the couple of nights we were there, so we didn’t get a chance to explore.)

Missouri

National World War I Museum and Memorial – Kansas City, MO
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art – Kansas City, MO
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum – Independence, MO

Iowa

(We spent two isolated, quiet nights in Cedar Point, IA and have nothing to show for it. Sorry, Iowa)

Wisconsin

Breezy Hills Campground – Fond du Lac, WI
Van Dyne, WI
Neshonoc Lakeside Camp Resort – West Salem, WI

Minnesota

Minneopa State Park – Mankato, MN
Bunker Hills Campground – Coon Rapids, MN
Bunker Hills Campground – Coon Rapids, MN

South Dakota

Dignity Statue – Chamberlain, SD
Black Elk Peak – Black Hills of SD
Black Elk Peak – Black Hills of SD
Custer State Park – Custer, SD

Wyoming

Devils Tower, WY

Montana

Max was super excited for Montana!
Garryowen, MT
Billings, MT (with cotton from the Cottonwood trees floating in the air)
Along the ‘M’ Trail in Bozeman, MT

Washington

Spokane, WA
Spokane, WA

Oregon

Cannon Beach, OR
Otis, OR
Ona Beach State Park – Newport, OR
Reedsport, OR
Winchester Bay, OR
Coos Bay, OR

 

We visited 24 National Park Service sites:

Joshua Tree National Park

Death Valley National Park

Saguaro National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Badlands National Park

Wind Cave National Park

Glacier National Park

Redwood National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yosemite National Park

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument

 

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area

…and one ghost town (Bodie, CA)…

…the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, SD)…

…and a cheese factory (Tillamook, OR).

We drank some beer…

Santa Fe, NM
Yachats, OR
Coos Bay, OR

…and some liquor…

Coram, MT

…and some wine!

Pahrump, NV
Temecula, CA

We boondocked for the first time in Wisconsin on a family friend’s farm…

…and stayed at a Harvest Hosts for the first time in Nevada.

Travis ran a half marathon in Death Valley…

…and we learned how to play pickle ball.

We did a lot of hiking…

…and a bit of relaxing.

But most importantly, we were able to spend a lot of time with family and friends!

As you can see, it was a great year! We have a lot of amazing adventures planned for 2019, and we look forward to sharing them with you!

The Oregon Coast – Part One

A little less than a month ago, we were sitting in Spokane, complaining about the endless heat that we had been experiencing for the previous eight weeks, and we decided enough was enough. We had a route planned from Spokane through central Oregon (Deschutes/Bend areas) to Crater Lake, where we were going to run the Crater Lake Rim Run mid-August. All of these areas were forecasting temps in the 90s (not to mention quite a few wildfires), so we scrapped the plan. We had been seeing Instagram posts from people on the Oregon Coast that were enjoying temps in the 60s and low 70s and we decided we wanted to be those people too. As the Oregon Coast is very popular this time of year due to the rest of the country basically melting, we knew it’d be difficult to find spots, so we wanted to have definitive reservations. We searched and called and called and searched, asking places if they had ANY availability during the date range we were looking for. After piecing together 5 nights at Harborview Inn & RV Park in Garibaldi and 10 nights at Winchester Bay RV Resort in Winchester Bay, we filled in the blanks with one night at the Lincoln City KOA (which is actually in Otis) and three nights at the Waldport/Newport KOA in Waldport.

Before I go any further, I want to explain the wonderfulness that is the Oregon Coast. Thanks to Oregon’s 1962 Beach Bill, the public has free, unrestricted access to all of the state’s beaches. The 36 State Parks (averaging one every 10 miles) found driving down the 101 allow for numerous places to pull off to enjoy the view, picnic, use a restroom, or stroll on the beach. The 362 miles of the Oregon Coast is really the perfect place for a road trip!

 

Harborview Inn & RV Park

Address: 302 S 7th Street, Garibaldi, OR 97118

Phone: (503) 322-3251

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thrus (Kind Of)
  • Hotel
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Bay Views
  • Crab Pod and Cooker Rentals
  • Cable TV

Harborview is a small RV park and hotel on Tillamook Bay, in the small fishing village of Garibaldi, just north of Tillamook. Most of the sites are drive-in sites, meaning they cater to motorhomes, as the hookups are on the opposite side for a backed-in trailer. We had site 7, which they consider a pull-thru site, though that involves driving down a curb, which we realized when we were leaving our Airstream isn’t able to do. Our site was labeled as being 52 feet, but was much smaller, so we had to park our truck elsewhere, which is fine due to the number of parking spaces they have around the hotel. The site was very level, we had full hookups, and the weather was perfect — so we were literally happy campers. Sites 23 thru 30 are waterfront sites with great views, but honestly, the view from every site is pretty decent.

Site 7
Max LOVED the fresh air and watching the world go by outside the open windows!

The town of Garibaldi is very small, but does have a decent little grocery store and a nice gas station. For those who have never gotten gas in Oregon — it’s state law that they pump it for you. The gas station employee started panicking when Travis tried to pump it himself, not knowing the law, though you can pump it yourself after 6pm. There are also a few restaurants, a few shops, a Coastguard station, and a train that does scenic rides to Rockaway Beach and back. Garibaldi’s location on Tillamook Bay, as opposed to the ocean, seems to allow for more clear, sunny days than other parts of the coast. Rockaway Beach is only a 10-minute drive north, yet any time we drove through there, there were overcast skies with a thick marine layer.

We had delicious fish tacos at Source, a restaurant right in Garibaldi. Their hours are weird, so make sure you check to see if they’re open before you go — but definitely go!

An intact former U.S Coast Guard Lifeboat Station sits at the end of a pier across the bay from the RV park. It became fully operational in 1937 and could accommodate two 36-foot motor lifeboats and one 26-foot oar-powered surfboat. It was decommissioned in the early 1960s when the Coast Guard relocated to a new facility.

The view of the pier from Harborview Inn & RV Park.
The decommissioned Lifeboat Station is open to the public at various times.

It’s a short drive (about 12 minutes) down to the famous Tillamook Creamery. They recently completed a huge expansion with a food hall, retail space, production process viewing area, and of course, cheese samples. The place is chaotic, but the food is terrific (check out their menu here) and there are ice cream flavors found nowhere else. I highly recommend a visit, but pack your patience.

The food hall has three parts: Area to order from the menu, which is full of deliciousness using local ingredients; Ice cream; and Yogurt & Espresso Bar
Oh. My. Word. The cheese curds. The BEST we’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot as were were born and raised in Wisconsin.
The retail area has Tillamook food products and logowear, gifts, and products from local companies such as beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Mmmmmm!
You’re able to watch the full manufacturing process during the self-guided tour.
Of course, you have to finish the day with ice cream! Travis got the special batch Pendleton Whiskey & Maple and I got the Caramel Toffee Crunch.
Cheers!

Cannon Beach is a 45-minute drive north from Garibaldi. We made the drive twice; once to visit the beach and Haystack Rock, and the second time to eat lunch at Pelican Brewing. It’s a beautiful little town, probably the nicest you’ll find on the coast, but during the summer it’s BUSY. Just know going into it that parking might be tough, but the beauty of the beach is worth it!

Haystack Rock – You know it’s going to be big, but when you see it in person, it’s really BIG!
It was such a beautiful day when we visited — windy — but beautiful!
The beach is so big too!
Max loved running around on the beach!
Pelican Brewing has decent food and good beer.

During our stay in Garibaldi, we also made a few other stops while exploring:

Cape Meares Lighthouse – Inactive, Built in 1890, Tillamook Bay

Tip: When driving there, follow the route along 131, not Bayocean Road. Bayocean Road is closed near the end and the lighthouse is not accessible by car this way. It should take about 40 minutes from Garibaldi.

Short Beach – Pretty much every beach on the Oregon coast is beautiful, and there are a lot of them, but Short Beach, just south of the Cape Meares Lighthouse, is above average. The trail from the road through the woods to the beach feels like a secret and opens onto the beach, which also feels like a secret.

 

Lincoln City KOA

Address: 5298 NE Park Lane, Otis, OR 97368

Phone: (541) 994-2961

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull Thrus
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Cable TV
  • Playground
  • Horshoes
  • Propane Fill
  • Dumpstation
  • Dog Area (Not Very Good)
  • Breakfast (For a Charge)

We stayed at the Lincoln City KOA for one night. The campground is located on Devils Lake, though you can’t actually see the lake from the campground. If we had been in the area longer, I’m sure we would have explored the opportunities the lake had to offer. Our site was a pull-thru, which is what we always try to get when we’re staying somewhere for just one night. We generally fill our freshwater tank and empty our black and grey tanks before leaving our previous spot so that when we pull in to our new spot for one night, all we have to do is hook up electricity, which makes for an easy set up. The only way I would stay at this campground again is if it were in a pull-thru site like we had. The campgrounds sits on a hill, but the pull-thrus are nicely leveled and easy to pull in to. The back in sites on the opposite side of the street from the pull-thrus would be difficult to get into because you have to back in uphill with a lot of speed bumps in the way. Things level out at the bottom of the hill where there are cabins and more back in sites, but those site are small and very close together. There’s an onsite Mel’s Kitchen, which offers a pretty large breakfast menu.

Site 12 – Fairly Level
Site 12 – Decent Privacy from Neighbors

We were able to get settled in early and quick enough to do the Cascade Head Trail hike, which is about a 10-minute drive from the KOA. Rumor has it this is one of, if not thee, most beautiful hikes on the Oregon Coast. The hike is about five miles roundtrip, but can be extended a tad in order to make it about 6.5 miles. It starts out in a forest which then opens up to a hilly, prairie area. No dogs are allowed on this trail due to ground nesting birds. There are pit toilets at the trailhead parking lot. The last part of the trail between the lower and upper viewpoints has a pretty good incline, which makes this a moderately rated trail.

 

Waldport/Newport KOA

Address: 1330 NW Pacific Coast Hwy, Waldport, OR 97394

Phone: (541) 563-2250

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Fire Pit & Picnic Table
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Playground
  • Recycling
  • Bay View Sites
  • Cable TV

Guys, we loved this KOA! It was small, well maintained, and had great views of Alsea Bay from many sites. The laundry room was nice (and busy), there’s a community fire pit that’s lit promptly at 5pm every evening, and they have recycling bins, which is so uncommon for pretty much everywhere (sad, but true). Our site was a small back in, but we had no trouble getting into it.

We had a nice view of Alsea Bay out our back window.
Site 18 was small and cozy but also nice and private.

We loved the little town of Yachats (pronounces Yah Hots), about a 15-minute drive, and wish we would’ve discovered it sooner. We ate at Yachats Brewing and it was soooo good! Fantastic farm-to-table food that felt real good in our tummies and Travis really enjoyed their beer too.

We were a little busy with work while we stayed in Waldport, but did explore the area a bit. We took a nice long walk on the beach at Ona Beach State Park. We stopped in at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center which is located in the Siuslaw National Forest. There’s a campground and a number of trails here and we hope to be able to explore it more thoroughly some day. We also stopped at Seal Rock and Thor’s Well, which is a bowl-shaped chasm along the rocky shore that seems to magically fill and empty in conjunction with the waves.

Ona Beach State Park
Cape Perpetua Scenic Overlook
Seal Rock
Seal Rock
Thor’s Well
Thor’s Well

 

Winchester Bay RV Resort

Address: 120 Marina Way, Winchester Bay, OR 97467

Phone: (541) 271-0287

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Laundry
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Cable TV
  • Playground
  • Bay Views

We were able to score a spot at this beautiful RV resort for 10 nights! We had to move once, but it was well worth it as this was one of the nicest places we’ve stayed. It’s probably the best place we’ve stayed in regards to Max, as there’s a nice, long paved trail along the bay, lots of green grass, and dog waste bag dispensers throughout the park. As with the other places we stayed along the coast up to this point, we didn’t experience any of the wind the Oregon Coast is known for, thanks to being on the bay and not the ocean. We probably had more grey days than sunny here, but it was still much better than the heat we would’ve had if we had stayed on our original route.

Pretty much every site has a view of either Winchester Bay or the Umpqua River, as the resort sits on a peninsula.
We first were on Site 45, then Site 41. Both are one of their small, interior sites. Plenty long, we just needed to park the truck elsewhere.
We spent many nights outside by the fire, enjoying the sunset.

Winchester Bay is just south of Reedsport, where you can find grocery stores, gas stations, fast food, restaurants, a hospital, a post office, and the visitor center for the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. There are a few restaurants and shops in Winchester Bay, but this is another quiet little fishing town like Garibaldi. We ate at Griff’s on the Bay twice, which is located in Winchester Bay. Their fish and chips are so good!

The fish was lightly breaded and so buttery!

We also ate at Harbor Light Restaurant in Reedsport, which had AMAZING pot pies and dessert to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. We drove down to Coos Bay, about a 30-minute drive, to 7 Devils Brewing for dinner one night. Again, great beer and food.

The Mill Casino in North Bend, just north of Coos Bay, had a Food Truck Off one weekend that featured 20+ food trucks, live music, and beer. Each food truck had a $2 sample available in addition to their regular menu, so we were able to get a taste of what quite a few had to offer.

The Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area is located in Reedsport, and is just a short drive from the RV park. Every evening a large group (about 100) of elk wander into a field to graze. It’s a pretty neat sight, seeing so many large animals altogether.

The Oregon Dunes Recreation Area stretches approximately 40 miles along the Oregon Coast from Florence to North Bend. There are large sections set aside for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, and you’ll find many campgrounds in that 40-mile stretch that cater to the OHV crowd. Winchester Bay has OHV access points by Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. We did the short hike from the John Dellenback Dunes Trailhead in Lakeside, which is just south of Winchester Bay.

We really enjoyed our time in Winchester Bay, as well as everywhere else along the coast thus far. It’s been great having such nice weather and moving at a little bit slower pace, which is what you find in these small coastal towns. Tomorrow we head up to Florence to continue exploring the coast, so look for a post about The Oregon Coast – Part Two soon!

 

Five Days in Glacier NP

We spent five glorious days at North American RV Park & Yurt Village in Coram, MT about 5 miles outside the West Glacier entrance of Glacier National Park. The RV park itself is nothing fancy. Site F8 was a pull-thru with full hookups and a decent-sized patch of grass to make Max happy. If we had had any other site in our row (F1-F8), we would’ve had some nice shade trees, which would have come in handy during the hot, high temps of mid-July. The restrooms and showers were very nice and clean, but we didn’t check out the laundry or lounge. The best part about this park was the location. The immediate area had a handful of restaurants/bars, a distillery, a highline course, rafting companies, and a number of lodging options. A grocery store and post office can be found down the highway in Hungry Horse. Within a short drive is the entrance to the National Park in the cute little community of West Glacier.

Address: 10649 Highway 2 East, Coram, MT 59913

Phone: (406) 387-5800

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Guest Lounge
  • Ice and Firewood
  • Picnic Table
  • Cabins
  • Yurts
  • Tent Sites
  • Playground
Site F8 (Notice the peek view of an Airstream next door!)

We would have loved to stay within Glacier, but there are very few sites that can accommodate a 28′ trailer and truck, there are even fewer sites that can be reserved that will accommodate us, and there are no sites with hookups, which isn’t an option when you have a dog that you need to be able to run the A/C for. Also, after driving through the park, out the east St. Mary entrance, and around the south end of the park back to Coram, we decided we would never attempt to stay on the east side of the park with our Airstream in the future as it is quite a rough journey. In addition, there’s not much available outside the east side of the park for services, so you’d be pretty dependent on whatever services are available in Many Glacier and Two Medicine.

We definitely plan to return to Glacier National Park in the future, so we scoped out a few other options in the area. We found that the West Glacier KOA is the most beautiful, well-appointed RV park we had ever seen. It’s at the ‘KOA Resort’ level, which means it has extra special amenities, and apparently it’s the 2017 KOA Campground of the Year. I know, I know — a KOA? Sometimes we stay in places for $10 with nothing more than an electric hookup and sometimes we stay in what is essentially a resort for $75. When choosing a place to stay, we always need to consider our length of stay, comfort, safety, what hookups are available, cell coverage, and what services we require nearby. We plan to stay considerably longer on our next trip to Glacier, so full hookups with nice amenities would turn it into more of a vacation as opposed to just our normal everyday life.

These are a few of the places in the area we enjoyed during our stay:

  • Glacier Distilling: Distillery and tasting room in Coram that specializes in small-batch whiskeys, but also offers brandy, vodka, gin and rum. Travis enjoyed the Wheatfish Whiskey and bought a bottle for home.

  • Wandering Gringo Cafe: If you’re looking for a good burrito the size of your head, you’ve found the right place. Also in Coram, this stay-in-place food truck offers shareable-sized portions with an onsite picnic area.

  • Belton Grill Dining Room at Belton Chalet: This 1910 railroad chalet is located in West Glacier. They offer delicious farm-to-table options with as many grown/raised-in-Montana ingredients as possible. While a little pricy, it’s not the kind of meal you’d expect from a restaurant that’s on the proverbial front steps of a national park.
Pan Seared Wild King Salmon with Morel Mushrooms, Peas, Fiddlehead Ferns and Béarnase

Now, for the Park itself…

Our first introduction to Glacier National Park was a stop at Lake McDonald in Apgar Village. Apgar is home to a visitor center, campground, picnic area, watercraft rentals, a hotel or two, a store and some places to eat. We returned to Lake McDonald a couple of days later to kayak, but it was so windy that there were whitecaps on the lake, which would not have made for an enjoyable experience.

On our second day visiting the park, we drove the infamous Going-to-the-Sun Road to the St. Mary Falls Trailhead. From www.visitmt.com:

The Going-to-the-Sun Road was completed in 1932 and is a spectacular 50 mile, paved two-lane highway that bisects the park east and west. It spans the width of Glacier National Park, crossing the Continental Divide at 6,646-foot-high Logan Pass. It passes through almost every type of terrain in the park, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests in the lower valleys to windswept alpine tundra atop the pass. Scenic viewpoints and pullouts line the road, so motorists can stop for extended views and photo opportunities. The road is well worth traveling in either direction, as the view from one side of the road is much different than from the other. In 1983 Going-To-The-Sun Road was included in the National Register of Historic Places and in 1985 was made a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

There is a 24-mile stretch of the upper portion of Going-to-the-Sun Road that has vehicle restrictions (which is why you have to drive around the outside of the park to get to the east side with a travel trailer) — nothing longer than 21 feet bumper to bumper, wider than 8 feet including mirrors, and taller than 10 feet ground to highest point of vehicle. FYI, this is the ONLY road within the park that connects the east and west sides.

The St. Mary Falls Trailhead was about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our RV park in Coram. As it’s a popular trail, we left the Airstream at 7am to get to the trailhead before the crowds. When we reached the small parking area at 8:15, it was less than half full. However, when we returned to the parking area after the hike at about 9:45, it was full and people were jockeying for a spot. Glacier offers a free hop on, hop off shuttle system that provides two-way service along Going-to-the-Sun Road between Apgar Visitor Center and St. Mary Visitor Center. There’s a shuttle stop at the St. Mary Trailhead, as well as pretty much anywhere else you’d want to go along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Another extremely busy spot is Logan Pass. There’s a visitor center and trailheads for popular hikes. When we passed it a little before 8am, the parking lot was already pretty full. When we passed it on our way back, it was pure chaos. The rule of thumb in Glacier seems to be to: Get. There. Early.

From the trailhead, the St. Mary Falls Trail is 1.1 miles one way, but it you continue on to Virginia Falls like we did, it’s 1.8. The trail is easy and can be traversed by any able-bodied person. The most difficult part of the trail is actually at the end where you have to walk up a steep incline to get back to the parking lot. Signs warn to take precautions against bear: Hike in groups, carry bear spray, make noise, and be aware of your surroundings. When we set out on the trail, we encountered only four other parties before we reached Virginia Falls. While it’s nice to have the trail to ourselves with peace and quiet, the multiple groups of people on the trail on the return trip was a little comforting.

The trail is very well marked at the trailhead, as well as along the entire route.
The first part of the trail is an area that was heavily impacted by the Reynolds Fire in 2015.

There are a couple smaller, unnamed falls along the trail, like this one.
You’ll know you’ve reached St. Mary falls when you see this bridge. The color of the water was so beautiful — and is completely unedited!
St. Mary Falls
And when you reach this bridge, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Virginia Falls!
Virginia Falls is 50′ high.
Just an FYI — It’s super wet and windy right by the falls!

A few more pics from stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road:

Jackson Glacier as seen from the Jackson Glacier Overlook

McDonald Creek

The weather in Glacier can vary greatly from day to day. One day we were at Lake McDonald, the wind was calm and the water was like glass. A couple days later, it was windy with white caps. The first time we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road, it was clear sky, sunny, and about 65 degrees (though the temp varies depending on what elevation you’re at). The next time we drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road (when the wind at Lake McDonald thwarted our plan to kayak), it was cold and incredibly foggy, especially at the highest point, Logan Pass, where it was in the mid 40s. Be prepared and dress in layers. The following are a few pics from our second drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, demonstrating how different the weather was:

At times, visibility was pretty nonexistent, as the fog (clouds?) cloaked the road.

The fog made for a moody vibe at Wild Goose Island Overlook
Wild Goose Island Overlook

We loved our time in the Glacier National Park area and look forward to returning in the future. Besides the park, there is so much to explore in this area that we didn’t get a chance to get to: Kalispell, Whitefish, Flathead Lake.

The Badlands and the Black Hills

I usually do a separate post for each destination we’ve traveled to, but I felt that Badlands National Park area, Custer State Park area, and Devils Tower area could all be combined into one post about the places to stay and things to see in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.

First up…

The Badlands

We spent two nights at the Badlands Interior Campground, which is 1 mile south of the Badlands Interior Entrance. There are a handful of RV parks outside the various entrances of the park and they all looked to be about the same quality. Our campground was nothing amazing, but it was a pull through site with full hookups. I popped my head in the restroom at one point to see what it was like and it was old but seemed clean; otherwise, we didn’t use any of the amenities. The one thing we really did not like about this place was that it flooded easily. I know they can’t control the weather, and the weather in June in this part of South Dakota can be pretty crazy, but they seemed to have a real drainage issue. When we moved on to our next city two days later, even though there was still a lot of rain, there was no where near the same amount of standing water. It was so bad that one motorhome needed to be towed while trying to park in their site. There are also two campgrounds within the national park — both first come, first served, though one is undeveloped. I usually take pictures of everywhere we stay, but forgot to here. I’d say this campground, and any of them in the area, really, are decent for a 1-2 night stay.

Address: 900 SD Hwy 377, Interior, SD 57750

Phone: (605) 433-5335

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull Throughs
  • Tent Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Swimming Pool
  • Hotel on Site
  • Picnic Table and Fire Ring
  • Dump Station

The very first thing we did after getting set up at the campground was drive to Wall, SD so we could get something to eat. We ate at Wall Drug, because there’s not a lot to choose from, but we also wanted to check out the place we had been seeing signs for for the last 300 miles. (Seriously, they advertise from one end of South Dakota to the other). We grabbed some burgers that were surprisingly decent and meandered through building after building of souvenirs. Satisfied that we’d seen enough, we headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few things, as the only place to get food in Interior looks like a meth lab fronting as a grocery store.

On our way back to the campground, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center. The park consists of three sites along I-90 between Badlands and Wall: the Visitor Center, the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, and the Delta-09 Missile Silo. The launch facility and missile silo are deactivated remnants of the cold war that are representative of the nuclear arms race. Tours are available of the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, but they book days in advance and we hadn’t planned accordingly. The Delta-09 Missile Silo is open from  8am-3pm. It consists of a Minutemann II (unarmed) missile positioned in the underground silo with a glass window covering it, allowing you to view inside.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center
Delta 09 Missile Silo – We showed up at 3:30, not realizing it closed at 3, so this is as close as we got.

The major draw of the area is, of course, Badlands National Park. Whenever we visit a national park, we like to visit the visitor center and take a drive through the park with our dog Max. We’ll stop at overlooks and take some pics, but the main reasons for doing this are so Max gets some fresh air and we’re able to see what we want to focus on in the park. This isn’t always possible due to size and time constraints, but the size of Badlands allows for it. The best overlooks along the Badlands Loop Road are probably Conata Basin Overlook and Yellow Mounds Overlook. Also during our first day of exploring, we drove the Sage Creek Rim Road, which is an often overlooked road due to it being gravel and long — it took about 45 minutes to drive it and then another 45 minutes to get back to our campground. However, if you want to see wildlife, this is the place to do it! We were lucky enough to see oodles of bison, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, turkeys, and a snapping turtle.

Most national parks aren’t very pet friendly, and Badlands is no different. However, we always like to include Max as much as we can, so we’ll bring him along for a ride through the park.

Yellow Mounds Overlook

Bison along the Sage Creek Rim Road
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep along the Sage Creek Rim Road

During our second day, we hiked the 1.5-mile Notch Trail, which the trail guide rated as moderate to strenuous. We’d personally rate it somewhere between easy and moderate, with the log ladder being the most difficult part. It was a nice trail with some great views. After the Notch Trail, we did the Cliff Shelf Trail, rated moderate, which I would agree with due to the number of stairs you need to climb to get to the viewing platform. It’s a nice little half-mile, paved loop trail through junipers in which we saw a beautiful white-tailed doe kicked back and relaxing, chomping on some leaves.

Notch Trail – The ladder was the only difficult part of the trail and it’s more difficult going down than it is going up.
Notch Trail

 

The Cliff Shelf Trail involves a lot of stairs.
White-tailed doe along the Cliff Shelf Trail

It’s important to note that June is the rainiest month in the Badlands. And we’re not just talking rain, but thunder, lightning, and hail as well. Always keep an eye on the weather as there was a flash flood warning the entire time we were there.

Custer State Park

We originally had planned to be in the Badlands for five nights instead of the two we ended up spending. About a week prior, we decided to change our plans and spend the other three nights in the Custer State Park area — and we’re so glad we did! While we weren’t able to get a spot at a campground within Custer, we found a nice place right outside. Southern Hills RV Park & Campground in Hermosa is a good home base to explore the area. It’s a very well kept park and our site was a nice, level pull through with full hookups. Bonus: When it poured rain, it seemed to drain well and dry up fairly quickly. If we had our choice of campgrounds within the park (which can be reserved up to a year in advance), we would choose Game Lodge Campground due to its great location and layout. I guess we’ll have to plan ahead next time!

Address: 24549 Highway 79, Hermosa, SD 57744

Phone: (605) 939-7609

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull Throughs
  • Level Sites
  • Bathrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Picnic Table
Site 2 at Southern Hills was very spacious and level!
These three giant presidential busts sit at the entrance to Southern Hills. I don’t know why they’re there, but I do know they make finding the driveway to the RV park easier.

After we got settled in to Southern Hills, we drove into Custer SP to Legion Lake Lodge for a late lunch. While the service was a bit slow, the food was good and the view from the outdoor seating is phenomenal. After lunch, we walked the trail around Legion Lake, which has a swimming beach and canoes and kayaks for rent. After the walk, we had to get back to the Airstream to do some work, but returned to the park after dinner with Max in tow to drive the Wildlife Loop Road. Custer SP is home to all sorts of wildlife, including elk, coyotes, burros, mountain goats, and even a few mountain lions, as well as the animals we saw on our drive which were bison, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, and pronghorns (antelope).