After Bridgeport, we continued south on the 395 to another equally interesting location — Lone Pine. Lone Pine, California is best known for the numerous Western movies and TV shows that used the unusual rock formations of the Alabama Hills and the peaks of the Eastern Sierras, including the lower 48’s highest peak — Mt. Whitney, as their backdrop. John Wayne, Gene Autry, Errol Flynn, Roy Rogers, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Mel Gibson all starred in Westerns shot in and around Lone Pine. As the Western era died out, the filming in Lone Pine slowed, but didn’t stop. Kevin Bacon’s Tremors, Kevin Costner’s The Postman, and Russel Crowe’s Gladiator all shot at least partially in Lone Pine. Over 400 films, 100 television shows, and countless commercials have used Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills as filming locations.
Lone Pine is also home to the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center, which is run by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association. The center provides visitor, wilderness, and highway information for the Eastern Sierra, including the Inyo National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Manzanar National Historic Site, Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks wilderness, Alabama Hills & BLM Bishop Field Office public lands, and Owen Lakes and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power public lands. Panamint Springs, located on the west side of Death Valley NP, is 55 miles from Lone Pine, while Furnace Creek on the east side is 100.
There are a handful of restaurants, a small grocery store, a hospital, an airport, a golf course and numerous services, including a car and RV wash, located in Lone Pine.
We stayed at Boulder Creek RV Resort for three nights. It’s a very nice resort, with trees for shade and the largest dog run we’ve ever seen at an RV resort. It was quite hot during our stay, so we explored during the mornings before the temperature got too high, worked during the day, and spent a lot of time at the pool and hot tub in the late afternoons and evenings. They serve muffins and coffee every morning in their clubhouse, which for some reason is home to birds and baby tortoises — you’ll find the adult tortoises outside in an enclosure.
Things to Do Around Lone Pine:
As stated above, Lone Pine has been the backdrop to numerous film and television shows. The Museum of Western Film History can be found in downtown Lone Pine, just a short drive from the RV resort. The museum is a very comprehensive, very interesting collection of Western film and television memorabilia that also contains exhibits from more recent pop culture movies that also filmed in the area. There is no entrance fee, but a $5 donation is recommended (I think this helps keep their non-profit status). And leashed dogs are welcome!
Seven miles north of Lone Pine is the Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar was one of ten war relocation centers built during World War II to temporarily house people of Japanese ancestry following FDR signing Executive Order 9066. Between March of 1942 and November of 1945, more than 10,000 men, women, and children lived at Manzanar — most of them U.S. citizens. While almost no original structures remain, there are re-creations of barracks, a mess hall, and a latrine. The visitor center features exhibits about the camp and area history. There’s also an informative film and a pretty comprehensive bookstore and gift shop.
Manzanar is a National Park Service site and entrance is free, but we made sure to buy a couple of things in the gift shop in order to support the site, which is a very important, yet sad, part of US history. Dogs are allowed in all outdoor areas.
Manzanar was arranged in 36 blocks. Each block contained 14 barracks, a men’s latrine, a women’s latrine, a laundry room, a mess hall, an ironing room, and a recreation hall. In most blocks, up to 300 people crowded into the barracks. Everyone ate in the mess hall, washed clothes in the public laundry room, and shared latrines and showers with little privacy. The ironing room and recreation hall offered spaces for classes, shops, and churches. Over time, people personalized their barracks and most blocks evolved into distinct communities.
The Mobius Arch Loop Trailis the most hiked trail in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area, which is well known for free, dispersed camping with interesting vistas. The trail is accessible by driving Whitney Portal Road from Lone Pine and turning right on Movie Road. Obviously, Movie Road is so named because this is where many of the areas movies and television shows were filmed. The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce has a great self-guided tour on their website that guides you to some of the more well-known filming locations. There is a parking area and signs at the Mobius Arch Trailhead to let you know you’re in the right place. The trail is only 0.6 mile long and is a nice, easy hike with beautiful views.
The roads in this area are gravel and can be quite rough at times. There are a number of small roads that branch off from the main roads, and while you can never truly get lost because Mt. Whitney is always in view and acts as a compass, it would definitely be possible to lose your way just a bit. Do some research before heading out into the Alabama Hills and know that summers are very hot and there isn’t much shade to be found.
Of course, the main attraction to the area is Mount Whitney itself. The most popular route to the top is the Mt. Whitney Trail, a 22-mile out and back trail with about 6500′ of elevation gain. It can be done in one day, but you must start early (like, really early) and it takes 12-16 hours. You can also spend a night on the trail at various camps, the most popular being Trail Camp, located at about 12,000′. This helps you acclimate to the elevation, but means you have to pack more gear; however, most hikers will leave their extra gear at camp while they complete the trail to the summit and pick it up on the way down. Permits are required any time you hike Mt. Whitney and there is a daily quota from May 1 to November 1. To find out more information about permits and summiting the highest peak in the contiguous United States, check out recreation.gov, AllTrails, and this blog post by the Hiking Guy.
Bridgeport sits at almost 6500′ of elevation along the 395, which is one of the most interesting and beautiful highways we’ve driven. The town is small, maybe 500 people, there’s no real grocery store and the few services offered include a couple gas stations, a couple hotels, an auto parts store, a couple restaurants, a post office, and a Mono County Sheriff’s office. Gas is ridiculously expensive and along the Bridgeport Reservoir where Paradise Shores is located, there was a cloud of flying bugs like we’ve never experienced before. At first glance, Bridgeport — and the surrounding area — is somewhere to pass through as you drive to some other destination, enjoying the view of the Eastern Sierras as you go. However, after spending four nights at Paradise Shores with zero signal from our AT&T phones (no worries — our Verizon phone & hotspot worked well), we felt we definitely could have spent more time there. According to Charlie and Kelli of Instagram’s SlowDownSeeMore, who were Work Campers at Paradise Shores for the season (which is April to October), the best time to visit the area is June, when the snow has melted, all of the roads are open, and the waterfalls, rivers, and lakes are at their best. We’d love to return to the area and experience some of the amazing hikes and hot springs that we missed out on on this visit.
Paradise Shores is by no means an RV resort. While it has all of the amenities you’d find at an RV resort, it offers them in a very laid back, kitschy, hippy kind of way. If it were a restaurant, the sign on the door would say, ‘No Shoes, No Shirt — No Problem.’ This is definitely not a big rig friendly place, and that seems to be by design. The owners seemed to have planned the park in a way that makes its visitors hang out outside, whether they’re chatting with neighbors or relaxing in the broken-in couches around the community fire pit; though, preferably when there are fewer bugs. The sites are snug, even for our 27, and there’s not a whole lot of privacy. Some people may be turned off by the overall size and coziness of the park, but it worked well for us. Honestly, when we weren’t eating, sleeping, and working, we were out exploring, so there was no need for a place that’s a little shinier and more manicured. Besides the lack of AT&T signal, which is obviously not Paradise Shores fault, the only other negative mark I would give it is there wasn’t a great option for walking Max. First, because it was small with no grass. Second, because it’s right on a highway, so the only place to walk outside the park is along the shoulder of the 182. And third, the owner’s dogs wander around off leash, and while they’re very good dogs, Max takes issue with off-leash dogs that approach him. We definitely will return to the area at some point, but may try staying about 30 miles further south down the 395 in Lee Vining due to its proximity to Yosemite and its cute, small mountain town vibe.
There are SO many things to do and see in the area, and we ran out of time for most of them, but here’s what kept us busy during our stay in Bridgeport:
Yosemite National Park
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” -John Muir
Yosemite is our country’s third national park, established in 1890. The Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, managed by the US Forest Service and operated in partnership with the National Park Service and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, is located in Lee Vining, about a half hour drive from Paradise Shores. The visitor center is a wealth of knowledge for how to experience the natural wonders in the area, including Yosemite. From the visitor center, it’s a 15-minute drive along the stunning Tioga Pass to the east entrance of the park. From there, it’s about another 20 minutes until you arrive in Tuolumne Meadows. All of Tioga Road is closed during winter, approximately November to May, which means you can only enter the park from the west side during that time.
We were in Bridgeport from a Saturday afternoon to a Wednesday morning and would only have Sunday to explore Yosemite, as week days = work days. Because of Max and the fact that we don’t like leaving him alone in the Airstream all day, we had to decide between staying on the east side of the park where we could go for a hike and get back home to him in a timely manner -or- bring him with and drive through the entire park, knowing we wouldn’t be able to do any hikes because dogs aren’t allowed on trails. We chose to bring him with so we could take our time driving through the park to Yosemite Valley, which is where the bulk of Yosemite’s annual five million visitors hang out. Obviously, not the ideal way to visit Yosemite, but our day trip gave us a good idea of what, where, and when for a future visit.
For those that have never been to Yosemite before, Yosemite Valley is basically a small town. There are hotels, a medical center, a museum, a visitor center, restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, and even a courthouse that handles misdemeanors that take place within the 750,000-acre park. Of course, there are also campgrounds and waterfalls and trailheads to what I’m sure are amazing hikes that we hope to experience in the future, sans dog. Yosemite is a lot like Glacier National Park, as in you CAN just drive through the park on the main road and see some great sights, but in order to really experience the park, you need to get (miles and miles) off the main road via your own two feet.
Mono Lake in Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
From the information received at the visitor center: “One of the oldest lakes in North America, Mono Lake is at least 760,000 years old and has had many fluctuations in size. Mono Lake has no outlet. For thousands of years, streams have carried minerals into the lake and evaporation has removed fresh water from it. As a result of this process, the salinity content is over twice that of the ocean. Because of these high salt concentrations, the lake offers a delightfully buoyant swimming experience. Although no fish can live in these alkaline waters, Mono Lake is one of the most productive lakes in the world, supporting trillions of brine shrimp, alkali flies and migratory birds.”
There is a road that encircles the lake from which you can turn off to various parking areas and trails that offer views of the tufa, as well as access to the surrounding Mono Craters, a series of rhylolitic domes. We visited South Tufa, known to have the best tufa formations. There’s a .75-mile loop trail that parallels the water’s edge for a bit, and then loops back to the parking lot through the beautiful golden sagebrush. Dogs are allowed on the trails but not in the lake.
Again, from the visitor information: “The tufa (too-fah) tower formations show what nature can do with a few basic elements. The strange spires and knobs formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water. The combining of these waters forms calcium carbonate, a whitish limestone deposit that forms the basis of the tufa formations. Tufa is found in many alkaline lakes throughout the world.”
After we visited the tufa towers, we planned to drive the June Lake Loop Road based on the advice of SlowDownSeeMore. We made it as far as June Lake Brewing, which was also a recommendation from Charlie and Kelli, and the fantastic Mexican restaurant across the parking lot, Gordos. After we were done eating and drinking, we were tired and decided to head for home. Next time!
Bodie State Historic Park
Bodie State Historic Park is a 30-35 minute drive from Paradise Shores in Bridgeport. The last three miles of the road is rough and rutted, requiring a speed of 10-15 miles per hour. I would not recommend driving it with an RV of any type — we actually saw two different RV’s (one motorhome, one travel trailer) make u-turns and drive back out because of how rough it is.
Bodie is a true Wild West, gold rush ghost town, once home to 8,000 people, 30 mines, and over 60 saloons. While only about 5%, or 110, of the buildings remain from the town’s 1877-1881 boom, it’s easy to picture what life was like in this harsh climate. Bodie is at an elevation of 8,379′, which makes for hot summers and long, cold winters. The boom years were over quickly as unsuccessful mines began closing. The population dropped fast and continued to dwindle into the 1900s. Mining continued until 1942, which is also when the last residents fled. Bodie was designated a California State Park in 1962 and is now preserved in ‘arrested decay,’ which means the buildings’ roofs, windows and foundations are repaired and stabilized, not restored.
Entrance is $8 per adult and an extremely informative booklet with map is available for $2. There are restrooms, but that’s it as far as services. You may want to bring water and snacks if you plan to spend a few hours, which is definitely possible. Dogs are allowed, just not in any of the buildings.
Back in Bridgeport, there’s not a lot to see, but the beautiful courthouse, which serves Mono County, is the state’s second oldest courthouse and has been in continuous use since 1880. Around the backside of the courthouse is the old Mono County Jail. It was opened in 1883 and served Mono County until 1964. It had six cells, two washrooms, an office and a dining area. It’s very small and only takes a few minutes to explore, but it’s free, so it was worth a quick look.
Bridgeport is an interesting area that is definitely worth a stop for a few days, or a even a few weeks, though we offer these tips:
Visit in June or late September, as it was still pretty hot during the second week of September while we were there.
Fill your gas tank beforehand. Gas was $5/gallon when we were there and there was nowhere within reasonable driving distance where it was cheaper.
Hit the grocery store before heading to Bridgeport. There is a little market in town, but it’s really the only store in town and is more like a grocery/hardware/pharmacy type of store. Slim pickings, for sure. We drove down to Lee Vining where the market is also small, but much better stocked, with better choices and some actual produce.
Bring bug spray. I don’t know if it was the time of year or the fact that where we stayed was right on the reservoir, but the bugs — mosquitoes, flies, moths, and anything else that flies — were out in full force.
After spending more than four weeks on the Oregon Coast, we moved on to the California Coast. Trinidad, California is a beautiful little city with sweeping coastal views, shops, restaurants, and a population that consists mostly of vacationers.
Azalea Glen RV Park
Address: 3883 Patrick’s Point Drive, Trinidad, CA 95570
Phone: (707) 677-3068
Restrooms with Showers
Azalea Glen is a small, quiet RV Park with just 38 sites. About half are permanent residents and are clean and well kept. The owners of the park seem to be amateur horticulturists, as there are beautiful flowers throughout the property, as well as a small green house. Azalea Glen is located about 10 minutes from downtown Trinidad, right across the street from Patrick’s Point State Park, and about 15 minutes from Redwood National Park’s Kuchel Visitor Center.
Patrick’s Point State Park is home to a rocky coastline with barking sea lions and interesting tide pools. There are a number of trails that wind through the park and down to Agate Beach. Sumêg Village is a recreation of a Yurok village that is used for cultural and educational activities that preserve the heritage of several neighboring tribes: Yurok, Karuk, and Hoopa. There are three campgrounds within the park with a total of 120 sites. A day pass is $8 and there’s a nice visitor center with information and souvenirs. Patrick’s Point is shrouded in fog much of the year. During the summer, sometimes fog does not burn off for several days at a time. Clear days appear most frequently during spring and fall. Rainfall averages more than 60 inches a year — most of it falling between November and April. Temperatures are moderate much of the year, with only about a 10-degree difference in average temperatures between summer and winter. Summer highs average 62 degrees, with winter lows to 38 degrees.
Redwood National and State Parks represent a cooperative management effort of the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. This includes Redwood National Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This was the most oddly laid out National Park we’ve been to, with each of the four parks situated along the 101 in about a 50-mile stretch. There’s really no entrance/exit, at least not in Redwood National Park. We have a National Parks Pass, so entrance is free to us, but we never saw a pay station. We assume that one is supposed to pay the entrance fee at one of the visitor centers.
The Tall Trees Trail is a 3.5-mile loop trail that is accessible by permit only. Permits are available at the Kuchel Visitor Center, are free, and are limited to 50 per day. We stopped in at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning and had no issue getting one. The trailhead, which is a 45-minute drive from the visitor center, is at the end of Tall Trees Access Road, which has a locked gate. Disclaimer: The road is rough — I’d recommend a high-clearance vehicle, although there were plenty of cars that made the trip. When you get your permit, they also give you the combination to the lock, which changes daily. This trail is not the most spectacular part of the park, but due to its remoteness and limit on visitors, it’s very quiet. We only saw about ten other parties in our time on the trail, which was about an hour and forty minutes. FYI: There’s a pit toilet at the trailhead.
I would recommend to anyone visiting the Redwoods area, whether you have a few days or only a few hours, to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail. It’s a 1.25-mile loop that’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s also the most popular trail in the park, but Redwood doesn’t seem to get nearly as much love as other parks, so you won’t be fighting through crowds. We visited Lady Bird Trail a little after 5pm and there were only a half dozen cars in the parking lot. It was a clear day and the light was perfect!
There is a plaque that stands in Lady Bird Johnson Grove where Presidents Nixon and Johnson joined Governor Reagan in 1969 to dedicate this 300-acre grove to Lady Bird Johnson and her campaign to preserve America’s natural beauty.
We really enjoyed the time we spent in the Trinidad area. It’s a beautiful part of the country that we look forward to revisiting at some point.
Our original plan after Winchester Bay was to make our way to Crater Lake for the Crater Lake Rim Run. Because of a wild fire burning in the northeast corner of the park, we had been keeping an eye on the air quality conditions, which got worse everyday. A few days before the race, we decided to pull the plug on the trip. We didn’t want to drive all that way to see beautiful Crater Lake in a smoky haze and we didn’t want to put our health at risk by running the race. We were disappointed about canceling a trip that we had been looking forward to for four months. Months worth of our route had been determined by this trip to Crater Lake and this became a learning experience for us — DO NOT plan things so far in advance. Anyway, with Crater Lake out, we had to figure out where we were going to stay. It was a weekend, in summer, on the Oregon Coast, with three days’ notice — not easy conditions. We called around and checked online for more than two hours for anywhere along the coast from Coos Bay to Florence, and I happened upon one site available at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park for the three nights we needed.
Jessie M. Honeyman State Park
Address: 84505 Highway 101 S, Florence, OR 97439
Phone: (541) 997-3641
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table & Fire Ring
Firewood for Sale
Lake with Boat Rentals and Swim Beach
OHV Access to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Check in isn’t until 4pm, which was a little tough for us because we came from Winchester Bay, 35 minutes away, where check out was 11am. We pulled over in a turnout on the way to kill time, but we still got to the campground around noon. Since I pre-registered, they basically checked us in at that time and said we could drive past our site to see if the previous people had left yet (check out is 1). We drove through, scraping our sway bars on every single gigantic speed bump along the way and saw that the people had not left yet. Per the check-in person’s advice, we drove back out and pulled into the day use area to wait. There is a lot of parking in day use, including some RV spots. We ate lunch and explored the area a bit until 1, and then headed back into the campground – after we removed our sway bars. This time the people were gone and we didn’t scrape any speed bumps.
We stayed in site H381, which is one of the shortest sites throughout the huge campground. When we pulled up to it, we weren’t sure we’d be able to back into it, as it was at the opposite angle in regards to the direction of traffic and it was small. Even the camp hosts right across from us were certain we wouldn’t fit. We inched our way back and forth until we got in and once we did, we noticed the site was much longer than the labeled 31 feet, just difficult to access. We had an electric and water hookup, but as this was a short stay, we only hooked up electric and used our full freshwater tank (which we filled at our last place) for the duration. This is a huge campground (over 400 sites) and its main draw is the access to the dunes right next door. Because we were in H Loop, the loop directly next to the dunes, all we heard all day long was the engines of the various OHV vehicles, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Cleawox Lake is located within Honeyman Park. The Lodge offers a swim beach, restrooms, and boat rentals. We rented a kayak for an hour ($10) one morning and paddled around the lake a bit. The lake isn’t huge, so an hour is really all you need.
Honeyman State Park is a few miles south of Florence, one of the nicest little towns you’ll find on the Oregon Coast. There’s a Historic Old Town district home to restaurants, shops, and art galleries. We ate at three different places in Florence, and Bridgewater Ocean Fresh Fish and Zebra Bar was by far the best! We also did some shopping at a great little store in Florence called Artêfacts.
Heceta Head Lighthouse is located 12 miles north of Florence. Of all the Oregon lighthouses we visited, and we saw 6 of 9, this one probably has the most picturesque location. First illuminated in 1894, the 56-foot tower sits 205 feet above the ocean. There’s a half-mile, uphill walk from the parking area, which has a day-use fee of $5, which was free for us with our State Park campground pass. There’s also a network of trails around the lighthouse, including one that connects to the popular Hobbit Trail. The lighthouse is currently closed to tours due to restoration. Also on the property is the old lighthouse keeper’s house, which is currently used as a bed and breakfast.
While we were grateful to find a place to stay somewhat last minute, we wouldn’t stay at Honeyman State Park again unless we had to. It was too loud and too busy for our liking; although, being in Florence was really nice.
Bastendorff Beach County Park
Address: 63379 Bastendorff Beach Road, Coos Bay, OR 97420
Phone: (541) 888-5353
Water and Electric Hookups
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
While the address for Bastendorff Beach County Park says Coos Bay, a more accurate location is Charleston, a small fishing village eight miles southwest of Coos Bay. Because of this location, the campground is a 20-25 minute drive from what Coos Bay has to offer. The campground shows its age and we wouldn’t stay here again, but it did the job. There is no area to check in, but I always put the information (confirmation number, site number, hookups, balance owed) in my calendar on my phone, so I knew where we were going. Our site was very private, though just barely long enough to park our truck in front of the Airstream. The campground was pretty quiet, except for the distant fog horn that sounded every 20 seconds or so throughout the night. Access to the beach is a half mile down the main road. This was the only beach of all the beaches we visited in Oregon that was gross. Garbage. A man peeing. Excrement that was possibly human. Apparently, up until very recently, people were allowed to sleep on the beach. Sounds dreamy, right? The area was more of a homeless tent city than a nice family getaway, so the city put the kibosh on that. We spent five nights here, and as it was only water and electric hookups, we had to conserve water usage so as not to fill the grey and black tanks. We made it through the week, but did end up dumping a grey tank that was at 100% capacity.
A few miles south of Bastendorff Beach is the Cape Arago Lighthouse. It is currently owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. There is no (legal) public access to the lighthouse, but there is an overlook just south of Sunset Bay State Park. The fog horn that sounds through the night comes from the Cape Arago Lighthouse.
There are three State Parks just south of Bastendorff Beach: Sunset Bay State Park, Shore Acres State Park, and Cape Arago State Park. Oregon has 36 state parks along the coast. The main purpose of these parks seems to be to preserve the land, as opposed to preserving a historic interest, recreational potential, or a natural wonder, as you find in other state parks. These coastal parks are generally trees with some trails that lead to one of the many beaches. Don’t get me wrong — I love that Oregon has set aside all of this land for public access! It’s just that so far, the many state parks we had visited in the previous four weeks on the coast had all been the same without much excitement. Shore Acres State Park was a little something different than the usual.
Shore Acres SP was a delightful and unexpected little park. It was once the grand estate of pioneer timber baron Louis Simpson, and features a beautiful botanic garden. There’s a formal garden, a Japanese-style garden with lily pond, and two rose gardens. Of course, there are also trails, one of which leads to secluded Simpson Beach. There’s also an observation building, which sits where the Simpson mansion once stood, to protect you from the elements as you view the ocean. We were lucky enough to see a lone grey whale just off shore.
This is a nice little park if you’re in the area. FYI: No dogs allowed. They are not allowed outside of vehicles. Also, there’s a $5, cash only, parking pass fee. There’s an onsite gift shop that does accept credit cards.
The Coos Bay and North Bend area is the Coast’s largest urban area and you’ll find more restaurants, shops, and services here than most anywhere else along the Coast. We visited 7 Devil’s Brewing a couple of times while staying at Bastendorff Beach and I’d recommend a visit if you find yourself in the area.
Humbug Mountain State Park
Address: 39745 Hwy 101, Port Orford, OR 97465
Phone: (541) 332-6774
Water & Electric Hookups
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table with Fire Ring
Firewood for Sale
Short Trail to Beach
This was a really nice little campground with 90 sites; two-thirds tent, one-third RV.
There is a short trail to the beach from the campground, and seeing as through the campground is the only way to access the beach, it’s very unpopulated.
There are a couple of trails within Humbug Mountain State Park. One is the Humbug Mountain Trail, which is a moderately difficult 5-mile loop. The other trail, the Old Hwy 101 Scenic Trail, is 2.6 miles one way and is part of the 425-mile Oregon Coast Trail. We did a portion of the Old Hwy 101 Trail.
Port Orford had some of the prettiest coastal views we had seen up to this point, including the views from Battle Rock City Park right in town.
We visited one last lighthouse while in this area — Cape Blanco Lighthouse. It’s the oldest standing lighthouse on the Coast and is the westernmost point in Oregon. Just up the road from the lighthouse is the Hughes House, a restored home of an early settler (whose son was a lighthouse keeper at Cape Blanco for 37 years). The views from the lighthouse are gorgeous, but the wind, a calm 22 mph while we were there, is something else. This is not somewhere I’d like to experience a winter!
Humbug Mountain in Port Orford was a great place to wrap up our stay on the Oregon Coast. We ate at a couple of restaurants in Port Orford — we’d recommend The Crazy Norwegians. We also hadn’t been at a place with laundry facilities for a bit, so we hit up Busy Bubbles, which is a (very clean) laundromat AND a self-serve car wash (which has a bay large enough for an RV). There are a few places we wish we would’ve had time to explore, the city of Bandon being one of them, but we’ll definitely be back!
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
Pull-Thrus (Kind Of)
Restrooms with Showers
Crab Pod and Cooker Rentals
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
During our stay in Garibaldi, we also made a few other stops while exploring:
Cape Meares Lighthouse – Inactive, Built in 1890, Tillamook Bay
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
Restrooms with Showers
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.
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.
Address: 1330 NW Pacific Coast Hwy, Waldport, OR 97394
Phone: (541) 563-2250
Fire Pit & Picnic Table
Restrooms with Showers
Bay View Sites
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 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.
Winchester Bay RV Resort
Address: 120 Marina Way, Winchester Bay, OR 97467
Phone: (541) 271-0287
Restrooms with Showers
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.
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!
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!
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
Restrooms with Showers
Ice and Firewood
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.
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.
A few more pics from stops along Going-to-the-Sun Road:
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:
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.
We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground & RV Park in Bozeman, Montana for three nights. The RV park is a 15-minute drive from Bozeman’s super cute and clean downtown. The park is right next door to Bozeman Hot Springs Spa and Fitness, and staying at the park gives you free access to the hot springs. (Access to the fitness center is $5 per day for those staying at the RV park.) The sites here are a mixed bag of pull throughs and back ins, some concrete, some gravel, some with nice grass adjacent, some with a patch of weeds adjacent. Our site, J6, was a pull-through gravel site with patchy, weedy grass. Besides being a pull through, the one thing the pull-through sites have going for them is that there is shrubbery between sites, which gives some privacy and separation from the neighboring sites. At $75 a night (the most we’ve ever spent), we weren’t overly impressed by the property, but the facilities (restrooms, laundry, office) seemed fairly new and were very clean. The draw here is the hot springs, but we ultimately chose this place because there aren’t a lot of options in the Bozeman area.
Address: 81123 Gallatin Road, Bozeman, MT 59718
Phone: (888) 651-5802
Restrooms with Showers
Picnic Table & Fire Pit
Free Access to the Hot Springs
The Bozeman Hot Springs are the best hot springs we’ve experienced! There are 12 pools that range in temperature from 57 to 106 degrees. The entire facility is clean and inviting. They get very busy in the evenings and especially on hot, summer weekends. Live music takes place on a stage at the outdoor pools a couple of days a weeks and a food truck is available at certain times. There’s also a sauna and a steam room, as well as a well-appointed fitness center. If staying at the RV park, access to the pools is free and the fitness center is $5. Otherwise, one-time access is $8.50 for the pools and $15 to use the entire facility.
Downtown Bozeman is full of great shops, restaurants, and breweries. The area is very well maintained, making it look as though it’s brand new! We ate dinner one night at Montana Ale Works — great vibe, fantastic food, huge selection of regional craft beer, and a full bar with delicious signature cocktails. The bison-stuffed morel mushrooms were delish and Travis really enjoyed his Laughing Dog Brewing Huckleberry Cream Ale.
While in Bozeman, we also hiked the ‘M Trail’. The M Trail is so named because of the M landmark created by Montana State University students in 1915 on a hillside (mountainside?) in the Gallatin National Forest, just outside Bozeman. We conquered the 850 feet of elevation gain on the half-mile “most difficult” trail up and took the mile and a half “easiest” way down. It definitely gets the heart pumping! The difficult route up is mostly loose rock, so I would recommend wearing a good pair of hiking boots. The easiest trail is mostly dirt and tennis shoes would do just fine. There’s a parking lot and a pit toilet at the trailhead.
We really enjoyed Bozeman and look forward to visiting again to explore the area more. While the hot springs were nice, we would definitely explore other options for places to stay. We’d also probably visit a different time of year as it was pretty hot during the second week of July.
The most difficult part of route planning for us is when Travis has to fly somewhere for work. The business trips aren’t usually last-minute trips, so that helps, but sometimes we find ourselves in places that we wouldn’t otherwise be in. However, Billings is not one of those places (a place we wouldn’t otherwise be in, that is). When we started planning our route back west from our extended stay in Wisconsin in May, we knew we wanted to spend some time in Montana. We also knew that Travis would need to fly to Minneapolis during this time and that the trip would be during the week of the Fourth of July holiday. Before settling on Billings, we first made a list of all the commercial airports in the approximate area we’d be in — Wyoming and Montana. We then searched to see which ones have direct flights to Minneapolis, because who wants a layover when you’re not flying very far? Then, we had to find a safe place to stay with availability for the holiday week, not too far from the airport. I say a safe place because Travis never wants to leave me (and Max) in a questionable location, obviously. Taking all of that into consideration, we landed on the Billings KOA.
This has been our method of operation since we hit the road full time back in January. Travis has had to make a business trip once a month, so these trips have somewhat determined our route. With each booked business trip, we’ll have a specific date and location we need to be. We also throw some personal date/location combos in there too to make it even more interesting — Crater Lake Rim Run in August, our friends’ October wedding in San Diego, and the Joshua Tree half marathon in November. It forces us to plan ahead, which suits our personalities just fine. We just aren’t go-with-the-flow type of people when it comes to trip planning. Twice we’ve had gaps of a night or two in our route where we were just going to wing it and see where we end up and both times we caved and booked something last minute.
I think there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, we don’t like long travel days and not knowing your destination may make your day longer. Two hours is great, three hours is fine, but when we get into four to five hours, we get crabby. We can’t comprehend how some people travel eight to ten hours a day — that just sounds miserable to us and like a waste of a day. If you don’t NEED to be somewhere fast, what’s the hurry? Secondly, this has been a hot, hot summer. After boondocking Memorial Day weekend, we learned that we want and need an electric hookup. We have a 13.5-year-old dog that we want to keep comfortable and we’ve had to work some very long days, so having electricity is essential. Yes, we have a generator, but many places have limitations on generator use and when it’s really hot, we burn through gas like crazy. Also, we would never leave our generator running unattended, so we’d become prisoners to the Airstream — and that’s not fun!
Before we hit the road, we had these romantic ideas, like so many tend to, that we’d boondock nonstop and wake up next to the ocean one day, and in the mountains the next, and so on, without another human in sight. And while there are plenty of Airstreamers and RVers that do just that, we’ve determined we’re not those people. We like electricity and showering every day and doing laundry once a week (or at least every two weeks) and strong cell signals and eating great food at restaurants and exploring cities along with our country’s natural wonders. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that we’ve learned what type of full timers we are over these last six months. On the full-timer spectrum with off-the-grid boondockers on one end and snowbirds that only move twice a year on the other, I think we fall right in the middle.
Back to Billings.
We settled on Billings and I’m glad we did. We stayed from a Saturday to a Saturday (I’m actually writing this the day before we leave). KOAs are notoriously expensive and this one is no different. I don’t know if they jacked their prices because of the holiday, but our water and electric site (no sewer hookup) was $75 a night, $67.50 with our KOA membership. Thus far, the most expensive place we’ve stayed. That being said, this is such a nice KOA. It’s the first in the country and the current owners have owned it since the 70s. There’s a huge staff that meticulously maintains it and the amenities are great. There’s a decent-sized, albeit cold, swimming pool. There’s a nice little mini golf course that Travis destroyed me on. The bathrooms and showers are so, so nice — probably the nicest we’ve ever seen. We’ve used the showers a few times because we don’t have a sewer hookup and don’t want to be so concerned with the grey tank level. The onsite store is well equipped. Breakfast and dinner are offered every morning and evening (for a price). Our site is super long, allowing us to park our truck at either end of the trailer. We have a nice patio with a picnic table, porch swing, and fire pit. Now, amenities like this are definitely NOT a requirement for us, but if we’re going to pay this much, they’re nice to have.
There’s more to this KOA than just the amenities, however. The location is fantastic! It’s not far off I-90 making it extremely accessible for those that are just passing through. Downtown Billings is literally 5 minutes away. We have had some great meals here; we’d recommend Walkers and The Fieldhouse specifically. And one of the best parts — the airport is 13 minutes away! We usually have to drive 45 minutes to get to an airport, so the short drive is really a nice change.
All in all, our stay in Billings has been great. It was a little loud the night of the Fourth (I hate you, fireworks), but other than that, no issues. With the next business trip tentatively scheduled for October, we’re looking forward to moving on to Bozeman, Missoula and Coram to explore more of Montana.
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.
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
Restrooms with Showers
Hotel on Site
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
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.
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.
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.
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
Bathrooms with Showers
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).
On our second day near Custer State Park, as it was a rainy morning, we chose to visit Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave lies at the southern border of Custer SP in Hot Springs. It is the third longest cave system in the United States behind Mammoth Cave and nearby Jewel Cave. There are various cave tours available, but they are all first come, first served, so arrive early to beat the crowds. We took the Natural Entrance Cave Tour, which lasted about 1.25 hours. I’m not sure if any of the other tours are more exciting, as this one was just okay. As I mentioned, it was raining, so we didn’t explore anything above ground in the park. Instead, we headed into Hot Springs to get some lunch (nothing to write home about) and then headed over to The Mammoth Site, which is also in Hot Springs. The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological excavation site with the greatest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. We waited in a line that was out the door and seemed to be making no progress until we decided to opt out and return home. Some days you’re feelin’ it, and some days you’re not — and we just weren’t feeling it that day. One thing to note about The Mammoth Site is that dogs are allowed inside as long as they are being held or in carriers. We returned to Custer SP before dinner so that Travis could get a run in on one of the trails. I explored the Visitor Center and the State Game Lodge and then meandered along one of the trails until meeting up with Travis to return home for the evening.
On our third and last full day in the area, we once more headed into Custer SP to the Sylvan Lake area in order to do the hike up to Black Elk Peak, which is South Dakota’s highest point at 7242 feet. We hiked trail #9, which is a 6.6-mile roundtrip trail that’s rated moderate to strenuous. We both felt it was the hardest trail we had ever hiked and thought it leaned more towards the strenuous end of the spectrum. There’s a gain of 1470 feet and you can definitely feel it. Black Elk Peak is actually located in the Black Hills National Forest, and there’s a sign on the trail that indicates when you cross into the forest. A stone fire tower at the peak provides excellent views of the surrounding landscape. When reading reviews of the trail, some people noted it took up to six hours to complete the roundtrip hike, but we needed to get back to work as soon as possible, so we booked it to the top and back in just under three. Before leaving the park, we stopped at Sylvan Lake Lodge for lunch. We ended up getting our food to go, as we really needed to get back to the trailer for work. I had an excellent burger and Travis had an equally excellent chicken sandwich. Once back at the trailer, Travis got to work while I drove into Box Elder to Americas Mailbox (our mail forwarding service) where I picked up our mail and packages that had been collecting for a few weeks. On my back to Southern Hills, I gassed up the truck and drove it through a car wash in preparation for our morning departure to Devils Tower.
There are more sites to see that we didn’t get around to this trip. We didn’t drive the infamous Needles Highway in Custer SP, which I’m bummed about, but we just never found the time. If we had known what Wind Cave NP was going to be like, we probably would have used that time to do the drive instead. Of course, there’s also Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial. We visited Mount Rushmore last September when we were in Rapid City/Box Elder getting our drivers licenses and things set up with Americas Mailbox. Crazy Horse, along with Jewel Cave National Monument, will have to wait until our next trip. And we never made it into Rapid City (except to get groceries at Safeway), which was another small disappointment as we had really enjoyed downtown Rapid City on our previous visit. We will definitely return to Custer State Park!
Devils Tower was declared the first National Monument in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s 867 feet tall from summit to base. If you want to stay at Devils Tower for a night or two, there are basically two options. The Belle Fourche Campground is a first come, first served campground within the boundaries of the park. There are no hookups, but water is available as well as bathrooms. The second option is the Devils Tower KOA, which sits right outside the entrance to the monument. We chose the latter, because everywhere we’ve been so far this summer has been super hot and we didn’t want to have to worry about generator restrictions in order to use our A/C — we wanted hookups! As far as KOAs go, this one is pretty nice. We didn’t use their restrooms or laundry, but did take a dip in the pool (it was freezing) and got some ice cream from the onsite store. There’s also another store across the street that sells similar items, and both stores have prepared food available for purchase. The Devils Tower post office is basically right in the KOA’s parking lot and every night at 8pm, the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind is played at the campground.
Address: 60 Highway 110, Devils Tower, WY 82714
Phone: (307) 467-5395
Restrooms with Showers
Community Fire Ring
The Visitor Center is open from 8am-7pm, but Devils Tower itself is accessible 24 hours a day. Being right at the entrance afforded me the opportunity to get up to the monument at 7:45am before crowds started rolling in. I walked the 1.3-mile paved Tower Trail and only saw three other parties. This trail, which circles the base of the tower, is the most popular trail and gets quite busy for most of the day. Travis ran it at about 5:45pm and it was still pretty populated. Climbing the tower is allowed; though climbers must register with a ranger before and after their climb.
Besides Devils Tower, there is nothing else in this area. Most visitors seem to make it a day trip, but if you want to or need to spend the night, one night is plenty. There is a gas station about a 10-minute drive up the road in Hulett.
All in all, we really enjoyed our time in the Badlands and Black Hills. We will definitely return Custer State Park, but one visit to Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument is enough.
Big Sioux Recreation Area in Brandon, South Dakota is part of the State Park system and lies on the banks of the Big Sioux River. South Dakota’s largest city, Sioux Falls, is a short drive. The campground is very basic but well kept. The sites are large and as there weren’t a lot of people staying there, it was a pretty quiet five days. The showers in the bathrooms are pretty decent, with good water pressure and hot water, although it takes a bit to warm up. The sites are electric only, but there’s a dump station and water fill as you enter/exit the campground. My only complaint is the amount of ants — they crawled everywhere, including all over the trailer; although they never made it inside as far as we can tell. The nightly rate is $21, but there is also a daily park entrance fee of $6 and a reservation fee for nonresidents of $8. As we had purchased a South Dakota parks pass at the last place we stayed, Hartford Beach State Park, and are South Dakota residents, we only paid the $21/night fee.
Address: 410 West Park Street, Brandon, SD 57005
Phone Number: (605) 582-7243
Picnic Table and Fire Ring
Bathrooms with Showers
The park itself has trails for hiking, biking, horse riding and snowshoeing. There’s also disc golf, two canoe launches, a playground and archery.
We hiked the Valley of the Giants Trail, which is supposed to be 1.5-mile hike, but we took a wrong turn at a fork in the path and had to backtrack a bit. Some of the state’s largest trees reside along this trail.
The suspension bridge seen in the header photo is at the beginning of the Prairie Vista Trail and crosses the Big Sioux River to provide access to the Horse Trail Trailhead and Archery Range.
While in the area, of course we had to visit Falls Park in Sioux Falls. The area surrounding the park is not so great, but the park itself is beautiful. We visited on an overcast, sprinkle-filled day, so the full beauty of the park is hard to determine from the pictures. The park is 123 acres and home to some of the city’s first buildings. The Queen Bee Mill used to operate here along the banks of the Big Sioux River, but all that remains now are ruins from the original 7-story building that was the victim of a fire. The 1908-built hydroelectric plant now functions as the Falls Overlook Cafe, where we had a fantastically delicious lunch. There’s also a visitor center and gift shop with a 50-foot viewing tower that is free to access.
We went to downtown Sioux Falls for dinner one rainy, gloomy night. The downtown area is VERY nice — clean and well kept with great shops and restaurants. We ate at Crawfords Bar & Grill, where the food was delicious, the cocktails on point, and the decor a blend of rustic and vintage. Due to the rain, we went for a very short, post-dinner walk and were able to enjoy a few of the more than 50 sculptures that are part of the Sioux Falls SculptureWalk. If the weather had been better while we were in the area (and we were able to work less), we definitely would have spent more time downtown.