Teton and Yellowstone and Glacier, Oh My!

I seem to be struggling a bit with getting posts written this summer, so this post will cover ALL of our travels from Summer 2021.

We last left off at a one-night stay at Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone, MT, so that’s where our travels pick up. From West Yellowstone, we moved on to Grand Teton National Park where we spent almost two weeks at Colter Bay Campground.

There are two ways to drive to Colter Bay Campground in Teton from West Yellowstone. The first is staying outside of Yellowstone, driving south through Idaho, then start heading east at Victor, ID, where you’ll cross Teton Pass, and come down into Jackson, WY.  I do not recommend this way. We did it once a couple of years ago and don’t want to do it again if we don’t have to. Long, steep grades both ascending and descending, as well as pretty curvy curves. We were lucky that the weather was fine when we drove it, even though it was the end of May and easily could have been snowing. The other way is to drive into Yellowstone at the West Yellowstone entrance and follow the road down through the park and out the south entrance, where you drive just a little bit further before you reach Colter Bay. While this is definitely a better drive than Teton Pass, there are still some grades and curves to deal with as you cross the continental divide. We were not as lucky with weather this time, as there was a constant cycle of snow/rain/sleet coming down. But we took it slow and we prevailed, utilizing some of the multiple turnouts to let faster traffic pass us and to give ourselves a break. We drove this same route less than two weeks later on our way back to Bozeman and the weather was perfect, making it a much different experience.

A nice thing about entering the park from the north is that you get the entrance sign all to yourself!

We stayed in the Colter Bay Area during our previous trip to Grand Teton two years prior; however, we were in the RV park instead of the campground. The RV park has full hookups while the campground is mostly no hookups (there are a few sites with electricity). You can read about that visit here.

Campground Stats

Name: Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park

Address: Colter Bay Campground Rd, Alta, WY 83414

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: May 24, 2021 – June 4, 2021

Site: H157

Rate: $38; $19.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Some Sites with Electric
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets and Camp Sink
  • Recycling and Trash
  • Dump Stations with Water Fill
  • Hiker/Biker Sites
  • Group Sites
  • Paths to Jackson Lake
  • Amphitheater with Ranger Talks
  • Bear Box at Each Site

We had a lovely pull-through site at the end of the loop that had a fairly private, huge front yard. H157 was in full sun, which was great during the first week of our stay when the temps were still comfortable. The Airstream warmed up nicely during the chilly mornings and we didn’t ever have to conserve battery during our stay thanks to our solar panels being fed a continuous amount of sun. As our stay progressed into week 2, it started to get much warmer (low 80s) and it would have been nice to have a site with a little shade, which most of the other sites had.

We really loved our site, which was a decent-sized pull through at the end of the loop, so we had no neighbors behind us.
Seriously, our ‘front yard’ was HUGE!
Definitely one of the best sites we’ve ever had! When we were sitting outside, we could only see one other site, and that site was empty during half of our stay.

We did not have a cell signal at our site, even with our booster, so when we needed to connect, we walked or drove over to the Colter Bay Village area and were able to get a decent signal outside the store/laundry/shower building or outside the restaurant. There were a few days when we needed to have a dependable, strong signal for work, so we hung out at Jackson Lake Lodge in one of the upstairs balconies overlooking the lobby where it was quiet enough and no other people were around. Or sometimes we would find a good signal as we were driving and just pull over to the side of the road (only where parking is allowed, of course).

Can’t be mad at those office views!

While the majority of our stay at Colter Bay Campground was pretty quiet and rarely saw our loop full, Memorial Day Weekend was a different story. Starting on Thursday evening, all of the sites directly around us started to fill up and by Friday afternoon, the loop was full. There was a group of about 8-10 sites with an average of 2 adults, 2.5 kids, and 1.5 dogs per site that were all there together. It seemed pretty clear that this was an annual trip for this group and it also seemed as though we screwed up the dynamic by reserving one of the sites they usually stay in. They proceeded to treat the loop as their own private campground, setting up a volleyball net next to the bathroom, corn hole in another common area, and the kids left their bikes and toys scattered throughout. They weren’t overly rowdy, though they did bend the limits of quiet time. They just never seemed to go anywhere, which was odd to us, so there never was a fully peaceful moment while they were there. But when Monday morning came, they all packed up and rolled out and we had the loop mostly to ourselves again. So my advice is to not book a site in H Loop over Memorial Day Weekend.

There are two dump stations in the campground, though only one is clearly designated on the map they give you when you check in. The one that’s easy to see is the first dump station you come to, right past the check-in area. This dump station is for use on the way out and there are two sewer connections plus freshwater fill. The dump station that should be used on your way into the campground before you head to your site is a little further up the road between the entrance and exit for Loop I.  We ended up having to dump once during our stay, waiting to do so until after checkout time on Memorial Day, when the campground really cleared out and there wasn’t a line at the dump station. We never use the freshwater fill at dump stations if we can help it (we’ve seen RVers do too many gross things), so we instead filled our 6-gallon water jug at the freshwater fill located at the gas station in Colter Bay. We then dumped that into our fresh tank. We drove past the gas station every day, so it wasn’t out of our way, and even it’s not actually filtered water, we know that no one has brought a sewer hose anywhere near it.

This is the first dump station you see as you drive in. We saw a lot of people drive in the exit and try to dump or try to make the sharp turn in at the entrance.
There are two sewer connections with a freshwater fill in between at this dump station.
The potable (freshwater) fill is located a good distance from each sewer connection.
This is the correct dump station to use when dumping on your way into the campground. It’s located between the entrance and exit of Loop I and across from Loop H.
The freshwater fill, to the right side of the picture, wasn’t quite far enough away from the sewer hookup for us to feel comfortable using it when we dumped here mid-stay.
We chose to use the water filling station at the gas station to fill our water can and dump it into our freshwater tank. We also filled a couple of 1-gallon jugs each time we stopped to dump into our Berkey for drinking water.
Hikes

These are the hikes we did in the order that we did them:

String and Leigh Lakes

The first few days of our stay were rainy, including the day we did a portion of the trail along String and Leigh Lakes. We kept it short, at just about 2 miles roundtrip. You can loop around String Lake, which is 3.7 miles, or just keep walking along the trail on the eastern shore, which connects to the Leigh Lake Trail. Leigh Lake is a 1.8-mile out and back. Both trails are easy and flat, but have nice views. These two lakes are also great for paddling around on SUPs or in kayaks/canoes.

Taggart and Bradley Lakes

These are lakes that can again be done separately, but most people group them together. To do Taggart Lake alone is 3 miles, but to do them as one hike is 5.9 according to the park (we clocked 5.5 miles). There are two ways to group these lakes together. One is by doing a loop, where you hike out from the main trail to Taggart Lake, and from there take a trail that connects the two lakes, and you’ll end up at Bradley Lake, after which you take a trail back to the main trail. This route can be done in the opposite direction as well, visiting Bradley Lake first. One could argue that that is the best way to start, as the views are better. The trail that connects the two lakes has a pretty good incline, and then an equally stiff decline, and is the more difficult of the two routes. Throw in snow and mud at the time of year we did the trail, and it’s definitely the more difficult way. The second way is to treat each lake as an out and back off the main trail. This will keep things a little flatter than the 450′ of elevation you experience on the connecting trail, but ends up being the same distance overall. I’ll be honest, the only way I knew the difference between the lake pictures below is from the time stamp. You can definitely get all the beauty out of just doing the Taggart Lake Trail if you’re short on time or are looking for an easier hike.

On the trail to Taggart Lake.
Views.
Taggart Lake
Taggart Lake
Bradley Lake with a slightly different view of the same mountain peak.
If you hike to Bradley Lake first and then loop over to Taggart Lake, this is what the view looks like most of the way. If you do Taggart Lake first, and then loop over to Bradley Lake, this view will be at your back as you hike back to the trailhead.

After this hike, we were blessed with a bunch of wildlife sightings as we made our way back to the campground.

This guy or gal was hanging out right by the parking lot after finishing the Taggart and Bradley Lake hike.
This little one was right on the side of the road — this pic was shot from the truck.
And this gentleman was lounging right at the tree line along the main road not far from the campground.

Phelps Lake Overlook

Phelps Lake has a bunch of options for how to experience it. You can do like us, and just venture out to the overlook, which is 2 miles roundtrip. Or you can hike down to the lake from the overlook, which adds another 2 miles. Or you can do the Phelps Lake Loop for a total of 6.3 miles, which starts at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve as opposed to the Death Canyon trailhead where the other two options start. Either place you start, be warned that the road is unpaved and can be a little rough and the road out to Death Canyon Trailhead becomes rougher as you go. Because of this, we actually parked more than a half mile from the trailhead, which turned the 2-mile hike into a 3.3-mile hike for us. There’s about 430′ of elevation gain from the actual trailhead, which is a pretty decent amount in that one mile, so this trail is rated as moderate.

The Phelps Lake Overlook sits at 7200′.
A nice hike that had very few people on it even though we started at just before noon. (It was only May 28th, so a little earlier in the season than when all the crowds hit.)
And we saw another moose on this trail — just call us the moose whisperers!
This is what most of the trail looks like — well defined and easy to navigate.

Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point to Cascade Canyon

This was our longest hike of this trip and probably the most enjoyable and least enjoyable all in one. To get to Cascade Canyon, one must first start right behind the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. We arrived in the main Jenny Lake parking lot at around 9:30 on Saturday, May 29th. I know that sounds crazy, but there was actually still a lot of parking at this time and we didn’t encounter a crazy amount of people on the trail on our way out. However, as always, when it comes to national parks, the earlier the better. And we would end up regretting our late-ish start later.

**Because we had done the hike to Hidden Falls the last time we were in the park (exactly 2 years ago to the day!), I didn’t take as many pics as I normally would have, so some of the pics below are from this year and some are from two years ago.**

This is definitely the busiest area of the park, so pack your patience!
This pic of the East Shore Shuttle Boat Dock is from two years ago. The crowds were MUCH smaller then, but we also started this hike around 4:45pm that year and got back by the boat dock around 6:30pm, so that might explain why there’s no people.

The path to Cascade Canyon first takes you to Hidden Falls, which is about a 2.5-mile hike. Unless, of course, you take the shuttle across Jenny Lake. The shuttle takes you from the East Shore dock to the West Shore dock, and shaves 2 miles off the hike. As of this year, shuttle prices are $10 one way or $18 roundtrip. While the shuttle definitely saves you some distance and elevation gain, that last half mile isn’t an easy breezy jaunt — you still climb 200′ in a half mile. Anyway, we’ve never done the shuttle, but it’s definitely a way to trim some time off your trip. Kind of. You can’t purchase tickets ahead of time and the line for the shuttle can be very, very long. So maybe it doesn’t save you much time. But it definitely saves you distance. Hidden Falls is probably the most popular hike in the park because of its location, length, and the fact that you see a waterfall, so plan accordingly.

Views of Jenny Lake along the trail.
There was still snow on the trail up to Hidden Falls two years ago, but that was not the case this year.
Hidden Falls is 75′-100′ tall.
Our pic from two years ago, when there was only ONE other couple at the falls the same time as us.
And our pic from this year, when there seemed to be HUNDREDS of other people at the falls the same time as us.

After the hike up to Hidden Falls that’s not really a walk in the park even though it’s quite literally a walk in the park, Inspiration Point is another half mile up. This half mile is also pretty steep and winds up a series of switchbacks. One you get to the top, there’s a nice panoramic view of Jenny Lake that you share with lots of other people. We sat down for a bit to enjoy the view and eat lunch. This is where most people turn around to either hike all the way back down to the visitor center or to the West Shore Shuttle Boat Dock to hop back on the shuttle to cross the lake, but we continued on.

The trail from Hidden Falls to Inspiration Point is only a half mile, but it’s a bit rugged with some good elevation gain.
A lot of that elevation gain is taken care of in a series of switch backs.
While Inspiration Point offers a panoramic view of Jenny Lake, I apparently did not feel it was necessary to take a panoramic picture of Jenny Lake, so here’s the north end of it.

A half mile beyond Inspiration Point is where Cascade Canyon begins. As I stated, most people turn around at Inspiration Point, but they’re missing out on the best parts! The half mile up has a little bit more elevation gain, but then the trail levels out and you can leisurely stroll along Cascade Creek and take in the views. With very few other people, I might add. Earlier when I said this hike was both the most enjoyable and the least enjoyable — this is the part that was the most enjoyable. You enter Cascade Canyon at about the 3.5-mile mark along this trail. It extends another 4 miles or so, and then branches off into the North Fork, which will take you to Lake Solitude, or the South Fork, which leads you to Hurricane Pass. We continued on until we hit 5 miles before turning around, making this a 10-mile hike roundtrip. Cascade Canyon was so quiet, and so peaceful, and just really, really beautiful. This part of the hike definitely made the trek past the crowded portions of the trail worth it!

The gorgeous views start almost immediately upon entering the canyon!
It was so incredibly peaceful!
We carry a tiny tripod for phones with us on hikes so we can get shots like this with the two of us.
And of course, we saw another moose! Do you see it?
Here’s the last pic zoomed in. Just chillin’.
There was still snow up here, but only in the woodsy parts. It was a little sloppy, so hiking poles may be a good idea.
Gah!

All good things must come to an end, so back down we went.

Heading down from Inspiration Point.
One last shot of Jenny Lake from the trail.
We saw this little bubba hanging out by Hidden Falls, just doing some people watching.

And here’s where the least enjoyable part of the hike comes in. As I said earlier, Hidden Falls is the most popular hike in the park. Even though we started later than we’d like, the hike up wasn’t too bad as there weren’t a lot of people. However, the hike back down was a different story. We now had to contend with two-way traffic. And while I LOVE that more and more people are experiencing our National Parks and all of the awesomeness they have to offer, I HATE that the trails are so busy. We tend to hike at a pretty decent clip, but most of the people on the popular/busy trails take their time. Obviously, that’s perfectly fine. But if you’re going at a slower pace than those around you, stay single file to the righthand side of the trail, instead of spreading out in groups of 2 or 3 so no one else can get by. All I’m saying is be aware of those around you, just like if you’re walking down a sidewalk or a hallway. While we hike at a pretty good pace, there are times when we see people coming up behind us at a faster pace. We pull off to the side and allow them to pass — it’s just the courteous, decent thing to do. Rant over. But I do want to add, if you’re going to venture out on trails, make sure to be prepared. Bring enough water, dress appropriately, pack some snacks, and wear the right footwear. We have seen SO many people out on trails that are unprepared, so just make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s better to be over prepared than under prepared — we have never left a trail with zero water left and have no regrets about carrying that extra weight. Okay, NOW rant over.

Moose Ponds

This was the very first hike we ever did in Teton when we visited four years ago (pre-Airstream life). We had travelled to the area to run the Teton half marathon, and after the race, just wanted an easy trail. This trail fit the bill and we even saw a moose (of course!). I’m not really sure how long this trail is supposed to be or even if we stayed on the official trail. We clocked 3.27 miles, didn’t see any moose, and realized we had really low standards for a trail four years ago. This trail definitely isn’t a ‘must do’, but it has its moments.

Some nice views along the trail.
One of the Moose Ponds, sans moose.
No moose, but we did see this guy…
…and this guy.
Nothing too exciting, but still a pleasant little trail.
The moose at one of the Moose Ponds four years ago.
Food & Drink

We ate the majority of our meals at our site, but we did eat at a few places in the park as well as visit the city of Jackson twice where we got lunch on both days. We picked up sandwiches a couple of times from Cafe Court, which is right next to the Ranch House Restaurant & Bar in Colter Bay, where we ate dinner twice. The food was decent, but as it was early in the season, the staff was pretty green and the service was a little chaotic, which could also be a result of being understaffed due to the pandemic. We picked up food from the Signal Mountain Lodge a couple of times, which was take out only this season. They had great options for breakfast and lunch, as well as some yummy desserts. We also visited the Blue Heron Lounge one night for cocktails, though the usual beautiful views of the Teton Range weren’t as prominent due to some rainy weather. On a sunny day, this is a fantastic place to get a drink and sit out on the outdoor patio.

While in Jackson, we ate at Persephone Bakery Cafe. Travis got the Smoked Trout Salad and I got the Green Goddess Grain Bowl and both were absolutely delicious. We also got a huckleberry scone to go, and it was equally delicious. Our second lunch visit to Jackson was in Teton Village at the Mangy Moose. We split a bison burger topped with gouda, huckleberry compote, and arugula, and it was also very delicious.

Things to Do

A fun outing in Jackson is to take the aerial tram or the gondola to the top of the mountain. We took the aerial tram up back in 2017 and enjoyed some adult hot chocolates at Corbet’s Cabin, where food is also available. The tram appears to be closed this year for maintenance, but the gondola is available and takes you up to an area different than the tram, where you can enjoy restaurants and bars, as well as a number of activities including hiking, yoga, and the Via Ferrata. The pics below are from our visit in June 2017.

In addition to the hiking and the eating, we made sure to visit parts of the park that we’ve missed on previous trips: Lunch Tree Hill, Mormon Row, Menors Ferry, the Chapel of Transfiguration, and Oxbow Bend. Besides Oxbow Bend, most of these places are historic and much less frequented than other parts of the park, so you’re able to learn a little bit about the history of the area without crowds.

We also returned to some sites that we’ve seen in the past, but are always worthy of a stop, such as Signal Mountain and the Snake River Overlook.

As we always do whenever we’re near water, we inflated our packrafts and paddled around both Jackson and Jenny Lakes. Getting out on the water is a great way to experience any national park!

We had originally reserved two weeks in our campsite, but towards the end of our stay, the temps moved into the low 80s and our fantastically sunny site didn’t offer much respite from the heat. As we had enjoyed all of the sights we wanted to see and hikes we wanted to do (except for Delta Lake, which was still pretty iced over during our visit), we decided to pack up and head out.

Did you know that if you decide to bug out early on an NPS campground reservation that you can get a refund for the nights you aren’t staying? Just let the people in the campground check-in booth know that you’re leaving and they can cancel the rest of your reservation. In our case, because we left before someone was manning the booth in the morning, I wrote a note and attached it to our window tag and dropped them in the little box on the way out where you’re supposed to drop the window tags. About 2.5 hours later, I got an email about my refund. So, it’s possible to get money back AND have the site be available for someone else to reserve it.

So, that’s a wrap on Teton! Back to Bozeman we go.

Upon returning to Bozeman for a couple of weeks, the Airstream went back into storage and we prepared our condo to be rented out for the month of July. We already had half of the month booked at various campgrounds, so we figured why not try to rent it? About 30 minutes after listing it on Moblhom.com, it was rented, which was kind of crazy. While our condo has a pretty minimalistic aesthetic, we still needed to prep a few things and fill in some gaps in our planned travels, and had about a week to do that before we were off to Yellowstone. Finding available sites on short notice in Montana in summer can be bit of a struggle, so we decided to book a trip (by plane) to Wisconsin, where we’re originally from, to see family and fill some of the time.

With our route planned and all dates accounted for, we left the condo ready for our renter, hitched up the Airstream, and headed to Yellowstone!

This was our fourth visit to Yellowstone, third in the Airstream, but the first time we would be staying within the park boundaries. To read about our previous visits and where we stayed, check out these posts from May 2019 and May/June 2020. While we didn’t visit YNP while staying at this Idaho state park, it’s a great option as well.

Campground Stats

Name: Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park

Address: North Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: June 29, 2021 – July 2, 2021

Site: 44

Rate: $25; $12.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Mix of Sunny and Shady Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Fire Ring
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets
  • Recycling and Trash
  • Threaded Water Spigots Throughout Campground
  • Amphitheater with Ranger Talks
  • Bear Box at Each Site
  • Usable Cell Signal on Verizon and AT&T at Site

Mammoth Campground is the only campground in Yellowstone that is open year round and it’s tucked just inside the North Entrance, a few minutes from Gardiner, MT. This year the campground — which does not have hookups — moved from first come, first served to reservation only. As such, I was on the Recreation.gov website the moment sites became available back in March, and was able to snag the exact site I wanted for the exact dates I wanted. Site 44 is a pull-through site with nice views and has no shade, which can be good or bad depending on the time of year you visit. For us, it wasn’t great, because the temp hit 90 during our stay. However, at least half of the sites have some nice shade throughout the day, but would also offer enough sun for solar panels to do their job. The site was also incredibly unlevel side to side, but we made do with three layers of levelers. The restrooms are decent (and heated during colder months) and there are threaded water spigots throughout the campground to fill water jugs. We were graced with the presence of elk most evenings, including a mama and her spotty little babe. From Mammoth Campground, it’s only about a 5-minute drive into Gardiner, where you’ll find restaurants, bars, touristy shops, a laundromat, gas stations, and the Gardiner Market, which is a grocery store, liquor store and camping supply store all rolled into one. In the park, Mammoth Campground is less than a 5-minute drive to the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, which means you’re able to get a good jump on the crowds in one of the more popular parts of the park. Despite the heat, we enjoyed our stay here and will definitely return, making sure to come a little earlier/later in the season or get a shadier site.

The main reason we had booked these three nights in Yellowstone is because friends of ours from Wisconsin made a trip west to explore Yellowstone and Teton. They rented a place in Gardiner, so staying at Mammoth Campground was very convenient. We actually left Bozeman around 7pm with the Airstream in tow, arriving at the campground around 8:30pm. It was so hot during this time, that we wanted to avoid the heat of the day. We gave ourselves just enough time to make the hour and half drive and get settled into our campsite before dark. Thankfully it stays light out quite late in these parts during the height of summer!

We made sure to get an early start on both of the days we explored the park, getting out of bed around 5:30am and meeting up with our friends around 6am. This ensured that we could see what we wanted to see without fighting crowds, which start to appear around 9am. Our first stop took us to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we traversed the boardwalks that wind through the hot springs area. Before we even got started, however, we were graced with a bear sighting. This chunk ambled its way across the steamy terrain right in front of the boardwalks. It was very exciting for our friends and their kids (and us!) to see a bear within 15 minutes of being in the park!

From Mammoth Hot Springs, we drove east towards the Tower-Roosevelt Junction. Along the way, we stopped at the Undine Falls Overlook, where you get a nice view of the 60-foot waterfall. This waterfall is a great example of how Yellowstone is very visitor friendly for people of all capabilities because there are a number of great overlooks off of the main road that don’t require a hike to see the sights. However, there is a 1.8-mile out and back trail that will take you closer to the falls.

While driving along this road, we also saw a black bear meandering through the wildflower-covered field.

We next stopped off at the trail for Wraith Falls, which is a little less than a mile roundtrip. This was a nice easy trail that culminates at stairs that you climb in order to get a few of the falls. These falls are definitely not high on the list of impressive falls in Yellowstone and this trail was kind of take it or leave it for us. However, if you’re with kids, which we were, this is a good trail for little legs. The sun was in the wrong spot for me to get a good shot of the falls, so please enjoy the overexposed pic below.

We continued driving to the Tower-Roosevelt picnic area, where our friends and their kids ate an early lunch. We had received some sporadic emails from a customer that needed help with an issue, so we had to drive back towards Mammoth Hot Springs where we could get a better cell signal to take care of some business. Afterwards, we walked around the Fort Yellowstone area, which we had never done before, and read up on some of the historical aspects of the park. This is taken from the Fort Yellowstone Historic District Walking Tour Pamphlet:

For the decade after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, the park was under serious threat from those who would exploit, rather than protect, its resources. Poachers killed animals. Souvenir hunters broke large pieces off the geysers and hot springs. Developers set up camps for tourists near hot springs, along with bath and laundry facilities in the hot springs. In response, civilian superintendents were hired to preserve and protect this land. Their experience and intentions varied, and they were all under-funded and under-staffed. Word got back to Congress that the park was in trouble, but legislators refused to appropriate any funds for the park’s administration in 1886.

Yellowstone National Park turned to the U.S. Army for help. In 1886, men from Company M, First United States Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory came to Yellowstone under the command of Captain Moses Harris. They began what would be 32 years of military presence in the park.

Most of the structures remain from the Army fort. Many are currently used as employee residences and administrative buildings. Amongst the buildings that still stand are multiple officers’ quarters, a chapel, a commissary, a storehouse, a granary, a blacksmith shop, and two different guardhouses — one from 1891, as pictured below, and one from 1910, which still serves as the park’s jail.  Anyone who entered the park from Gardiner needed to register their vehicle and its occupants at the guardhouse, as well as have any guns they carried sealed.

The original guardhouse could hold 15 prisoners and 10 guards.

Fun Fact: Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park are the only two national parks that have both jails and courtrooms, where federal judges preside over cases of misconduct that occur within those parks. They deal with things such as tourists trespassing into off-limit areas, harassing wildlife, poachers, drunk drivers, illegal drone flying, and people stealing ‘souvenirs’ from the park.

After visiting Lamar Valley, our friends met back up with us in Mammoth Hot Springs where the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, and then we caravanned down to Norris Geyser Basin. We decided to visit Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser. During an eruption, Steamboat can reach heights of 300′, but an eruption of that magnitude is few and far between. There is no rhyme or reason to Steamboats eruptions, and while 2019 saw the highest number of eruptions since they’ve been tracking them, the frequency seems to be declining again. When we visited, it had been about 4.5 weeks since the last eruption, and the next eruption occurred a week later. The trail to Steamboat Geyser is mostly boardwalks and takes you past other geothermal features like Emerald Spring.

While the chance of catching an eruption isn’t likely (they’ve occurred anywhere from 4 days to 50 years apart), Steamboat Geyser does continuously let off steam.

After exploring the Geyser Basin, the kids were about done for the day, as were we, seeing as it was starting to get very crowded everywhere.

Of note, as you can see from the picture below, most of this area is in direct sun. Come prepared with water, sunscreen, hats, etc.

We wrapped up the day by stopping at the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner and getting ice cream from one of the shops. We then went our separate ways with plans to meet up again bright and early the next morning!

Our second full day in the park was all about exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the Canyon Village area. We went to both the North and South Rims, checking out the Brink of the Lower Falls on the north side and the trail from Uncle Tom’s Point to Artist Point on the south side. This was such a nice little hike that was around 2.5 miles round trip, nicely shaded, with about 385′ of elevation gain. The trail offers a bunch of different views of the Upper Falls and culminates at Artist Point. It’s a perfect trail to take your time on, which we did, often, because three kids aged 6-12.

Brink of the Lower Falls
Brink of the Lower Falls
Brink of the Lower Falls
This sign is at the Brink of the Lower Falls
View of the Upper Falls along the trail. The people standing at the top are at the Brink of the Upper Falls viewing area.
This trail has beautiful views the entire way that were able to keep the kids engaged.
Views of the canyon at Artist Point
View of Lower Falls from Artist Point
Lower Falls from Artist Point
This trail was perfect for a hot day as it’s mostly shaded and because we started early, it wasn’t very busy.

After the hike, we drove to Lake Village on Yellowstone Lake so the kids could splash around in the water and float around in our packrafts. This was a lovely way to beat the heat and check out an area of the park we had never been to before.

This beach was right across from the gorgeous, 1920s era Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which for some reason, I did not take any pictures of. We picked up sandwiches and drinks from their takeout cafe and enjoyed a late lunch with a view of Yellowstone Lake.

As this was our fourth visit to Yellowstone and our friends’ first, we told them to drive to wherever they wanted and we’d follow. This made for an extremely enjoyable visit, as there was no planning, no agenda, and no list to check off.

The next morning, our friend stopped at our campsite to say goodbye. They were off to Teton and we moved on to our next site not too far way on the Yellowstone River.

Fun Fact: Our friends, Eric & Abby, are the only people to have ever stayed with us in the Airstream. In February of 2018, just a few weeks after we started full timing, they flew out to meet us in Death Valley.

It was after this trip that we realized that the Airstream is just a little too small to accommodate anyone other than the two of us, which is why we had no qualms about replacing the table that could convert to a bed with a couch and the bench seat that could convert to a bed with a desk.

After spending a few nights in Yellowstone, I was able to secure two nights at Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park in Livingston on short notice. This RV park is very popular and very busy (for good reason — it’s great), so I was very happy that they could get us in for a few nights. We tried for four nights, but, not surprisingly, they were booked for the July 4th holiday.

Campground Stats

Name: Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park

Address: 3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047

Website: www.yellowstonesedgervpark.com

Dates Stayed: July 2 – 4, 2021

Site: 37

Rate: $68; 10% off with Good Sam

Amenities:

  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Waterfront Back-In Sites (Yellowstone River)
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Gameroom
  • Store
  • Community Fire Pit
  • RV Storage
  • Picnic Table

We stayed at Yellowstone’s Edge last spring/summer for more than five weeks while we were in the process of buying our condo in Bozeman. Click here for a detailed account of that stay.

During our brief 2-night stay, we were in a pull-through site that had a nice tree for shade and still had a view of the Yellowstone River. Actually, they did a great job of planning the layout of this park so that pretty much every site can see the river, at least a little bit.

Seeing as it was still crazy hot, we didn’t check out any of the great hikes in the area. We again patronized Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ, which is right up the road, as well as grab some breakfast items from Wildflour Bakery, which is right next door to Follow Yer’ Nose. We also went to brunch at the nearby Sage Lodge, which is a luxury resort and spa that’s worth a visit.

While trying to figure where to head next, I kept striking out when trying to find a place for us to stay for two nights over the holiday. After our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, we ended up settling for the fairgrounds in Bozeman.

Campground Stats

Name: Gallatin County Fairgrounds

Address: 901 N Black Ave, Bozeman, MT 59715

Website: www.gallatincountyfairgrounds.com

Dates Stayed: July 4 – 6, 2021

Site: 2B

Rate: $40

Amenities:

  • FHU (kind of) Sites ($40)
  • Electric Only Sites ($35)
  • Dry Sites ($20)

Besides the different hookup options, there really are no other amenities to speak of. You do not have access to restrooms. There is not a dump station. There are not picnic tables. The sites are narrow, though fine for our Airstream; when you involve slides is when things feel cramped. The sites are also very unlevel from back to front — we had the front end of our Airstream jacked up as high as it would go. The hookups are not conveniently located. They are at the back of the sites and a good distance away for every other site. We were not able to hook up our water, which was fine, because we had filled our tank at Yellowstone’s Edge prior to coming based on other’s reviews. We were able to hook up our sewer hose, but needed our extension hose. Also, because of how high the connection sat off the ground and due to how slanted the sites are from back to front, it was literally an uphill battle. We had to ‘walk’ the contents of our tanks down the hose many times in order to empty them — it was definitely a 2-person job! Unless a sewer hookup is paramount, I would say that it makes more sense to save $5/night and go with an electric-only site. There is also no camp host onsite, so no supervision, which meant that the night of the 4th saw fireworks being lit off a mere 100 yards away from us. That, plus train and road noise made for two not-so-quiet nights. In order to ward off permanent residents, they do have a rule that you can only stay for 10 nights in any 30-day period. Also, there are no refunds. Once you make the reservation, which you have to call to do, you pay in full and will not receive a refund if you need to cancel. So, I would say the fairgrounds are fine for a night or two, or for a last resort. The reality is is that even though Bozeman is an outdoor paradise, there are not a lot of great options for RVs, probably because of how short the season is. We’ve stayed at two other RV parks in town — Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and Bozeman Trail Campground — click on those to read more about other options in the Bozeman area.

Sites are gravel back-ins that are fairly narrow.
As you can see by how high our front end (and our neighbor’s) is jacked up, the sites are very unlevel back to front.
The electric hookup was very reachable for us, but the sewer connection sits high and a curb needs to be traversed to reach it — gravity does not work in this situation.
There are two connectors on that water spigot and one of them is for us; however, it was too far way to reach it.
The deets.

The fairgrounds is within walking distance of the Cannery District, so we walked over there one night for dinner. We got sushi at Seven and stopped for a drink at Wild Rye Distilling. The Cannery District was once home to the Bozeman Canning Company, which opened in 1918, and canned peas (among other veggies) that were grown in Gallatin Valley, which was once known as the “pea capital of the nation” as it produced 75% of the country’s crop.

After two nights in Bozeman, we set off to Missoula, where we spent two nights before moving onto Glacier National Park. I had booked the two nights at Jim & Mary’s RV Park back when I made the reservation for Glacier’s Fish Creek Campground in January, so no scrambling needed to find a place to stay for those nights.

Campground Stats

Name: Jim & Mary’s RV Park

Address: 9800 US Hwy 93 N, Missoula, MT 59808

Website: www.jimandmarys.com

Dates Stayed: July 6 – 8, 2021

Site: A14

Rate: $49.81; 10% off with Good Sam

Amenities:

  • FHU
  • Cable
  • Wifi
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Store
  • Live Music

Jim & Mary’s is a nicely manicured, well maintained private RV park in Missoula. It gets rave reviews on various platforms, like Campendium, so we were expecting something phenomenal. For us, it was just another nice little RV park. I don’t think I’ve iterated enough how hot it was traveling throughout July around Montana. It was hot. And we were really hoping to have a shady site when we pulled into Jim & Mary’s, because of that heat and because so many pictures of the property showed these lovely, towering trees. But we didn’t get one. In fact, our site was the very last site in the whole park to be cast into shade at the end of the day. Literally, the last one. If we had had one of the sites on the interior of the park where all of the trees are, we probably would also rave about this park. But we didn’t. So, hot tip: Request a site with shade. Or a back-in site, because those seemed to be the best sites. The park is well located halfway between Bozeman and Glacier NP, right off I-90. There is a train that passes a few times a day, so you have that noise plus a little road noise from the nearby Interstate to deal with. Though, this may be because we were on the edge of the park. A more interior site might not experience any noise. The grounds really are well manicured with beautiful flowers and lawn displays throughout. It’s a quiet park as far as other campers go and while there seem to be quite a few permanent or long-term residents, their sites/RVs are well kept.

Our site was a pull-thru with the hookups well located.
The sites are a little unlevel, but definitely manageable.
See all of those trees?! That’s what we were hoping for with our site.

Due to the heat, we did not do much while in Missoula. We drove around a bit, checked out where you can surf the river, drove out to the KettleHouse Amphitheater, and got groceries. This was our second brief stay in the Missoula area — you can read about our first here.

Off to Glacier National Park!

This was our third visit to Glacier National Park but our first time staying in the park. To read about our previous visits and stays outside of the park, follow these links for our visits in July 2018 and August 2019.

Campground Stats

Name: Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park

Address: Fish Creek Campground Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: July 8 – 12, 2021

Site: B45

Rate: $23.00; $11.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Dry Camping
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Flush Toilets
  • Recycling and Trash
  • Unthreaded Water Spigots
  • Fire Pit
  • Picnic Table
  • Dump Station with Potable Water
  • Some Lakefront Sites
  • Decent Cell Signal at Site

Fish Creek Campground is one of four campgrounds in Glacier National Park that is reservation only. Unlike when I made reservations at Colter Bay CG in Teton and Mammoth CG in Yellowstone, I did not get my first pick of site when I reserved, nor did I get a reservation for the length of time we desired. Even though I was online and ready to go the moment sites became available, I had to grab whatever site I could for the duration I could get it. Of the 180 sites in Fish Creek, just 18 sites will accommodate a rig up to 35′ and an additional 62 will fit a 27′. Essentially half the sites would not fit us, so thankfully I had entered our Airstream length into the search parameters beforehand.

We ended up with a (mostly) great site! Site B45 is a mostly shady, pull-thru site with a length limit of 27′. Our trailer is technically 28′ and I’d have to agree with the 27′ max. However, we had a heck of a time getting into our spot and then, five days later, getting out of our spot due to an errant tree stump, that if removed, would make this site A LOT more accessible. We also had to limit our electricity usage, as this site was pretty shady and our solar was only able to recharge our batteries 8%-10% every day. When we pulled out on day 5, our batteries were at 45% (which is totally fine for lithium batteries). Our site had a lovely fire pit and picnic table area that was set up a little higher than the Airstream and offered a lot of privacy due to no other sites being behind us — just lots of trees. There are plenty of unthreaded water spigots throughout the campground with which to fill pots/jugs. I can’t comment on the dump station because we didn’t use it and I never saw it.

While it looks nice and sunny, we only got sun on our panels for a few hours a day while it was directly overhead.
Our site was fantastic, even if it was difficult to get in and out of.
The fire pit was to the back of the site up a little incline, making it nice and private.
Super private!
Lots of trees from which to hang the hammock to relax and read a book!
The aforementioned tree stump, that if removed, would give an extra 4-5 feet to work with side to side while maneuvering in and out of the site.

In order to enter Glacier National Park this year at West Glacier, St. Mary, or via the Camas Road (the three entrances that give you access to Going to the Sun Road), from May 28 – September 6, you needed to have an entry ticket in addition to a park pass. If you had a service reservation such as a campground stay, boat tour, or bus tour, you were able to access the park at those three entrances for the day(s) of your reservation. Otherwise, entrance into the park was allowed before 6am and after 5pm without a ticket. You did not need a ticket to enter the park at Polebridge, Two Medicine, or Many Glacier at any time during the season. The tickets were available on Recreation.gov 60 days in advance, with more being released 48 hours in advance. This was the first year Glacier did a ticketed entry system and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not the last. The tickets allowed for less traffic throughout the park, especially at the entrance stations. The park was short-staffed in many areas, including food service, which meant multiple establishments weren’t open this season. Having a ticketed entry, which essentially controlled the number of people that were allowed to come into the park, took pressure off of areas that needed the relief. Driving along Going to the Sun Road was much more enjoyable with the noticeable decrease in traffic, and while it was still hard to find a parking space at many popular areas, we weren’t competing with as many cars.

Hikes

We knew the wildfire smoke was going to start to be an issue in the coming days, so we made sure to to do our longest hike on our first full day.

Highline Trail

The Highline Trail starts in the Logan Pass area across the street from the Visitor Center. This is a very busy area of the park, so plan accordingly. However, we arrived around 11am on Friday, July 9th and were able to (luckily) find a parking spot. This is an out and back trail that’s labeled 15.2 miles if you take it all the way to the Granite Park Chalet. You can also continue past the Chalet, but this seems to be where most people turn around. The Garden Wall Trail is less than a half mile before the Chalet. If you take this detour, you’ll find an approximately 1-mile trail with almost 1,000 feet of gain to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. The Highline Trail itself isn’t very difficult as it’s quite flat. We dealt with a lot of bugs, so be prepared for that. If you have an issue with heights, this may not be the trail for you, however. When we read reviews of the trail beforehand, everyone talked about the beginning portion of the trail where there is a cable installed on the cliff wall in an area where the trail is narrow and has steep drop-offs. This portion only lasts about a third-mile, which felt doable for me, even though I’m not good with heights. What many reviews failed to mention was that much of the trail has steep drop-offs and isn’t very wide. I have height-induced vertigo, so this trail was not the most enjoyable for me, as I felt a bit dizzy most of the time. So, due to that and the fact we got a late start, we ended up turning around at Haystack Pass. Our total distance was 7 and two-thirds miles with a little under 1,000′ of overall gain.

Here is the cables portion at the beginning of the trail, though this was taken at the end of the hike. You can see the narrowness and the steepness, as that’s Going to the Sun Road below us, which follows the trail from below a good distance.
This is what most of the trail looks like — narrow with steep drop offs.
Beautiful views throughout, though you can see that the smoke is starting to come in as it’s a little bit hazy.
One of the more scenic places we’ve eaten lunch!
Because it’s been such a dry summer, we were surprised at how green everything was!
We met some friends along the way…
Momma mountain goat with her babe!
Mr. Majestic

We had originally planned to do the Grinnell Glacier or Iceberg Lake hike on the east side of the park, but ended up opting against it. We had done Iceberg Lake in the past, but later in the season when there were no longer icebergs on the lake, which there would be this time of year. We’ve never done Grinnell Glacier, but want to make sure to see it before it melts. However, by our second full day in the park, it had gotten quite smokey. We didn’t want to make the long trek from the west side of the park to the east side to do either of these longer hikes when conditions were going to be less than ideal. We’ll keep those hikes for out next visit, during which, we’ll stay on the east side of the park which will make access easier.

Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake is a 4.6-mile out and back, though a little distance can be added if you continue along the lake. We did this same hike two years ago and did not remember it having as much elevation gain as it does. There’s about 750′ of gain overall. It’s a beautiful hike that’s quite popular and starts at the Trail of the Cedars trailhead. The Trail of the Cedars is an easy 1-mile loop trail that is wheelchair and stroller accessible, with a number of benches throughout, making it a great trail for all skill levels. Once you make it about halfway through the Trail of the Cedars loop, you’ll find the trail that continues on to Avalanche Lake. Both of these trails are pretty shaded, which was great for the hot days we had while we were in Glacier. As this is another very popular area, it took us a bit to find a parking spot on the morning of July 11, which was a Sunday. We eventually found a spot and got on the trail at 10:30am. There’s also a restroom with flush toilets and sinks, which is a nice change from the pit toilets you find along most other trails.

Trail of the Cedars
Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche Gorge along the Trail of the Cedars
Avalanche Lake
Avalanche Lake – 2021 (with smoke)
Avalanche Lake – 2019 (without smoke)
The Avalanche Lake trail is beautiful and runs along side the creek.
Look at that water!

Rocky Point

We had noticed signs in our campground for the trail to Rocky Point, so we decided to check it out. While the park lists it as a .9-mile out and back, we somehow made this trail a 1.78-mile loop. It does culminate at Rocky Point, where you get beautiful views of Lake McDonald. This was a nice little hike that didn’t involve us having to drive anywhere, so that’s a win in our book!

Johns Lake Loop and Upper McDonald Creek Trail to McDonald Falls

This trail went a little bit off the rails for us, but ended up being a nice little surprise. We started out on the Johns Lake Loop trail, which is supposed to be a 2-mile loop. We ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere, and it turned it into a 4-mile meander instead. We did make various loops, and found ourselves backtracking at times, crossing a bridge, and even walking along what was clearly meant to be a trail for horses.

On the left is what the route is supposed to be, according to AllTrails. On the right is what we actually did.

If you follow the actual loop, I think this trail is a nice little jaunt. If you want to bypass the Johns Lake portion, then the Upper McDonald Creek Trail to McDonald Falls, which is good for all skill levels, is only .6 to a mile round trip depending on where you park. This fairly unpopulated trail takes you right to the top of the Falls. In no particular order, here are a few sights you may see somewhere along along the Johns Lake Loop Trail, or not, ’cause who knows if we were on the trail when some of them were taken?:

Things to Do

Of source, we made sure to get our packrafts into Lake McDonald a couple of times. This was easy to do seeing as Fish Creek Campground is located right on the Lake and has a nice picnic area with great lake access (and cell signal!). There are also restrooms with flush toilets at the picnic area.

We also stopped at Red Rocks while we were driving around one day. This is an area with a cool, clean turquoise pool where you’ll find people jumping from the large rock formations. *Jump at your own risk.* It’s a nice area within the park to sit by the water, relax, and soak up the sun.

Other activities within the park include boat tours and the famous red bus tours. Outside the park, there’s whitewater rafting, highline courses, zip lining and other adventure-related activities. Everyone should be able to find something to do at this park, even if it just means driving along Going to the Sun Road and stopping at viewpoints along the way. The Road is an adventure in itself and the views include mountaintops, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, glaciers, and wildlife. **Make sure to know your vehicle’s specs. Anything longer than 21′ (including bumpers), wider than 8′ (including mirrors, so fold those large mirrors in), and taller than 10′ is prohibited. There are some pretty steep grades, tight switchbacks, and low-hanging rock formations that make this road a no-go for large vehicles. Also, each spring, you can bike Going to the Sun Road as far as it is open (plowed) without having to worry about vehicle traffic. There are plenty of bike rental companies located on both the west and east sides of the park that can supply all of the necessary gear and info.

Food & Drink

Whenever we’re in West Glacier, we make sure to stop and get a burrito the size of our heads from The Wandering Gringo. Glacier Distilling Company is also right outside the West Entrance. Within the park, things were a little different this year. I believe all food was takeout only this year. We picked up lunch a few times from the Lake McDonald Lodge, but other than that, we ate at our site.

After our 4-night stay in the park, we moved on to the West Glacier KOA for a 3-night stay. After a lot of dry camping at different national parks, we wanted to luxuriate with full hookups, a pool, and an onsite restaurant. Like many popular places, this KOA was basically completely booked a year in advance. At first, I was only able to secure a 1-night stay, but I kept diligently checking their website. About four months before our visit, I found a site that had three nights available and snapped it up. This would be our second stay at the West Glacier KOA — you can read about the first here. Check out at Fish Creek Campground was noon and check in at the KOA was 3pm, so we had a little time to kill before we showed up to try to get into our site. There’s plenty of parking for RVs at the Apgar Visitor Center. We parked there, ate lunch, walked around, and then headed over to the KOA about an hour early to see if we could check in. Thankfully, we had no issues checking in early.

Campground Stats

Name: West Glacier KOA Resort

Address: 355 Halfmoon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

Website: www.koa.com

Dates Stayed: July 12 – 15, 2021

Site: 130

Rate: $112.89; 10% off with KOA Membership (We also used $50 in KOA Rewards)

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fire Pits
  • RV Sites with Tent Pads
  • 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 was a pull-thru with FHU and a tree for shade, which was great, seeing as this was the least treed area of the campground.
There’s a nice little nature trail that winds through the woods along the edge of the property.

We really enjoyed our stay here two years ago, and one of the reasons why is that they have an onsite restaurant for those days you just don’t feel like cooking after a long day of exploring. The nightly site rate for this KOA is one of the highest we’ve paid, but we were able to help offset that with fairly affordable meals, many of which we shared. We were pretty disappointed to see that they had raised the prices dramatically since our last stay. The first picture below is this years menu; the second pic is from two years ago. Someone had mentioned there’s a new owner, which I didn’t confirm, so that might be why.

Because we had already hiked and explored the park while we stayed at Fish Creek Campground and because the wildfire smoke was really starting to settle into the area, we didn’t go anywhere during our stay at the KOA except to get gas the day before we left. We went to the adults-only pool every day, we went for walks around the property every day, and even though it was hot, we did enjoy one or two campfires.

We had originally planned to stay at a Harvest Host in Missoula on our way back to Bozeman, but it was too hot to be without an electric hookup. So, we opted to change up our route and drive through Helena instead. We booked one night at the Helena North KOA, which ended up being a better option than staying at a Harvest Host. This would be our last night in the Airstream for a little bit, so we were able to dump and flush our tanks properly, so everything would be all set for returning to the storage unit when we got back to Bozeman.

Campground Stats

Name: Helena North KOA Journey

Address: 850 Lincoln Rd W, Helena, MT 59602

Website: www.koa.com

Dates Stayed: July 15 – 16, 2021

Site: 47

Rate: $64.00; 10% off with KOA Membership

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Long, Level Pull-Thrus
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Camp Store/Gift Shop
  • Propane Fill
  • Dog Park
  • Dump Station
The sites are long and level, with good placement of hookups. The ‘yards’ between sites are quite narrow, however, so you’re fairly close to your neighbor.

This was our second stay at this KOA. This visit was just a 1-night pitstop, but last time we stayed for a week on our way up to crossing into Canada. To read about that stay when we were able to explore the area, click here.

From Helena, we drove back to Bozeman where we parked the Airstream in our storage unit and checked into a hotel for the night. We had an early morning flight the next day to Wisconsin, where we spent 10 days with family and friends before flying back to Bozeman and returning to our condo.

It was a glorious spring and summer spent in some of our favorite places in the country!

 

Here’s a breakdown of costs for this kind of trip, which consisted of 28 nights total:

Over more than 11oo miles of driving, we spent about $350 on gas. That’s just getting from one stay to the next; not the gas we used while exploring.

We spent a total of $976.85 on site fees, including taxes and reservation fees, which comes to an average of $34.89/night. That’s a little more than we would like to spend, but there were a few expensive nights where we splurged. We try to utilize free nights at Harvest Hosts when we’re driving from one place to the next, but it was just too hot for that on this trip. The amount in the parenthesis below is per night cost.

  • 4 nights – Private RV Parks/Campgrounds ($57.76 avg)
  • 4 nights – KOA ($85.34 avg)
  • 2 nights – Fairgrounds ($41.43)
  • 18 nights – National Park Campgrounds ($17.87 avg)

However, because we rented our condo out for the month of July, the rental income covered all site costs 100%, even after subtracting the mortgage payment.

 

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 curvy 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 curvy, 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!

 

 

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!

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