I’m Not Even Sure What to Say About 2020

Where to begin?

Every year I like to write a post that wraps up the previous year’s travels with a proverbial bow, reliving all of the joy and wonderment we experienced. You can see how this is usually a fun little project by checking out the posts for 2018 and 2019. Obviously, this year is different. Like, so, so different.

We started the year spending the winter in the San Diego area as full-time Airstreamers and ended the year living in a condo in Bozeman, Montana. To say things took an unexpected turn is a bit of an understatement. I know that COVID-19 affected the life of pretty much every one on the planet, in a wide range of ways. We are so very grateful to be able to say that, as of this post, we have not personally experienced the virus, or lost loved ones to it. We know there are so many that can’t say the same, and our hearts hurt for the pain and loss others have experienced during this time. We know it’s still going to be a long road for our community, our country, and our planet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic that 2021 will eventually bring some health and happiness.

Besides the isolation, frustration, and disappointment that the pandemic brought to our lives, we also had to deal with the loss of our third amigo, our travel buddy, our faithful canine companion — Max. We said goodbye to Max on February 25th, just two days shy of his 15th birthday. When we first started our full-time travel life, we were so unsure how well Max would adapt. It turns out there was no need to worry, because he was the BEST Airstream dog. He slept through travel days like a champ and preferred so stay ‘home’ whenever Travis and I would venture out. The strangeness of not having a dog around after 15 years was compounded by the weirdness of the early days of the pandemic. Ten months later, and we still miss him dearly, but the thought of him no longer triggers a twinge in the heart.

So, yeah, 2020 hasn’t been the most enjoyable year, but we did have some good times and we were able to travel to some great places. Let’s look at some of that joy and wonderment we DID get to experience.

We travelled 4,608 miles across nine states — California, Nevada, Utah, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Dakota. Our longest travel day (which we’ll never do again) was 738 miles (you can read about that here) and our shortest travel day was 19 miles. We averaged $36.78/night for site fees, which is almost $10 less per night than 2019, so, yay us!

Michigan was the only new state we added to our travel map this year, making it our 20th state that we’ve ventured to with the Airstream. We were very happy to be able to spend some time in Michigan in fall — such a great time to be in the area!

While we had originally planned to visit a number of new National Park Service sites this year, we were able to make it to only eight, with four being new and four being return visits.

The four new sites were:

Capitol Reef National Park

Check out more from our visit to Capitol Reef here.

Voyageurs National Park

Our visit to Voyageurs makes 19 national parks visited thus far! Check out more from our visit to Voyageurs here.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Pictured Rocks here.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Check out more from our visit to Apostle Islands here.

The other four sites we were able to revisit were:

Zion National Park

Due to the pandemic, the only exploring we did of Zion during this time was to take a drive up the canyon, which is usually closed to vehicles, but was open because the shuttles weren’t running.

Check out more about our visit to Zion here. Read more about our previous visit here and here.

Yellowstone National Park

Check out more from our visit to Yellowstone here. Read more about our previous visit here.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Check out more about our visit to Roosevelt NP here. Read about our previous visit here.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 

Check out more about our visit to Little Bighorn here. Read about our previous visit here.

But our year wasn’t just about the parks! Take a look at some of the other things that brought us joy this year –>

We visited some of the ‘World’s Largest’ statues:

We ran into some interesting creatures in the Anza-Borrego Desert:

We tried a new sport:

We were able to meet up with a handful of other full timers:

We enjoyed some beach days and amazing sunsets:

Pre-pandemic, we were able to spend time with some of our favorite people:

And when we didn’t think it was going to happen, we ended up being able to spend some safe, socially distanced time with family:

The pandemic forced us to change our travel plans for 2020 (goodbye, hard-earned FL state park reservations!), so we made a decision. A big one. Even though the RV lifestyle somewhat prepared us for pandemic life (you can read about that here), it didn’t make sense for us to stay on the road. After dealing with multiple reservation cancellations and watching things close as the case numbers rose, we decided that the best thing for us was to get off the road and settle down for the time being. One of the best parts of full timing is not only exploring the natural wonders of our country, but also meeting new people along the way and checking out things in each city we visit — restaurants, museums, community events, etc. With all of these things closed, traveling just wasn’t that enjoyable. And we wanted to make sure we stayed healthy. So, we purchased a condo in Bozeman, Montana in July. Read more about what led to that decision here.

We’ve been enjoying safely exploring our new city:

And we’re learning to embrace winter (kind of):

But probably the weirdest thing to happen to us personally in 2020, is our appearance on HGTV’s House Hunters!

We filmed the episode in August and it aired in December. It highlighted our transition from full-time travel to part-time condo living. It was an interesting and tiring experience!

Which brings me to what’s next for us:

We plan to continue to travel in the Airstream — A LOT. It’s nice to have a home base to return to when we need a break or something comes up, but we miss being on the road. We’ll get back out there once we feel comfortable doing so, which for us means when we’re both vaccinated. It’s been nice to take a pause and enjoy some of the things you give up when you live tiny, such as a kingsize bed, a dishwasher, a washer & dryer, and easy access to our mail, medical care, and good grocery stores. There’s still so much left to explore! And we aren’t really cold winter people, so we’re looking forward to seeking out warmth in the coming winters.

We’re wishing everyone a safe and healthy 2021! Hopefully, we’ll see you somewhere out there!

 

A Long Haul Across North Dakota, with a Harvest Hosts Stay and Some Roadside Attractions

We woke up on the morning of September 24th at Woodenfrog Campground near Voyageurs National Park in Northern Minnesota and made the 5-hour drive to our stop for that night — 4e Winery, a Harvest Host in eastern North Dakota. If you’re unfamiliar with Harvest Hosts, check out their website here, and if you’re interested in signing up, use this link to receive 20% off your membership before 12/31/20, or 15% thereafter. Harvest Hosts are a great way to save some money as you travel!

This Harvest Hosts is a particularly popular one, and we were thankful they had room for us. Even though the winery was closed on the day of our stay, Lisa allowed us, along with three other RVs, to stay and opened the tasting room for us. We made sure to thank her for her hospitality by purchasing a bottle of wine. They have a large, level open field for RVs to park in, and besides the hundreds (thousands?) of crickets jumping around, it was a very peaceful evening.

When we woke up the next morning, we had no idea that we had just spent our last night on the road for the year. We still had almost 750 miles to go until we got back to Bozeman. However, the weather the next few days wasn’t looking promising for safe driving due to forecasted high winds, so we decided to start early and keep on driving as far as we felt like we could.

The winery is located in Mapleton, North Dakota, which is barely over the eastern border of the state from Minnesota. Our route would take us entirely along I-94 until it met up with I-90 in Billings, Montana. Anyone who has driven in this area knows that driving across North Dakota from one end to the other is not the most exciting — sorry, North Dakota. However, there are some nice/quirky places to stop along the way. I don’t know if North Dakota is trying to compensate for something, but this route is home to three ‘World’s Largest’ statues: Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND; Sandy, the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND; and Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, ND. (DO NOT attempt to tow a trailer up to see Salem Sue.) We made sure to also incorporate getting gas, eating, stretching our legs, and ‘freshening up’ during these stops.

 

When you continue west along I-94, almost to the western border of North Dakota, you’ll eventually come to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, which is a national park visitor center and rest area all in one. From here, you get panoramic views of the Park’s badlands and have access to hiking trails. Of course, there are also restrooms, picnic shelters, and vending machines, as well as visitor center things like park info, exhibits, and a gift shop/bookstore. It’s a great place to stop for a bit, even if you don’t have time to go into the park and explore (which we were able to do last year).

Once we crossed the border into Montana, we decided we could make it the rest of the way to Bozeman and kept on trucking. Seeing as we had been without hookups the previous two nights, we stopped at Cabela’s in Billings to dump our tanks, which took way too long because someone parked too close to the dump station. From there, it should’ve taken us a little more than two hours to get home, but thanks to wind, rain, darkness and traversing Bozeman Pass in the wind, rain, and darkness, it took almost three.

We finally pulled into our parking lot at about 9:15pm (more than 14 hours after leaving Mapleton), spent 30-40 minutes unloading the important stuff, grabbed some food, showered, and went to bed. It was a very, very long day that we never want to experience again, but at least we now know that we can make a lot of ground if needed.

A Second Visit to 7th Ranch RV Camp

In early September, we decided to take a trip to Wisconsin to visit family. We had been in our condo in Bozeman for about two months and were getting a tad bit restless, so after the very last item we had ordered for our new place arrived, we hitched up and hit the road.

The bulk of the drive from Bozeman east to Wisconsin is along I-90 East, and anyone that has driven this stretch of Interstate knows that it’s not the most exciting. And seeing as this would not be our first time driving this route, we knew it would be even less exciting for us. However, Garryowen, Montana is a good (almost) halfway point between Bozeman and Rapid City, which was to be our next stop.

Garryowen is tiny and there isn’t much of a town to speak of, but Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is located a couple miles north in Crow Agency, Montana. The monument educates about a very important time period in our country’s history and is a very worthwhile stop. A visit can be accomplished in a few hours time.

We stayed at 7th Ranch RV Camp and visited the monument in July 2018, which you can read about and see photos of here.

I’ll add a few things about both 7th Ranch RV Camp and Little Bighorn Battlefield that weren’t highlighted in that post or have changed since our last visit:

  • When you make a reservation at 7th Ranch, they don’t take a deposit or any personal information. They just ask that if you aren’t going to make it, to call. This is great for people that like to change their minds or have a last-minute change of plans for some reason. However, it makes the check-in process longer than necessary, especially when multiple RVs show up at the same time. We waited 25 minutes to check in on a very hot day when we were fifth in line. If they took a little more info over the phone, this process could be sped up.
  • While the sites are nice, long pull-thrus, our site was very unlevel side to side and required three layers of levelers to get us to an acceptable place.

  • The visitor center at Little Bighorn is currently closed due to COVID. They have also blocked off every other parking spot in order to minimize the amount of visitors at a time.

  • If you travel with dogs, this might not be a stop for you. There are signs posted that dogs are not allowed outside of vehicles. I’m assuming this is because of the nature of this monument and the fact that a large part of the property is a veteran cemetery.

 

Why We Decided to Stop Traveling Full Time

925 days.

16,807 miles.

19 states.

96 different overnight site locations.

2 countries.

18 national parks.

 

Listing the stats of our full-time travel as above reminds us of how much we’ve experienced and how far we’ve traveled, though our last few months on the road have felt anything but adventurous.

When the seriousness of COVID was realized in March, we had just left Southern California where we had spent the winter. We were at a state park in Southern Nevada and had an amazing itinerary ahead of us: Some fantastic state parks in Southeastern Nevada; the Mighty 5 in Utah; Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado; a brief stay in the Rapid City area for a doctor’s appointment; and then on to Minnesota and Wisconsin to spend time with family and celebrate holidays, a high school graduation, sporting events, and birthdays. We were then going to explore more of Wisconsin, the state we grew up in. We also had a large part of our winter mapped out, and we were finally going to hit the Southeast and East Coast: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc. We researched and planned and mapped and reserved sites the day they become available, anywhere from 6 to 13 months in advance. We woke up a handful of mornings before 5am in California to book sites that became available at 8am in Florida. We. Had. A. Plan.

And then it got blown up.

State parks started to close. Then national parks. Then counties and states started imposing non-resident travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. When a lot of our full-timing cohorts got off the road to shelter in place with family, we stayed out there. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, so we stayed as socially distant as possible and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t receive a knock on the door, email, or phone call saying we needed to move on because our current location was closing. After three reservations in a row were cancelled, we finally found a private RV park in Torrey, Utah to settle in for a month while we regrouped and figured out our next move. The uncertainty was uncomfortable. We felt in our gut that COVID was sticking around for a while and questioned whether we wanted to continue traveling during a time when the best thing to do is stay home as much as possible.

And we decided we didn’t.

We didn’t want to keep traveling at this time for a handful of reasons, some of which became more apparent as the weeks and months went by:

  • Above all, we wanted to stay healthy. And we wanted those around us to stay healthy.
  • It just wasn’t that fun to be on the road during a pandemic. People always asked us how long we were going to live this lifestyle, and our reply was always we’d stop when we didn’t enjoy it anymore. We weren’t enjoying it much, mainly for the reasons listed below.
  • It’s too damn busy out there now. A number of people around the country have turned to RVing as their preferred way to travel this summer. It’s wonderful that families are finding new ways to vacation and spend time together, but the huge uptick in RV sales and rentals means there are a lot fewer places to stay. And crowds. Campgrounds that are usually nowhere near capacity are now booked with a line out the gate waiting to get a site. A lot of people are visiting national parks during their travels, many for their first time – and they’re trashing them. Vandalism, trash, avoidable run-ins with wildlife, and human excrement have now become common place.
  • In our experience, many people aren’t being as cautious as they should be. This makes us incredibly uncomfortable and reinforces the importance of finding a safe place where we can live comfortably and keep ourselves healthy. Wear a mask and distance yourself from others whenever possible!
  • We knew when we decided to live in an Airstream we were giving up space. However, we were perfectly fine with that knowing that in return, we’d be visiting beautiful places and having some pretty great experiences. Well, when there’s a pandemic and it’s best to stay home, that once quaint and cozy small space feels smaller.

So, friends, we bought a condo in Bozeman, Montana. We had spent time in Bozeman the last two summers and really enjoyed our visits. We’ve been fond of our travels through Montana in general, and in fact, Montana is the state we’ve spent the most time in outside of California (where we would spend the winter months).

Why Bozeman?

We love its location. Three national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier – are all within a 5-6 hour drive. Bozeman is a very outdoors-oriented town, catering to hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and various other outdoor activities. Montana’s busiest airport is in Bozeman, which is important for when business trips become a thing again. While the cost of living is higher here than in other parts of the country, we find it affordable after living in San Diego County for seven years. When considering a place to settle down, we always wanted to make sure it was somewhere where we wouldn’t have to sell the Airstream due to budget constraints. Bozeman also has some great restaurants and breweries, and is incredibly dog friendly, if we ever decide to get another pupper. Also, Bozeman residents seem to be very active and welcoming. Have I mentioned that Bozeman is beautiful? From the cute downtown to the endless trails and green spaces to the mountains in all directions, the landscape really sold us.

What does this mean?

Well, it means we will no longer be living in an Airstream full time. Instead, we’ll be spending part of the year in our spacious-to-us 1100ft2 two bed, two bath condo with doors that offer privacy, a large fridge, a washer & dryer, and a king-size bed. We will definitely still travel in the Airstream as much as we can. In spite of the reasons we chose to stop full timing, we still love it and can’t imagine not traveling. There are so many places we want to visit and revisit! We’ll wait until life returns to normal a bit, and we’re able to enjoy the things we loved about full timing — meeting new people, checking out new restaurants & breweries, visiting national parks & museums, and lots and lots of hiking. So, our Airstream travel is paused for a bit, but it will continue! Who knows, we might even go back to full timing.

Stay safe and healthy!

 

Bozeman Hot Springs Campground – Third Time’s A Charm

We returned to the campground at Bozeman Hot Springs (aka Bozeman Campground) for the third summer in a row this June. As stated in my previous post ‘Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana‘, there are only a few options in the Bozeman area for RVs and none are that great. Bozeman Campground is definitely the nicest of the options, but it’s also the most expensive. (I guess when you don’t have a lot of competition, you can charge whatever you want.) I’ve highlighted the campground amenities and local attractions in our previous posts regarding Bozeman (July 2018 and July 2019), so in this post I’m going to compare the different site options at Bozeman Campground.

A Row: These are tent sites and cost $42.95/night. Seeing as that’s usually an average price for an RV site, you can see already how expensive this campground is. The tent sites are a decent size, all grass, and have a fire pit & picnic table. No electricity.

B Row: We stayed in B6 for seven nights in June 2020. These are water and electric (30amp) only sites that are pull thru. They are labeled to range in length from 25-28 feet, though our Airstream (28′ from hitch to bumper) and truck fit fine with room to spare. There is an area available to park your tow vehicle if it doesn’t fit in your site. The sites are gravel, level-ish, and have a fire pit and picnic table. At $64.95/night, these are the least expensive sites for traditional RVs. We enjoyed our stay in this site and would book a site in this row for any future stays. There is a dump station available if you need to empty your tanks before, during, or after your stay.

Site B6

C Row: I have never seen a site in C Row available via the campground’s reservation system, so I’m not sure if you have to call in order to reserve a site here. These sites are gravel, back-in, full-hookup, 30-amp sites. They have a lot of trees overhead for shade and a large grassy area behind each site which is where the fire pits are located. They sit at a 90° angle to the road, so backing in is a little more challenging than other sites. Also, these are the closest sites to the hot springs, so there may be some noise from the pools.

G Row: We stayed in G0 for five nights and G4 for two nights, both in July 2019. When we stayed in it, G0 was a pull-thru site with lots of sun that they used as an emergency site. We we were supposed to stay in H row, but had an electrical issue there, so we spent our time in G0 instead. It appears that this year G0 is now a back in site, but I’m not sure if it’s still used as an emergency site or if it can be reserved. We also stayed in G4 for two nights and really enjoyed our stay here. The G row sites are super long pull throughs and actually have hookups at both ends, so you can decide what works best for where to park your rig. There is decent shade in this area as well, and the sites are very spacious with large green lawns between them. These sites are $74.95/night.

Site G0
Site G4
Site G4

H Row: We were supposed to spend five nights in H4 in July 2019, but had a hot skin issue after hooking up electricity. We don’t know if there was a ground issue with the electrical pedestal or if the fact that we were sitting in a huge puddle of water was the issue. Regardless, they moved us to G0. These sites are back-in, full-hookup sites, and seem pretty decent. These sites are also $74.95/night.

I Row: We have not stayed in I row, but these sites seem pretty comparable to H row. They are also back-in, full-hookup sites that are available for $74.95/night.

J Row: We stayed in site J6 for three nights in July 2018 and J7 for one night in July 2019. In our opinion, the J row sites are the worst sites the campground has to offer, which is disappointing, seeing as they are also $74.95/night. They are pull-thru, gravel sites with very snug ‘grassy’ areas that have a fire pit and picnic table. I say ‘grassy’ because weedy might be a better description. These sites don’t seem to get as much attention as other sites and really should be priced less. The B row water and electric sites are much nicer. There are hedges between the sites which offers some privacy from your neighbor, so there’s that, I guess.

J6
J7
J7

K Row: K row and the two L row sites are the only sites that have cement pads. We stayed in K2 for two nights in June 2020. These sites are very large and very long back ins and nice to be in during the rainy season (which ends early to mid-July) so you don’t have to deal with the mud the gravel sites might have. We had nice, green hedges behind us, so this site felt fairly private. These sites are the most expensive in the campground at $89.95/night.

Site K2
Site K2

L Row: There are actually only two L sites mixed amongst the sites in K row. They are water and electric only back-in sites that are quite small and best suited for vans or a small Class C. They are $49.95/night, which seems like a steal considering the tent sites aren’t much cheaper.

Bozeman Campground accepts Good Sam, so if you are a member, you will get 10% off your stay.

This year’s stay at Bozeman Campground in sites K2 and B6 was so much more enjoyable than the two previous years when we had a crappy site in 2018 and an electrical issue in 2019. We wish there was a more affordable option in the area, but the price does include entrance to the hot spring pools next door as well as breakfast every morning, which came in the form of a carryout brown bag this year due to COVID.

Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park – Livingston, MT

After spending a week at one of the worst places we’ve ever stayed (see previous post), we were over the moon when we pulled into Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park and saw how beautiful and well cared for it is. Yellowstone’s Edge is about 15 miles south of Livingston, Montana (where you’ll find a grocery store) and about 35 miles north of Gardiner, Montana (where you’ll find the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park). It’s nestled between the Yellowstone River —  with a number of sites backing right up to the river — and Highway 89, though the traffic noise is pretty minimal. We had originally reserved only a week long stay, but as soon as we pulled in, we decided to extend. We had no idea where we were headed next, and Yellowstone’s Edge seemed like a great place to hang out while we figured out our next destination. We actually extended our stay three times, and ultimately stayed 5.5 weeks from May 9th to June 16th. The owners of the park (fellow Airstreamers!) were super accommodating and did their best to not make us move sites multiple times. We did end up staying in three different sites, but they were all within a few sites of each other, making moving very easy.

Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park

3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047

www.yellowstonesedgervpark.com

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

While there’s no enclosed off-leash dog area, there is a lot of grass throughout the park and plenty of room to walk your four-legged friends, with a number of dog waste bag stations throughout. There’s no pool and no playground, so Yellowstone’s Edge doesn’t necessarily cater to kids, but I think they would still enjoy staying here.

When you make a reservation at Yellowstone’s Edge online, you actually are submitting a request for a reservation. There’s a spot on the request form where you can ask to be in a specific site or site type. After referring to their park map and looking at Google Satellite, I requested to be in one of their back-in south sites (S1-S12), as I thought they would have the best views. (I was right.) Someone from the park called to confirm our reservation and site type, and we were all set! This park is VERY popular during the summer, and we talked to more than one person that was spending at least three months there. We were very lucky to get in with only a week’s notice and be able to continue extending our stay.

We stayed in sites S3, S5, and S6 and site S6 is pictured above and below. They all had a little different view and were sized a little differently, but basically all the same quality.

Sometimes we stay at a park or campground for an entire month and never get our chairs out; other times we pull them out on the first day. This is a put-the-chairs-out-on-the-first-day-and-take-a-seat kind of place. We loved sitting by the river with a view of the mountains, watching all of the fly fishers floating down the river.

But don’t let those sunny pictures above fool you, it can definitely still snow in this area when it’s crazy hot in other parts of the country already. Yellowstone’s Edge’s season doesn’t start until May 1, and there’s good reason for that. Over Memorial Day Weekend, we woke up to snow!

The only other time our Airstream has seen snow was a year prior, in nearly the same area. We were in West Yellowstone towards the end of May and woke up to snow there one day as well — so be prepared!

It was calming to watch the snow fall and the birds feed at our neighbor’s bird feeders.

As quickly as the snow came, it was gone, and the lilacs and budding trees replaced it.

It was pretty great to be able to watch the sunset over the Yellowstone River and the mountains every night from our window!

Of course, the main draw for staying in this area is visiting Yellowstone National Park. When we arrived at Yellowstone’s Edge on May 9, the park was still completely shut down due to COVID-19. The south and east entrances (located in Wyoming) reopened on May 18. Due to Montana having a 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone that traveled from outside the state (both residents and nonresidents), the west, north, and northeast entrances (which are all located in Montana) didn’t reopen until the 14-day quarantine was lifted. On June 1, all entrances of the park were finally open and we were lucky to be able to start exploring the park via the north entrance (in Gardiner, MT) less than a half hour after it opened.

We went into the park three times during the remainder of our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, and were overjoyed at how few visitors there were. We have previously visited Yellowstone NP twice in the past two years, both during summer, and it’s usually crazy town — hard to park, selfie sticks everywhere, and large crowds at the most popular attractions. While we did see an increase in traffic throughout our visits, it was still incredibly enjoyable and easy to get around.

We made sure to visit some areas of the park we had never visited before, like Lamar Valley and the Lower Falls, and we returned to some we had previously seen, like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The last two times we visited, the Fairy Falls Trail that leads to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook was closed, so we made sure to take advantage of its accessibility this time.

Here are some pics from the park:

This park is such an interesting place and definitely worth a visit, but prepared for a lot of driving — like, a lot. The various sections of the park are very spread out and will require multiple hours in the car in order to explore. Probably the best way to visit Yellowstone is to stay near each entrance — or at least near the south, west, and north entrances — for a couple of days each.

There is still so much of Yellowstone that we have left to explore, but it will have to wait until our next visit!

Prior to Yellowstone opening, we did some nice hikes in the area that weren’t too far from Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park:

Pine Creek Falls – Pine Creek/Livingston Area

This is a 2.6-mile moderately difficult trail that starts just beyond the Pine Creek Campground in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in the Gallatin National Forest. There’s a decent size parking lot with pit toilets at the trailhead, but this is a very popular trail and other trails leave from the same area, so the earlier you start, the better. It’s a beautiful little hike with about 486′ of elevation gain that culminates at Pine Creek Falls. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say the trail culminates at the falls, as you can continue on beyond the falls to Pine Creek Lake, which is about 12 miles roundtrip.

In order to get to the trailhead, you have to drive through private land where cattle graze, so heed the signs that say, “Slow – Cows On Road.”

The Hogback (aka Hogback Ridge) – Pine Creek/Livingston Area

My Apple Watch logged 865′ of elevation gain and a little over 2.5 miles of distance, but there are varying accounts of how long this trail is, probably because it’s hard to know where the trail ends. That being said, this was such a fun hike — mainly because of these two:

This is Daizy and Boaz and this is their property. The Hogback Trail is on private property that the owners graciously open to public enjoyment. Note the signs below:

The trail is steep with loose rocks, and apparently rattlesnakes are a common sight, though we saw none. There are some pretty great views throughout.

Daizy and Boaz stuck with us for the entire hike. While Boaz’s job seemed to be to terrorize Daizy, Daizy seemed to take her job of leading hikers very seriously. We got off trail a couple of times (it’s not very well defined) and she waited patiently while we found it again. We wish every trail came with canine trail guides!

Joe Brown Trailhead – Gardiner

You’ll find the Joe Brown Trailhead along Hwy 89, north of Gardiner, Montana. The trail access is across the road from the Yankee Jim Picnic Area (where there’s a pit toilet) and a boat launch. I have no idea how long this trail is, as it’s not listed in AllTrails, and a Google search doesn’t yield any results. However, I can tell you that it meets up with both the Cedar Creek Trail and the Slip & Slide Trail. We stopped to check this trail out as we were returning to Yellowstone’s Edge from Gardiner one day, so weren’t super prepared in regards to water and snacks and only hiked 1.63 miles out and back. In that short distance, there was almost 500′ of elevation gain, which mostly came at the beginning. Besides the steep beginning, I’d say this trail is fairly easy (at least what we hiked) as it winds around the side of a grassy hill/mountain. We ran into a trio of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep along the way who were incredibly disinterested in us.

While at Yellowstone’s Edge, we picked food up from Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ in Emigrant a few times. Follow Yer’ Nose is often named the best BBQ in the state, and I can assure you, the brisket was the best we’ve ever had. We also had the pulled pork and a turkey sandwich as well, and all were delicious. Wildflour Bakery is also onsite and serves breakfast and baked goods. We made sure to pick up some local beer as well!

There are a couple of hot springs in the area that we weren’t able to patronize because they were closed due to COVID. Hanging out at Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa looks like a great way to spend a day and it’s only a 10-minute drive from Yellowstone’s Edge.

Also during our stay at Yellowstone’s Edge, we were able to meet up with four other full-timing couples at Eagle Creek Campground in Gardiner. This is a National Forest campground with good Verizon signal, pit toilets, campfire rings, bear boxes, and large, somewhat unlevel sites, for $7/night. From these dry camping sites, it’s about a 10-minute drive to Yellowstone’s north entrance.

We really enjoyed our time at Yellowstone’s Edge and will definitely stay here again if we’re in the area. And while Yellowstone is not one of our favorite parks, mainly due to how much driving is involved, it’s definitely an interesting, worthy place to visit that we will return to again so we can continue to explore its expansiveness.

 

 

Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana

There’s just something about Bozeman, Montana that has drawn us back for the third year in a row. That something is definitely not an array of options for RVers, however. There are three RV parks/campgrounds within the city, and none of them are anything to write home about. We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and RV Park the last two years, and you can read about those visits here and here. The other two options are Bozeman Trail Campground (formerly Sunrise Campground, which is how it’s still listed on Campendium) and Bear Canyon Campground. Another option is the Gallatin County Fairgrounds as well as a handful of national forest campgrounds.

When we were in Bozeman last year, we drove through Bozeman Trail Campground and Bear Canyon Campground to see what the other options offered. At the time, they both seemed average-ish, with smaller sites that were close together. Even though it’s pricy and some of the sites are not nearly as nice as others, in our opinion, the hot springs campground is the nicest place to stay in Bozeman.

Bozeman Trail Campground

31842 Frontage Road, Bozeman, MT 59715

www.bozemantrailcampground.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Dog Run
  • Propane Fill
  • Wifi

Bozeman Trail is the closest to what the city has to offer, being literally a 1-minute drive from Bozeman’s historic downtown. Bozeman Trail was also the only place open for us to stay when we made our way to Bozeman this year. We arrived May 2nd, and the hot springs didn’t open until May 15th and Bear Canyon didn’t open until June 1st. I don’t know if those are the opening dates every year or if they delayed opening due to COVID-19. Speaking of which, the fairgrounds and area national forest campgrounds were all closed due to COVID when we arrived. So, Bozeman Trail was literally our only option.

I had tried to glean from a number of reviews as well as Google Map satellite images what the best sites were — and I think we actually did end up with the best site. We made our reservation online, I selected site 37, and a message popped up stating that they can’t guarantee the specific site I chose unless I pay a $25 site lock fee. Seriously? Even though I definitely wanted site 37, as it was a pull-through at the end of a row, I did not pay the fee and hoped for the best. The day before we arrived, I called Bozeman Trail to request a non-contact check in and get our site number. We had done this at the last three places we stayed — actually, the last three places we stayed had contacted us. When I hadn’t heard from Bozeman Trail, I called to get our site number and they said they wouldn’t definitively know our site until the next day when we arrived. I then asked if I was able to call as we were pulling in to find out our site number so that we could have a non-contact check in and she said no, she needed me to come in to sign something. Again, seriously? During this pandemic, we kept our traveling to a minimum and our contact with others to none except for grocery stores, and that’s all we were trying to do here. But we weren’t allowed to and it pissed me off.

The next day, we arrived, I went in the office and found that zero precautions were being taken to protect staff or guests. I was wearing a mask, but the employee was not. There was no partition in place. She stood behind a podium and expected me to stand a foot away from her while signing a paper that didn’t need to be signed and writing down our license plate numbers that could have been collected during the reservation process. I grabbed the paper, walked over to a table, and signed it with my own pen. I returned to the truck and we followed a guy in a golf cart to our site. Between the site lock fee and the lack of COVID-19 precautions, we already didn’t feel great about this place.

Site 37 is on the end of a row of pull-thru sites that face every other way so that you share a front yard with your neighbor. However, seeing as 37 is on the end, we did not share a front yard, but had a decent sized grassy area. The parking pad was gravel, narrow, and a bit unlevel. It seemed as though they had just put in a new sewer hookup, because the area around the hookups was dirt, though this time of year it’s actually mud. The hookups were pretty spread out, but we didn’t have an issue hooking the electric up at the back of the site and hooking the water up towards the front of the site. Our site was large enough to park the truck, but I’m not sure that would be possible in all sites.

The campground itself is decent. The layout of some sites is a little wonky, and at first glance, it seems really run down, but that’s only because there were a number of rigs that looked as though they could never hit the road again. There are a number of RVers that get frustrated with places that have an age limit on RVs, but this campground is an example of why some places choose to have an age limit. Could it use some sprucing up? Yes; however, if you can look past some of the dilapidated vehicles, this place is okay. Ish.

But, the noise. Oh my goodness, the noise! The noise is unlike anything else we have ever experienced. The campground is nestled between a frontage road that has an active train track running parallel and I-90. This is the absolute loudest place we have ever stayed. We are not normally disturbed by highway noise or a distant train, but here, the noise was endless. And even with the door and windows closed, we could still hear the traffic. The train ran a number of times through the night, whistle and all. Some reviews for Bozeman Trail say the noise isn’t that bad, so I don’t know if it was the location of our site, or we have overly sensitive hearing, or those reviewers have diminished hearing, but it was bad. The noise is our main complaint and the reason we hope we’d never have to stay here again.

We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on those. They claim to have a playground, but it consists of one swing and one of those little boxy, plastic Little Tykes-type play sets. There are plenty of places to dispose of trash throughout and as I said earlier, the location can’t be beat for visiting downtown Bozeman.

Site 37 fit our 27′ Airstream and tuck without issue. When most other sites had picnic tables, we had that weird permanently-in-the-ground table.
Our front door faced the gravel campground road, but it wasn’t bothersome.

 

 

 

A Synopsis of Our Second Year on the Road

Our second year as full-time Airstream dwellers/digital nomads/travelers has come and gone. We added a few new states to our travel map (North Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho), crossed the northern border for the first time (it won’t be the last time), and traveled 7,607 miles (just 61 miles less than last year). Our longest drive day was 377 miles and our shortest was 6.5 miles. We averaged $46.63/night in lodging costs, thanks to spending 45 days in a condo/hotels at various times throughout the year while our converter was fixed, solar panels were installed, and modifications were done to the interior.

We continued to learn more about ourselves, our Airstream, our country, and the nomadic lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our second year on the road:

We visited 13 National Park Service sites, with 8 of them being new to us:

Zion National Park
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Petroglyph National Monument
Pompeys Pillar National Monument
Jewel Cave National Monument
Mohave National Preserve

We also revisited Death Valley, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore.

With our return visit to South Dakota, we were able to conquer the remaining 3 sites of South Dakota’s Great 8, the other 5 of which we saw last summer:

Crazy Horse Memorial
Deadwood
Jewel Cave National Monument

The other 5 are Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and the Missouri River.

We hiked, and hiked, and hiked…

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve | Desert Hot Springs, CA
Mollies Nipple Trail | Hurricane, UT
Hidden Falls Trail | Grand Teton NP
Little Devil’s Tower Trail | Custer SP – Custer, SD
Hidden Lake Trail | Glacier NP

and paddled, and paddled, and paddled…

Sand Hollow SP | Hurricane, UT
Jackson Lake | Grand Teton NP
Lake Louise | Banff NP
Moraine Lake | Banff NP

and soaked, and soaked, and soaked.

Lava Hot Springs | Lava Hot Springs, ID
Bozeman Hot Springs | Bozeman, MT
Catalina Spa RV Resort | Desert Hot Springs, CA

We chased waterfalls…

Kanarra Falls | Kanarraville, UT
Hidden Falls | Grand Teton NP
Bridal Veil Falls | Spearfish, SD
Johnston Canyon Upper Falls | Banff NP
Virginia Falls | Glacier NP

but we also stuck to the rivers…

Firehole River | Yellowstone NP
Colorado River | Moab, UT
Missouri River | Helena, MT

and the lakes that we’re (not) used to.

Utah Lake | Utah Lake SP – Provo, UT
Jackson Lake | Grand Teton NP
Lake Agnes | Banf NP
Avalanche Lake | Glacier NP
Moraine Lake | Banff NP

We drank beer…

Miner Brewing Co. | Hill City, SD
Nordic Brew Works | Bozeman, MT
Deschutes Brewery | Portland, OR
Firestone Walker Brewing Company | Paso Robles, CA

and wine…

Prairie Berry Winery | Hill City, SD
Michael David Winery | Lodi, CA
Glunz Family Winery | Paso Robles, CA

and cocktails…

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise | Banff NP
Sky Bistro | Banff, AB
Glacier Distilling Company | Coram, MT
Jake’s Del Mar | Del Mar, CA

and tea.

Lake Agnes Tea House | Banff NP
Portland Japanese Garden | Portland, OR

We rode a gondola in Palm Springs…

and one in Banff.

(Have I mentioned I don’t like gondolas?)

We saw where Forrest Gump ended his run…

Mexican Hat, UT

and where Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.

Dead Horse Point SP | Moab, UT

We saw lots of wildlife…

Death Valley NP
Beatty, NV
Grand Teton NP
Grand Teton NP
Yellowstone NP
Glacier NP
Banff NP

and visited the geographic center of the country.

Belle Fourche, SD

We added four new tires,

Discount Tire | Albuquerque, NM

two new batteries,

AM Solar | Springfield, OR

four new solar panels,

AM Solar | Springfield, OR

and a couch and a desk.

Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR
Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR
Ultimate Airstreams | Clackamas, OR

We had visitors in Las Vegas; Hurricane, UT; Custer, SD; and Glacier National Park:

 

Our second year on the road was fantastically fun and memorable, even with the issues we encountered. (I’m looking at you flat tire and junk converter.) All of the inconveniences we deal with are by far worth the amazing places we get to experience. Thanks for following along and we hope you stick around for 2020, our third year on the road — although we’re not really sure what’s in store yet!

 

Glacier NP and the West Glacier KOA

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

Read about our July 2018 visit here.

West Glacier KOA

355 Half Moon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

www.koa.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to Do

Hiking

Avalanche Lake

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

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

Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls

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

A few tips:

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

Iceberg Lake

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

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

Hidden Lake Overlook

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

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

Whitewater Rafting

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

Food & Drink

Wandering Gringo Cafe

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

Glacier Distilling Company 

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

La Casita

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

West Glacier Restaurant

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

Boat Club Restaurant – Lodge at Whitefish Lake

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

North Fork Pizza

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

In Conclusion…

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

Crossing the Canadian Border with an Airstream and a Dog

When planning our trip to Canada, the border crossing was the biggest question mark for us. We didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be nothing to worry about and took less than five minutes.

We crossed at the Sweetgrass, Montana crossing, which is listed as Montana’s busiest border crossing and the only one that’s open 24 hours for commercial vehicles. There are six lanes, with one reserved for people holding a NEXUS card and two reserved for commercial purposes. There were two cars ahead of us when we pulled up, but they moved through very quickly.

When we pulled up to the window, the agent asked for our passports immediately and then asked the following questions:

Where are you headed?

How long will you be in Canada?

What’s the purpose of your visit?

Do you have any alcohol? How much?

Do you have any tobacco products?

Do you have any cannabis products?

Do you have any weapons?

Do you have a taser or pepper spray?

Do you have more than $10,000 cash with you?

Will you be selling any goods while you’re in Canada?

Americans crossing into Canada are each allowed to have 1.5 liters of wine -or- 1.14 liters (40 ounces) of liquor -or- 24 cans of beer, as well as 1 carton (200) of cigarettes, up to 50 cigars, and 200g of loose tobacco. For more information about the items you can and can’t cross with and the possible duties imposed, visit www.ezbordercrossing.com. There were also signs posted that stated “All cannabis items must be declared,” but we have no idea what the rules are for that.

He then asked to see Max’s rabies vaccination record. After that, he handed everything back to us, and we were on our way!

Approaching the border from Sweetgrass, MT…
Waiting for our turn…
And we’re through!

The city on the Canadian side of the border is Coutts, which is where we spent the night before driving up to Cochrane, just west of Calgary, the next day. There is a duty free shop in both Sweetgrass and Coutts, so you can buy all the alcohol and tobacco your heart desires without having to pay a duty fee. If we were to cross the border via this route again, we would keep driving past Coutts to Lethbridge, about 100km (60mi) north. Coutts is a tiny, dusty, agricultural city without many amenities while Lethbridge is the third largest city in Alberta, offering food and recreation options.

After spending five nights in Cochrane, AB and three nights each at Lake Louise Campground and Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff, we spent one night in Cranbrook, BC as we made our way back towards the border.

We crossed back into the U.S. at the Roosville, BC border crossing. It was much busier than when we crossed in Sweetgrass — maybe because it was a Friday instead of a Thursday, and there were only two lanes as opposed to three. The border agent gave us a hard-to-explain uneasy feeling, but again we had no issues crossing once answering his questions:

How long were you in Canada?

Do you have any fresh produce or plants?

Did you buy any items to declare?

This time, there was a gauntlet of cameras and devices to drive through before reaching the border agent’s window.

From there, it was less than a 2-hour drive to our destination of West Glacier. Be prepared and be honest when crossing the border, and you should have no issues. We recently read of a fellow Airstreamer forgetting to declare a couple pieces of produce at the same border crossing and were fined $300 and had their passports held until they paid it.