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.
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.
Name: Colter Bay Campground, Grand Teton National Park
Address: Colter Bay Campground Rd, Alta, WY 83414
Dates Stayed: May 24, 2021 – June 4, 2021
Rate: $38; $19.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
- 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 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).
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.
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.
After this hike, we were blessed with a bunch of wildlife sightings as we made our way back to 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.
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.**
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.
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.
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!
All good things must come to an end, so back down we went.
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.
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.
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.
Name: Mammoth Campground, Yellowstone National Park
Address: North Entrance Rd, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190
Dates Stayed: June 29, 2021 – July 2, 2021
Rate: $25; $12.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
- 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.
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.
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.
Name: Yellowstone’s Edge RV Park
Address: 3502 US Hwy 89 South, Livingston, MT 59047
Dates Stayed: July 2 – 4, 2021
Rate: $68; 10% off with Good Sam
- Pull-Thru Sites
- Waterfront Back-In Sites (Yellowstone River)
- Restrooms with Showers
- 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.
Name: Gallatin County Fairgrounds
Address: 901 N Black Ave, Bozeman, MT 59715
Dates Stayed: July 4 – 6, 2021
- 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.
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.
Name: Jim & Mary’s RV Park
Address: 9800 US Hwy 93 N, Missoula, MT 59808
Dates Stayed: July 6 – 8, 2021
Rate: $49.81; 10% off with Good Sam
- Pull-Thru Sites
- Picnic Table
- Restrooms with Showers
- 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.
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.
Name: Fish Creek Campground, Glacier National Park
Address: Fish Creek Campground Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936
Dates Stayed: July 8 – 12, 2021
Rate: $23.00; $11.50 with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Name: West Glacier KOA Resort
Address: 355 Halfmoon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936
Dates Stayed: July 12 – 15, 2021
Rate: $112.89; 10% off with KOA Membership (We also used $50 in KOA Rewards)
- Full Hookups
- Pull-Thru Sites
- Tent Sites
- Picnic Tables
- Fire Pits
- RV Sites with Tent Pads
- Restrooms with Showers
- Dump Station
- Nature Trail
- Propane Fill
- 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
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.
Name: Helena North KOA Journey
Address: 850 Lincoln Rd W, Helena, MT 59602
Dates Stayed: July 15 – 16, 2021
Rate: $64.00; 10% off with KOA Membership
- Full Hookups
- Long, Level Pull-Thrus
- Picnic Table
- Restrooms with Showers
- Camp Store/Gift Shop
- Propane Fill
- Dog Park
- Dump Station
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.