I grew up in northern lower Michigan and am a product of parents that love to both work and play. I was raised to believe that girls can do anything. My grandmother and mom can do everything from cleaning fish to docking the boat. Gender roles weren’t really an issue. I was also raised to … Read more About Me
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Oregon’s Pacific Ocean beaches are scenic, spacious, and accessible. They are not exactly known for being warm and sunny, however. The benefit of this is that you can enjoy the same beach activities during winter as you can during the summer. So we chose this weekend to pick up a new hobby.
Skimboarding was a hit! Everyone had a turn. Most of us were semi-successful and at the end of the day, each of us was smiling!
Next stop was Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It felt great to trade a turkey dinner for a few laps up the dunes. There were two cars in day use parking when we arrived and none when we left. Don’t let the footprints in the sand fool you, we were mostly alone on the dunes on Thursday and only accompanied by distant ATVs on Friday. The kids were free to dig, climb, run, build, and explore as far as they could go. How bad can a little sand in the van be anyway?!
Camping Near the Pacific Ocean
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park was open and with plenty of empty tent sites. Every site in the RV loop was full but we only found one tent and one other camper in our primate campsite loop. Tent sites are $21. We didn’t have reservations and late check in was a breeze. We walked form our campsite down a wooded path and to the day use parking lot to get one more shot at the dunes, do some star gazing, and toss in a fishing lure a few times.
The moon was nearly full. The dunes were empty. Hardly anyone was camping. The day use lot was closed. It was a great time for star gazing!
We didn’t catch anything but we enjoyed trying. The dunes run down into a lock with accessible shorelines and a dock for fishing. Next time, we will bring the kayaks and get out there to see what we can catch!
Don’t worry, I still cooked a turkey. It was just a few days late. Spending our pandemic holiday outside was just what we needed! We weren’t isolated but didn’t need a mask since hardly anyone else was there. Now, I will lend my thoughts to Christmas and how best to hold off the feelings of sadness and loss that comes with holidays during COVID 19 times. The guilt of being together versus the lonliness of not being together may temporary be reconciled by fresh air and exercise. Stay safe and happy holidays everyone!
These are unusual times. We are working from home, doing school at home, and more grateful than ever to have our Sprinter. Two weeks ago, we left the smoky air of Oregon, drove to Colorado, and spent a week of work and school there. It was so much better than staying home, inside, with the windows closed. I could not have been more grateful for the opportunity to breath fresh air and visit family.
Being in the middle of a pandemic has pretty much committed me to long term Sprinter van ownership. With that being said, we purchased a 4 x 4 Sprinter. We will be ready for anything, even skiing in all kinds of conditions!
We will pick it up in a couple of weeks and then we will temporarily be the family with two Sprinters in the driveway. CD has tons of new ideas regarding the camping conversion. Flare sides will be in our future. Another MaaxAir fan is on the list. Will our beds move and change? Where will CD put the sink that he has wanted for so long?
It is all yet to be determined so stay tuned! Our family of 4 is starting a van conversion and I hope we are up for it! More to come …
This post was writte in September and I am just publishing it. Here is our new 4×4. If you need us during the next weeks or so, you know where to find us! Stay tuned … !
The day use area consists of a parking lot and a viewing platform. Once you see the view, it may be hard to resists the hike.
A marked trail leading to the ocean is easily to access from the parking lot. There are two main hiking options. One is a 5 mile long loop and the other is a 2 mile, out and back trail to the coast.
We started our hike around noon, hadn’t eaten lunch yet, didn’t pack water or snacks and opted for the shorter of the two trails. For those of you that have hiked in dunes before, there is a constant false sense of distance. Even with knowing that ahead of time, we were all surprised when we rounded a corner and still had not made it to the coast. It is longer than it seems but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.
Wooden posts mark the trail through the dunes. The trail through the forested sections is obvious. Even on a hot July day, the beach was nearly empty when we arrived. I can’t imagine it ever gets much more crowded. If you are hoping to avoid crowds and get some exercise, this is the place!
2. Wear Shoes.
The sand can be hot! When you are not walking on hot sand, you may be walking on hard packed forest trails. Don’t leave your shoes at the car and chose your footwear carefully!
3. Bring Water and Snacks For An Afternoon At Oregon Dunes Day Use Area.
This seems obvious but we are famous for being underprepared or overprepared. I can’t decide if we are over confident, lazy, or impulsive but it is not unusual for us to check out a hike and end up 2 hours down the trail without snacks.
We started this hike by walking to the viewing platform, then onto the dune, then down the hill, and so on. I think you get the idea! Hiking on the dunes and into the forest was just too much fun and we didn’t want to stop once we started.
4. Be Prepared For Signs Giving Instructions In Case Of An Earthquake and Tsunami.
For those of you that have spent much time on the Oregon coast, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I typically read the sign and keep walking. By the time I hit the ocean on this hike, I don’t think I could have evacuated very quickly in the event of a tsunami. We all weigh our risk, I guess.
5. Dress For Exposure To The Elements.
In addition to shoes, I would recommend the following items:
The Oregon Beach Bill was signed into law in 1967 and guarenteed public beach access to the 362 miles of Oregon coastline. The impact of this is obvious when you look at an Oregon map. The western shore is dense with beaches and parks. Here is a small sample of Oregon beaches between Newport and Waldport.
This is one of our favorites. It is part of Brian Booth State Park and it has it all!
Ona Beach parking area is framed by Beaver Creek to the south and picnic areas to the west. There is space to launch a kayak, toss out a fishing lure, or have a picnic. You will find plenty of picnic tables with room for lawn games if you chose. You can follow the creek to a sandy beach or cross a foot bridge to the Pacific ocean. The Pacific Beach is wide open, clean, and not crowded.
Accross the road is the second half of Brian Booth State Park. Beaver Creek State Natural Area is east of Highway 101. There are two designated boat launches within a mile from the highway. You can also find a boardwalk and hiking trails.
Driftwood Beach has a restroom and a short wooden walk way down to the beach. It sits up above the beach abit so be prepared to walk down a short but relatively steep trail to the beach. The beach seems to go on forever in either direction. There is perfect sand and wide open space.
There was plenty of wind when we were there. It may be a great place to fly a kite! The parking lot is long and narrow so I was unable to see the beach while cooking lunch in our van. I had a cell phone signal though so it was easy to let everyone know when lunch was served!
You won’t find this one on the map! This is a small gravel parking lot north of Ona Beach. From there, you walk down an embankment to the ocean. It seems to be a local’s favorite. It gets crowded with people walking dogs and riding bikes after dinner and the parking spots are hit or miss. We had it ourselves one day and could barely find a comfortable parking spot the next. Houses tower high above the beach on either side of the access and Seal Rock can be seen to the south.
Packing List for Oregon Beaches
Bring layers. If you have not been Oregon beaches, you will likely be surprised about the temperatures. We took a day trip in July and went from 90 degrees in the Willamette Valley to 67 degrees at the coast.
Bring plenty of snacks and drinks. We always stay longer than we plan.
Our second time at the Dee Wright Observatory was even more impressive than our first. We ended up there by default when the campground we aimed for was full. Oregon trip planning isn’t really something that I do very well. I actually don’t tend to do any trip planning at all.
Since we have been unable to get to our cottage this year, I have been trying to fill in the gap by buying another kayak and googling every freshwater lake in Oregon.
Oregon Trip Planning: Santiam Pass
We packed everything from kayaks to remote control trucks and headed to Big Lake Campground, near Sisters, Oregon. Most of the campground is first come, first served. It was mid-week and I was foolishly hopeful. The campground was full. For those of you interested in Big Lake Campground, it shares a driveway with Hoodoo ski area and is adjacent to Big Lake Youth Camp, which happened to be one of CD’s re-supply stops when he hiked the PCT. The campground was crowded and the sites were small. Other than feeling bad about driving all that way and not getting a campsite, I wasn’t too disappointed to not camp there.
Camping everywhere between there and Sisters was full. We headed back west on 242.
McKenzie Highway runs between Sisters and Belknap Springs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I recommend this route as long as you are not in a hurry, enjoy driving twenty miles per hour, and are not prone to motional sickness.
If you chose this route, the pay off is one of the most interesting lava fields I have seen.
It wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse. The lava runs right up to the road to the north and towers high above it but to the south there is just the usual landscape.
We hoped to camp at Lava Camp Lake Campground. Be careful not to confuse this with Lava Lake Campground, east of Bend. The entrance to Lava Camp Lake Campground is just before McKenize Pass summit when headed westbound. The entrance is difficult to find and is a dirt two track on the south side of the road. You follow this for approximately two miles to a day use area and a hand full of camp sites. Most sites are not on the lake. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything higher or much longer than our Sprinter down the road and when we got there, the campsites were full, of course. It is National Forest and I am sure some people slept in day use area parking but we chose a brief walk and drove on again.
Less than a half of a mile up hill is one of the most unique places that I have been.
We pulled into the parking lot of Dee Wright Observatory, I opened the door and set up the stove. It was well passed dinner time and we all needed a break and a second to think of what to do next. I was lighting up the stove when some people a few spots away shouted: “you must have the same idea as us.”
It took for a moment to see what was going on but then I realized that this couple was setting up a tent on the sidewalk, a table next to thier car, and two camera tripods. Another couple at the other end of the parking lot were sitting in thier car playing cards and eating chips. Everyone was there to see the comet NEOWISE.
Dark Skies, Oregon Trip Planning
Here we were at the top of McKenzie Pass, surrounded by 8 miles of black lava rock and not an artifical light in sight. It was nearly dusk. The kids and CD went for a hike while I made dinner. We moved the kayaks to the sidewalk and turned the van around for prime coment viewing. We just happened to find a great camping spot!
The excitement in the parking lot was obvious. People were chatting and pointing while be attentive to social distancing. It was helpful that there are two large parking lots and there was never more than six or eight cars at a time.
Between the cool temperatures and the wind, there were few mosquitos. We opened our van doors and watched the sky. We saw the comet in between camera flashes. It was good for the soul.
Cars came and went until midnight or so and then it was quiet and dark. We slept until 9:00 and woke up feeling like we had landed on the moon!
From the observatory you can see glaciers on the Three Sisters, views of Mt. Washington, and random trees growing out of lava flows. There is a paved walkway with signs discussing different features of the lava flow.
CD is pretty much always looking for PCT access. Approximately a 1/4 mile west of the observatory, on the north side of the road, there is PCT day use parking. You can hike southbound and head towards the observatory or northbound and head for Belknap Crater. We did both and they were both amazing! The landscape is so unique. Wildflowers, red dirt, and trees touch fields of black lava. The lava towards 10 or 20 feet above the ground at times and it feels bizarre to imagine how it just stopped flowing and piled up in such dramatic fashion.
The trail is well marked. Footing on the lava is a bit tricky but the dirt trail is easy walking. For this PCT day hike you don’t need much more than a parking permit, sunscreen, snacks, and camera. Enjoy!
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We chose a 2015 Sprinter 144 for our family of 4 camper van. It is our third camping van and our second camping conversion. We chose it because we drive more than we camp.
I am not much of a camper. In fact, I am really only starting to learn to camp and this can be painfully obvious for my husband at times. It was recently that I realized it would be best if I tried to learn to camp.
I am really a cottage girl. I grew up with a cottage and that is where my skillsets lie. It could be argued that few are more skilled at the art of cottaging. I can arrive at the cottage any time day or night and have everything I need. My biggest concern may be getting the cold food and drinks in the fridge and my chair positioned correctly on the deck.
So, here I am, the proud owner of a Sprinter 144 DIY camper conversion. There are dozens of great things about this van! CD gets all of the credit for the modifications. They are amazing and have helped to ease me into van life. New cabinets, fishing rod holders, and LED lights are our latest upgrades.
Even with these latest upgrades, 2020 has been an eye opening year. Here are a few things I have learned so far.
1.A Van Chosen For Driving May Not Be Ideal For Camping
It may seem like I am stating the obvious but this one took me a bit to wrap my head around. Last summer’s trip racked up 8528 miles and 190 hours and 55 minutes of total trip time. Our average mileage was 23.4 miles per gallon.
Our van is easy to drive in nearly all conditions. It is fast, comfortable, gets decent mileage, can park in any parking spot, and makes a U turn like nobody’s business. We may drive a couple of hundred miles during a day in the Rockies but nearly 1000 miles once we hit the plains. No matter how many miles we put on in a day, we rarely spend more than an afternoon at a campground. Our Sprinter has rolled into some of our country’s most beautiful campgrounds at dinner and left the next day. We have slept at a gas station in South Dakota, a rest stop in southern Michigan, friends driveways all over the US and Canada, and plenty of Walmarts.
Yet, our van is a Sprinter 144 DIY camping conversion. So what happens when we camp?
2.Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Van Living.
It turns out that I don’t really know how to camp. Even the best camping conversion may be hard for me to navigate.
My cooler is always a mess. I spill things and burn dinner regularly. I am constantly rearranging everything. At the campground, I take things out of the van and put them back in the van. CD recently pointed out that even people with RVs tend to arrange thier campsite by using outside space. I have since noticed water coolers on tables, dish washing stations on benches, accesory tables full of who knows what, chairs all over the place, laterns, and so many things that I can’t even remember.
So, is the idea to set up and tear down your own mini cottage at each campsite? If so, I think I can work towards that, although I am not sure I fully understand it yet.
3. Camping In Our Sprinter Is More Like Car Camping Than Thru-Hiking
Okay, this one is really for CD. He has hiking tons of long trails, including thru hiking the PCT in 2004. Some of the skills that he learned on the PCT are not fully transferrable to our Sprinter. He does not need to drink the cooking water, save his one spork for every meal, eat two breakfasts, or check his pack weight for our day hike. Even though he doesn’t need to, he does all of this anyway. I guess that if I need to set up a mini cottage each week, he can act as if he is on a thru-hike! I am just glad that he hasn’t gone back to eating pop tarts in order to up his calories!
4. Putting Up ATent Does Not Mean We Failed Our Sprinter Camper Conversion
The kids love tents. If we were staying at a campground for a few days and put a tent up near our Sprinter, it would not mean that we failed. It may mean that CD can sleep alone outside or the kids can play in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
The only time we put up a tent next to this Sprinter was last summer when we took our annual camping trip with my nephew. CD slept in my twenty year old tent. The rain seeped up from below and he soon realized that it is no longer water proof! The kids and I laughed about it while watching the storm from inside the van.
5.Camping, Either By Van Or Not, Requires Skill and Practice
It takes time to put up the table, organize the dishwashing station, unpack the kayaks, look for a fishing hole, or find a place to launch a boat. This all takes time away from my personal rest and relaxation. How much does that matter? Not much, I guess. My time is currently well spent organizing campsites and exploring unchartered rivers. Do I wish I was sitting on a deck or in a super fancy Sprinter drinking coffee and waiting for the best time to go fishing? Well, maybe – but now that I know that the van is just one part of the campsite, everything is looking up!
Would I change anything about our Sprinter camper conversion?
Not really. Well, maybe. Given endless time and a bottomless wallet, I would get a custom built Sprinter 170 for driving and camping. CD could spend his time doing minor modifications to the exsisting camping conversion, rather than being in charge of every detail starting with camping conversion design all the way through finish carpentry.
Would I recommend a Sprinter 144 camper conversion for a family?
Sure. Please make peace with its limitations in space and love its efficiency! I do!
We stumbled upon this Oregon Campground when we were on our way to Baker Bay but got discouraged by the crowds. It offered everything we needed and then some.
Campgrounds, dispersed camping, rivers, lakes, and parks fill the Willamette Valley. There are so many options that it may not be easy to find the campground that is the best fit in Oregon. Schwarz Campground is currently top of the list for our last minute, mid-week, get-a-ways.
Here are 5 reason why!
I will even say this again- Open Space! This campground is full of space. There is at least a hundred yards of open grass for any one to use. It was just calling for a pick up football game or a practice round with my pitching wedge.
In addition to open space, this campground closed approximately every other site to allow for better social distancing. Double sites are limited to one at this time (summer 2020), sites closest to the public river access are closed, and a good percentage of the regular sites are closed.
The Row River Trail is a paved 14 mile rails to trail route. Grab your bikes and hop on just outside the park entrance!
I chose to drive to Dorena Reservoir, drop off CD and the kids and drive back down to the main road in order to ride back towards them. Dropping the car this way was overkill for sure as the trail was easy riding, fast, and fun. Next time we will just leave from the campground and ride as far as we like, then turn around and go back. Either way, this trail was a win!
The campground is located below Dorena Lake, downstream from the dam. Only two sites offer high quality private river access but there is a well stationed common access. Even in these times of social distancing, there was room to spread out along the river bank. Note that the dam is several hundred yards up stream but there is a sign indicating that water levels may fluxuate without warning. I took note of the sign as I sent the kids out in their kayaks and I think it is worth paying attention but we were far enough from the dam that I wasn’t too concerned. We kayaked, explored a nearby island, watched and heard a beaver chewing on a stick, fished for hours, went swimming (it is cold!), and found lost treasures on the river bottom. There was never a dull moment.
Huge campsites at this Oregon Campground!
Again, there is plenty of space here, even in non-COVID times. Each side has a large picnic table, fire ring, parking area, and tent site. There are just enough big trees to enjoy but not so many that you are cold and attached by bugs.
There are plenty of wild turkeys, lizards, and ducks. There is a huge open space, horse shoe pits, a playground (closed currently), and hiking trails. You can walk from the campground, through the woods, and to the overlook on the dam. From there you can view Dorena Lake and its recreational boaters. There is a public boat launch several miles up the road and several campers were obviously headed that way.
Which park amenities did we use? Well, this is it and it was awesome!
My Sprint cell service was sufficient to download texts but not emails. After driving 4 miles to town, I had enough bars for a zoom conference.
There is poison oak along the trail.
Bring water shoes if you plan to get wet!
Keep an eye out for the alligator lizard. Seriously, we saw it and it was weird!
Have you even been so close to somewhere amazing but didn’t have the time to stop and enjoy it? This happened to us last summer which east bound on I-90. We needed to make it to Rapid City, SD by dinner time the next night in order to meet up with family for a surprise birthday party for our son. Our schedule was tight but not so tight that we couldn’t have a little fun. We had a handful of hours to spare and happen to be miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone. So, what did we do? We drove through, of course. Was it worth it? Yes!
We arrived at the entrance around dinner, ordered a pizza, walked around the village, and took the obligatory pictures by the Roosevelt Arch. We happened to head out on our drive through the park shortly before dusk. This was the beginning of our 2 hour Yellowstone tour. Here are a few reasons that these few hours were well spent!
As far as site seeing goes, this one is not overrated. After dinner and early in the season we were able to see everything we wanted to see without crowds or hassles. The kids were amazed, we were reminded about its simple beauty, and everyone was happy.
Gardiner is the type of cowboy town that kids love. Elk are everywhere. The Roosevelt Arch is welcoming. The take out pizza is great. Cold drinks are easy to find. I hope to spend a day or two there next time we travel through.
Our 2 hour driving tour went from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Norris. From there, we headed east to Fishing Bridge and on to Cody, WY. Since we are not avid photographers and aren’t prone to taking wildlife tours, it was not immediately obvious to us that pretty much any drive through Yellowstone at dusk would offer a whole new perspective on wildlife viewing. The elk herds and black bears being pursued by tourists at the park entrance were no match for what we were about to see. (Please do not chase the wildlife by the way. We have seen this so many times and it is not appropriate! or safe.)
The street was lined with cars and spectators waiting for once in a lifetime experiences. We found ourselves being escorted by a herd of buffalo. Things changed from fun and interesting to amazing and unbelievable when the herd crossed the road and dropped down into a valley to swim across a fast moving river. The young buffalo were especially nerve racking to watch as I am not convinced that buffalo are not really built for swimming.
A few miles later we found the usual cars and spectators but the atmosphere had changed. Rather than sitting and looking, everyone was standing and pointing. Our van slowed to a crawl and we learned that a pack of wolves was up ahead. This was my first official wolf sighting and it was awesome! From our van, we saw a wolf running on the hill. With the help of a friendly bystander’s super powerful binoculars, I got a solid look at its face and body. I am sure it was looking at me!
We made it to Cody, WY in the dark but still in good time to sleep and get ready for another day on the road. Our spontaneous 2 hour tour of Yellowstone left us inspired and wanting more! Not only did the kids stamp their National Park Passport books but they also checked out a famous hot springs, saw young buffalo swim, watched tourists chase black bears around a ranger station, ate pizza next to a field of elk, and saw their first wolf. That’s not bad for a few hour side trip!
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Are you looking for a place to stretch your legs while traveling I-94? If so, the Painted Canyon Trail at Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a perfect choice. Here are 8 reasons that the Painted Canyon trail makes a perfect stop on your next road trip.
1. Easy off – easy on highway access.
Finding the trail head is as easy as stopping at a rest area. You can see the visitor’s center from the highway and the trail head basically in the parking lot.
2. You may see a Buffalo.
Signs of Buffalo are everywhere from the parking lot and the picnic area to the trail and surrounding grasslands.
3. There is potable water adjacent to the trail head.
A drinking fountain and faucet are located near the trail head. We filled our water bottles, rinsed our dishes, and washed our legs with soap after finding poison ivy on the trail. By the way, there is poison ivy near the trail entrance. The trail is wide enough to avoid walking through it but it was too late by the time we realized it was there.
4.The Painted Canyon Trail forms a loop.
My favorite trails tend to be circles. I enjoy completing the loop rather than walking in and back or deciding where to turn around. This trail loops back behind a rock wall that hides that parking lot and highway. We felt as if we really went for hike into the wilderness!
5. The trail is well marked, easy to follow, and interesting enough to be fun!
6. The distance is just right for a hiking during a road trip.
We often find our road trips sidelined by long hikes that are beautiful but take all day. It is not uncommon for us to find that we have driven only 100 miles by the time dinner rolls around. It takes a while to drive across the country when you are doing it a 100 miles at a time! The Painted Canyon Trail is 0.9 miles and takes 30-45 minutes. Even our 5 year old easily made it in less than an hour.
7. The views from the trail really are better than those from the highway or the parking lot.
The hike is worth it when the views are better than from the van! Here is a view from the trail.
8. Take this trail to escape the wind at Teddy Roosevelt National Park!
The wind was blowing pretty strongly when we started the hike. Within a few minutes, we were removing our sweatshirts and complaining about the heat. As soon as we got back to the trail head, the wind was howling again. If you are feeling worn down by wind, take this trail and enjoy still canyon air!
Do you have 1 day to spend at Pictured Rocks but are unsure of how to spend the time? If so, here is our recommendation!
We drove west from Munising, swam in Lake Superior, waded in streams, and hiked to the Au Sable Light Station.
Here are a few things to know about going to the light station.
1. The last 1.5 miles to the Au Sable Light Station is on foot.
You can either walk the trail or walk the beach. We walked the trail there, had a picnic there, and walked the beach back!
2. You can see Lake Superior both from the top of the light house and from the beach. It is amazing either way!
3. There is a ship wreck on the beach between the light house and the trail head.
The shipwreck is different than most I have seen. It is just a skeleton of a boat and is fully accessible from the beach. You may be aware that lake levels change over time. This picture was 2019 so the water was relatively high compared with past years but a bit lower than 2020.
We carried drinks, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and plenty of other things. We didn’t bring our passport books and had to settle for a stamp on a blank piece of paper. Its not the same!
5. You may end up swimming in Lake Superior.
It may sound cold and daunting but, on a hot day, it is clean, clear, and refreshing! It was unbelievable hot the day we were there. I wasn’t prepared to swim in the lake and ended up taking a nice long swim in my tee shirt and skirt. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I was perfectly content, comfortably cool, and it was worth it! Next time I will be better prepared!
6.Wear water shoes and carry bug repellent.
The beach is rocky in places and all of the tales that you may have heard about biting flies in the U.P. of Michigan are true!
7. Consider stopping once or twice on your drive to the trail head.
You may want to plan enough time to go wading in a stream.
8. The ranger talk at the light station offers a quick glimpse of the history.
Learn about the Au Sable light station, Lake Superior, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The tours are thirty minutes long and require a $3 donation per person.