December 27, 2019 was the last time I went through customs between the US and Canada. This is very unusual for me as I typically cross several times per year. Here are some of recommendations for the next time you get to explore Canada.
Waterton Lakes is directly North of Glacier National Park in Montana. Together, they are the Wateron-Glacier International Peace Park. Whether you are looking for hiking, biking, wildlife, boat tours, backpacking, restaurants, or classic hotels, this is one spot not to miss! Click here for more details!
If you are looking for somewhere out of the way and more quiet than Banff, Cranbrook may be a place to check out. The town has a classic small town feel and the anticipate of being on the edge of Fernie and higher mountain passes can be felt! Slow down a bit, grab some lunch and enjoy!
The Trans-Canada Highway through British Columbia and Alberta offers views, nice roads, minimal traffic, and adventure. Some of the highlights are Revelstoke, Banff, Yoho National Park, and the most amazing railway tunnel that I have ever seen. You won’t be disappointed!
These are just the hot spots on the West Coast. When the border opens again, I will start here as I head towards the parts of Canada that really hold my heart, Ontario. Cheers to 2021, hope for normal times, and the chance to explore Canada!
We decided to follow yesterday’s wildly successful sledding trip with a second trip to the mountains. This time we headed towards Willamette Pass, hoping to get a parking spot at Gold Lake Sno-Park. We arrived around noon and there wasn’t an open parking spot in site so we pushed onward. Approximately 7 miles later we found Crescent Lake sno-park. The parking lot is smaller than Gold Lake but obviously much less popular. Among the half a dozen cars there, at least three were attached to snomobile trailers and one was clearly park for the long haul. I had intended to opt for snow shoes today but once I saw the groomed and relatively flat route, we decided to try the cross country skis again.
Here are a few things to know about Crescent Lake sno-park.
1. There are snowmobiles and plenty of space for everyone.
The kids loved seeing the snowmobiles on the trail. I liked seeing the signs marking distances to towns and services along the snowmobile trails as this was reminiscent of winter in the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you have a snowmobile, this may be one place to check out!
2. The terrain is perfect for beginner cross country skiers.
I am not talking about the kids here, they have picked it up just fine. My cross country skiing skills are marginal at best, however! These trails were perfect. We skiied on the groomed trails and in through the woods. I got tangled up a few times but nothing too serious. The kids progressed from beginners to experts as they provided me with tutorials about every kind of homemade nordic ski technique you can imagine.
3. The lake is a short distance from the parking lot.
The lake is a short 1/2 mile from the parking lot if you access it through the campground entrance. The kids spent a fair amount of time chopping ice chunks from the shore and toss into the lake. I warned them about breaking through the ice and ending up with wet socks. In the end, I was the only one with wet socks. They stayed dry and had tons of fun!
The boat ramp is also adjacent to the Crescent Lake Resort, which appeared to be closed for the season but still accessible to vehicles and a somewhat popular way to access the lake in the winter.
4. The other nearby sno-parks have thier own personalities and the Pacific Crest Trail is right there in the middle of it all!
Approximately 2 miles before Crescent Lake parking, there is Junction sno-park. It has an unbelievably huge parking lot, which happened to be mostly empty. I think it may be a hot spot of snowmobile parking but am not really sure. Gold Lake was packed with cross country skiers and snow-shoers. The parking lot was much larger than Crescent Lake but was narrow and completely full. Don’t worry if you start into the parking lot and it feels narrow. Once you get to the end of the lot, there is a no-parking section that is labled “bus turn-around”. It worked great for us on this busy day!
Waldo Lake has a relatively small parking lot that I assume gets rather crowded. We stopped there to make dinner on our way out. It was dusk and there was only one other car but it was obvious that it is a popular spot during the day. The trail was wide and well packed from use. The kids grabbed the snow tubes and found some amazing sledding while I cooked soup in the van. Once it got dark, I pulled the van around to shine the headlights on the trail for them. They explored snow caves and hit some serious sledding jumps! I think Waldo Lake may be our next place to check out for a day but we may try to go early, late, or on a non-holiday weekday to avoid crowds.
The Pacific Crest Trail is right there for all of the PCT section hikers out there! My husband thru hiked the trail in 2004 and remembers Willamette Pass as one of his favorite sections! The trail was well marked but there was not any winter parking with direct trail access from the road.
These days of playing in the snow are keeping me going for sure! Remember to get your sno-park pass before you head out! You can learn more here!
Oregon sno-parks are designated Winter Recreation Areas. You should purchase a sno-park pass ahead of time. Information about passes can be found here.
Ray Benson sno-park is near HooDoo Ski Area in the Deschutes National Forest and is one of the more popular sledding, cross country skiing, and snow shoeing spots. The parking area is large enough to allow space, even on a busy day. The trail system is extensive and, although many people tend to flock to one area, there is plenty of room to spread out if you wish. Here are 5 ways to enjoy an afternoon at an Oregon sno-park.
1. Try out your new cross country skis!
Ray Benson offers a complex trail system. You can chose to stick to the groomed trail or venture into the woods. Either way, it is guarenteed to be a good time!
The trail is shared with snowmobiles, families snowshoeing, people hiking, and most likely some rogue sledders but don’t let that deter you, there is plenty of space. I chose the off-piste route on the way down as it turns out that I am still totally out of control on cross country skis. I wrongly assumed that somehow my skills improved since ten years ago when I last hurled myself, arms flailing, down a trail in Montezuma, Colorado.
2. Get some exercise with the reliable stand by, snowshoeing.
I can always count on snowshoeing for safe, effective, and fun exercise! Whether you are on the trail, off trail, or hucking a tiny cliff, snowshoeing is a guarenteed to be a good time. Remember your poles for the best work out and the best chance of making it back to the parking lot without tripping and taking a header.
3. Join the gang of sledders.
We steered clear of the crowds due to Covid but there was still plenty of amazing sledding. Our preferred vehicle are snotubes that were given to us by my grandma for Christmas a few years ago. If you chose a tube, consider inflating it to its maximum capacity. The extra inflation really steps the fun up the next level!
We chose to sled mid-day in the sun and again at 3:30 after the sun was behind the trees. The move from sunny and 40s to shady and 30s provided a super speed icy track to really put the sledding over the top for the kids while also just pushing my mom anxiety up a notch. Sledding was the biggest hit of the day for sure!
4. Set up for tailgating.
What is better than a campstove and chairs were set against the backdrop of moutains and fresh snow? Cheese and crackers, lunch hot off the griddle, and a couple of servings of hot chocolate with marshmallows seemed to keep my crew in top condition. Next time I think I will expand the menu and include myself when packing mugs for the hot chocolate.
5. Come prepared to stay all day.
An afternoon at Oregon sno-parks require spare socks, spare gloves, different boots for different sports, spare hats, layers, windbreakers, down jackets, fleece … the list goes on and on. I never would have packed like this in Colorado but Oregon is different. The snow is wetter here. If you have seen it, you know what I mean. So, come prepared because everyone will want to stay all day and they minds well be dry and warm!
Please follow our adventures as we convert our latest Sprinter van into a camper for our family of 4!
We have enjoyed countless day trips and many long road trips in our DIY vans. Despite the hours and seemingly endless Sprinter adventures, we failed to anticipate how 2020 would elevate our attachement to our van. There is nothing like a pandemic to help us appreciate traveling in a vehicle that is more of a self-supported safety bubble than a mode of transportation. I have never been more grateful for our Sprinter and, as most of you know, I was so grateful that I took just went out and bought a 2020 4×4 Sprinter to start our DIY camping conversion all over again!
Here is a run down of some of the experiences that our Sprinter camper brought to us in the midst of a 2020 and a world wide pandemic.
CD spend March and April in the van and it was worth it! I learned a ton about 8020, wiring, finish carpentry (van style), hinges, and options for storing fishing poles in a Sprinter 144. The van has never looked so great or been so comfortable. Despite this, CD kindly agreed to do it all again! I look forward to seeing what is next!
Exploring the Oregon Coast, pandemic Sprinter Adventure 2020 style
Any where on the coast is fair game when you can eat, sleep, change clothes, and use the restroom in the safety of your van! Once we realized this, we hit the coast enough times to find a favorite beach, settle into a routine, and pick up two new skimboards along the way (thank you grandma and grandpa!)
Revisiting Oregon Dunes
A great thing about the Pacific Coast and Oregon Dunes is that the weather is nearly the same whether you are there in winter or summer. The difference is that in the winter, it may be warmer than in the valley and in the summer it may be cooler. Either way, it is always fun! We spent Thanksgiving there and it was just the escape we needed. Thank you Sprinter van!
Camping anywhere that is less than a two hour drive
It wasn’t super easy to find available camping in Oregon during COVID times but we happened accross a campground that was open and perfect for us! This also led to a third child-size kayak purchase. We now have kayaks several thousand miles apart and one to spare.
Sprinter Camping in a lava field while watching a comet
No worries if the campgrounds are full. We slept like babies in the parking lot of an observatory in the middle of a lava field on a night of prime comet viewing. Not too bad!
Escaping wildfire smoke
As self supported travelers, we felt it was safe and reasonable to leave the state to escape wildfire smoke, even though traveling during the pandemic was not recommended and included post travel quarentines. School and work continued without interruption despite everything. We even snuck in a few hikes and a national park stop while on the road.
We managed to get a few new parks in the mix and that isn’t easy to do, even in normal times! Dinosaur National Monument was a win for sure! We also hiked, slept, and explore a handful of other parks and monuments, some of which we would not have taken the time to explore during our usual summer travels.
Waking up in Michigan
We made it to Michigan. I am grateful. It wasn’t long enough and it was a tough and confusing time earlier in the pandemic. Mostly, I know we can do it again. We can safely travel thousands of miles in our Sprinter to be with those we love. Next time has been on my mind everyday since.
Here is the van we will do it in next time, summer or winter.
On to 2021, a new Sprinter camper DIY project, more pandemic safe adventures, and more opportunities to take the road less traveled. I look forward to seeing what’s next. Happy New Year!
It has been hard to get motivated to go exploring so far this week. I am not sure if is because of the holidays, the sugary snacks, or the rain, but we it seems like we just need a push to get out there. We have already hit our usual local hikes, so we widened our driving radius a bit and headed a bit out of town. William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge is managed by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is popular for spotting Elk, bird watching, and hiking.
Woodpecker Loop Trail
The woodpecker loop is our usual go-to trail. You walk through forests, near ponds and streams, through grasslands, and even catch distant views of fields and mountains. Today did not disappoint!
The trail had even been updated with information stands. You pull open a little door and a laminated card with information about the trees, plants and wildlife is inside.
The woodpecker loop trail was not as muddy as the picture of the woods. As far as mud goes during December in the Willamette Valley, this trail is one of the better options. The trail is gravel and mostly higher than surrounding land. Don’t let the rain deter you!
The woodpecker loop connects to the Mill Hill Trail. We typically do the two loops together. The Mill Hill Trail is mostly wooded and runs along a large wetland. We have come close to seeing a herd of Elk on this trail in the past but no such luck today. Hundreds of geese were our main wildlife sighting. Halfway through the Mill Hill Trail today, the sun came out and we could all see our shadows for the first time this week. We past three or four other groups of hikers in the hour and a half that we were there. Each hiker was wearing a mask and looking just as happy as we were to be walking in the sunshine.
If you happen to find yourself looking for a day hike in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Finley Wildlife Refuge is one option. Stop by the general store for a souvenir, snack, and a chat if you have time as well! (in non-Covid times, of course!)
We are a family of 4 that wants to combine efficiency for long trips with comfort of frequent day trips. This is our third Sprinter. Our first was a low roof, our second was a 2015, and our third is a 2020 4 x 4. The big question is: what should we do differently with this Sprinter camper conversion?
Answering that question has not been as easy as I imagined. We are still at the beginning. Here is a list of five considerations for our most recent Sprinter build.
I have never been known for my patience. I sold our mini-van to buy this Sprinter. In doing so, I kept our 2015 Sprinter. While having two Sprinters in the driveway seems a bit unusual, I do not regret it! We have one van ready to go for day trips at a moments notice!
We spent Thanksgiving at Oregon Dunes and yesterday hiking in the pouring rain. Our van made it all possible, even in the midst of a pandemic. For better or worse, we have time to debate and plan our next build. So far, insulation is in and all of the other plans change hour to hour.
2. Sleeping Space
We are all older than during our first build and we plan to keep this van for much longer than the others so we need to use the space much more carefully than before. We went from 2 people sleeping on the floor in our first van to a genius 2 bed system in our second. The challenge of our second build is that when the beds are converted, you can no longer stand on the floor. How can we use space to allow privacy and preserve floor space even at night? Is this even possible?
3. Kitchen Space
Our prior Sprinter camper builds did not have kitchens. I am typically happy to cook outside or eat cheese and crackers inside when the weather is bad. It rains in Oregon, however. Rain is so much more difficult for me to deal with than snow. Rain means mud.
I cooked two meals while on our recent Thanksgiving trip. I sat on the electric step in a puddle of mud both times. It was the best option.
If you have ever tried to sit at a picnic table in the Pacific Northwest between the months of October and March, you know what I mean. Everything is muddy, wet, and mossy.
In retrospect, my shift towards indoor cooking started last winter with hot chocolate and went as far as soup and instant mashed potatoes by July. By then I was really stretching the limits of the Camp Chef Stryker that we bought for boiling water for tea. At this point, I am open to discussing a kitchen.
4. Thinsulate installation goes more quickly the second time.
The van was insulated in a fraction of the time of our last build. The panels did not go back in more easily than last time, however. We still needed two people and a bit of patience to get the front panel back in. The airbags added to the stress a bit but mostly because it felt nerve wracking to have exposed airbags just hanging around.
5. All options are on the table and that doesn’t make the process easier.
This is the first time that I have been ready to spend additional money to get the best build for us. It turns out that short of buying a van that is already converted, deciding to spend money doesn’t really help. The world of DIY Sprinter Camper conversions is open ended, confusing, and popular, especially right now. Everyone we talk in the business is busy. Supplies are back ordered but ideas are still limitless. Everyone has good ideas. Not all of the ideas are interchangable so each decision affects the next.
So far, in addition to insullation, we have installed a modular rack system. It was easy to install and we love what we can do from here. With that being said, we drilled holes to secure it to the van, so we must go forward from there. As we browse the internet, we are careful not to click on other modular systems or accessories attached to systems other than what we have in place.
It feels like we are headed down a rabbit hole but keep getting turned around and going back. As I mentioned, patience is not my strong suit but I am doing my best to give the process a chance. Even I look forward to seeing where this all lands! I just hope it lands somewhere while there is still time for a ski trip this winter. Wish us luck and leave us comments with your ideas and questions!
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.