Yellowstone: In 2 Hours.

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!

Mammoth Hot Springs

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, MT

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.

Wildlife Viewing

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!

Yellowstone

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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Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Painted Canyon Trail
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Sprinter Camper Conversion: Amenities

Our first Sprinter camper conversion was a 2012 low roof passenger van with limited amenities. It didn’t work out.

We are a family of four and stand by our decision to camp and travel in a passenger van but our decision to start with a low roof van was ill informed and flawed.

5 reasons why we chose a low roof Sprinter:

  1. It would be a more practical daily driver.
  2. We could drive under bridges, park in parking garages, or go through a drive thru.
  3. Additional vertical space wouldn’t offer additional benefits.
  4. The kids can stand up and I can nearly stand up.
  5. It cost less.

5 reasons why this reasoning was flawed:

  1. A low roof and a high roof are essentially the same when using as a daily driver.
  2. Parking in a parking garage, going through a drive thru, or driving under some bridges may not be possible in either Sprinter.
  3. Vertical space adds many more storage options!
  4. I really want to stand up. Oh, my aching back!
  5. The low roof initially cost less but we lost any initial savings when we sold it four months later.

All about us.

  • We are a family of four, including two kids under 10.
  • More days are spent driving than camping.
  • We love windows!
  • CD is 6′ tall and I am 5’8″. We are both over 40 and maybe not as flexible as we once were.
  • Sometimes we stop along the road just to hang out in the van.
  • Money is a consideration but we would rather spend a bit more to have a van that suits us than have an aching back and a cluttered van.
Our high roof Sprinter with some fun amenities.
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Passenger Van: Pros and Cons

Pros:

Windows!

  • The kids can see.
  • Improved visual field when driving.
  • We can see if the kids are in the van from outside.
  • Sunsets!

Cons:

Windows.

  • People can see in from outside. It doesn’t bother me really but it is worth being aware.
  • We spent a few hours and a little money making curtains. Each day we spend a little time putting up and taking down curtains.

Seats

  • Safe seats for the kids.
  • Seats for family members and friends.

Seats

  • Spare seats take up garage space.
  • The spare seats are not easily removed and re-installed.
Sprinter amenities. Seats anyone?

Other Sprinter Amenities: Blind Spot Monitor, Electric Running Board, and Cross Wind Assist

These are things that our first van did not have. Do we enjoy these features?

Yes!

Blind spot monitor: changes my experience every day!

Electric running board: a bench, a welcome mat, a table, and a reminder to close the door fully.

Cross wind assist: We think it actually helps.

Thoughts on rear AC.

Rear AC: It cools the van to arctic temperatures, even on the hottest days. Luckily, it cools all the way to the front as the main AC isn’t very effective. I sometimes walk to the back and realize that the kids need blankets while I am just right. We debate its importance each time we look at solar panels for our roof but then re-affirm our need for it each summer. Our solar panels will work around it and our Maxxair fan fit just fine.

Please follow our blog and our Sprinter adventures!

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For other insight on choosing a van, check out this article!

What Is The Best Van To Live In?

Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.

It is well known that the Oregon coast if full of breathtaking scenery and widespread ocean access. Hidden among the 362 miles of Oregon’s coastline is the town of Manzanita.

Manzanita is in Tillamook county, north of Lincoln City and south of Astoria. It is home to seven miles of coastline and beaches. With a population only in the triple digits, the effects of tourism are obvious. The benefits to those that vacation there are great.

The Main Street

Lenada Avenue is the heart of downtown. Restaurants, coffee houses, and shops have names like Left Coast Siesta, Neahkanie Bistro, Bread and Ocean Bakery, and MacGregor’s: A Whiskey Bar.

The Beach, Oregon’s Coast

From town, the beach is steps away. Our Meredith Lodging rental house was across from Hallensted Park, 6 blocks from the main street and two blocks from the beach.

This sign says it all!
Great beaches!
The main road from town ends where the other people are standing. Oregon’s Coast.

NeahKahnie Mountain

Don’t miss this hike! Oswald State Park offers a 8 mile long mountain loop trail or a 2.8 mile shorter version. The trail is well taken care of and inviting.

The trees are welcoming also

It is a steady but not impossible climb with plenty of chances to slow down and explore. We used our favorite kids carrier a few times, more so for fun than out of necessity.

If you haven’t already, check out the Piggyback Rider Standing Kids Carrier.

Walking is good but a standing child carrier is great

For our hike, we opted for the shorter version. Once at the summit, we agreed that the effort to reward ratio of this hike was great! A short scramble at the top leads to some of my best views of Oregon’s coast.

Oregon Coast, looking south and beyond that as well.

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Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast Day-Trip.
Leavenworth Washington In An Afternoon
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Leavenworth Washington In An Afternoon

We took a side trip to Leavenworth from our road trip northbound on Washington 97.

Was it worth it? Absolutely!

4 Things To Know For Your First Time In Leavenworth Washington

  1. The town center is basically a Bavarian Village.
  2. Every season is tourist season in Leavenworth. Parking may be an issue and it helps to be patient your first time visiting.
  3. It is on the edge of the North Cascades and the scenery is straight out of a magazine.
  4. While it is great to spend an afternoon there, a week would be even better!

3 Things To Do On A Summer Afternoon in Leavenworth Washington

  1. Eat. Even if you aren’t hungry, this town calls you to eat and drink. Food is everywhere, including brats, beer, and everything German.

2. Walk downtown. Window shop and soak in the culture.

We walked on our own but saw several groups of guided walking tours. It sounds like Leavenworth may have some interesting history to share.

View to the West. Leavenworth, Washington.

3. Spend some time at Waterfronk Park.

Walk a few blocks downhill from town and you will arrive at Waterfront Park. The Wenatchee river’s inviting swimming holes and beautiful scenery are made even more fun by a festive parade of tubes and kayaks.

Bring a snack and you could stay all day!

Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, Washington

2 Circumstances That Lead To Staying At Wenatchee Confluence State Park

  1. Leavenworth is at capacity and you don’t have a reservation.
  2. You are headed northbound on 97 and just passing through.

7 Reasons To Love Staying at Wenatchee Confluence State Park

  1. It is approximately 30 minutes from Leavenworth.
  2. You may get lucky and get a deal! We arrived around dinner time. The park was full but they sometimes allow “overflow” parking for a fraction of the price! We scored a lake side spot with flush toilets, hot showers, bike path access, a beach, and a playground!

3. Flush toilets and hot showers.

4. A playground and picnic tables.

5. Open green space.

6. A beach.

7. Apple Capital Loop Trail.

We rode our bikes on miles and miles of this trail. It circles the Columbia River with 22 miles of paved trail. The trail can be used to connect Wenatchee Confluence State Park with Horan Nature Area, Walla Walla Point Park, and Wenatchee Riverfront Park.

We spend most of a day that was intended for driving, riding this trail and I would do it again.

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Cranbrook BC: Stop and Enjoy. 5 Things to Love.

Cranbrook, BC is sometimes on route between Oregon and Ontario, or more specifically between Creston and Waterton Lakes National Park.

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

How did we first discover Cranbrook, BC?

Notice the bugs on our windshield!

Our journey to loving Cranbrook started at Moyie Lake Provincial Park, late one afternoon.

We stopped to stretch our legs and look for a place to sleep for the night. Moyie Lake Provincial Park is easy to access from Highway 3/95, and offers exclusive public access to the lake, tons of green grass, sandy beaches, flush toilets, picnic tables, a playground, and beautiful views.

Moyie Lake Provincial Park

Day use parking at the beach is easy to find. I grabbed a picnic table for dinner and the kids hit the beach.

Things started to go bad pretty quickly, however, when I swatted one fly while getting the cooler and a second fly while getting the stove.

By the time I was set up to cook there were more flies than I have ever seen in one place and I am from Michigan so I have seen a few black flies. This, however, were the black fly scary stories that people tell around campfires during full moons.

I rushed dinner, ran everything back to the van, and by some stroke of luck, the van was nearly fly-free. The van was a mess, I was frazzled, and desperate to get back on the road again!

Anytime, other than this day in mid-June, I would gladly endorse staying at Moyie Lake but we certainly were not staying that day.

If you decide to stay there in June, here are a few items that I may consider packing.

Fly strips – yes, these still make these and you can hang them in your van!

Mosquito head netting may seem like overkill but I would have paid good money for a head net!

Where did we stay?

We rolled into Cranbrook just before dark and, for lack of a better plan, followed the little signs with the blue camping symbol. We didn’t have much confidence in this plan as the signs led us right into town and to the front desk of Mount Baker RV Park.

If you are anything like me, you may want to stop reading as soon as you see the words “RV Park” but please continue reading! Mount Baker RV Park was like a little bit of paradise. In that moment, it was everything we needed and then some!

One side of the park are RV hookups and the other side leads over bridge crossing a stream to a open green space that is intended mostly for tents. There were not any tents in that space and we didn’t need hook-ups, so we paid the nominal fee and slept in a field of freshly cut grass, next to a river, with flush toilets, hot showers, and laundry facilities.

I didn’t really even need to do laundry but I did anyways. The kids threw sticks in the river, kicked soccer balls, and did somersaults. Things couldn’t get any better!

We woke up the next day and realized that we really were in the town of Cranbrook. From Mount Baker RV Park, we walked to town and loved what we saw.

Cranbrook BC: 5 Things To Love

1. The Historic Downtown

A few blocks from our campground we found the historic downtown full of local shops and restaurants.

2. The people

Locals on the street and in shops smiled and stopped to chat. People in cars smiled and waved “hello” as we crossed streets or parking lots.

3. The restaurants

Historic downtown offered tons of food options. We weren’t even looking for a restaurant but we couldn’t resist!

Soul Food is a local farm to table cafe and restaurant. We sat at a table outside, had drinks and two rounds of food!

Soulfood. Cranbrook BC

4. Diverse downtown shopping

Just as we weren’t really looking for a restaurant and we didn’t really need to do laundry, we weren’t really looking for a large grocery store but there we were. Historic downtown Cranbrook, a stone’s throw from our campground, also happened to have a large chain grocery store so we picked up some odds and ends!

5. Cycling routes, side walks, and parks

Cranbrook has it all. There are bike lanes, cycling routes, cross walks, and parks all over downtown. Check it out! You won’t be disappointed!

Please follow our blog for more adventures!

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Highway 6, BC: 4 Reasons to Take this Route

1. The Needles Ferry

The Needles Ferry is a cable ferry along Highway 6, BC. It connects Needles and Fauquier and runs on a thirty minute schedule between 5 am and 10 pm. After hours, it runs on demand. The capacity is 40 vehicles, which is just enough to feel like you are on a ferry but not so many that it takes hours to load and unload.

It is a short crossing and a relatively small ferry but my kids still found the snack bar.

This is the view.

2. Monashee Pass, Highway 6, BC

Monashee Pass is just over 80 kilometers east of Vernon and takes you up 1,189 meters. It is an easy drive.

I imagine there are views and hiking but instead, we enjoyed a good old fashioned hail storm. The kids were pretty impressed.

3. Nakusp. Highway 6, BC

Nakusp is a perfect place for a picnic. There are beaches, views, a playground, and an antique plow train that is open for tours!

There were also flies.

Nakusp. Highway 6 BC
Plow train from 1921
South between Nakusp and Nelson

4. Nelson.

Nelson is a small town with city amenities. It has a developed downtown full of local cafes and shops. The scenery if full of mountains and lakes, offering something for everyone.

We chose to stay at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. It is a short drive out of town and offers sandy beaches, play grounds, and hiking trails. We hope to stay there again!

Nelson

You can check out this link to find out how 4 of us sleep in our Sprinter 144.

See you in the Kootenays!

How do you know when family van life has gone off the rails?

Here are the top three signs that life while traveling in a van with kids has gotten out of hand.

  1. You endorse a Burger King vs McDonald’s french fry taste test.
Yikes!

2. You stop to buy fly strips. Yes, they still make fly strips and, yes, we needed them in the van.

3. You have a can of easy cheese in your purse.

Embarrassing as it may be, this was actually one day in our life. I can’t remember what got us to this point but I imagine it was a hot day and we drove quite a few miles. I was obviously delirious.

The day ended with a relaxing dinner at our campsite.

THEN … We woke up to this and everything was okay. As the kids would say: We were “livin’ the life”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Storage In Our Sprinter: A simple solution

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

We tried suitcases, duffel bags, and plastic tubs but none of these solved our family of four’s Sprinter storage problem.

What Is Our Priority?

Easy and fast access to clothing and daily use items.

Where Did We Find Extra Storage In Our Sprinter?

Under a bed with a hinge.

Our bed has a hinge and folds up from the front.

It is then be held open by two pieces of wood.

Sprinter Storage under our bed. Easy to access, organized. I love it!

What Is Inside The Space?

Typically there are four red bins and two square black bins. We get one red bin each.

Four red bins hold our clothes, everything from socks to sweatshirts.

Two square black bins are there as well. One hold toiletries and the other holds a bag full of dirty laundry.

Past the black bins in an open space that hold our curtains and two blankets. Our curtains go up each night when we put away our toothbrushes and go back to storage each morning after we change our clothes.

Follow our blog for more tips and family Sprinter adventures. Have fun out there!

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For more ideas check out this post!

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Steamboat Springs: Top 5

Are you in Colorado and looking for a winter get-away? Why not Steamboat?

To really appreciate the culture, consider staying downtown rather than on the mountain. You won’t regret it.

Here are 5 things to check out in Steamboat Springs:

5. Fish Creek Falls.

A short hike with rewarding views. Five dollars to park but avoid parking by walking from any where in town. Snow shoes or Yak tracks may help if slippery. Keep an eye out for ice climbers. Warm up afterwards with a drink at the Old Town Pub.

4. Rabbit Ears Pass.

Snowshoeing options are endless on Rabbit Ears pass. Skis and skins are a great option too. West Summit Loop is popular but there are tons of other options. You will likely see and hear snowmobiles. There are snowmobile rental options if that is more your speed.

3. Winter Carnival.

If you are interested in amateur ski jumping or skijouring and don’t mind crowds, this is the carnival for you. Don’t plan on driving down main street during this event as it will be closed and snow covered. Luckily, you can get everywhere you need to go by foot.

2. Howelsen Hill.

Billed as North America’s oldest operating ski area, Howelsen Hill is not to be missed. It sits unassumingly in town and has a long history of training Olympic athletes. While ski jump may be its most unique feature, I recommend skate skiing. Throw on some skate skis and hit the trail during a full moon.

1. Strawberry Park Hot Springs.

Of all the hot springs, this one is still my favorite. I have been there with my grandma in the afternoon and with my friends during a drum circle at night. The road is muddy and parking is limited. You may consider planning ahead and booking a cabin (or a caboose if you want to be more “Aspen Extreme”). While the lodging is convenient and fun, please realize that the cabins aren’t exactly like a five star hotel. Whether day or night, Strawberry Park Hot Springs is the right balance of accessible, clean, and downright beautiful hot springs.

Please follow our blog for other adventures!

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Sprinter under seat storage.

What is under the kids’ seats?

We removed the second row in our Sprinter but left the third. The kids sit there and we keep our day use items in the under seat storage.

So, what do we keep there?

These are just the right size for under the back seat.

Under Grace’s seat we kept two collapsible canvas bins. The first one pushed back so that the second one would fit as well.

First Bin:

The first one had six swimsuits and two pair of goggles.

This may seem like an odd choice but we have been to splash pads in nearly every State and Province that we have driven through. I even had an idea to make a splash pad locator app for parents traveling with kids. I didn’t follow through when I realized that other parents may not be as excited about having wet kids in the car on and off day after day. In any case, it didn’t take long for us to see the benefits of accessible kids swimwear.

The Sprinter acts as a mobile changing room. When they are motivated by a splash pad, the kids can get their suits on in under two minutes flat. After the fun, they can just slip their clothes back on and hang the wet suits on our make shift Sprinter clothes line.

One of the earlier ones. A good example of why we pack readily accessible swimwear. This was more of a fountain that a splash pad and not too many people in Aspen were into playing there. We liked it! Sprinter DIY
Passing through Salt Lake City on a super hot day. Sprinter DIY. Sprinter under seat storage.

Second Bin:

The second bin contained sunscreen and towels.

Middle Bin:

The middle row held the trash can. CD made it out of re-purposed heavy duty cardboard. It was just the right size and height.

2 Extra Bins of Sprinter Under Seat Storage:

There were also two bins under HB’s seat. The bin farthest back contained playing cards, dice, and travel board games. I added Racko to the mix last year but the kids lost interest once they found out that it was my favorite.

The second bin had a mix of drawing pads, notebooks, pencils, and pens. These got a fair amount of use both on the road and when we were stopped. HB made a fairly elaborate picture journal on our way out of Yellowstone last year.

In true CD style, all of the bins and the garbage can were held in place by a bungee cord and 3 mm accessory cord. They never slid forward when we braked so I guess this technique worked.

We will definitely continue to use the bins and garbage can but I imagine that the contents will evolve over time. I hope we stick with swimsuits and towels. Prioritizing such non-practical items just seems like a sign of a family that is out for a spontaneous and carefree good time!

Since my splash pad app never took off, here is non-comprehensive list of great splash pads we have found.

  • North Carolina (Ashville)
  • Florida (Marco Island)
  • Minnesota (Sauk Centre)
  • Ontario (Wiarton, Grand Bend, Bayfield, Port Elgin)
  • Michigan (Millennium Park; Sparta)
  • Colorado (Aspen)
  • Oregon (Corvallis)
  • British Columbia (Kelowna)
  • Alberta
  • Utah (Salt Lake City)

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

Please follow our blog to share our adventures.