Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

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.

4. Remember to bring your National Park Passport and Junior Ranger books.

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.

Follow our blog for more adventures!

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Traveling During A Pandemic: 8 Things to Consider.

We drive from Oregon to Ontario and back each summer. Typically, we spent several weeks on the road and explore everywhere from British Columbia to Colorado. This year is different. We are in Colorado, halfway to Michigan. Here are some reflections from the first half of our trip: 8 things to consider when traveling during a pandemic.

1. Camping is more complicated than usual when traveling during a pandemic.

The first night on the road: Campground #1 was closed. The local Walmart did not allow overnight parking. Campground #2 was full but we drove in anyway and the camp host pointed us towards a spot that was open due to a cancellation. We felt so lucky! In the morning was drove to the day use area and it was pretty much full. We were able to snag a spot to the side and hike in an area away from the river.

Tumalo State Park, Bend, Oregon

The second night we were in Utah. I cannot speak to the situation at Utah State Parks because we arrived in Ogden around 10:30 and Utah State Park campgrounds close and lock gates at 10 pm.

We broke one of our own unwritten rules and ended up at a KOA. Again, we were lucky! It was barely occupied, clean, spacious, and had affordable tent sites for our van. It was pouring rain and we were lucky to be self sufficient.

The third night we opted to stop driving at around dinner time. We were at Dinosaur National Monument and stayed at the campground. It was easy and great. The hosts came over to welcome us, which would have been great if they had been wearing masks. Overall, it was still a hit!

Dinosaur National Monument

2. Be prepared to be amazed and scared.

We left a highly mask and social distancing compliant town in Oregon in order to travel and see our families. It turns out that the rest of the world is going on with their lives and not necessarily very compliant.

I was almost immediately shocked by the lack of masks compliance. We haven’t been in any stores or even gas stations but I have been watching people go in and out of places as we drive through. We spotted 1 mask the entire time we were in Utah. Eastern Oregon was the same. Steamboat Springs and Summit County Colorado were a bit better but, overall, I was horrified and a bit scared.

3. Bring more food and drinks than usual.

I packed food and drinks for weeks. This includes snack size bags of chips, M & Ms, Diet Coke, Gatorade, and all the provisions that you would usually run into a gas station to pick up. We have not been in a gas station or store and do not intend to change that.

4. Consider a camping conversion that includes a toilet.

Again, we have not been into gas stations, campground bathrooms, stores or restaurants. This is probably self explanatory.

5. You may feel guilty at times.

I find myself feeling like I need to justify why we are traveling.

During a remote work meeting while on the road, I felt the need to explain why we chose to travel and every precaution we are taking. I did not do that but I still want to call the people in that meeting and tell them all about it.

It is easy to find myself reviewing these points in my own mind in order to justify this trip.

6. You may find yourself judging others while traveling during a pandemic.

I find myself judging other people behaviors which is kind of funny because they could be judging me as I drive by with my out of state plates.

A playground full of mask-less adults and kids without social distancing while driving through Salt Lake City had me judging them for sure. I am aware that this is neither appropriate nor helpful.

7. Empty parking lots are more appealing than ever before.

CD and the kids spent two hours in a National Forest Service Parking lot in Utah. I was on a phone call and they set up hammocks and cooked lunch. They were happy.

Traveling during a pandemic

I cooked lunch on a our camping table in the parking lot of an abandoned department store in Idaho. We ran laps to the lamp post and back. It wasn’t our usual picturesque lunch at a park or splash pad but it was okay.

8. You will wonder if traveling during a pandemic was the right choice.

This is impossible to know. We will just do our best to keep clear minds and hearts.

Please like and follow our blog!

Dinosaur National Monument: 5 Things to Know
Packing for a Pandemic Road Trip.
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Packing for a Pandemic Road Trip.

I never expected to be writing about packing for a pandemic road trip. I consider packing to be a highly subjective and personal topic. Everyone has different preferences and techniques for packing based on their needs.

So, here I am, mid pandemic, packing for our annual cross country road trip.

Below are 5 ways that Covid 19 is changing our trip.

1. Food. Much More Food.

We cook nearly all of our meals at the van and have been surprised how many beautiful and out of the way spots we have found only because we wanted to cook lunch.

With that being said, we also love fresh fruits, local food, and finding reasons to get out of the van mid-road trip. Over the years, I have learned to pack less food and stop more often. We enjoy checking out fruit stands and local grocery stores. We stretch our legs, soak up the culture, and buy food often during our trips.

This time, however, I have been stock piling food. Costco, Safeway, and homemade cookie baking have supplied enough food to live in our van for weeks. To CD’s dismay, I have even resorted to 54 single serving bags of chips, granola bars, drink boxes, and even a few bottles of water. I basically made my own convenience store in the back of our Sprinter. We will see how far it gets us!

2. Clorox Wipes and Hand Sanitizer.

While I like to keep things clean, I am not prone to wiping things down all day long. We use water with a spigot and a bar of soap to wash our hands before we eat. I typically carry one tiny bottle of hand sanitizer for emergencies. This time I packed two containers of Clorox wipes, two large bottles and three small bottles of hand sanitizer. I still have the bar of soap but that just didn’t seem like it would cut it. We will see.

3. Masks.

I didn’t see this one coming. I have two adult makes with ties, two adult masks with elastic, two kids masks with ties, two adult N95s, two kids N95s, and a bit of anxiety. As a health care provider, I hope that we don’t get into a situation that seems like it requires a N95. Wish us luck.

4. Luggable Loo And Extra Accessories.

The Luggable Loo is our potty of choice. I use biodegradable bags and poo powder. I have not typically bought extras. This time I did.

5. Guitar.

Okay, this isn’t new but it seems like a good idea when faced with a socially distant pandemic road trip. I can already hear the music.

Please follow our blog to hear about our trip!

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Fresh food. This time it may look more like empty chip bags and mac and cheese but we shouldn’t be hungry.

Manitou Incline: All Your Questions Answered.

The Manitou Incline is well known among Colorado Springs locals. It is the remains of a narrow gauge railway that was built in 1907 and destroyed by a rock slide in 1990. The rails were removed and the rail road ties remain.

Until 2013 locals and fitness enthusiasts would walk past “no trespassing” signs to hike up the remains. CD and I were among the people that made this trek and did so without injury.

It has since been repaired and officially opened to the public. Thanks to this restoration, the trail is much more safe which still being sufficiently challenging.

Manitou Incline Stats:

  • Altitude at the base: 6600 ft
  • Ascent: 2011 ft
  • Distance: 0.88 miles
  • Steps: 2744
  • Grade: up to 68%

Getting There:

  • By car: Manitou Springs is a 20 minute drive from Colorado Springs
  • By bus: Check the schedule here

Parking:

  • The base of the incline offers paid parking.
  • The town of Manitou Springs offers various parking options. A free shuttle bus runs to the incline every twenty minutes year round. I have also walked the approximately 1.5 miles to and from town but I thinking that the shuttle bus looked like a nicer option!
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Packing List:

  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Trekking poles
    • 2 poles. Seriously – you will thank me later!
  • Water
    • To drink and to pour on yourself if are still there when the sun hits!
  • Snacks
    • I recommend a piece of fruit for a picnic at the top!
  • Camera
  • A friendly smile and a social attitude
    • Everyone is in this together! You will find that people are chit chatting and encouraging each other the whole way. It is the best!

Trip Planning And Other Tips:

  • Start early if you can
    • I usually don’t start early enough and end up mid incline in the hot sun. Be aware that there isn’t any shade. You can duck off to the side in the trees a bit but it won’t offer much relief.
  • Embrace the community! Talk to people. Give encouragement. Accept encouragement. Smile. Laugh, sweat, and cheer together!
  • Going down will take longer than going up. They don’t allow walking down the incline so be ready to hike the Barr Trail down.
  • Know that there is a bail out spot half way up. It connects back to the Barr Trail and heads down. If you can make it, keep going slow and steady. The view from the top is impressive.
  • Be aware of the false summit. Just like most mountain hikes, the incline offers false hope. For this hike you are pretty much always “almost there”.
  • Don’t be afraid to be slow and steady. I have climbed it fast and climbed it slow. Both have been great. In terms of the actual time, slow and fast aren’t really that different. Enjoy!

Please follow our blog for other adventures!

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Craters Of The Moon National Monument: In One Day

It was dark, the kids were asleep, and we were driving through the same part of Idaho that we had many times before. We hadn’t decided where to camp or how long to drive so we exited the highway, towards Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our Sprinter van was the reason we made this choice; we didn’t have cell service, there weren’t any hotels, and I had not idea if there was anywhere to sleep once we got there. It turns out that the closest hotels are more than 30 miles from the park and the campground was full.

We parked our van near the visitor’s center and settled in for the night.

The next day we work up and it looked like we were on the Moon. The kids were amazed and excited all at once!

It looks like I imagine the moon!

5 Helpful Tips For 1 Day At Craters of Moon National Monument.

  1. Plan where to stay. The campground is small and may be full. Other lodging options are approximately 30 miles away.
Craters of the Moon

2. Check out the visitor’s center! Not only can you get your National Parks Passport stamp and your Junior Ranger badge but it has displays, movies, and activities for everyone!

3. Bring a headlamp! The lava tubes are a must-see. The caves trail offers easy access. You must get a Caves Permit prior to entering the caves. The permit is free.

caves: lava tubes
caves.

4. Prepare for the elements. Bring a jacket if it is windy and a hat if it is sunny. The trails are exposed and you will be out in the weather.

sun. wind. moon rock. the kids loved it!
walk on the moon on a clear day

5. Bring food and drinks. It takes a bit to get back to town to the East and even longer to the West. There aren’t restaurants or gas stations right there so pack a lunch, grab a picnic table, and enjoy!

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a nice walk on the moon on a clear day. the kids ran part of the way.

Please like our blog for more fun!

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Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits on the western side of northern lower Michigan. With dunes rising 400 feet above its 65 miles of shoreline, this park does not disappoint! Check out forests, wetlands, streams, inland lakes, historic homesteads, campgrounds, hiking trails, a 1920’s village, and the more recently added Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail bike path.

It is hard to decide where to begin but here are 5 ideas to get you started!

5. Empire Bluff Trail

This trail is short and sweet. This 1.5 mile round trip hike will satisfy hikers and photographers alike.

Start at the Visitor’s Center in Empire and get directions to the trail head which is just a few miles down the road. The trail is unassuming at first but don’t let that fool you. The views from the top some of the most remarkable in the park.

4. Glen Haven

Whether you are looking for a Junior Ranger cancellation or are excited to check out a working blacksmith’s shop, Glen Haven is worth the stop!

There is a general store, boat house, clean restrooms, and beach access with picnic tables.

4. Sleeping Bear Point Lifesaving Station

On your way out of Glen Haven, follow the road until it ends at Sleeping Bear Point. The building from 1901 is now a Maritime Museum.

Learn about the lives of the people that lived at the station and the tools they used for rescues. Look out for an opportunity to participate in the daily lifesaving demonstration and you may even see them fire the Lyle Gun!

You can also access the Sleeping Bear Point Loop Trail from here. This 2.8 mile trail may not be the most picturesque in the park but it is certainly one of the most diverse. Hike up and down rolling dunes as you experience some of the different terrain and ecosystems that Michigan has to offer. Bring water and keep in mind that 2.8 miles over sand dunes takes longer and is more difficult than the same distance on pavement.

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2. Dune Climb

Whether you want to play in the sand, have a picnic, or climb for a view of Glen Lake, the Dune Climb has it all. Some amenities include clean restrooms, potable water, a gift shop with a park passport cancellation, and an ice cream vending machine.

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For those of you that are looking for a challenge, the Dune Climb trail ends at Lake Michigan. Be aware that this hike is rated strenuous and in my experience, it is easy to underestimate its difficulty. There are wooden posts marking the trail so keep an eye on those. bring water, hat, and sunscreen. Prepare to be exposed on wide open sand dunes for 3-4 hours.

While there are much easier ways to get to Lake Michigan, you will likely feel the greatest sense of accomplishment if you arrive there by foot via these dunes. Honestly, I only do it for the exercise so if that is not a huge motivator for you, I recommend skipping this hike, accessing Lake Michigan at Glen Haven, and climbing the dune just high enough for a bird’s eye view of Glen Lake.

1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This is one of my favorite things that has happened anywhere in the past several years! The Heritage Trail is a mixed use, non motorized trail planned to extend 27 miles from Empire to North of Glen Arbor. There are currently 22 miles completed.

Avoid traffic and parking hassles by utilizing the trail. In 2019, my husband, myself, and three kids under 10 logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days. Bikes were our only means of transportation once we set up camp at DH Day campground.

Here are the top reasons we love the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

  • It is more safe for families than riding on the road
  • It is the fastest route from DH Day campground to Glen Haven or the Dune Climb on a busy day.
  • Bike parking in Glen Arbor is less stressful and more available than car parking.
  • Your car can be kept safe from sandy kids.
  • Riding the trail is good exercise and better for the environment than driving a car.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Please like and follow our blog for more adventures!

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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!

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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.

Please like and follow our blog for more adventures!

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

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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!