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!
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!
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!
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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