While taking some incredible photos in the Grand Tetons last week, it occurred to me just how many National Parks we've had the good fortune to visit. We don't have a bucket list or a specific goal of seeing every National Park, but we have enjoyed more than a few.
The United States has set aside just under 65 protected areas of the country (plus one shared by Canada) known as National Parks. Since Nadyne and I have been together, we have visited 22 of them, with about 10 more that happen to be on the calendar for the coming year. It didn't hurt that we lived in Colorado and in proximity to Utah, but we stopped in about half of those we have visited just since we hit the road last year in our 5th wheel.
Our favorite so far? That's a difficult choice. I loved Zion and Bryce, and camping on the edge of the Badlands was memorable. Acadia was a bucket list item for me that didn't disappoint, as was Campobello for Nadyne, along with Rainier and St. Helens. We were both in awe of the sheer size of the giant redwoods, the splendor of the Rockies and, of course, the sights and sounds of the mighty glaciers in Alaska. And I didn't even mention the Grand Canyon. No, there's just no way to choose.
Here are the National Parks we've toured and a quick gallery of some of my pics of those remarkable places:
Address: 50 SE 123 Street, South Beach, OR 97366
Phone: (541) 867-3100
# of sites: 164 (plus tent-only sites)
Full hookup price: From $65/night
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: The park is split into two sections, and few sites are satellite-friendly,
We were recommended this campground by another Thousand Trails member and were excited about their location, a few miles south of Newport, OR. The resort was split in two, with about 2/3 in the main portion of the park and the other section across a road on the south side. We were in the north side.
The location on the Oregon coast was probably the highlight of this campground. Situated right on Highway 101, we drove the coast in both directions, north to Tillamook to tour the cheese factory and creamery, and south to the Sea Lion Caves near Florence. Both were exquisite drives. There is a pristine beach a long, but easy, walk from most of the resort.
Newport is just about six miles away and has many of the shopping and eating options we wanted. Also in Newport was a "historic bayfront" filled with quaint buildings and piers, old fisheries and shops, and many murals had been painted throughout the district. These included, to my surprise, a Robert Wyland "whaling wall." On the other side of the bay was also the enigmatic Rogue Brewery, a must-visit spot with a great restaurant and tasting room.
The Whaler's Rest campsites themselves, at least on the north side of the resort, had excellent privacy, with lots of trees and large shrubs separating the sites. Our side of the park had laundry facilities, albeit just a few washers and dryers, and we're not sure if the south side's room is being renovated or closed for good. The north side had its own lodge with a pool table, TV, room for a group or large gathering, restrooms and showers, and the aforementioned laundry room.
Like many of the Thousand Trails properties, this is a very old park that needs a face-lift badly. There were many overgrown areas and the buildings were dated. The resort was clean but it just seemed like the staff had been overwhelmed.
Most amenities were on the other side of the park, including an indoor swimming pool and spa that we were not even aware of, a small market with very limited hours and a dog run that was a half-mile walk from our side of the campground.
Most of the Thousand Trails parks are first-come-first served for sites. This makes for slim pickings in parks like Whaler's Rest, with so much of the resort occupied by seasonal or year-round residents. When we checked in we were given a list that showed the supposed availability of satellite accessibility (sky) in each site. According to the list there were only two sites left with satellite access and one was too small for our 5th wheel. We took the other but found no sky view for satellite. I can imagine that this site had open southern sky when the list was created ten years earlier. Unfortunately the trees had grown and closed the sky view. There was no cable TV available.
As expected for this part of the country, we experienced dreary or rainy weather nearly every day of our two-week stay. You must be prepared for this if you travel the coast from Northern California to Washington State.
My first impulse was to rate this park as average with 3 stars. However, it is a very clean resort and the staff is friendly, though shorthanded, and you simply can't discount the nearly spectacular scenery that can be found in this area year-round. Even with its shortcomings, I think we will be staying again and I would recommend this park to anyone wanting the Oregon coast experience.
While neither is better than the other, the east and west cultures are very different. Sometimes clichés are based on truth and that certainly seems to be the case when comparing the two regions of the country. The west tends to be more athletic and health-minded while the east seems to be more interested in its cosmopolitan lifestyle. Art, theater and history can be enjoyed on both coasts, but for sheer quality and numerous opportunities for a metropolitan experience, the east is far superior.
A couple of differences stand out when comparing camping and resorts. In the east, there are many more seasonal vacationers, whether camping or having property, than in the west. Every eastern lake and many coastal roads are lined with summer homes, and the zones of seasonal campers in east coast resorts are many times larger than campgrounds out west. To be fair, there are huge seasonal groupings in Arizona, Southern California and Florida, but the balance of the west coast is mostly devoid of these camping subdivisions. The issue is that seasonal neighborhood residents often view us interlopers as vagabonds or street rats. There are friendly people everywhere, but the large number of seasonal inhabitants makes it much more likely for this view to be shown.
Second, it seems like western campers love dark, serene nights and the abundance of stars, while their eastern counterparts would rather bring the big city with them when they camp. East coast campsites are often adorned with enough lights to compete in a Christmas light contest, with flashing strobe lights, rotating spotlights, electronic lamps shining colorful shapes up into the trees and enough solar lighting to blaze a trail from one end of a resort to the other. These campers are also much more likely to build and man private taverns and public bars, complete with tiki torches and thatched roofs.
Sunrise vs. Sunset
Purely a personal preference, but sunsets seem grander and more vibrant than sunrises over oceans or other bodies of water. I did cross off a bucket list item in the east, however, when I photographed a sunrise from Acadia National Park in Maine.
The takeaway is this: Knowing these differences can help maximize your enjoyment in each region of the country. You can plan on more state-run parks and attractions and extra visits to historical locales in the east and more self-guided tours and longer drives in the west. You can enjoy your solitude in the west and party like rock stars in the east -- savor the differences and revel in the RV lifestyle.
Resort Parks International (RPI)
Address: 700 W. Klamath Beach Rd., Klamath, CA 95548
Phone: (707) 482-2091
# of sites: 91 (plus tent-only sites)
Full hookup price: From $48/night
Open: May through October
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: Few amenities, stickers in grass, no 50-amp
Situated just a couple of miles up the Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean, the Klamath River RV Park is centrally located to maximize an abundance of outdoor activities and attractions, including the rugged Northern California coastline, Redwood National Park, and all the hiking you might want. See my 360-degree video in the redwood forest.
This park is just a short drive from much of the Redwood National Park, which includes several California State Parks, Fern Canyon and the Trees of Mystery. The redwood forest is a must-see item on anyone's bucket list, and the iconic coastal scenery should not be missed. From an overlook just two miles from the campground, we were 400 feet above the mouth of the Klamath River and were able to view dozens of sea lions on the river bank and and several whales waiting just outside the delta.
The park itself is clean and comfortable with many spacious pull-through sites, and all sites are on grass. They staggered RV's so that they occupied every other space, making the park very roomy. There are fire rings at seating areas overlooking the river and some of the sites had their own.
The laundry room had five washers and four dryers and was open 24/7, so there was no problem getting laundry done. It was a bit expensive, however, with two loads costing $10 for wash and dry. The bathrooms and showers were always open and clean.
Though open for only a few hours a day, there is a coffee shop/snack bar open on the premises.
Though its proximity to natural wonders and attractions is great, Klamath is a tiny, remote town and the closest grocery stores are 23 miles away in Crescent City. Though a nice drive, it is somewhat inconvenient.
The park itself has few amenities. There is no clubhouse, no pool or spa, no pool tables or game room, no tourist activities, no boats or water activities and no market. It is just your basic campground, and entertainment is clearly your own problem. It would have been nice to have a dock to fish off of or a beach to enjoy, since the park is right on the river's bank, but it is one of the swiftest rivers I have ever camped near. Perhaps any activities around or in the fast water would have been too dangerous.
Although their own park map shows four 50-amp sites, we were led to believe there weren't any at all, just 30-amp throughout the resort. Fortunately we did not need our A/C this early in the season. Parking on the grass was somewhat nice, though I did have to use blocks to level up. However, as the week went by, the tires not on blocks sank a bit, making us unlevel in the other direction. I would recommend placing supports under all wheels while leveling your rig.
You would think a grassy resort would be dog friendly, but Klamath River isn't. The lushest areas all had "No Pets" signs, there is no fenced dog run, and there many parts of the park that had thorns or stickers in the grass. I basically had to walk Lucy while staying on the gravel road the whole week.
The weather on the Northern California coast is cold, wet and dreary a great deal of the time. If you are only in the area for a short time, it will be hit-or-miss for sunshine and sightseeing, though only rain and high winds should keep you from enjoying the various redwood forests nearby. We decided not to visit the Trees of Mystery and its gondolas because of the fog -- often the marine layer simply doesn't burn off. I was hoping to have photos with other than white or gray skies and had to bide my time to get them.
The tourist attractions, as plentiful as they are, will be inundated by visitors starting around memorial Day and continuing through Labor Day. We chose the first week in May to avoid the crowds, but even then you could see the coming torrent beginning.
Even with the downsides and lack of amenities, I would highly recommend Klamath River RV Park for its proximity to some of the best sightseeing you can ever ask for. Words alone are just not adequate to describe the giant redwoods, the tallest and oldest trees on the country and some as tall as 35-story buildings. Come camp here and be prepared to be amazed all around you.
Below is a 360-degree view of one spot in the middle of the Jedediah Smith State Park near Crescent City, CA. Here we found an absolutely beautiful forest of giant redwoods. Notice that the some of the trunks are wider than the road?
Address: 33655 Geysers Rd, Cloverdale, CA 95425
Phone: (707) 894-3184
# of sites: 125
Full hookup price: From $68/night
Open: Year round
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Warnings: No sewer hookups!
In the middle of Northern California's heralded wine country, the Russian River RV Campground is snuggled 6 miles from Cloverdale off Highway 101 and 25 miles from the nearest real shopping in Healdsburg. Its namesake is nearby, though mostly a creek this time of year.
The aforementioned wine country is the biggest draw to this campground, though its relative proximity to the Pacific coastline, Monterrey, Big Sur, redwood forests and San Francisco must also be considered huge positives. We enjoyed a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway from just north of San Francisco up to Monterrey and were treated to fabulous ocean views from both sea level, where you can watch waves crashing onto jagged rocks up close, to nearly 1,000 in elevation, giving us a bird's eye view of the coastline in both directions.
The park itself has little else going for it, but it was clean, provided a shady canopy of trees and the staff was very friendly. There were nice green views from each of our windows as well. If you like walking taking your dog out, you'll get plenty of exercise, since the resort is on several levels of elevation and each camping section on a slight incline.
There was much to dislike here. The park must have been built in the 1960's when the largest trailers on the road were only 24' long. The sites are tight, with practically no room for the park-supplied picnic tables, which have to be moved even to pull in, let alone mats and lawn chairs. I had parked my truck across the front of my site, barely off the road and stretching into the site in front of and behind me. A Class A motorhome trying to straighten out in one of the few pull-through sites backed into it, and my first thought was, why are you bringing that large of an RV into this park?
The biggest pain was that there are no sewer hookups. When I called Thousand Trails to ask how we can find out in the future whether a park has sewer hookups, I was told they all do in their system. Wrong. For $25-$35 a honey wagon can be scheduled to empty your tanks on Tuesdays or Fridays.
Laundry consists of a single washer and one dryer at each of the five restroom buildings scattered around the resort. Since there were about 40 people waiting for each, getting laundry done was a game of stamina and attrition. Speaking of restrooms, the odor in each was a definite deterrent to using them, but the lack of sewer connection made it necessary. By the way, the cabins had sewer hookups, so what the heck?
Overall this park is not dog friendly. Though they do have waste bag kiosks at the restrooms and a few other locations, but there is no fenced dog run and thorns and stickers in nearly every patch of grass.
We will not be returning to Russian River RV Campground. Even with its wine country location, there are just not enough positives to overcome the downsides. If you must camp in this area, we recommend you choose another resort.
Address: 5218 Patrick Rd., Verona, NY 13478
Phone: (315) 361-7275
# of sites: 175
Full hookup price: From $50/night
Open: May 3 - Oct 15
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Turning Stone is a Las-Vegas-style hotel-casino in Upstate New York, in Verona, a small town not far from Syracuse. Our stay was in early September, well before the fall foliage, and it rained off and on during the week. This is a Good-Sam- and Escapee-affiliated resort, so make sure you request your discount.
From their website: "The RV park features nature trails, a recreational area for bocce ball, horse shoes, tennis, basketball and volleyball and separate ponds for paddle boating and fishing. A heated pool and Jacuzzi are open daily from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend."
This resort is owned and operated by the casino, who provides a free shuttle to and from the property. Turning Stone is a unique casino and a step up from your usual Native American gaming venue.
This park is spacious, green and well-maintained. All of the sites have paved pads and plenty of room for laying out a "front yard." There were many larger rigs, so no concern for toy haulers or big motorhomes. The laundry room was exceptional and the staff professional.
The Turning Stone Casino is spacious and as beautiful as any in Las Vegas, with luxurious carpeting and decor. As one would expect they have the usual layout of electronic slots and manned gaming tables, and over a dozen high-end restaurants on the property.
We took advantage of Verona's proximity to the Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence River near the northeast corner of Lake Ontario and defining the Canadian border at that location. It's quite unique and worth a day trip to peruse. Also nearby Verona are Oneida Lake, Syracuse and the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes.
It seems that this park all but closes down after Labor Day. We arrived on Labor Day and stayed the following week, so we were not able to take advantage of many of the perks that had been open the week before our stay.
Even though they have quite a number of amenities, there is no dog run or fenced play area.
Though gorgeous, Turning Stone Casino is very expensive and most restaurants were closed except for a few hours during the weekend. If they had been open we would have had to pay what appeared to be New York City prices for meals. The tables all had very high minimums and no free drinks were provided while gambling or playing the slots.
There's not much to do in the local area. The closest city is Syracuse, about 35 miles away, which is primarily a college town that doesn't really cater to an older age group.
The biggest disadvantage we found was the timing of our visit. We would recommend dates either before Labor Day or later to see some fall foliage. However, they close the park down for winter starting the middle of October, so seeing New York State's brilliant fall colors from here might be a gamble, appropriately.
Address: 78 Heath Rd, Corinth, NY 12822
Phone: (518) 654-6260
# of sites: 496
Full hookup price: From $66/night
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Warnings: This is a huge resort!
Alpine Lake RV Resort is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains and is near both Lake George and Saratoga Springs, so there's no shortage of things to do. The college town of Saratoga Springs is worth a visit, especially if you like night life. We had a terrific time doing karaoke and a great meal at one of the many taverns that were open to the street (Saratoga City Tavern).
This was one of the nicer parks we've stayed in. You can have a true lakeside camping site or be away from the lake in the surrounding forest, and either way, the sites are spacious. This resort is very well maintained and managed, which is a nice change compared to many campgrounds we've been in.
There are many amenities here in this very large park, including everything you would expect from a quality Thousand Trails facility, i.e. swimming pool, showers, gameroom, laundry, etc. The pavilion is huge, seating 800, so they say, and there is both a country store and restaurant on the premises, though the restaurant was closed for the off-season when we were there.
We had stayed in another park near Lake George, Warrensburg Travel Park and Riverfront Campground, but Alpine Lake is far superior. For one thing, there isn't a decades old seasonal neighborhood to camp in. That alone makes it a breath of fresh air for an East Coast Thousand Trails resort.
This is a very large resort and, as such, amenities and events can require a long walk or short drive to get to. As with a majority of huge parks we have stayed in, they are actively promoting children's events, who show up in droves. We prefer fewer or no children around us when we camp, so it was a bit loud and and crowded for our liking.
Though they don't have the usual seasonal trailer park neighborhood, there are many long-term campers and I suspect most of the lakefront sites are taken by them, since none were available to us as Thousand Trails members.
This park touts itself as "pet friendly," but they don't have any dog runs or leash-free sections for dogs to play or run in.
Overall, we really enjoyed staying in this park. It's far from perfect, thus the 4-star rating, but it is an exceptional park in many regards. We highly recommend trying this one for a week or two, whether or not you have kids.
Every once in a while I get a request to post a blog, article or infographic that is interesting enough to share. The following was provided by CAMP (Caravan and Motorhome Parts) about the history of trailers in the UK. In the UK, a trailer is called a caravan.... Enjoy!
Infographic provided by https://caravanandmotorhomeparts.com
As we approach the one-year mark of being on the road full-time, one of the unexpected difficulties that stands out is doing laundry. We try to wash our clothing, bath towels and bed linens about once per week. Our 5th wheel, being only 31’ long, did not come with or was even plumbed for a washer and dryer, so we purchased a nice little washing machine that is similar to a full-sized home washer but only washes about a half load at a time. On laundry days I take it from its storage place in our bedroom, place it in the shower and hook it up. Since we have no dryer, we depend upon clotheslines.
Has anyone noticed that the weather has not been particularly conducive to drying clothes on a line this year? When we started out, I was able to put out the awning and string a rope three or four times across, from arm to arm, and with the heat, sun and breeze, clothing dried easily. By time summer ended, we had rain, thunderstorms and cool weather all up and down the east coast, following us south to Georgia and west to Arizona and Southern California. For months now we’ve been dependent upon resort laundry rooms and public laundromats.
Most RV parks have laundry facilities, but that is not always a good option. First, many resorts spread out their washers and dryers in various buildings on their premises. This might seem a good layout, giving more people short walks to them, but when you are competing with 200 other campers for three washing machines and a couple of dryers, shrinking their numbers in each location is not ideal. Very often we have to wait, and wait, and wait some more for a few machines to become available.
Second, it appears that many resorts disregard the importance of clean, working washers and dryers, and we often have trouble finding more than a couple of operational machines in an older park. Ironically, these are often the same campgrounds that restrict the use of clotheslines at your site. The last resort we stayed in closed both of their laundry rooms indefinitely because of drainage problems.
We’ve begun to see some resorts using a high-tech laundry card, which you have to buy for $2 or $3 and then load with cash. The equipment will only take these cards, not coins, and whatever money is left on the card is stuck there until you can use it again. “No problem,” a manager told us. “Just keep the card and you won’t have to re-buy it in the next park.” Two problems surfaced with that suggestion. By the time we got to the next park, we had lost the card (and the $2.50 still on it), and the next park’s card system wasn’t compatible anyway. This seems like another way for resorts to nickel and dime their customers.
The primary reasons people use public laundromats are that they can’t afford to buy or repair laundry equipment in their house or apartment, they are homeless or they are traveling. The first two causes dictate that facilities be located in poorer sections of a city where many of their customers live, often in or near rundown neighborhoods with vagrants and gangs in the vicinity. Though we have used laundromats that were located in nicer areas and were very well maintained, these are the small minority of laundry storefronts we’ve been forced to use.
An example of this was experienced recently when the closest facility to our campground was 16 miles away in Chula Vista, CA. There are extremely modern and pleasant sections of this city and we were hoping to find a laundromat on that side of town. Instead, options were ten miles further away in a much older suburb. The parking lot of first location we tried was full, with nearly 50 cars parked in tiny spaces, so we had to move to our second choice. This had only two parked vehicles, one of which was a rusted white van blaring profanity-laced rap music. There was a reason for its lesser popularity. By the time we were finished, after sharing a broken row of seats with a transient who was passed out and wafting of hard alcohol, we wondered if our clothing was cleaner or worse off after using their equipment.
Doing laundry is a necessary evil that full-time RV’ers must endure. I envy those larger RV’s that have full washer/dryer setups. They rarely have to deal with some of these issues that can ruin your week, or worse.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 7 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.