Updated: Mar 26
So you have decided against staying in hotels, Airbnb’s, VRBO's or other accommodation's and want to rent or borrow someone's Travel Trailer? You are in for an adventure that may lead to many more or end your dream of living out of one when you retire.
Sometimes bigger isn't better
On a trip my family and I made last summer we decided to visit RVShare.com to find a towable trailer at a very last minutes notice. We were headed from Colorado and planned to pick one up in Cheyenne, WY to take North to Grand Teton National Park, followed by Yellowstone National Park. It seemed like a great plan and a perfect way to travel during a pandemic but little did we know it would turn into a bit of a nightmare at times.
Stopping in Cheyenne to pickup our 24 ft. travel trailer we were met with a huge 34-38 ft. monster. Don't get me wrong it was loaded down with all the amenities and appeared to be accommodations you would want, but maybe for a family of 8 vs. our family of 4. Overjoyed by all the bells and whistles and potential of such a great place to stay on our trip, we hooked her up and headed out.
Since most of the day was gone we only drove about 2 hours and stayed the night in a Walmart parking lot in Laramie, WY. To our surprise so did about 10 or so other roaming campers on their way to similar adventures we guessed. The best thing was that night we stayed free of charge and were surrounded by other outdoor enthusiasts. We would have loved to meet them, except we were in the middle of a pandemic and it was “keep to yourself to stay safe“ times for sure. The drive seemed ok except that our GMC Yukon felt a little sluggish and the wind never seemed to stop, which made the trailer sway a lot more than I would have liked.
Starting early the next morning we headed out for Jackson Hole, WY for our first campground. Problem was our 3 nights stay wouldn't work since we had a much larger Trailer than we thought and had made reservations for. That left us scrambling to find another place to stay our 3rd night as well as all future reservations we had booked in and around Yellowstone. We were also traveling with a vehicle for our Private Guided Tour business so my wife had to drive and neither of us could use our friend Google except when we stopped and had service.
That day's 5 hour predicted trip took over 8 hours due to of course more wind and a trailer that was probably too big for our vehicle in hindsight. Thank goodness for the sights along the way including a cattle drive (literally on part of the highway), numerous animals (including antelope, deer and a moose), and the majestic sight of the growing Teton mountain range we were about to enjoy. All this kept us just pushing forward to our destination and future adventures.
Jackson, WY and Grand Teton National Park
Arriving in Jackson,WY we were met with a great pull thru site at Virginian RV Park which was no trouble at all to navigate. Pull thru sites are definitely something I highly recommend paying extra for if you are new to towing a trailer. Backing up a normal trailer, let alone, an enormous one isn't for everyone. Even some experienced drivers can have trouble. Our neighbor let me know he was impressed I had pulled such a huge trailer with my Yukon all the way from Cheyenne. I was also impressed with myself but my wife definitely had a different perspective.
Around here social distancing wasn't just for humans but with animals as well. The signs greeting us at Snow King Resort alpine slide read 100 yards from bears & wolves, 25 yards from bison & Elk and 2 yards from other people. We were surprised to find the activities open since it was early June but happy to participate. The town was mostly open as well and we were able to find some souvenirs and see some sights.
After 2 nights in Jackson, WY we headed North for 1 night at Fireside Buffalo Valley RV Park in Moran, WY. It was near the Grand Teton National Park Headquarters entrance near Jenny Lake. The sights were spectacular wherever we went in this area. With only a day left in the area we took the Ferry across Jenny Lake to a popular hike to Hidden Falls & Inspiration Point. It was a moderate hike with about a 417 feet elevation gain. The trails were not busy at all but the lake was super cold when we tried wading in.
Hidden Falls was a hit with the kids and the perfect place to rest for lunch or snack before moving on toward Inspiration Point. I feel like most waterfalls just have an amazing way of both calming and mesmerizing an individual. The sounds and beauty are something you need to see in person for the whole experience.
Yellowstone National Park & Paradise Valley
By far the highlight of our trip was our visit to Yellowstone National Park! We lucked out in reservations and were able to book 1 night at Madison Campground inside Yellowstone the first day it was open on June 15th. We were worried it may not open but were assured the park was moving towards opening slowly. Check-in went smoothly and even though we had a Back-In campsite our spot was at the end of a road, so we easily navigated in place to setup. This site had no utilities and it was nice to unplug for a night without electronics or the hum of something running. We spotted fresh bear and other animal tracks and could tell nobody had been here since winter had passed.
This was the 1st visit to the park for my kids and they thoroughly enjoyed the animals, scenery, and just nature at its best! We spent days watching wolves, finding bears, and looking for otters although we never located any. We did some hiking and took in as much as possible for the time we had available. The weather in June was perfect for all the activities we did and for sleeping with the windows open overnight.
Some days we spent downtime in Emigrant, MT which is part of Paradise Valley. An amazing area surrounded by mountains and breathtaking sights. With the amazing Yellowstone River running nearby and the quaint little town of Gardiner, MT nearby. Topping off our trip we visited Yellowstone Hot Springs and took in the views and natural geothermal waters. My son said where else can you sit in a hot spring and watch Bison on a nearby hill?
The Upper Falls of The Yellowstone River were just amazing this time of year! Winter snow melt was sending so much water over these falls they appeared close to overflowing the banks. I‘m sure they wouldn't but it was definitely something to experience in person to fully grasp the magnitude of it.
Views from our camp in Paradise Valley
Some helpful life hacks, resources and thoughts for your adventure
Hammocks are awesome for kids & adults alike and pack into a very small bag. Just remember in National Parks they cannot be used without some kind of protection for the trees where the ropes connect. You must also take them down when you are not using them to avoid any animals getting caught in them. Remember Yellowstone is a place not like many others and animals roam free and wild all over the place.
A shoe holder makes for an amazing way to organize toiletries and to keep them accessible. Meal planning in a camper/trailer can be easier than you think with a little research online. Ziploc omelets were a great treat and only required boiling water to cook. You can never go wrong with the traditional roasted marshmallows or building smores. Bring some roasting sticks or grab one when building your fire it will certainly be a hit with the kids.
Whether it is your first time towing a trailer or driving a camper, an amazing resource can be Coach-Net ( www.Coach-net.com ). From roadside assistance to technical support they are amazing. On our trip they helped us un-winterize the camper we had rented as well as troubleshoot the hot water heater that wasn't functioning correctly. While we didn't need any roadside assistance, it sure was a piece of mind knowing we had it for such a long trip.
If you are looking for an adventure on the open road I would definitely recommend trying out a trailer or RV. While you may run into issues and challenges, at the end of the day when we asked our kids "What did you like least about our summer trip?" the response was a unanimous "Nothing at all, was there anything bad that happened?". Just making memories for them was worth all the effort.
I hope you get out there and enjoy your travels! Wherever that may take you just enjoy the ride and experiences as they come.