We’ve said it before, and not to sound like a broken record, but planning ahead of time can help you smooth out some of the unknown. It doesn’t necessarily mean plotting out every second of every day. For us, that’s overkill. Some people, however, might really thrive on that kind of schedule. We like a mixture of planned time and unplanned time that allows for spontaneity.
There is nothing worse in my mind than running late for a flight. Consequently, I’ve been known to get to an airport upwards of four hours early. Caroline is very different. She is more comfortable with about an hour and a half. The compromise for us is somewhere in the middle. No matter what though, we like to be early so that we’re not adding unnecessary travel stress.
Consider automatically checking in for flights
One of the things you can do to ease your travel stress is to automatically check in for your flight. Southwest offers EarlyBird CheckIn for an additional $15 and Lufthansa does it for free.
TSA Precheck or Global Entry
Another way to save travel time and reduce travel stress is to go the TSA Precheck route. Over 200 airports and 54 airlines use it. It’s a three step process but going through it means you don’t have to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. It also means that you when you go to the airport, you can access the faster lanes to security. The cost is $85 for five years.
1. Apply Online
Submit an online application in 5 minutes & schedule an appointment at any of 380+ enrollment centers.
This is done in person. It’s supposed to take about 10 minutes and includes a background check and fingerprinting.
When you fly, add your new Known Traveler Number to your ticket.
Get a good night’s rest
Getting great sleep leading up to your trip is one of the best ways to reduce travel stress. That said, if you’re like me, it can be difficult because you’ve got a lot on your mind and you’re excited. In addition, once you’ve arrived at your destination, try to stick to your nighttime routine. Pack an eye mask and earplugs if you think it will help you acclimate to a different sleeping environment.
Have a little extra spending money on hand
Nothing is more stressful than realizing a credit card won’t work or that you don’t have enough cash for a cup of coffee. Though not as bad, we also don’t like it when we get slapped with ATM fees. Head to your bank before leaving and take out a little extra money so that you can move about (and spend) with ease.
Update your cell phone plan ahead of time
We recently went to the Bahamas and knew we would want to be able to use our cell phones for work. We use Verizon and were able to figure out how to add International Data to our plan. They have a couple of different options to choose from. We found that jumping on their chat service was helpful. In the end, we picked a plan that only lasted for a month and then automatically ended once the time was up. If we did it again we would do the same thing but buy more data.
Pack ahead of time
I am known for packing last minute but I have tried hard to break myself of this habit. Why? Because packing last minute means that I inevitably forget something. When I’ve packed early (and made a list) it means that I have time to go through the things I need and catch myself before I forget something important. It can be a slippery slope though for those of you who love to overpack! To see 9 of our van life essentials, head on over HERE. To see some things we never bring with us, head on over HERE.
Have snacks available
Being hungry while traveling only leads to stress. And impulsivity. And sometimes food guilt. None of which are conducive to having a fun time on the road. We almost always bring bananas and peanut butter, pretzels and mandarins with us everywhere we go.
Build in down time
We love packing in as much as we can while traveling but it’s also a surefire way to lead to travel stress. Depending on the length of the trip, it’s always a good thing to build in a little down time. If you’re going away for a weekend, it might just mean a twenty minute power nap before going out late-night. If you’re traveling for a week or two, it could mean building in one full day of just reading on the beach in the sun.
Take time to transition
Coming home from a vacation can be exhausting. Red eye flights, time zone differences, unpacking, restocking your fridge, picking up your pet from the kennel … all of these things can lead to a stressful re-entry into your life. If you’re able, consider taking off an extra day before heading back to work. If that isn’t possible, consider returning on a weekend so that you have time to do all the things you need to do before Monday arrives. No one wants to be exhausted from their vacation since resting up is probably one of the reasons you took one.
How to Reduce Travel Stress and Anxiety Recap
With a little bit of planning, anyone can reduce travel stress and anxiety. Doing so is one of the easiest ways to make the most of your trip! Do you have any other tips you’d recommend? If so, we’d love to hear about them. Please leave your comments below!
Authentic Asheville is a travel blog written and photographed by Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady. We are currently accepting projects for 2019! To learn more about who we are and what we do, head on over HERE.
Mount Rainier National Park is centered around an active volcano and is a whopping 14,410 feet above sea level. Though it is often hidden behind clouds, it is nevertheless an amazing place. There are some gorgeous trails, waterfalls, glaciers, rivers, wildlife and more to discover in this park. It is one of the most incredible places in the entire Pacific Northwest, not to mention the world. Come check out our top tips for visiting Mount Rainier National Park as well as the best things to do!
Follow in our steps:
Thanks to one of my dearest friends from college who let us stay in her West Seattle home for a few nights, we left for Mount Rainier with fresh laundry, full bellies and lots of new memories. From the Seattle area it’s only about an hour and a half to the White River entrance to the park. We drove our van, restocked our supplies in Enumclaw and were inside the park in less than a half a day.
Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise
Open year-round with limited hours in the winter (October to May).
Ohanapecosh Visitor Center
This visitor center is typically open late June through mid September.
Sunrise Visitor Center
Sunrise is usually open July through mid September.
For up to date information about openings, closures, road work or delays, call 1-360-569-2211
Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm
Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
The museum is usually open every day. There are exhibits as well as a small bookstore. Come learn about the park!
Hike a section of the Wonderland Trail!
This trail makes a 93 mile loop around Mount Rainier. Even if you don’t have the time to do the entire thing, make a point to get out on it for even just a short hike. There are some really easy access points in the southern part of the park. Box Canyon and Narada Falls are easy way places to pick up the trail. One of our favorite sections goes by Reflection Lakes and Louise Lake!
There are numerous waterfalls in this park, some of which you can see with very little effort. Christine Falls is one of those. There’s a parking lot near the road and a very short trail which will allow you to see one of the most beautiful sights in the whole park!
Grove of the Patriarchs
Take a walk under and around giant, ancient trees, some of which are about 1,000 years old! It’s a great place for a picnic and a wonderful place to take a walk. There’s a suspension bridge that is fun to cross and interpretive signs to help you understand more of what you’re looking at. It’s also fairly flat!
See Louise Lake
The cover photo of this story is of Louise Lake. You can see it from the road in your vehicle but if you really want to experience it, get out of the car and hike to the bottom! It’s a strenuous hike but totally worth it.
Take the time to drive the one way road to Paradise. It’s as cool and as beautiful as the name suggests. There is food, lodging, bathrooms, hiking trails, a visitor center and more up there. Plus, the view is just incredible.
Where to Stay in Mount Rainier
We camped at three different campsites in the park:
White River Campground – Northeast Section
There are several different loops within this campground. We chose loop D because it was close to the trailhead (Glacier Basin) that we wanted to access the next morning. The site was flat and offered a picnic table, bear locker and easy access to potable water and a flushing toilet and sink. There is no hot water or showers there. The campground is at 4,400 feet and several of the sites (there are 112 campsites total) look down upon the river. There’s hardly a bad spot in the whole campground.
Open late June to late September
Ohanapecosh Campground – Southeast Section
This campground was a few degrees warmer than the White River Campground because it sits at 1,914 feet of elevation. It was also $20 and offered a picnic table, bear locker, water and flush toilets. Again, no showers or hot water are at this one but you’re in a great location for exploring the southeast part of the park. This campground opens a little earlier in the year and it has 188 sites.
Open late May to late September
Cougar Rock Campground – Southwest Section
There are 173 campgrounds at this site. You can expect the same amenities at this one as mentioned above. In addition, however, there is a dump station. We loved this campground because of it’s proximity to the Wonderland Trail as well as Christine Falls.
Open late May to late September
Note: There are no water, gray water or electrical hookups at any of the campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park.
Mowich Lake – Northwest Section
Though we didn’t stay at this campground, we want to. Out of all four campgrounds it sits at the highest elevation in the park: 4,929 feet. It’s tent-only and primitive. There is no potable water but there is a vault toilet.
If you don’t want to camp, no worries, book a room at the Paradise Inn or the National Park Inn!
Top Tips for Visiting Mount Rainier National Park
Be sure to fuel up before entering the park. And by that, we mean gasoline as well as food (and beer and camp fuel, etc.). Though there is a general store at the south end of the park near the National Park Inn, you’ll be hard pressed to find any supplies in other ares of the park.
There are webcams! If you want to check in on your favorite spots, give them a look! https://www.nps.gov/mora/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm
There are very few places within the park where you can get a signal. We were able to access LTE at the White River Entrance (northeast) but that was about it. Once you’re in the park, you’ll have to wait before you exit it to get re-connected with the world.
Mount Rainier National Park Recap
This is one of the best national parks in the United States. It’s got virtually everything you could want in an outdoor playground. For those of you living the van life, this is one park you won’t want to miss. What do you think about our suggestions on the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park?
Have you visited this park? If so, we’d love to know what you thought. Please leave your comments below!
After traveling and working with an old Igloo cooler for the last year and a half my parents surprised us with a brand new cooler and we are loving it! Here’s our take on the Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler which we think is perfect for van life.
Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler Review
The Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler claims that it keeps ice for more than 4 and a half days. We’ve found that in cooler temperatures, it keeps things cool for about 4 days but there isn’t any ice left after four days.
It’s made of heavy-duty polyethylene that is virtually unbreakable. The construction rivals that of the Yeti cooler and yet it’s a fraction of the price. We’ve put ours through the ringer the last several months and it’s stood up to daily use from van life.
- The cooler dimensions are: 21.50 x 13.00 x 15.50 Inches
- It weighs 16 pounds
Features of the Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler
- 2 drink holders on the lid
- Fish ruler on the lid
- Built-in bottle opener
- UV resistant exterior
- Stainless steel handle with a soft grip for carrying
- USDA’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee says this cooler is certified bear-resistant.
Pros of the Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler
- It’s leakproof. We’ve tipped our cooler over (on accident and on purpose) to test out the seals and we’re happy to say that it doesn’t leak.
- It actually keeps things cold for a lot longer than our other cooler. Out in the pacific northwest where we’ve been lately where the temps have been in between 40 and 60 degrees, it’s keeping our food cold for about 4 days with a bag of ice.
- It’s bear resistant.
- We love the color!
- You can put a lock on it so that someone else can’t open it (or steal it from you).
- It’s large enough for us to store at one time:
- 1 ten pound bag of ice
- 6 yogurts
- 6 cans of beer
- 2 packs of cheese
- A small bowl with 4 boiled eggs
- 1 bottle of wine
- 1 bag of salad
- 2 freezer packs
Cons of the Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler
- Weighs 16 pounds empty
- The rubber clasps are a little challenging to secure
- It is too tall to stay where it is in the photo below at night when the bed is made and has to be moved to the front seat.
Ozark Trail 26 Quart Cooler Review
We think this is one of the best coolers for van life. Though it’s a bit too tall to be able to leave in place when we want to make the bed, it fits just fine on the front seat. It can be a bit of a struggle to lift it up and over the wooden box when it’s full but we’ve been looking on the bright side and thinking of it as cross training haha.
Want to purchase this cooler through Amazon? Check it out HERE!
Curious what other pieces of van life gear we’re using? Hop on over to see our Van Life Essentials!
Follow in our steps:
Welcome to Part II of our Alaskan adventure. In part I we traveled to Denali National Park as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation. If you have the time, we recommend doing the same! It’s the perfect way to experience Alaska.
To get to Glacier Bay from Denali, you’ll hop on a plane in Anchorage and then go to Juneau. From there, you’ll hop on another plane that will drop you off in Gustavus. It’s only a 15 minute flight!
Oh and just as an FYI, Juneau is pronounced Joo-No and Gustavus is pronounced Gus-TAV-us. I write this here because I hate being the person who says the town names wrong.
Once you touch down in Gustavus, if you’re staying at Glacier Bay Lodge, grab your bags from the baggage claim line which is about 6 feet long and then look for the tan bus. There will also be an employee holding a sign to help you locate the bus. But the parking lot is very small so it should be no problem.
The bus ride to the lodge is only about twenty minutes long. We didn’t have our van on this trip and honestly, we we didn’t even miss it. If you stay with Glacier Bay Lodge and Tours, you won’t need to rent a car. They’ve got you covered.
The Glacier Bay Visitor Center
The Glacier Bay Visitor Center is located on the second floor of Glacier Bay Lodge and is open whenever the lodge is open. There is a ranger on duty to answer any questions you might have from 11:00am to 8:00pm Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Phone Number (907) 697-2661
Visitor Information Station
This is different than the Visitor Center. It’s located near the public-use dock. Hours vary depending on the season. In May the station is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm. In the summer months (June to August) the center is open from 7:00am to 7:00pm. The month of September the station is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
This is where campers and boaters should go for orientation. There are also rest rooms, picnic tables with a canopy over top, potable water, trash and recycling bins available here. In addition, there are books and maps available.
Phone Number (907) 697-2627
Best Things to Do in Glacier Bay
Just like the Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali is one of the premier things to do at that park, the Glacier Bay Boat Tour is on the tops of almost everyone’s list at this park. The boat we took, St. Yakov, was actually a stand in for the regular boat, which is a high-speed catamaran with comfortable seating, large windows for indoor viewing of wildlife and glaciers and plenty of deck room for those of you who, like us, need to move our legs.
We spent most of our time on the top deck where we could get the best view for photographs and wildlife sightings. The top deck also has a semi-enclosed cabin for guests to sit and warm up. The bottom part of the boat was a bit warmer since it was fully enclosed. It’s also where Ranger Kelly hung out most of the time, where you could purchase beer, wine, snacks and also access the marine heads (that’s bathroom for all you land-lubbers.) The bathrooms were clean, had running water and didn’t induce the gag reflex. We give them two thumbs up and drank plenty of coffee to keep us warm since we weren’t afraid of having to go to the bathroom.
The tour was incredible from the moment we left the dock. We saw puffins, sea lions, seals, mountain goats, a wolf, a couple of bears and of course, the stars of the show, the glaciers. At the halfway point, you’ll be able to spend some time (about 30 minutes) photographing the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers. They are stunning, magnificent and hard to understand scale-wise save for the massive cruise ship that happened to help bring things into a relatable proportion. Fact: the glaciers are about 245 feet tall and extend another 100 feet beneath the water.
Go Whale Watching with Taz Whale Watching Cross Sound Express
Most people will go on the Glacier Bay Boat Tour (above) but we also HIGHLY recommend going on the Whale Watching Tour as well. If you’re wondering how in the world will you fit that in, we get it. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough time to be able to do two boat tours. But, the lodge has the procedure dialed in. If you are interested in going on the whale watching tour, check with the front desk. They helped us arrange a tour with the Taz Whale Watching Cross Sound Express on the day we were to fly out. They dropped us off at the boat, picked us up when it was over AND they had our luggage meet us at the airport. Because of their help with logistics we were able to make the most of our time there. As for the whales, we saw several. They are an incredible sight to see: breathtaking, inspiring, impressive … It’s hard to do the experience justice. The closest I can get is that it was like being in a National Geographic movie except it was real life.
Don’t let drizzle or fog deter you from getting out and kayaking. Both were in play the morning we decided to take the sea kayaks out for an adventure in Bartlett Cove and yet we still had a fun time. The lodge will provide pants and boots to keep you dry, a skirt for the kayak and of course the kayak, paddles, a map of the area and PFD’s to get you out on the water. Pro Tip #1: Bring your own rain jacket or shell, preferably one with a hood. Also, when you return from your adventure, don’t forget to use the phone by the ranger station to let someone know you’ve returned. Otherwise, they’ll send out a search party! Pro Tip #2: Take a kayaking trip with a guide if you’re not so sure about your ability to navigate or you just want to learn as much as you can from a local.
Take a Hike!
There are a couple of trails in the area. We ran and hiked the Forest Trail both days we were there. It’s an easy, 1 mile trail with two lookouts that give you a view of the water The trail passes through a gorgeous lush forest complete with boardwalks and even a pond left behind by a glacier long ago (look for the erratic granite boulder in the pond!) If you go beyond the pond, this trail will lead you to the campground.
There’s also a beach trail which will lead you to the campsite and also gives you great views of the water.
Lastly, a hike worth doing is the short path called the Tlingit Trail. This trail is only about a half a mile long and will take you to the Huna Tribal House.
Visit the Xunaa Shuká Hit / the Huna Tribal House
One night after dinner, we headed down to the Huna Tribal House to hear a presentation by the local Huna cultural interpreter. Her presentation was about an hour long and shared with us the meaning behind some of the artwork inside the house as well as some of the history of the Huna tribe. It was a really special hour, sitting around a fire and hearing stories that left us with a deeper appreciation for the people and the land.
Glacier Bay National Park Visitor Center
Still haven’t learned all you want to about Glacier Bay? Check out the Visitor Center. To get there, just head up the steps of the lodge. What’s that? The Visitor Center is in the lodge? Yep! It’s one of the most unique locations for a Visitor Center but true to National Park form, they’ve got a ton of information upstairs. Photographs, maps, artifacts and even a small store. There’s a ranger on staff from 11:00am to 8:00pm on days the park is open.
The lodge recently purchased mountain bikes. See the front desk to rent them and take them for a spin!
Did you know that the area around Glacier Bay is home to the largest sport fish in Alaska? We didn’t. And in case you’re still wondering, it’s the Pacific Halibut. If you’d like to get out on a boat and do some fishing, see the front desk and they’ll help set you up on a trip.
Best Place to Stay in Glacier Bay
We recommend Glacier Bay Lodge as an excellent adventure base camp. It opened in 1966 and is just plain fun to be in. There’s a huge stone fireplace with plush seating in the common area where you can find guests almost any time of day or night. (You can get WiFi in this area so this may have something to do with it.) In addition, the large windows that offer million dollar views play really nicely with the exposed carved wooden beams and make you feel cozy without claustrophobic no matter how many people are inside. The lodge has actually won several awards from the American Institute of Architects. The latest edition of The Fairweather, the park visitor guide, shared that the lodge will be undergoing some interior and exterior improvements in the next couple of years so keep your eyes peeled!
It’s got everything you need in one spot: beer, great food, a comfortable bed, incredible scenery and is literally the jumping off point for several different adventures: the glacier boat tour, kayaking, hiking, biking, etc.
The lodge is only open for a couple months out of the year. This year it opened on Friday, May 25th and closed on September 3. Be sure to check availability before booking airline tickets.
Room with a view!
We stayed in Room Number 18 and it felt like home the moment we opened the door. It was very clean and had a super comfortable king sized bed in it with a large picture window that offered a beautiful view of the water. There’s also a table and two chairs in the room for those of you that love a place to journal, read or drink coffee.
It was the perfect place for a morning run or walk since you’re literally steps from the trail nearest to the beach. It’s also one of the rooms closest to the Xunaa Shuká Hit / Huna Tribal House.
There were large black and white photos in the room of the national park. One black and white photo of the glaciers has been seared in our memory. It was the perfect visual to create some excitement for our upcoming boat tour!
Oh and for those of you who are worried about being cold at night, rest assured that the heat worked well, the hot water was HOT and the blankets are thick and warm.
Best Things to Eat in Glacier Bay
Eating in the Fairweather Dining Room in Glacier Bay Lodge was a treat. The first night, after a very long day of travel, we arrived hungry and thirsty and the lodge delivered an exceptional meal which took the edge off. We started with draft beer from the Alaskan Brewing Company, the Alaskan White and the Freeride APA and then dove into dinner, the halibut pesto gnocchi and the halibut with lemon thyme sauce and roasted fingerling potatoes. Be sure to safe room for dessert. We ‘discovered’ the Lodge’s hot chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and just about lost our minds. It was so good we ordered it both nights we were there.
There are two breakfast options to choose from in the Lodge. The first is a traditional breakfast where your choices range from buttermilk pancakes, a cage free egg omelet to biscuits with country sausage and gravy. Of, if you’re like us, you can opt for the buffet and load up on scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, cereal, potatoes, fresh fruit, cold cereal and pastries. Our favorite part was the pancakes. We both went back for seconds each morning.
Top Tips for Visiting Glacier Bay
Pack layers and pack rain gear! If you come prepared, the weather won’t be an issue, you’ll still be able to get out and do all of the adventures that you want to do.
Be prepared for a lack of a cell phone signal everywhere except within the lodge itself.
Bring a camera, there are going to be a ton of things that you will want to remember long after your visit has ended.
Make a reservation for dinner! The lodge is a popular place to dine so to ward off the hangry vibes, get on the list. We made a reservation each night and were sat promptly on time.
If you want to go whale watching before you fly out, talk to the lodge. They’ll drop your bags off at the airport and allow you to meet them there once your tour is over. We did just that and were able to make every minute in Glacier Bay count.
Feel free to leave your heavy binoculars at home. There are plenty on board the boat for you to borrow.
Glacier Bay Recap
This is the kind of place that you will be thinking about long after the visit is over. It’s been that way for us anyway. Out of all of our travels, this is easily one of the most impressive places we’ve been. The landscape is just so raw and untouched and the wilderness feels truly wild. On the boat tour we literally didn’t see a single home, road or telephone pole for hours. We actually saw a brown bear catch a salmon! We also saw a black bear, sea lions, sea otters, tufted puffins, mountain goats and horned puffins. Someone on the boat saw a humpback whale but we missed that…we did however, see the wolf and bald eagle.
Have you ever been to Glacier Bay? If so, we’d love to hear what you thought. Please leave a comment below!
Next up: Olympic National Park!
Denali National Park and Preserve was the first leg in our expedition as the Nation’s Vacation Ambassadors. We are so thrilled to share our journey with you!
Follow in our steps:
We drove our van to Seattle and left it in the self-park Park-N-Fly lot off of International Boulevard. It was $9 a day. They don’t take reservations but we didn’t have a problem finding a spot. We arrived just as a shuttle was departing but another one showed up about ten minutes later. If you find yourself waiting, pick up the phone in the middle of the lot and call the dispatch center to find out how much longer you will have to wait and/or to get them to send a shuttle your way.
We flew Alaskan Air from Seattle to Anchorage and from there, rode with a friend who had secured a rental car. From the airport to Denali Park Village, it was about a 4 hour drive (232 miles). We ended up taking a bit longer to get there because we wanted to tour through downtown Anchorage, stop for photos when we saw something cool and grab lunch in Talkeetna (all of which we would recommend you doing if you have the time!)
Once you make it to Denali Park Village you can pretty much park your car and leave it parked. Denali Park Village offers shuttle bus services that go between the Wilderness Access Center and the Denali Visitor Center/Alaska Railroad Train Depot. Guests just need to show their key card to the driver and show up for the bus about five minutes before departure (the buses leave Denali Park Village every hour on the hour starting at 6am and ending at 6pm). **Be sure to pick up the most recent and accurate schedule from the lodge.
General Info for Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali Visitor Center
Mile 1.5 Denali Park Road
Denali Park, AK 99755
Open every day of the week from 8:00am to 5:00pm during the summer only (May through mid-September). The Denali Visitor Center closes on the third Wednesday after Labor Day each year.
Eielson Visitor Center
Mile 66, Denali Park Road
Denali Park, AK 99755
Like the Denali Visitor Center, this one is also only open during the summer. It opens a little later (June 1) and closes two weeks after Labor Day each year. It’s hours are 9:00am to 5:30pm daily.
(907) 683-8900 Denali Park Village Front Desk
Denali National Park: http://nps.gov/dena
Denali Park Village: denaliparkvillage.com
Best Things to Do in Denali National Park
Tundra Wilderness Tour
This is easily one of the coolest things to do in Denali National Park. In fact, many would call it the quintessential activity to do when visiting. The tour takes place on a tan bus with comfortable seats and big, clean windows. While on the eight hour tour, you’ll hopefully spot all kinds of wildlife. We saw six bears, several caribou and even a couple of sheep. It was an incredible day for animal sightings. We also got a peek at Denali itself, making us part of a small group of people, about 30%, who actually get to view the mountain.
One of our favorite parts about this tour was not only the access to parts of the park that people can’t drive to but all of the learning that took place. Our guide had been driving the route for about 18 years but had been living in Alaska for over 30. He shared stories about everything from biology to geology to history with us. In addition, when we would spot an animal, he would grab his video camera and zoom in on it so that we could see it up close on the monitors above our heads. How cool is that? We snapped so many photos on the Tundra Wilderness Tour and would do it again in a heartbeat.
ProTip: Order a bag lunch from Quigley’s Coffee Cart (more on how to do that below) the night before so that you have ample food for the day. The tour comes with a box of snacks and a water bottle but it may not be enough to keep your energy up for 8 hours.
We were super excited (though admittedly a little nervous!) to go rafting. It turned out to be an amazing experience. The lodge will transport you via bus to Explore Denali. There you’ll meet your guide and will get outfitted in a dry suit and helmet. We thought the outfits were hilarious but they actually kept our clothes dry and more importantly protected our bodies from the shock of the cold water which is about 36 degrees and can quickly lead someone to getting hypothermia, even in the summer, pretty quickly.
After getting dressed, we were given a quick guide on what to do (hold onto the rope, keep our body in the boat) and what not to do (fall out). Then, before we knew it, we were hopping into the boat and our guide, Nick, was leading us down the river! We went through what the guides call a “mild” section of the Yanert Valley but it was a total adrenaline rush for us. Though we screamed and laughed much of the time, we never once felt like we were in danger. It was the most controlled thrill we’ve had in a long time and a great introduction to what rafting is like. Oh and for those of you who love to take pictures, be sure to bring a waterproof camera along as you will get some great shots of the canyon as you run the rapids.
Denali Guided Hike
Hiking is a regular part of our life so we were eager to get out and explore Denali on foot, especially with a local guide. We chose an early morning hike so the light would be soft and good for photos. We left the lodge in a sweet van around 7:30am, drove a little ways down the road to the trailhead and then walked about 1.2 miles along the Three Lakes Trail to Lake No. 1. Along the way our guide, Richard, shared his knowledge of plants, animals, habitat, geology and pretty much anything else we asked him. He was a total treat and really made the trip enjoyable.
Best Place to Stay in Denali National Park and Preserve
When we visited, we stayed in Denali Park Village. The lodge is situated super close to the park, just a little over six miles from the entrance. We found it to be an excellent base camp for adventuring and would stay here again in a heartbeat.
The lodge itself is a great place for meeting new people or hanging out with the ones you’ve arrived with. It’s set up with a comfortable arrangement of tables, chairs, checkers and a fireplace; great for gathering any time of day or night. (We found it to be particularly cozy in the evenings.)
In addition to having a great common area, the lodge is also home to the Lucky Miss Saloon, the Gold Rush Dining Room, and the Summit Gift Shop and Quigley’s Coffee Cart. (Just as an FYI, Quigley’s serves Starbucks.)
We stayed in Room 732 which is a king sized room with a view of the Nenana River. Our building had a laundry room in it, great for those who want to travel with minimal clothes. There was a nice sized porch with a couple of chairs and a table, great for watching the sun rise. There’s also a coffee maker with Alaskan coffee in the room (it was roasted in Juneau!) which we found to be delicious (nice and strong just like we like it).
Surprisingly, there was WiFi and it worked without a hitch in the building where we stayed as well as the lodge and the Miner’s Plaza area. We know some of you love to go “off the grid” when you travel and we don’t blame you. But for those of us who need to work while on the road or stay in touch with family, the WiFi connectivity was a HUGE bonus. In addition, the lodge has a couple of computers set up for guests to use in case they chose to leave their own device at home.
Where to Eat in Denali National Park
Gold Rush Dining Room
If you’ve been following our adventures, you know that food is a big deal for us and we’re often thinking one meal ahead. Alaska was no different. If anything, we worked up an even bigger appetite than normal because we were moving around so much.
This is the place to be pre and post-adventure. They’ve got something for everyone at every meal.
There’s a breakfast buffet that opens at 5:00 am which has an omelet station, granola and yogurt with fresh fruit (the strawberries and raspberries were super fresh and delicious), scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, an assortment of breads, cold cereal and of course freshly brewed coffee and tea.
As for the dinner menu, there are several options to choose from, many of which use local ingredients. The restaurant supports the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program and uses “Best Choice” listed seafood. They also make a point to support local vendors and farmers. That way, you can feel good about the food you are eating.
We enjoyed the pan-seared halibut with roasted tomatoes, brown rice and warm Alaskan crab on top as well as the salmon. The salmon was also fresh and delicious. It was served on top of skin-on mashed potatoes and fresh carrots and asparagus. Both fish were cooked perfectly. In addition to the actual flavors, the ambiance was top notch. Not much beats a healthy, filling meal with a view of the river and mountains in the background.
In addition to the food, we also enjoyed local Alaskan beers on tap. They were cold, refreshing and flavorful.
Cabin Nite Dinner Theater
Entertainment with your meal? In an old-time setting with a story about Alaska? Yes, please! We didn’t really know what to expect when we heard there was a dinner theater on the property but we went with open minds and ended up having a blast. We arrived a few minutes before the doors opened and out came a cast member who gave us a rhyming introduction to the evening followed by an a cappella song from the entire evening’s cast. Shortly thereafter, we were being seated by a cast member at a picnic table and introducing ourselves to our “family” for the evening, others who had decided to enjoy Cabin Nite.
Our server was a really nice and personable guy who also happened to be from North Carolina. We were super impressed with his ability to not only serve our dinner quickly and efficiently but also shift into character after the meal was over and sing and play guitar!
If you’re thinking, ah, I don’t want to suffer through some cheesy cabin nite, try to put that thought on the back burner and give it a shot. We genuinely laughed out loud several times during the evening when the cast got the audience involved. They seemed to have a knack for selecting people out of the crowd who would play into their surprise roles. In addition to the laughter, we were really impressed with how talented they were.
As for the meal, it’s served family style and is all you can eat. We filled up on salad with ranch dressing, BBQ ribs, corn, wild Alaskan salmon, baked beans, mashed red potatoes, biscuits and berry cobbler (okay maybe we had seconds of the cobbler.) There’s also a bar in the cabin serving beer and wine.
The smells coming out of Miner’s Plaza are so alluring that you might just find yourself wandering towards The Shack without quite knowing why. Don’t be surprised, if, when you get there, you’re pulled inside The Shack and find yourself ordering a burger. They’re juicy and made fresh daily. There’s a little bar for eating inside The Shack as well as one outside. There’s also additional seating in a building next to the Outdoor Stage. This place is the perfect place to satisfy a burger craving or get a bite between meals. (They also serve Alaskan salmon burgers, turkey burgers and chipotle black bean burgers as well as beer and wine.)
If your nose doesn’t lead you to The Shack, follow the signs to Miner’s Plaza. There you’ll find fresh-made donuts, ice cream and several other little shops filled with sweet treats.
Quigley’s Coffee Cart
Located just inside The Lodge, Quigley’s serves Starbucks coffee as well as ice cream and fresh baked goods. It’s also the place to submit your box lunch order for the Tundra Wilderness Bus Tour. If you need a caffeine pick me up to get your day started or to keep you going, be sure to stop by here. They’re open from 5am to 9pm.
As mentioned above, Quigley’s Coffee Cart is the place to submit your box lunch order. What will you need a box lunch for? Probably the most common reason for requesting a box lunch is the Tundra Wilderness Tour. You’ll be out on an adventure for most of the day and though the bus offers snacks, your energy might get low if you don’t order a box lunch. If you want one, be sure to fill out an order slip by 8pm the night before and take it to Quigley’s. It’ll be waiting for you the next morning with your name on it.
Lucky Miss Saloon
This is the bar located within The Lodge. It’s technically part of the Gold Rush Dining Room but if you’d like to sit at the bar it can offer you a bit of a different experience. Guests can still order Gold Rush Dining Room food from the bar. FYI: There are TV’s at the bar. Keep this in mind if you’re trying to avoid the TV or you are wanting to check in with the news, sports, etc.
Tips for Visiting Denali National Park
They say that location is everything. This is so true at Denali. We highly recommend staying at Denali Park Village so that you are within close proximity to the park and can maximize your time in the outdoors. In addition, they have food and places to get ice cream and a nice, cold draft beer which means you don’t have to get in your car to get a bite to eat. If that’s not enough to convince you, the staff is friendly, the rooms are super clean and there are a ton of activities for you to do, all of which are just steps from your room.
Check the weather before you visit and pack accordingly. Though it was late August when we visited, we mostly wore pants, flannel shirts and down jackets while in Denali. Comfortable hiking shoes are also a necessity as you will most likely be doing more walking than normal.
Pack a camera, there are some incredible photo opportunities in the park!
There is an ATM in the lodge in case you run out of cash but everywhere we went took credit cards.
If you are driving, fuel up sooner rather than later! We happened upon one guy at a rest stop at 5:00 am who had run out of fuel and didn’t have a cell phone signal. This isn’t like the rest of the USA where gas stations and cell service are a given. Top off before it’s too late.
This is bear country. Be sure to be bear aware and carry bear spray if you will be hiking in the backcountry. (Guided hikes mean your guide will have bear spray with them.) To learn more about bear safety click HERE.
Denali National Park and Preserve Recap
We had a blast in Denali National Park and are eager to return. If you get the chance to go, we highly recommend it!
Up next? Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve!
Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley are writing as Ambassadors for the Nations Vacation. To follow along on their expedition, check out @NationsVacation on Instagram as well as their own social media handles.
At the end July we left Delaware and started to travel cross country. Our journey took us a little more than 2,500 miles in about two weeks time. We stopped at as many national parks, monuments and memorials as possible: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
We made it to Seattle on time and then hopped on a flight to Alaska to begin our expedition as the The Nation’s Vacation: Why I Heart The Parks Ambassadors.
What is The Nation’s Vacation?
Nation’s Vacation by Aramark is “a collection of activities, experiences, and places to stay within some of America’s greatest National Parks and protected lands. It’s mission is to inspire unforgettable and authentic experiences that reflect the culture that surrounds these once-in-a-lifetime places.”
The places we’ll be visiting as the Nation’s Vacation Ambassadors include:
- Denali National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Zephyr Cove
- Yosemite National Park
And just as an FYI, the following locations, though we aren’t visiting them, are also part of the Nation’s Vacation family and are totally worth visiting. Put ’em on your list!
- Lake Mead
- Kartchner Caverns
- Bushkill Falls
- Patagonia Lake
- Lake Powell
- Mesa Verde National Park
Nation’s Vacation Expedition
While in Denali National Park and Glacier Bay National Park we tasted as much of the food as possible, got out to experience as many of the best things to do as possible and got you some inside information on the best places to stay.
We’ll have our trip reports as soon as possible after we visit. Stay tuned!
Are you ready?! Come join us, Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady, on our adventure by following along on @nationsvacation and by using the hashtags #NationsVacation #WhyIHeartTheParks and #AuthenticAsheville
To learn more about the Nation’s Vacation, head on over to their website: thenationsvacation.com
We often get questions from friends and strangers about van life so we thought rather than respond to them one at a time we’d go ahead and create a blog post about our most frequently asked questions related to van life. Here ya go: Van Life FAQ’s
What kind of van are you traveling in?
Why did you choose this van?
In a nutshell, it gets pretty good gas mileage and was within our price range. It was also a departure from the “vintage” era vehicle we were previously living in which was way too stressful and costly for us. We’ve been toying with the idea of getting a van you can stand up in but so far this one is working out nicely for us. You can read more about our thoughts behind why we chose the Dodge Ram Promaster City HERE.
Do you like van life?
We do! We’ve become quite accustomed to living, traveling and working out of such a small space. Though there are some hardships to living like this, it’s all worth it when you get to see the sun rise from a new place or run on a trail in the mountains or see a bison in a valley. Those moments are priceless.
How do you stay clean?
Haha, staying clean is all relative isn’t it? Lucky for us we don’t mind being dirtballs and can get by with bird baths here and there. We do get to a certain point though where we start craving a shower. It usually happens after six or seven days and we’ll break and end up paying for a campsite so we can access hot water. Van life is definitely not for those who need to shower at least once a day. Interested in more tips on how to stay clean on the road? We’ve got some of our suggestions on the blog HERE.
Where do you live?
Asheville, North Carolina is home base for us. Home these days, though, is just wherever we end up parking for the night.
How do you cook?
We’ve got some basic cooking supplies (knife, pot, pan, utensils, coffee kettle) and couldn’t live without our Coleman Campstove. You can see a full list of our cooking essentials HERE. Whenever there’s a picnic table available we set up on it so that we keep grease and cooking odors out of the van. When they’re not available, we usually just open the backdoors and set up on top of the kitchen boxes. How we keep our food cool is a whole other ballgame. Click HERE to learn more about that.
What do you eat?
Though we’re almost always in a new spot all the time, we do our best to eat as healthy as possible: organic, whole foods (food that isn’t processed). We do our best to stay away from fast food as well as binging on random gas station snacks. That said, we do sometimes cave to the ease of Cup Noodles, pre-packaged salads and chips. Snack-wise we eat a ton of bananas and peanut butter and yogurt.
Do you workout?
Yes! Though there are some additional challenges to working out while traveling, we manage to exercise at least 5 times a week. Most of the time it’s a run (we love both roads and trails). We’ve also recently added the Yakima Backswing Bike Rack to our van which means on days when we need to stretch our legs but can’t bear to run, we can ride. So far they’ve also proven to be a great way to see more of a new place. On days when we do a lot of driving we do van life workouts! We’ve got two posts about them HERE and HERE that have over 20 activities for you to choose from.
How do you afford van life?
Before we ever left Asheville, we saved and saved. I was a teacher for ten years and had socked away a good bit to give us a cushion and Caroline did as well (she sold a doughnut shop a couple months before we hit the road). In addition, we also built a tiny house in Asheville that we are currently renting out. On top of all that, we are freelance photographers, travel writers, web designers and social media influencers and are able to do most of the work wherever we are so long as we have access to wifi. Our current life is a huge departure from the consistent life we used to live but we wouldn’t trade it for anything. In addition, we do our best to keep our expenses down, cook a lot of our own food and try to reuse and repurpose as much as we can.
Van Life FAQ recap
Do you have a question for us about van life? If so, we’d love to hear it. If you’re considering a road trip or just want to learn more about living in a van, be sure to check out our story on The Things No One Tells You About Van Life.
Please leave your comment below and thanks for visiting Authentic Asheville!
Follow in our steps: From Yellowstone National Park, head south along the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and head on into the park!
Best Things to Do in Grand Teton National Park
Rent a canoe or kayak at Jenny Lake. Rentals are $20 per hour or $75 for all day. You have to have the boat back by 6:30. Late fees are $100 so make sure you’re on time!
Hike up to Inpiration point from the Jenny Lake Visitor Center and take the shuttle boat back!
Ride your bike (or walk, run or rollerblade) along one of the multi-use paths in the park.
You can pick one up near the Granite Canyon Entrance and/or Teton Pass (it’ll take you through the town of Wilson)
Park at the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center and ride to Moose Junction or continue to the Jenny Lake Visitor Center
Picnic with a view! There are tons of places to eat a meal with an incredible view. We love the spot just south of the Jackson Lake Overlook as well as the one at the Leigh Lake Trailhead near String Lake.
Float the snake river. Check out Barker Ewing Float Trips and Solitude Float trips.
Fishing is a big deal in Grand Teton National park. You can either go with a guide or get a Wyoming fishing license. They can be purchased at Signal Mountain Lodge, Colter Bay Marina, Headwaters Lodge and Snake River Anglers at Dornans.
Check out Mormon Row Historic District. You’ll see some old historic barns that are a photographers dream since the backdrop is none other than the Grand Tetons.
Peep the view at Oxbow Bend!
Visit Cunningham Cabin which is the oldest standing cabin in the valley.
Attend a park ranger program! There are numerous programs scheduled throughout the year, some of which are even held at night and feature stargazing.
Drive the higher road in the park, Signal Mountain Summit Road. You’ll be at 7,727 feet!
Grand Teton Things to Know
Temps in the summer can get up into the high 80’s while lows can drop down into the 40’s. Come prepared with lots of layers.
Wintertime means certain roads will be closed.
Tent Park Road from Taggart Lake Trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge
Moose Wilson Road from Granite Canyon Trailhead to Death Canyon Road
US89/191/287 north of Flagg Ranch
Antelope Flats Road
Mormon Row is a gravel road. The park service recommends 4 wheel drive. We drove it in our VAN on a day when it was very dry and didn’t have a problem. Go slow though, less then 10mph so as not to kick up dust on hikers and bikers.
This is bear territory so make sure you stow your food away properly using bear lockers and dispose of it as you should in bear safe trash cans. To learn more about bears and bear safety be sure to check out our story HERE.
Park website: www.nps.gov/grandteton
Grand Teton Visitor Centers
Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center
Open in the summer from 8am to 7pm
Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center
Open daily during the summer from 9am to 5pm
Jenny Lake Visitor Center
Open daily during the summer form 8am to 7pm
Jenny Lake Ranger Station
This is where you can get climbing information as well as permits. Open daily during the summer from 8am to 5pm
Colter Bay Visitor Center
Open daily during the summer from 8am to 7pm
Flagg Ranch Info Station
Open daily during the summer from 10am to 3pm
Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center
Open daily in the summer from 8am to 7pm
Rules to Know in Grand Teton National Park
Like Yellowstone National park, this is bear country. There are both black bears and grizzlies within the park. Be smart with your food and toiletries, keep a clean camp and dispose of waste in bear safe trashcans. To learn more about bear safety please go HERE.
If you want to spend any time on the water be sure to get the proper permits and registrations taken care of so that you avoid a fine and don’t accidentally introduce non-native spices to the park. Boat inspections are required.
You must stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and at least 75 feet from other animals.
Dogs must be on a leash and are not allowed on trails, in the backcountry, in the buildings nor in visitor centers. Dogs are also not allowed on rivers and boats, the exception being Jackson Lake.
Drone are illegal!
Fishing licences are required as well.
Where to Stay in Grand Teton
Camping in Grand Teton
There are over 1,000 campsites in Grand Teton National Park and 8 campgrounds to pick from.
Headwaters Campground at Flagg Ranch and Colter Bay RV Park are the only campgrounds that take reservations. All others are first-come, first-serve. We visited on a Saturday in mid-August and were delighted to find that Lizard Creek had a spot left (at around 2pm).
Lizard Creek Campground Review
There are two campground loops, one of which is generator free and one that’s not. We had to deal with the sound of a generator until quiet hours at 8pm since we ended up in the loop that allowed generators. Our site was fairly flat and had picnic table. There weren’t any showers at Lizard Creek but there were flushing toilets and running, potable water available to us. The best part is that it was really close to the Jackson Lake Overlook which we wanted to shoot sunrise at. The drive was about 7 minutes from our campground. Our site at Lizard Creek was $30.
Backcountry camping is permitted but only in designated areas. Permits are required and can be obtained from a ranger station.
Tips for Visiting Grand Teton National Park
Some roads may be closed due to wildlife sightings to protect both the animals as well as the humans. When we were there the Moose-Wilson road was closed because a couple bears and cubs were spotted a few days earlier. Check the bulletin board in the Visitor Centers or ask a ranger to see if there are any road closures to know about.
If you’re looking for a shower, head to Signal Mountain Campground and Colter Bay Campground which have pay showers nearby. Headwaters Campground and Headwaters RV Park have showers that are included with your camping fee.
Grand Teton National Park Recap
If this national park isn’t on your list, consider putting its there! The mountains are rugged and the lakes clean and beautiful making this one of the most beautiful places in the country to visit. Want to retrace our steps? Be sure to check out our other posts on Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park!
If you’re heading out to some the national parks in the west like Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, etc., you’ll want to know about some ways to stay safe from bears and bear attacks.
Black Bears and Grizzly Bears
Fur color alone won’t always tell you what kind of bear it is since both black and grizzly bears can range in color from blonde to black. One thing that separates grizzly bears from black bears is that grizzly bears have a shoulder hump and black bears do not. Grizzly bears also have short, rounded ears while black bears have tall and more pointy ears. Grizzly bears also have front claws that are hope you are able to stay far enough away from all bears so that identifying them is difficult!
Bear Safety Tips
It’s against the law to get any closer than 100 yards from a bear. And why would you want to?! If you want to avoid a bear, it’s recommended that you stay on roads and trails but even then, there’s no guarantee. After all, you’re in bear country!
Keep your eyes and ears open!
Look for bears as well as bear poop. Also keep your eyes peeled for bear tracks.
Make a lot of noise when hiking. Most bears (and other wildlife) will avoid humans if they hear them coming. Sounds will often tip of a bear to your presence rather than scaring it.
Carry EPA approved bear spray. It’s important that it’s EPA approved because that’s the only kind that’s tough enough to stop a bear in it’s tracks.
This is only half the battle. Keeping it handy and also knowing how to use it is the other half. At the very least have it where you can get to it quickly rather than buried at the bottom of your pack. Our can of bear spray has an expiration date so make sure you’re good to go before setting out. Some towns will rent bear spray, other places out west will have it for sale.
Hike with a buddy or two.
Yellowstone National Park recommends hiking in groups of three or more people. There’s safety in numbers…
If You Encounter a Bear
If you come up across a bear, do your best to back away slowly and do not run!
Try not to scream.
Leave the bear an escape route!
If you are attacked by a bear:
- Brown/Grizzly Bears – If you encounter a brown bear or a grizzly bear, play dead and remain as still as possible. We’ve never had to do this and it sounds terrifying, but this is what experts recommend.
- Black Bears – If you encounter a black bear, try to get out of there. If you can’t get out of there, fight back and try to hit the bear in the face. Again, this sounds incredibly scary.
- If any bear unexpectedly attacks you (say you’re in your tent, making food, etc., fight back!)
Practice bear food safety
Use bear lockers and be sure to get rid of trash in bear-safe trashcans. Bears are attracted to smells so make sure that all food, garbage, toiletries, cookware, tuppereware, coolers, dog food and even water bottles, bug spray and sunscreen are stored properly. In addition, don’t leave any of the above items unattended while you are at camp. Make sure you are actively using them. Don’t keep them in your tent!
How to Use Bear Spray
- If attacked or being charged by a bear, try to remain calm.
- Remove the safety from the spray.
- Aim the bear spray slightly downward (be aware of wind!) Snow, sleet, rain, wind, etc. will all reduce the range of your spray.
- Spray at the bear (make sure you know how far your spray will reach. Ours has a range of about 30 feet).
- Our canister has about 5 seconds of spray in it. Check yours and know how to use it.
After a canister of bear spray has been used it should be recycled and new spray purchased. Don’t go into the woods or on the trail with expired or empty bear spray.
Bear spray doesn’t work like bug spray so don’t apply it to your skin in order to ward off bears. People will just laugh at you!
Want to learn more about bear safety? Check out one of the free ranger programs that’s put on Memorial Day to Labor Day at visitor centers throughout certain parks including Yellowstone.
Bear Safety Recap
Make sure to check with each specific park about their bear spray regulations since not all parks allow it. It also can’t be taken on planes so make sure you know where to get some if you are traveling to a place via air. In addition, if you’re going to be traveling via car, keep in mind that some cans can explode if they reach temperatures of 120 degrees.
In short, be sure to be as bear aware and as prepared as possible! It could mean the difference between life or death for you and or the bear.
Nowhere else in the world has as many geysers as Yellowstone National Park. There have been huge volcanic eruptions here as far back as 2 million years ago, 1.3 milling years and ago and 640,000 years ago. By visiting the park, you’ll be entering a 30 x 45 mile wide caldera (also known as a basin). How cool is that?! In this post we discuss our favorite travel tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park.
Follow in our steps:
We entered the park via the East Entrance. We spent the night before we entered the park about 20 minutes southwest of Cody (message us if you want the specific camping spot that included electricity). Prior to that we had visited Devils Tower and Badlands National Park as we traveled west from Delaware.
From the East Entrance we went north (clockwise along the park road.) The park roads make an “8” so you can either go north first or south first. We wanted to save the “best” for last so we went north first. We tried to get a camping spot at Slough Creek but it was full when we arrived. Ended up spending the night in Livingston. There are some cute cottages there but we stayed in the van.
Best Things To Do in Yellowstone National Park
See Old Faithful erupt! There’s a crescent shaped set of benches that face Old Faithful. Check the boards in front of the visitor center to see what time she’s supposed to erupt and grab yourself a bench for the show!
Snap a photo of some bison! We saw most of them in the Hayden Valley alongside the Yellowstone River.
Check out the petrified tree not too far from Roosevelt Lodge. Maybe I’m a nerd (okay I’m a nerd) but this thing is awesome!
Mammoth Hot Springs are super cool. Check out the Upper Terraces Area as well as the Lower Terraces Area. We photographed both at sunrise and only saw two other people there (in stark contrast to the hordes we experienced the day before).
Visit Norris Geyser Basin and be amazed at the colorful pools and geysers. It’s a photographers dream.
Be sure to check out Midway Geyser Basin which is where THE Grand Prismatic Spring is located. The Grand Prismatic Spring has graced the cover of many magazines and even Fodor’s Complete Guide to National Parks of the West. It is incredible.
Also check out the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River as well as Yellowstone Lake.
Get into the backcountry! Did you know there are about 1,000 miles of trails within the park? Most people only see a fraction of what the park has to offer but there are a ton of other places to explore (without the crowds).
Things To Know About Yellowstone National Park
Park website: www.nps.gov/yell
307-344-2117 road updates
Yellowstone National Park Visitor Centers, Education Centers and Museums
Horace M. Albright Visitor Center (Mammoth Hot Springs)
Open daily, year round
Canyon Visitor Education Center
Open late May to Early November
Fishing Bridge Museum and Visitor Center
Open late May to early September
Grant Visitor Center
Open late May to early October
Museum of the National Park Ranger
Open late May to mid-September
Norris Geyser Basin Museum and Information Station
Open mid-May to early October
Old Faithful Visitor Education Center
Open mid-April to early November
West Thumb Information Station
Open late May to early October
West Yellowstone Visitor Center
Open mid-April to early November
Yellowstone National Park Rules
Might sound hard to believe, but people used to throw coins into some of the thermal pools. It’ll damage them so please don’t do that!
Bathing and swimming in the pools isn’t allowed either.
You’re not supposed to stop in roadways to take pictures but we’ve seen all kinds of things. Best practices are to us a roadside parking area or parking lot. That said, if wildlife is in the road, brake and hang out. Delays can be long, so expect them and have snacks and water and games or books in the car to keep everyone busy.
Winter time means road closures. Be sure to check before you go. The only road that is open all year is the one between Gardiner and Cooke City.
Yellowstone National Park Safety Tips
This is bear country. There are both black bears and grizzlies within the park. Be smart with your food, dispose of waste in bear safe trashcans. To learn more about bears and bear safety, head HERE.
It is illegal to get within 100 yards of bears and wolves. It’s illegal to get within 25 yards of other wildlife including bison. Don’t be the person who tries to take a selfie with a wild animal and ends up getting hurt!
Leash all pets! They’re prohibited from all trails, on the thermal basin boardwalks and in the backcountry.
Stay on trails and boardwalks at all times.
Cellphone reception is spotty. We use Verizon and could get a little bit of access in Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Village and Tower Fall but it wasn’t great. Be prepared to be a little off the grid and without cell phone service in Yellowstone.
Where To Stay in Yellowstone
The lodges near Old Faithful aptly named Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Inn are in an awesome central location. You are literally just steps away from Old Faithful! Caroline was in love with the buildings the moment she saw them because they were so wide open with balconies on four floors and there were round logs everywhere. If you’re in to historical lodges, you might want to shell out some money just to stay there.
They’re clean but basic. Some would say they’re rustic (no AC, TV, radio or bathroom). The bathroom is just a short walk away. That said the location can’t be beat! I stayed there in late June a couple years ago and had a great experience. The temperature was comfortable for sleeping. You’re in the middle of the park! Heat is by wood burning stove and most of the cabins have one or two double beds. FYI coffee nor coffee makers are included so if you crave it like we do, come prepared or by it in the nearby lodge.
Camping in Yellowstone
Mammoth is the only campground that is open all year. It has 85 sites.
It’s recommended that you reserve your site ahead of time so that you are guaranteed a spot but you should do it as far in advance as possible. You can reserve a spot at Canyon, Bridge Bay, Madison, Grant Village and Fishing Bridge RV Park (only hard sided campers are allowed there, no tents or trailers).
First-come, first serve campsites include Mammoth, Norris, Indian Creek, Lewis Lake, Pebble Creek, Slough Creek and Tower Fall.
Most campsites are open 7am to 10pm during the peak season and 8am to 9pm during the shoulder. Checkout time is 11am.
Backcountry camping is allowed in designated sites but it requires a permit.
Tips for Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Bring water and drink it! We visited in mid-August and it was HOT! There’s very little shade within the park and you’re at elevation so you’re going to need to stay hydrated in order to enjoy the adventure.
Fishing is allowed but it requires a permit which you can get at a ranger station.
Temperatures in the summer in Yellowstone can get up into the 90’s. Nighttime temps can also get down into the 40’s! It’s a huge range but it means you can get tan in the day and sleep GREAT at night.
On that note, bring sunscreen!
Fuel up before you enter the park. There are a couple of gas stations within the park but you’ll pay a higher price to fuel up in there.
The park is also undergoing a bunch of road construction. We tried to go south one morning to Norris from Mammoth Hot Springs but the road didn’t open up until 7am. Known before you go.
To get road status alerts you can call 307-344-2117 or text “82190” to 888777
Gas stations within Yellowstone are located at:
Mammoth Hot Springs
Try to fill up outside of the park or be prepared to pay a premium for convenience.
Yellowstone National Park Recap
This is a very busy park so get up early and not only catch the best light but see all the sights without tons of crowds. It’s an incredible place to see, so if it’s not on your list of top places to visit in the United States, be sure to add it!
Have you been to Yellowstone? If so, we’d love to know what you thought.
Also in the area:
Grand Teton National Park
You’re probably seen photos and even tv shows about Mount Rushmore but it’s just as amazing in person. I’ve been there twice and each time the car rounds the corner and I spot it, I experienced a sense of wonder that someone MADE that! It’s incredible. We highly recommend going to see it if you ever get the chance. Oh and who’s up there? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln!
Getting to Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 Highway 244
Building 31, Suite 1
Keystone, SD 57751
If you’re coming from the east like we were (we came from Badlands National Park), you’ll take I-90 all the way to Exit 61 and then just follow the signs.
October through May: 8:00 – 5:00
June through mid-August: 8:00 – 10:00
Mid-August through September: 8:00 – 9:00
All times are Mountain Time.
If you hate traffics and lines as much as we do, then you’re in for a treat. Though Mount Rushmore is almost always busy, there are traffic guides to help you pay and be on your way. Watch for the people with flags who will direct you to a toll booth. Cars and motorcycles go in the three left lanes and RV’s in the far right hand lane. You won’t have to pay to get in but you will have to pay for parking ($10 per cars, motorcycles and RV’s.) Active duty military is FREE and seniors over 62 are $5.
Things to Know About Mount Rushmore
Have your money ready when you get to the tollbooth!
Drones are prohibited in the park.
If you want to learn a little more about the park, consider renting an audio device, cost is $6. New in 2018 is the multimedia tour which, in addition to audio, offers pictures. The multimedia tour is $8.
Rangers are also on hand to give tours and they’re FREE! Check out the schedules which are posted at the Information Center and the Visitors Center. When the weather is good there is also an evening program which is also hosted by a ranger. The evening programs are about 45 minutes long and include a film and the lighting of the memorial.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed at the memorial but they are allowed in the parking areas. There’s also a special pet exercise area for dogs. (Service dogs are the exception to this rule.)
There is food within the park at Carver’s Marketplace. There’s everything from charbroiled bison to salads and wraps. There’s even ice cream and beer.
Tips for Visiting Mount Rushmore
Bring your camera but leave your drone at home.
A rain layer is recommended so that foul weather won’t get in your way of enjoying the park. Good walking shoes, too. There’s a trail that goes beneath the memorial and there are many steps to traverse.
Wear good walking shoes. The Presidential Trail is only about .6 miles long but it has 422 stairs for you to tackle! The trail is worth your time since it’ll take you close to the memorial so that you’re looking up the Presidents noses!
Save time to visit the Sculptors Studio. It was closed when we visited but is set to reopen in the spring of 2019.
Keystone is the closest town to Mount Rushmore and is only 3 miles away. There are numerous places to stay. We’ve actually never stayed in the town because we’ve always visited early enough to push on towards somewhere else.
Traveling to Mount Rushmore National Memorial Recap
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Devils Tower is a place I have been thinking and dreaming about for several years. It all started when I was in the gift shop in Yosemite National Park and happened to see a postcard for Devil’s Tower. Up until then, I’d never heard of it. But the image was seared in my mind and I swore I’d make it there one day. Well, the day finally arrived on our most recent van life adventure and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.
Traveling to Devils Tower National Monument
Getting to Devils Tower is fairly straightforward. We were coming from the east (we’d visited Mount Rushmore before heading here) and took route 90 for most of the way. Be sure to get directions ahead of time, especially if you will be using a GPS. Though we had a fairly strong signal the entire time, you never know! The physical address is WY-110, Devils Tower, Wyoming 82714.
We recommend using GPS Coordinates: 44.5902° N, 104.7146° W
Where to Stay
If you’re approaching Devils Tower from the east, you’ll see a bunch of really cool tipis on a hillside and a red building close to the road. That’s Devils Tower Tipi Camping. We had no idea it was there but made a U-turn as soon as we saw it. There happened to be one tipi left and we got it! Juliana is the owner and is super friendly.
Each tipi comes with a camp stove, water, a non-electric coffee maker, propane lantern and a solar lantern. The 14′ tipis are $50 a night and the 16′ tipis are $50 a night. You can also rent a sleeping pad, sheets, blanket and pillows for $10.
To book a stay with her, head to her website Devils Tower Tipi Camping!
There’s also a campground, the Belle Fourche River Campground that’s open seasonally (May – October). It can accommodate RVs and tents but works on a first come first serve basis. There are also three group sites. There aren’t any hookups, showers or laundry facilities at this campground but there are grills, picnic tables and water. Individual sites are $20 and group sites are $30. There are also 4 accessible sites and they are $20 each.
Best Hikes at Devils Tower National Monument
The Tower Trail is the most popular trail. It’s a 1.3 mile paved loop that goes around the base of the tower. There are a couple of hills but there are benches along the way for you to rest. Bring your camera because there are several great photo opportunities along the way.
Red Beds Trail
If you hike the Tower Trail, you’ll actually pass the trail head for Red Beds. It’s on your left as you go up the paved path. If you want to run counterclockwise, look for the trailhead a little closer to the visitors center. This trail is a nice mixture of short climbs, short descents, epic views and fun, runnable single track. Does this sound like music to your ears? We loved it. Round trip the trail is 2.8 miles. There are a couple of places where the trail intersects with another, so make sure to read the signs and/or carry a map with you.
Joyner Ridge Trail
After running the Tower Trail and Red Beds, if you still have enough in your legs, head on over to the Joyner Ridge Trail. To get there, you can either run up from the dirt road that, as you’re leaving the visitor center, will be on your right hand side, or you can drive up there. The trailhead is clearly marked and the parking lot is big enough for several cars. We went clockwise and were glad we did because the descent is fairly steep and the climb back up to the van is more mild. You’ll get an incredible view of Devils Tower so bring your camera or GoPro on this one as well.
Climbing Devils Tower
All climbers need to register with a park ranger before climbing. There are signs throughout the park marking where visitors can rock scramble and where they must stop. Going beyond the yellow line can actually lead to a citation and a fine.
Please note that throughout June, the park asks visitors to refrain from climbing on the Tower. This also pertains to scrambling on the rocks inside of the Tower Trail loop. To learn more about the closure in June as well as other Devils Tower climbing information, head on over to the park’s website.
Tips for Visiting Devils Tower
Bring lots of water! There’s a water fountain near the visitors center so be sure to fill up before your hike.
The park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Going at night is a cool thing to do. There is so little light pollution in this part of the world that you can do some great stargazing. We had fun doing night photography!
The park is in the Mountain Time Zone.
Pets are not allowed on the trails.
There isn’t any food sold within the park so come prepared.
The Joyner Ridge Trail mentioned above is a great place to see stars at night as well as take night photography. Just make sure to bring a headlamp and a map.
There are several nighttime events at the park scattered throughout the year. Check the park’s website to see what events might be happening during your visit. We were a couple of days away from a meteor shower but would have loved to go to this event and hear what a ranger had to say.
Devils Tower National Monument Recap
This park is one of the coolest places we’ve ever been to. Not only does it look incredible and make for a wonderful photograph, but it also has some really fun trails to run. We recommend putting this park on your list of places to visit.
Also in the area: Badlands National Park
Have you been to Devils Tower? If so, what did you think? We’d love to hear from you!