Our Road Trip From CA to Yellowstone National Park

I am currently writing this journal from a campground somewhere in West Yellowstone. The campground is nestled in the woods near Madison Arm with views of the Tetons and various other snow-covered mountain tops.

Looking it up on Google Maps led us to believe we are seeing The Crags, the North White Peak and the South White Peak.

This is our second trip to Yellowstone, but our first time staying on the West side and the first time we are slow rolling and not rushing our way through it. The first trip (I will have to go back and blog about that trip) only allowed for one day and we literally ran to the first thing we didn’t want to miss – Old Faithful.

Our Travels to Get Here

We have been on the road for almost a week. We left a campground in California when the fires started and have been on the road for a week. The kids and I (and two dogs) usually travel via car and stay at hotels unless my husband is able to come with us and bring the 5th wheel. Since I felt it would be easier to stay out for 4 to 6 weeks in our own camper (and there is no way I was going to haul a 5th wheel), we left CA with the hopes of buying a camper in Salt Lake City that I could haul with my SUV. When we discovered water damage in that travel trailer, we stayed with a friend for a couple of days while we shopped.

We left Salt Lake City with a 24 foot, 20 year old Travel Trailer that we haven’t yet named. But, as I write this, the decades old stove is making some mean fried chicken and I’m suddenly feeling a little ripped off by the oven in our two year old 5th wheel (That has never been able to pull off perfect fried chicken. Ever.)

Bear Lake, Utah

We stopped at the Bear Lake KOA Holiday campground. It was a great place to figure out the kinks in our new-to-us trailer and to figure out the setup. There was a convenient ACE hardware and grocery shop right there by the KOA.

The kids were able to be kids here. The playground, bike rentals and pool were all open. The nearby lake was also open, but we’re not big into lakes that don’t have nice beaches (we love boating, but it scares me to death).

This KOA needs some kind of award. For real. The NICEST people. They even took our propane tanks back to our spot on a golf cart.

Montpelier, Idaho

We learned that we managed to fry the brakes coming over a mountain pass in Utah so we stopped here so we could get new brakes on the truck and have the wiring checked on our RV.

The swings being open in Utah and Idaho made this one really, really happy.

We ended up staying an extra night so we could check out the Oregon Trail Center. (Side Note: The KOA in Montpelier is eh.)

Honestly, if you don’t buy the tickets to go through it, there isn’t much to see. You can see the art and the gun cabinet below, but the rest shown here is only available if you buy additional tickets.

A guide walks you through the exhibit dressed in period apparel, complete with a revolver and Bowie knife. He made his best attempt to use verbiage they would have used back then too.

After putting us on a covered wagon ride of sorts to let us know how it would have felt to ride in the back of a covered wagon (watch out Disney!), we were taken into a little town and introduced to the blacksmith, quilter and chefs that would have went along on the trips.

Blueprints for a covered wagon. They were SO MUCH bigger than I thought they were.

The Oregon Trail map.

We managed to survive our trip through the Oregon Trail Center despite the actual trail having an 18% death rate.

We were sad to leave. This area of Idaho is BEYOND beautiful. Golden fields of wheat with a mountain backdrop – GASP!

I have to admit that the hospitality in Montpelier, Idaho makes me want to go back. There were no big box stores within an hour and a half and the people there seemed to have forgot that everyone else in the world has gone insane. People actually held doors for me. It’s been a long time.


Rexburg, Idaho

We stopped at Idaho Falls to restock and then headed to our campground in Rexburg to stop for the night. I kind of feel like I could have made the trip all the way to West Yellowstone rather than stopping here, but sometimes its best to give yourself from grace and stop at a cheap little campground.

West Yellowstone, Montana

We are parked for the next few days in West Yellowstone so we can head into the park and check out all of the things we missed two years ago.

So here’s the part where I tell you the things that weren’t amazing.

First, I am pulling a travel trailer by myself. I have driven across the country with a small enclosed trailer with the kids before, but a much larger travel trailer is a whole different thing. There was a few reasons I wanted to buy a travel trailer rather than stay in hotels this trip. Here’s my logic on the whole idea:

  1. Hotels are nearly double the price per night.
  2. You’re pretty much dedicated to eating out which is expensive and tends to lean on being unhealthy.
  3. Chemicals. People are spraying, wiping and spraying again. Two of us have nearly instant reactions to the access of chemicals everyone is spraying everywhere.
  4. Should I mention bed bugs and other gross things in hotel rooms?
  5. Not having to lug bags into a hotel room. We have tried taking a backpack in each night rather than taking in the whole bag, but we almost always forgot something important.
  6. If I get burnt out on spending money, we can boondock on BLM land or park in a Walmart parking lot.
  7. We can stay out as long as we need to. Our mission for this trip is to hit a few places, like Yellowstone, on the way to South Dakota to look for real estate.

If you’re doing the math, you’ve most likely figured out that we now have 0 homes and two campers – one huge 5th wheel and now our tiny travel trailer.

Wow, I got really off on a tangent there.

Back to the ugly stuff.

We wanted to find a trailer that would meet my budget – which meant buying it with cash. I didn’t want to take out a loan to buy a trailer and most definitely didn’t want to take to big of a chunk out of our savings.

This also meant we were buying an older trailer.

We found a trailer that was for sale because the owners wife now has dementia. For twenty years the grandfather had taken his sons and grandsons out for hunts in this trailer and when they returned Grandmother was there to make sure every little thing was removed from it and that it was spotless. The Grandsons that came to sell the trailer to us were in tears as we pulled away. The mama in me wanted to give them a hug.

I feel like we’ve worn the trailer out more in the last week than they did in 20 years. It was in pristine condition with the exception of a few bumps and bruises on the outside. The twenty year old window boxes didn’t even have any dust on them.

We decided to stay just north of Salt Lake City so we would be close to a friend if we needed to send out an SOS. Going to admit here that it was close. The first night the water line going to the toilet was leaking. The second night we realized there was a hose under the tub that was spraying water all over the floor of the trailer. Apparently this had been going on for a while since it was completely rotted. The whole floor under the tub is now gone and will have to be replaced when we stop long enough for it to be fixed.

When we went to leave the first campground we realized we had no brakes left. We had come over a pass that was a lot of back and forth and up and down. My brakes smelled like burnt rubber when we pulled in and now that we were leaving, it was obvious that we had definitely damaged the brakes. We had to drive nearly 40 miles with a trailer with no brakes to get them fixed. In the process we learned that I had burnt off the brakes on my truck on that pass because the trailer brakes hadn’t been working.

Fortunately, as soon as we left from getting the brakes fixed, things have been nearly normal.

I have to say one thing positive about our crappy camper…. the 20 year old stove top and oven is NOTHING like what we have in our 2018 5th wheel. We cannot get pizza or chicken – or anything else for that matter – to cook evenly in our 5th wheel oven.

The oven in the crappy camper is spot on… proof…

Yes, I needed comfort food after the week we’ve had. While it’s been fun, I have missed having something smothered in flour. I’m not sure if it was the chicken or the fact that we haven’t had a real meal in a week, but there was not a single crumb of this chicken left.

I don’t know if you have a newer stove top in your RV, but you have probably experienced trying to light it. Click. Click. CLick. cLiCK. ClICk. For what feels like 20 minutes while you try to get it to light.

This thing – one SNAP. and you have a flame. I have already informed my husband that we will be poaching the oven out of this little trailer if we decide to sell it.

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