As you may have noticed, I fell off the grid for a few weeks in June. Not that I don’t love you all for following my blog, it’s actually good for my soul to turn off everything and enjoy all the beauty that is really just in our backyards. My motto is to take the road less traveled and this trip took us to places that I never knew existed.
Follow along with me as I take you on a journey driving the Western Scenic Byways. I will share with you my knowledge of scenic by-ways, where to boondock and camp, sights to see and don’t miss things to do.
Taking the Road Less Traveled
As this was the third RV adventure, I am a “seasoned” back road navigator. Since I am the co-pilot, I have gotten really good at reading maps and maneuvering day by day without GPS or Apps to figure stuff out.
This trip was planned solely on only taking scenic byways with a general direction in mind and not taking any highway unless it was totally unavoidable. Each day I sought out roads that went through national forests and wilderness areas (where I knew that camping would be plentiful) and to go a new way to the Pacific Northwest and back. The other caveat for this trip was to avoid as many crowds and busy areas as possible.
Traveling without any real plans is exciting and in my opinion, opens up a whole new realm of adventure. When you don’t make any plans and take the back roads it seems that every twist and turn in the road brings another “Wow, did you see that” moment, a stellar view, a cute little town in the middle of nowhere and the opportunity to meet interesting people.
I know there are a lot of people who need a plan but for me, this way of traveling works. I think it’s exciting not knowing where you will be the next night.
What is Boondocking?
I know that many of you may be unfamiliar with the word “boondocking” so I will begin with what it means as I will use the term throughout this post.
Boondocking is seeking out camping spots that offer little to no services, are free to very inexpensive and generally off the beaten track.
When I say “no services”, I mean no electric or water hookups and no dump stations. Most national forests and wilderness areas offer at least a drop toilet. Some of the larger national forest campsites do have water and dump stations but it’s something that you pay for.
Unless you find a fabulous spot somewhere in the woods (we found a lot of them) and choose to stay in the national forests, you will pay a bit to stay there. I have stayed in the national forest campgrounds for as little as zero dollars (these are way off the beaten track and too difficult for the forest service personnel to pick up $$ and too far away for a camp host) but usually $3-$15 for the night. Some states like Washington can go up to $30 per night. There is no rhyme or reason for what they charge so be prepared. Usually, if there is an NF campground, you can find a boondocking site nearby.
State Parks, National Parks, and National Monuments are the most expensive. I have found that state parks can go up to $40 per night. Which is ridiculous so they are avoided at all costs.
In all, you need to find a place to stop for the night. We live in a really big country and finding camp spots has never been an issue for us. Sometimes you have no choice to pay but if you plan your route wisely, you can keep your costs down. I think we forked out $60 for this 21-day trip.
Where to get propane, water dump stations, and the internet
I hear these questions all the time on some RV forums that I belong to. The question will work itself out if you follow an atlas and see what towns are coming up. The larger the town, the easier it will be to find what you need.
Propane is probably the easiest commodity to find. Many towns have someplace to fill propane as many homes in the boondocks fuel their homes with propane so this really shouldn’t be an issue. Gas stations, hardware stores, propane centers are some examples.
Water should never be an issue but sometimes it can be a pain to find. There have been a few times where towns or businesses (actually only in Washington state) where they wanted to charge $5 to fill the water tank. Obviously, we didn’t pay and found free water at another business in another town. If you carry a hose, most gas stations, hardware stores, restaurants have a spigot. We always buy a coffee or something and ask for permission and have never been turned down. Also, some of the more expensive NF campgrounds have spigots as well. We always fill the water tank when we see an open spigot.
Dump Stations are the only thing that’s more difficult to come across so when you see one stop. We are very conservative with the use of the black water tank. Only “one” goes down. We use public facilities for the rest of our business so the need for a dump station is minimal. That being said, if we pay a fee to camp, we make sure that a dump station is on-premises. In Idaho however, there were numerous dump stations off the side of the road which they charged $5 for the use of it along with a water station.
Connecting to the internet is a challenge when traveling off the grid but this is part of the fun. Disconnecting from society is a wonderful thing but unavoidable in today’s age. We don’t have wifi or use the generator for electricity so we make it a point to stop every day to check in on the internet. Stopping at local libraries (there are way more than you think) is a great option. They all have internet and generally a quiet room to sit in. If there is no library available, most towns have a restaurant, coffee shop or a community center. If they don’t the next town or two away will have something!
North Central Colorado, Scenic By-Way 14
I am embarrassed to say that a 30 year Colorado resident I have never been west of Ft. Collins. It’s always been on my list but I have never had the time to make the trek and this is where the adventure begins.
The Western Scenic Byways tour begins on HWY 14 that leaves Ft. Collins and heads through a really beautiful part of the state, up to the Poudre Canyon which follows the Cache la Poudre River. This part of the state is not only beautiful but it’s is rich in history. Cache la Poudre means “hide the powder” in French. Back in the 1820s during a snowstorm, some French fur trappers were forced to hide their “cache” of gunpowder along the banks of the river after some corruption scandal. There are all kinds of history mile markers up the canyon if you are interested in reading.
This river/canyon is famous for its fly fishing, kayaking, rafting, and hiking. The river in June was flowing huge, so the class 4 and 5 rapids were showing their force. It really was a beautiful sight and unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because it was a dark day. It’s all good though. It was beautiful. Trust me! 🙂
Since the canyon is so close to Ft. Collins, it was packed with people even on a Sunday afternoon. Highway 14 offers plenty of camping opportunities through the NF. The camping spots that are right on the river were $15-$20 per night for a no service spot. It would be worth the fee if you want riverfront property for fishing or water sports. It was early, so we moved on.
Continuing on Western Scenic By-Way 14
After you get through the 40-mile canyon you end up really high. The cool thing about this road is that you start to see Rocky Mountain National Park from the “other” side with no crowds. The views are breathtaking! I took this picture out the window of the RV while we were driving. Anyhoo, it was really cold and there was still a lot of snow. During summer months this would have been perfect for boondocking as we noticed a lot of National Forest roads and lots of places to camp!
As you continue on HWY 14, you will go over some high passes. There is a ranger station that that can’t miss. For some reason there was a sign on the door that said “closed” but they were really open, so maybe the ranger was on a break. Anyway, we were on our own so we headed down to the State Forest where we knew there would be camping.
When we arrived at the gate for the State Forest a very rude state employee said that if we wanted to camp, we would have to go online and book a spot even though there was no one there. Well, that’s crazy, there is no internet. It’s one of the things that drives me nuts and why we choose to boondock. There are no reservations required. I laugh at the fact that most government-run camp areas require you to book online when in reality most of the areas are in places where no internet is available. Bureaucrats must not be campers. LOL! When all said and done, they wanted $30 for the night so it wasn’t an option.
So when there is an awkward situation, something good falls into place afterward and that’s happened here. We drove back up to Gould, CO where there were some dirt roads. We turned onto County Road 41 and low and behold there were tons of boondocking sites available. This is a picture of a fast-moving stream where the camp spot was. It was a perfect setting for the first night of the trip. Just a little chilly! 🙂
After leaving Gould, the road wandered down to the North Park area of Colorado. North Park is the northernmost mountain valley in the state and is home to the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge near Walden, CO. This was a beautiful sight to stumble upon and definitely a place to go back to and explore. There is a driving tour of the refuge which would be interesting to see someday. Anyway, it was early and we needed to drive.
Walden, Colorado is a quaint and historic cowboy town that has many outdoor outfitters and hunting guide services. It is also the “moose viewing capital of Colorado”. No moose were roaming that day so we continued on HWY 14 to HWY 125 and into Wyoming.
Once you cross the border into Wyoming the highway changes to HWY 230. You will quickly come to the town of Riverside, WY. Make sure you stop in the visitors center and chat with the volunteers. There were 2 old cowboys (men in their 80’s) manning the booth. They were very entertaining and helpful. I went over the travel plans on getting up to Jackson and they agreed with my research. They were more than willing to share their knowledge and gave us a really great tip! Free Hot Springs!
Well if Saratoga isn’t a charmer, I don’t know what is. Saratoga is known for its world-class fly fishing as well as hunting, hiking, bird watching, snowmobiling and of course their famous hot springs.
Saratoga offers free hot springs that are right in the middle of town. It’s affectionately called the HOBO pool. There are 3 pools here. One large swimming pool and 2 hot spring pools. One is really hot and the other is not so hot but certainly hot enough. The fun thing is that after a good soak, you can cool off in the North Platte River and go for a swim! The river actually has “warm” pools for those of us who are too chicken to go into the freezing (snowmelt) river. After a relaxing time in the pools, there are changing rooms with showers to rinse off in.
I highly suggest a stop in Saratoga. They also have a neat downtown and a beautiful community center with free wifi. It’s definitely worth a 2-3 hour visit on your travels.
Traveling through south-central Wyoming
A short drive up HWY 230 will bring you to I-80. We traveled west for about 15 miles until we reached the town of Rawlins where we went north on HWY 287 before heading west.
Truth be told once you start driving on HWY 287, you will notice something. You are in the middle of nowhere. It’s very isolated and neat all at the same time. The road is flat, like really flat. You will see a lot of cows, antelope, and miles upon miles of sagebrush. I did notice some dirt roads that looked like there could be some camping available and a couple of entrances to BLM land, but other than that, I wouldn’t count on camping in this area. Honestly, this road seems to go on forever until you start going up and scenery completely changes in a whole new way. You see the mountains.
Scenic Highway 28
You will come to a fork in the road, we turned onto scenic by-way 28 which is part of the Oregon Trail and also described as “the woman’s sufferage” highway. This road was named this to honor Esther Hobart Morris who was the first woman to serve as Justice of the Peace in the United States. Wyoming was also the first territory to allow women the right to vote to end “woman’s sufferage” thus the name for this road. There is so much history in this area that it’s mindboggling. Make sure you stop and read all the historical markers. You will certainly learn a thing or two!
The road will begin to climb here and you notice 2 historical areas Atlantic City and South Pass City. South Pass City is a preserved ghost town and on the National Historic Register. The good news about this area is that it is also a great place to boondock! You will see a camping sign on the north side of the road near the summit of South Pass. It’s a dirt road and actually another entrance to Sinks Canyon state park which is in Lander. If you turn here and go up a couple of miles, there are a dozen or so places to boondock. It’s certainly a beautiful area and worth checking out!
Finishing up on Highway 28
After leaving South Pass, you will drive about 20 or so miles and stumble up Red Canyon. There is an amazing overlook that you must stop at! It’s gorgeous and considered one of the prettiest views in the state of Wyoming. I’m sure that you can see why!
After leaving this beautiful place, we headed towards Kemmerer, Wy which is famous for its fossils and believe it or not, JC Pennys was founded there! Weird.
Scenic By-way 89 to Jackson, Wyoming
Scenic By-way 89 which hugs the Wyoming, Idaho border is a gorgeous drive. You will pass by tons of farm and ranch land along with rolling hills and quaint towns. As you drive up you will enter Star Valley and come across the town of Afton. Afton is the home to the worlds largest elk antler arch over the main street. It’s pretty cool to see.
Bridger Teton NF is also accessible in Afton. There are great boondocking opportunities here, however, in early June there was too much snow to access the area, so we headed towards Alpine and lower elevations.
When you reach Alpine, head towards Jackson and you will find plenty of camping opportunities. Because you are so close to Jackson, all of these areas are paid and our first night to fork out $15 to camp. It was all good though as we found a beautiful spot on the Snake River. These camp areas offer drop toilets and spigots for water.
I know our goal was to avoid crowded areas but you can’t come to this part of the state without having to drive through Jackson. We stopped in for a bit to check the internet, run some errands and a quick visit with some friends of mine that I haven’t seen since college! So that was nice but we moved out quickly.
Just a quick travel tip. The main grocery store in Jackson is the most expensive grocery that I have ever shopped in. It’s a beautiful store but just be prepared to fork out the cash. I’m not sure the locals afford shopping there. It was all good, I only needed a couple of items! 🙂
When we left Jackson, we headed out on HWY 22 over Teton Pass before heading into Idaho. Teton Pass is a beautiful drive but it is very steep. You will be fine if you drive in low gear and take your time. The locals won’t appreciate you and try and pass in inappropriate places, but whatever! Lol! Make sure that you stop at the top. The views were stellar!
So this is the end of the first leg of the road trip. Be sure to sign up on my blog and follow along as we went to some really great places. I’ll take you along to Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho (again), Utah and back through Wyoming! It was quite an adventure and I can’t wait to share it!
Do you want to check out some other great travel adventures? Here are some links to past trips!