As with any form of travel, prepping to leave is the hardest part! I always get anxiety that I am going to forget something important. And I’m not talking about something like a toothbrush that you can pick up at a drugstore when you reach your destination – I am talking non-replaceable items. My two youngest girls have special blankies that they call “chewies” and those are non-negotiables! They simply will not sleep without them! Then there are expensive items like my camera equipment and our electronics, important travel documents like birth certificates, passports, and pet health certificates for crossing the border. For RV travel, there is also the added element of food. I meal plan in advance, shop at Costco, and try to prep as much as I can to make it easier to eat on the road. It’s basically taking everything that you need for day to day life in your home, moving it into a MUCH smaller home, and packing it efficiently enough so that stuff can be mobile and not get damaged en route. Every time we prepare to hit the road, we have to do a run through to make sure all loose items are tucked away, the cabinets are secure, and the fridge is locked shut (nobody wants to see a gallon of milk fly through the air when that door swings open while you are on the highway going 60)! This is also the first time we’ve traveled long term with our two cats, so all of their needs had to be taken into consideration as well.
It was a lot to plan for. Plus we left only days after the kids got out of school so we were juggling end of the year events, teacher gift shopping, last minute friend play dates, and preschool graduation that same week! I didn’t think we would make it out, but we did! We left on a hot Arizona day at the end of May and didn’t look back!
Day 1: We took the 93 north toward Las Vegas, stopping at Lake Mead for our very first chalkboard photo of the trip. In years past, I have started a tradition with the kids of taking a daily group photo with our location written on a small chalkboard. It is such a fun way for me organize our photo books when we get home.
Even on these long driving days, we always try to make the effort to stop any place that looks worth stopping for. (And parking for- because pulling over on the side of the road with a huge RV towing a large truck is no easy feat!) But it wouldn’t be a proper road trip without seeing it all. They say it’s not so much the DESTINATION as it is the JOURNEY and we truly believe that!
We passed through the strip in Vegas just as the sun went down and the neon lights lit up the sky. The kids were mesmerized and the energy was high as we had been planning this trip for over 6 months and we all couldn’t believe the day was finally here!
We ended up in St. George, Utah late that night. One of our favorite things about the type of RV that we have is that we don’t need to do anything when we call it a night, but simply pull over and park. We are totally self contained for days at a time and we’ve done enough traveling to know all the best places to call “home” for the night. On this particular night, it happened to be the parking lot of Cracker Barrel right off the I-15. They are RV friendly and welcome overnighters. There were already several other RVs parked and asleep as we quietly pulled in, turned off the engine, and climbed into our beds for the night.
Day 2: We awoke and made a quick breakfast for the kiddos, brewed our coffee into to-go cups, and took our seats at “the cockpit” for another long day of driving. I am very blessed to have a husband that enjoys driving. While I can drive the RV, I do not enjoy it very much. It works well that Adam takes the role of driver while I keep the kids happy and prepare snacks and meals while we drive. No stopping at dirty rest stops for a million and one bathroom breaks, no eating fast food all day long, and the kids have plenty of space to spread out and do the activities that they enjoy. My oldest daughter is my bookworm and spent a lot time reading in her top bunk, mid-coach. My middle daughter hung out in her lower bunk quite a bit, but was usually watching a movie or playing with her stuffed animals. Both bunks have their own windows so I knew they would still be able to take in the scenery while having their own space. Our oldest spent most of his time playing the Playstation from the front couch, directly behind my seat, and keeping our very youngest daughter entertained from her car seat at the dinette. She was the big question mark as this was her first big RV trip and we weren’t sure how she would handle it all. Turns out she is an AMAZING traveler, and our trip wouldn’t be what it was if she wasn’t so easy going and happy. She was in her car seat every minute that we were driving, and on some days that was 12 hours (with lots of breaks in the middle there). She napped like a pro, played with her toys from her seat, watched out her little side window with wonder, and her favorite part was when the older girls would join us up front. All the kids would sit together at the dinette, playing Playstation or just hanging out. She would smile at each one of them and giggle along with whatever they were up to. And then she would nap some more.
The other unknown variables this trip were our two cats, Katie and Riley. Katie has a thyroid condition and takes a pill twice daily, so I knew I couldn’t ask anyone to take this on in our place while we were gone for two entire months. I also felt that this was her time to really LIVE. Our cats are indoor only cats, and Katie has been with us since 2003 and never really seen beyond our backyard. I wanted her to see the world, and since she is getting older and has health issues, I also knew that I would never forgive myself if something happened to her while we were away. We were going to make it work. People travel with pets in RVs all the time, and we could, too!
The good news was that our cats transitioned very quickly and grew to love the RV. As soon as we would park, they would emerge from their beds and jump onto the dash to see what was new out the windshield or run to the pet window up front by my feet. They were actually just as sad as we were when it was time to return home.
By the end of day 2, we knew we needed some down time from driving, so I pulled up google maps on my phone and found the first pretty camping spot on our route. That ended up being the North Bingham County recreation area off of Snake River, just south of Idaho Falls, Idaho. We pulled right into a grassy camp space, hopped out, and took the kids for a walk! Fresh air, grass, and so much cooler than it was back home!
We took chalkboard picture #2 during that walk before heading back to the RV to pull the grill out of the bay and cook up some steak and potatoes. We had dinner around the picnic table as the sun set.
Day 3: The following morning, we left Idaho and continued north toward the state of Montana!
Montana is one of our favorite states to drive through. The western portion of the state looks like a scene from “Thomas the Train” with winding tracks meandering through creeks, tunnels, snow capped mountains, and just so much beautiful greenery! It was nostalgic to be here because our very first RV trip in 2010, when Nicholas was just 3 and Aubrey was a month shy of turning 2, was on this exact same route. We even stopped for our chalkboard photo at the same highway exit.
Our afternoon adventure included lunch in the rain and exploration of a river that afternoon.
We continued up to Missoula for a quick Walmart Supercenter run for a few items that I had forgotten. We knew it may be the last big box store we saw for awhile since we were a few days from crossing into Canada, so we did our shopping and grabbed a quick dinner in town. Then we continued north as it got dark, with our windows open, Pandora playing on the radio, and amazing COLD air rushing in at us. We made it to the southern tip of Flathead Lake and stopped at Eagle Nest RV for the night.
Day 4: The drive around Flathead Lake up to Kalispell is gorgeous! We were a 45 minute drive to our stop for the next few days, the Rocky Mountain Hi Campground. After parking and hooking up to power and water, we left in the truck to show the kids around town. We decided to take them to lunch at a quirky little place we visited in 2010, Moose’s Saloon. It’s a hole in the wall bar that serves up some tasty pizza! The whole place is rustic with wood everywhere that they encourage guests to carve their names into.
Then we continued up to Whitefish and found the cutest little ice cream shop called Sweet Treats. We consume a LOT of ice cream on our RV trips. It’s basically a requirement.
We drove up to the ski resort and admired all the beautiful million dollar homes up there, some even with their own personal ski lifts in their yard! We had our first solid wild animal encounter of the trip as well!
Then we traveled back south to Lakeside to take our chalkboard photo at the beautiful Flathead Lake as the sun was setting.
It was getting late, but we wanted to see if we could get high enough in elevation to reach the snow, so we drove up to the Blacktail Mountain ski area as a storm starting moving in. The drive was gorgeous!
And at the top, the kids got their wish: SNOW!
We made it back down the mountain just as the storm made it in, enjoying the sounds of thunder as we headed back to our RV park for the night.
Day 5: The storm continued through the night and we woke up to a rainy, cold day. We headed to the west side of Glacier National Park. Our plan was to do some hiking and biking and we hoped the weather would play nice.
It was still early in the season, so the park loop wasn’t open all the way through the Going to the Sun Road. Fortunately, it was open to the Trail of the Cedars, so we parked there and got out to walk the .8 mile loop.
This was another memorable place for us. We took a family photo inside a hollowed out tree here in 2010 and we wanted to recreate it, plus two new family members. That tree is right off the path on the Trail of the Cedars.
Imagine how sad we were to see that the tree had broken in half, the top piece of it laying alongside the trail. We took the photo anyway, to mark the moment, 7 years later.
The rain moved in and out as we followed the trail. It made the bright green of the lush ferns and mosses feel even greener. Halfway along the trail is a footbridge over Avalanche Creek with beautiful views of the lower Avalanche Gorge.
I caught each of my kids at some point, staring off in wonder at the beauty around them. Even Charlotte seemed to appreciate it.
When we finished our walk and ended up back at the truck, we simply weren’t ready to turn back. The rest of the Going to the Sun road may have been closed to vehicles due to the snow they were still trying to clear away, but it was open to bikes and pedestrians for 14 miles. So we grabbed our bikes off the back of the truck, loaded up the picnic lunch that we packed before leaving that morning, and hit the park loop!
The ride was challenging as we meandered along the uphill road. But it was also the most beautiful bike ride we’ve ever taken as a family. Avery and Charlotte huddled together in the bike trailer.
When everyone started to tire out, we stopped alongside the river for our picnic lunch.
The rain clouds started to build back up and so we packed up and headed in without a minute to spare! We literally climbed back into the truck and the rain started pouring down around us! We drove around the remaining open areas of West Glacier for a bit, enjoying the weather, and then headed back to the RV to relax for the evening.
Day 6: We checked out of our RV park this morning and drove to Big Fork to eat a big breakfast at the Echo Lake Cafe before heading east. Since we couldn’t drive through Glacier National Park, we decided to enter from the opposite side and see how much of the Going to the Sun Road we could see from that end. It was a longer drive than we realized since we had to take the larger, RV friendly roads, but we made it by late afternoon and found the last remaining campside at the St. Mary Lake Campground just past the East Entrance to Glacier. We unhooked the truck and headed along the park loop, which was open 12 miles in on this side – all the way to the Jackson Glacier Overlook.
On our return on the 12 mile loop we decided to stop and get out for a sunset hike. We armed up with our bear spray, heavy jackets, and camera equipment- and set out for an adventure on the Sun Point Nature Trail.
Fortunately, Charlotte loves her hiking carrier so much! She’s even known to fall asleep in it after a long hike. She will move her legs right in line with Adam’s while we hike and I think she feels like she is helping propel them.
We took our chalkboard picture up at a rocky viewpoint in some crazy winds!
After our hike we drove back toward our campground and came across our first bear sighting of the trip!
At this point it was getting late and we were tired, so we headed into the nearest town to grab dinner. There was only one restaurant still open, the Two Sisters Cafe in Babb. It’s a tiny little place with friendly, laid-back employees. The walls are adorned with license plates and signs from all over the country and a small peg game is on every table to keep you busy as you wait for your order. It turns out they have been featured multiple times on the Food Network and multiple publications for their homemade food and fresh pies. We all had burgers that were quite delicious, and we took a slice of Huckleberry pie to go. When in Montana, you must have Huckleberry something!!
Day 7: We woke up this morning and headed straight out to the truck so we could drive the only other road that was open in Glacier – the “Many Glacier” road drive just north of our campground. While we drove, the kids worked on the junior ranger booklets that they picked up the day before at the West Glacier visitor center.
On our way back to our campground, we stopped at the East Glacier visitor center so they could turn their books in and be sworn in as Junior Rangers of Glacier National Park!
Then we packed up and hit the road! We were close to the Canadian border and it didn’t take us long to get to customs. The Piegan–Carway Border Crossing was the smallest and easiest crossing we have ever done. A couple of quick questions and a look at the kid’s birth certificates and our passports and we were on our way. We were officially out of the country!
This is our third time traveling through Canada. We love it! However, this was our first time taking this route (the 2 north) up to Banff. Driving north through Alberta reminded us of driving through Nebraska. Lots of green plains and farmland.
The biggest adjustment when crossing the border is just going from miles to kilometers. We hit a little traffic in Calgary before turning west toward Banff. And that’s when the landscape turned to beautiful mountains and trees!
We stayed in the same RV park we stayed at during our 2013 trip to Banff, the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court, situated between two amazing mountain ranges. After parking our RV and setting up “camp”, Adam took out his new toy and captured some aerials for me.
Pictures just don’t do this place justice. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the national parks of Canada, I highly recommend it! The air is so pristine here and the land more untouched. There is so much wildlife and I have always found the people of Canada to be so welcoming.
We decided to stay at our campground for the evening. We unhooked the bikes and went for a family ride before dinner.
A friendly local who was camping up here for the weekend saw us with our chalkboard and offered to take our chalkboard picture for us. Day 7 – one week in!
We got back to camp to grill up some marinated chicken and peppers for dinner while the kids collected sticks and sanded them smooth to turn into hiking sticks. It must have been 10 o’clock at night by the time we sat down for dinner, but the sun was still making it’s way down. You could tell we were from the southwest and way off schedule because everybody else was getting ready for bed!
Tomorrow we would kick off our first full day of our adventures in Canada! One week in and a typical vacation would be at a close, but we were just getting started!
For those of you planning a trip north, here is our route via Google Maps: