Island to Island and everything in-between - our first major route.
Route planning is just one of many new skills a new RVer has to learn. You can watch countless YouTube videos on the subject (I have.) But until you start to do it, the information is just a reference. As you plan each trip, it adds to your skill level and your confidence. There are countless apps to utilize and there is a learning curve for many of them. Every RVer has their favorites and knows what works best for them. As we gain more experience we also develop our list of go-to apps and a system that works for our lifestyle and way to travel.
When we first started and took our first maiden voyage, I didn’t use any apps and I just picked campgrounds recommended in Facebook groups. I had just ended a stressful job, and life with its uncertainties these past few years, added to that stress so I needed time to decompress and let my mind relax before learning a lot of new things. I have since started educating myself on various apps and learning as to what works best for us.
For our second maiden voyage, the trip was going to be a little longer and a little further, but I still used Google maps for configuring our route. I used campgroundreviews.com for finding locations. I also used Harvest Host for overnighters. Since most of it was all close to home, we were familiar with the area and most of the routes. If I was uncertain about a route I would go into a few of my Facebook groups and ask for a recommendation, I still do this today.
After our maiden voyages, I learned quite a bit but it was time to get serious. We planned a trip to Michigan, the first leg of our extended full-time journey. For this trip, I used RV Trip Wizard to help plan our route. We bought a Garmin RV GPS 890 for the truck, but I still use Google Maps to verify. We have found that the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard aren’t always up-to-date in regard to road closures or other changes. We mostly wanted/needed the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard to help us locate RV-friendly roads, something Google Maps lacks. I now use RV Trip Wizard (who uses campgroundreviews.com) to look up possible places to stay.
My go-to website for reviews is Campgroundreviews.com. I find they have more to offer in RV parks and a lot more in-depth reviews and photos. Campendium is my second choice but I find them lacking in reviews and detailed photos (read our article about writing reviews.) I know many RVers use also RV Parky and Allstays, I use them when I feel I need to extend my search. But I have found that no one app offers a full list of parks. I am still new to boondocking so have yet to familiarize myself with those apps.
Once, I find some possible locations, I then research them on Google Earth to see if I can get a feel for the park, the entrance, the roads inside the park. This isn’t always accurate but it gives me an idea at least.
Planning the trip from Anacortes, WA to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan
We had a starting point, Anacortes, WA, our end destination was Petoskey, MI, with a stop in Garden Bay, MI in the U.P. We chose a midway point that we wanted to visit - South Dakota, check out our Picture Perfect article on South Dakota. I have found that this type of route planning works best for me (for now), where I pick a point A to point B with dates and then work backward from Point B to fill the in-between days.
The first half of this trip we went from Anacortes, WA to Hermosa, SD
I used RV Trip Wizard to plan the route. Our target date to leave Anacortes was August 12th. Our deadline to arrive at the Heartland RV Park in Hermosa, South Dakota was August 16th. We had four nights in between. Being a planner and a Type-A personality, I did not quite feel comfortable yet with not knowing where to stay the night. We had around 1100 miles to cover in this time frame and we estimated our stamina could only last around 200-250 miles or about 4-6 hours of driving. As newbies, we did not want to arrive at night. We are also not good at being morning people, so that meant leaving somewhere around 10:00 am and wanting to arrive between 4:00 to 5:00 pm. I planned each night ahead of time from Anacortes to South Dakota.
Wanapaum State Park - Washington State - Photo by Tony Locke
We reserved a spot at Wanapaum State Park in the eastern part of Washington state. 212 Miles
Smoke moved into the area just as we were leaving Anacortes that morning, increasing as we drove over the Cascade mountains. We arrived shortly before 4:00 pm, the smoke was thicker but not so thick we could not breath or see the Columbia River. The heat was close to 90 with a touch of mugginess. We settled in and waited until early evening to walk the park where we met two couples in their Airstreams. This is now one of favorite locations for camping. I highly recommend it.
1. Location, location, location. This park is a state Gem and aptly so. Located right next to the Columbia River, just a brief drive off of I-90. It is an oasis and I wished we had the time to have stayed longer. A definite must visit.
2. Had full hook-up, something you don’t always find in every state park.
3. Nice facilities.
4. Clean and well maintained. 5. Easy in and out, good interior roads, and nice spacious sites. Even a newbie, like us could back in. Pull-throughs are available.
6. VIEWS! Pick a site next to the water for a spectacular view of the Columbia River. But all sites have a nice view of the area.
7. Boat ramp by the park, beach, swimming area.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of any cons, except for maybe rattlesnakes, so watch your pets and children.
1. Nice and easy access from I-90.
2. Great service and staff. They guide you to your site and make sure you have all that you need to settle in.
3. There are quite a few amenities. Bathrooms/Showers and laundry.
4. Walking trails around the park.
5. Full hook-ups.
6. Pull through and back in sites.
1. Some tight turns in a few areas, these are daunting when you are new or a larger rig. A seasoned RVer would be fine.
2. Our site was a pull-through and located in the back of the park. It was gravel. It was not level and it dipped in the middle, which would have made for a rough unhitching and hitching up, but since we there only there for the night we did not unhitch.
3. Hook-ups were towards the front of the site by the truck, luckily we have a long electrical cord and water hose. The sewer connection was close enough for our sewer hose.
4. Neighbors fairly close but not too bad.
Bozeman, Montana - a HipCamp location 274 Miles
I could not locate a Harvest Host in this area. There were a couple of parks but they were either costly or the reviews were not too inviting, so we decided to try a HipCamp location. It was a fairly easy to get to location and a great host. The view from this location would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the smoke in the distance hiding the mountain ranges. The heat was still high, but a cool breeze made it bearable so we didn’t need to hook-up our generator.
1. Location was convenient.
2. Great host.
3. Free vegetables from their garden.
4. Really good tasting water if we needed it.
5. They have around 5 spots, four of which have electricity hook-up, our site did not.
1. Directions to find it was a little confusing so had to call but she stayed on the phone with me and waved us in.
2. We parked on a grassy area, luckily it wasn’t wet, but it did have a lot of gopher holes so we had to be careful when we left.
3. A bit pricey for what we got. The price would be fine for the sites with electricity but we paid what we would pay for a medium RV park to basically park on someone’s grass.
Peter D’s RV park in Sheridan, Wyoming 271 miles
This park was a delight. I reached out via phone (they are still a bit old-fashioned) and they got back to me almost immediately. The couple who own the park were welcoming and provided good ole fashion customer service. The park had good reviews and is a no-frills park. The sites are all pull-through.
1. Great location right off the highway.
2. Pete - the owner is a definite PRO. Generous, kind, and made you feel right at home. True personal service.
3. Good hook-ups.
4. Lengthy pull-throughs.
5. It was about a mile walk into the downtown area of Sheridan.
6. Veggie garden and they will offer you veggies from it.
7. Bathroom/Showers, laundry facility.
1. The sites are close together.
2. Interior roads are a bit narrow but doable.
Betty Jo (the Airstream) and the night sky - photo by Chris Locke
The second half of our route, between South Dakota and Garden Bay, MI, I purposely did not plan overnight stays ahead of time. It was time to try my hand at winging it. Instead, we planned our stay the night before. Chancy for someone like me, but I needed to learn “how” to do this, eventually there would come a time when we needed to wing it, plus having such definitive plans all the time kind of takes the fun out of rving.
We left Hermosa on August 22nd. We calculated about 200 to 250 miles out and narrowed down our search for a nightly stay. We found an RV park just off I-90 in the town of White Lake, SD. The reviews were mixed and when I looked it up on Google Earth it looked empty, so either something was wrong? Or the park was fairly new when the photo was taken? It was next to a small motel and managed by the staff. We took a chance. We spent the night at The Siding RV Park in White Lake, South Dakota. For an overnight location it works but definitely would not choose this for any real length of time. We also had a thunderstorm and tornado watch. We watched it closely, luckily it stayed off in the distance. 255 Miles.
Easy off and on to I-90.
2. Pull -through sites.
3. Decent Hook-ups.
1. Hard to get hold of anyone, but they are fairly responsive to voicemails.
2. The park matched the Google Earth photo, it was practically empty. This turned out to be an advantage for us, I was able to practice my driving skills and drove Betty Jo out of the site in the morning and around the park to the exit.
3. Site was gravel mixed with grass and roughly outlined.
Summer Hideaway in Necedah, WI 229 miles
The night before, we had narrowed down our search to three possible locations. Summer Hideaway was the only one we could get a hold of on such short notice. It was an okay find, not my favorite and not one I would like to visit again. Mostly a Seasonal RV Park where people purchase/reserve a spot for the season. They have about twelve pull-through sites set aside for short-term guests.
1. Good for an overnight or two.
2. Nice Amenities.
1. A bit off the beaten path. Follow their directions when you get close, not Google Maps, to locate it.
2. Gated community at night and mostly seasonal RVers.
3. Cell signal was very weak and the internet service was spotty at best, even the seasonal residents complain about the service.
4. The location of the guest pull-throughs are sequestered in the back of the park - the plus side is it is easier to navigate to.and close to a laundry facility and restrooms.
5. Sites are rustic and sandy, and buried amongst a lot of trees, which might be nice on a hot summer day, I would be concerned during a wind storm.
6. The staff was okay but a bit aloof and not always available, they asked what time to expect us so they could make sure someone was in the office.
7. The amenities are quite a distance from the guest sites.
8. The Seasonal campers spread out on their sites and there are quite a few tiny homes.
Harvest Host in Peshtigo, WI - A dairy farm
Peshtigo, WI 179 Miles
This night we decided to try our hand at a Harvest Host we located on the website. The request to stay was accepted via the website with instructions to call once we were an hour out. Our hosts were delightful and very busy.
1. The location was fairly easy to get to and to get back to the highway.
2. It is a dairy farm so it was a great experience watching the workings of milking the cows.
3. Our hosts were fantastic and despite their very busy schedule they were fairly responsive via texts.
4. The Goodie Bag - we were given a goodie bag upon arrival with packages of cheese snacks and fresh chocolate chip cookies. A yummy greeting after a day of travel.
5. The meat we bought was really good. As part of the Harvest Hosts agreement, it is customary to purchase products from your hosts, and we did.
6. Photographing the cows.
7. Easy pull through (around) parking.
1. The only real con was the heat and humidity.
By the second half of the trip, we got better at locating gas stations and rest stops. And we were more comfortable with the road trip.
We learned quite a bit:
1. The one thing we learned most was what we were capable of when driving. Driving too many miles and hours and too many days in a row was too much.
2. Trying not to restrict ourselves in timelines so much. Many RVers talk about this in their videos.
3. How to use the variety of Apps available. On this trip, we not only had to use our trip planning apps and apps for where to stay, but we also had to utilize our apps and Garmin for diesel truck stops and rest stops. We used the app I-exit more to find out what was available at upcoming exits. Practicing with the use of the weather apps more.
4. Traveling full-time as a couple. What works, what doesn’t. We have been married a long time, so we are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, traveling full-time added to the list.
5. While in South Dakota, we learned we had driven through a swarm of bees at some point in Oregon. Dead bees had clogged up our air filter and our radiator. We didn’t catch it till later when a check engine light came on.
6. It was on this trip, where we discovered more about ourselves and our capabilities. We decided to alter our plans for traveling to the northeast. We knew we were not ready for that particular adventure yet.
7. I don’t need to plan everything to the last minute. Yet, I do still need to plan since parks can be difficult to get into. I have also learned that I can “wing” it a little. :-)
8. We have learned to back in more and feel more comfortable with doing it.
9. We’ve learned more about living on the road. It is an adjustment. It requires flexibility, conservation of your utilities, and adapting to your surroundings. Learning to locate the basics, such as laundry facilities and grocery stores, things we take for granted when living in a home and community.
Considering how much I love to plan, I found route planning to be daunting at first. Now, I am more comfortable with it. I have an idea of what works best for us, but it is still so time-consuming.
What works for me may not work for someone else. We each need to find our rhythm, our joy and learn the way that works for us. I am grateful to all of those who share their experience and provide advice. It helped me get started. Thank you!
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo