Big Trip #3 Retrospective

Big Trip #3 was in Fall 2020; you should also read about Big Trip #1 in 2016, Big Trip #2 in 2018, and Big Trip #4 in 2022!

Grand Teton National Park in the mirror with the Airstream
Leaving Grand Teton National Park

This trip was a little weird. Wildfires altered our route: our initial trip plans included Oregon and California, but after experiencing the smoke in Montana, we rerouted. And Covid altered our behavior: no indoor eating or drinking, no museums, no shuttle buses. We felt safe for the most part, Covid-wise: people wore masks (except for in a few towns) and respected social distancing rules, and outdoor dining options abounded. Sure, there were places we missed due to Covid-related closings (notably the Canadian border was closed, as was half of Glacier) or lack of outdoor options, but that just means we’ll have to go back.

We had a few mishaps–the rock guard falling off, two blown tires, a busted water heater, a mystery engine ailment, running out of gas, a broken weight distribution bar bracket, and a log mauling the front of the Airstream–but we rolled with the punches and had a fantastic time. And we were so lucky to be able to travel before the weather got cold!

Lessons learned

In addition to what we said after Big Trip #2, we learned:

  • It’s helpful to know how to put on a spare tire
  • Don’t blindly trust Google directions in the wild (see: Idaho Falls, Crested Butte)
  • Don’t panic if a mishap occurs on the road, it will probably be ok (see: Big Trip #3 Catch-up #3)
  • Do try to find campground-hike combos where you can walk from the campsite to the trailhead (see: Stanley, Logan, Telluride)

And seriously, stop bringing so many clothes.

Total days on the road

68–3 days more than Big Trip #2 and 31 days fewer than Big Trip #1.

Total states visited

13–IN, IA, MN, ND, MT, ID, WY, UT, CO, KS, MO, TN, NC. See the map here; we shot up to North Dakota as fast as we could and then worked our way down the Rockies from there. The Airstream has now been to 44 states, and Bugsy has been to 46! J has been to 49 and I have been to 48. I was supposed to pick up Oregon this trip but the fires forced us to reroute (which wasn’t a bad thing as we loved the extra time in Idaho, Colorado, and Utah). We both still need Alaska, which is possible with the Airstream, if logistically tricky…

Number of campgrounds

Bugsy outside the Airstream

35, not counting sleeping in the Airstream outside friends’ house in Denver. That’s 7 fewer than Big Trip #1 and 10 more than Big Trip #2. Our favorite campgrounds for scenery were Grand Teton National Park, Stanley ID, Notom UT, Valley of the Gods, and Telluride. Hmmm… all of those campsites were boondocking in exceptionally scenic locations.

Number of National Parks visited

6: Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Capitol Reef, and Great Smoky Mountains.

Miles hiked

Bugsy hiking to Table Mountain in the Tetons
Table Mountain hike

387.95 miles, according to my Garmin–more than either of the previous Big Trips. We went on 64 hikes (in 68 days!?) in nine states: Montana (97 miles), Colorado (82 miles), Utah (70 miles), Idaho (65 miles), Wyoming (43 miles), North Dakota (16 miles), North Carolina (7 miles), Kansas (5 miles), and Minnesota (4 miles).

The longest hike was to Sperry Chalet (13.25) in Glacier National Park. The national forest where we logged the most miles was Gunnision, outside Crested Butte (42), with Sawtooth (32) in Idaho (near Stanley and Ketchum) and Flathead (31) in Montana (near West Glacier and Kalispell) rounding out the top three. Glacier (28) slightly edged out Grand Teton (25) for the national park with the most miles; Capitol Reef came in third with 22 miles.

Favorite and toughest hikes

hiking along Scarp Ridge
Scarp Ridge hike

Our favorite hikes included Big Plateau Loop in Theodore Roosevelt NP, Piegan Pass in Glacier (which was our plan B that day), Scotchman Peak near Sandpoint, Blodgett Canyon Overlook in Hamilton, Fairy Falls + Imperial Geyser loop in Yellowstone, Taggart Lake + Bradley Lake loop in Grand Teton, Table Mountain near Jackson Hole, Sawtooth Lake in Stanley, Fremont Gorge Overlook and Spring Canyon in Capitol Reef, Scarp Ridge and Rustler’s Gulch and West Maroon Bells Pass in Crested Butte

Some of the hardest hikes we’ve ever done were on this trip, such as Ousel Peak near Glacier (7.0 miles roundtrip; 3,635′ ascent), Scotchman Peak near Sandpoint (8.3 mi; 3,613′), Table Mountain near Wilson WY (10.7 mi; 4,004′), Goat Lake in Stanley (8.33 mi; 1,618′, with most of that elevation in the last 3/4 mile), and Mount Victoria in Breckenridge (6.0 mi; 2,625′).

Breweries visited

45! Fifteen more than Big Trip #2, but considerably fewer than Big Trip #1. Our biggest beer stop was Bozeman, where we hit five breweries if you count the one in Livingston.

Favorite breweries

Drekker and Junkyard in Fargo, Matchwood in Sandpoint, Mountains Walking in Bozeman, Long Table in Denver, and Bearded Iris (a longtime favorite) in Nashville.

Best things we ate

Sushi in Park City, the bread (actually, everything) at Hell’s Backbone Grill near Escalante, the Laverna from Butte Bagels and the burrata appetizer at Public House in Crested Butte, feta dip from Butcher + Bee in Nashville, salad from Chai Pani and ceviche from Limones in Asheville.

Favorite place for being outdoors

enjoying the view at Blodgett Canyon Overlook
Blodgett Canyon Overlook hike

The Rockies in Montana (Glacier, Kalispell/Whitefish, Hamilton, Bozeman), Idaho (Sandpoint, Stanley, Ketchum), Wyoming (Wilson), and Colorado (Telluride, Crested Butte, Ouray). We also were enamored by the badlands of Teddy Roosevelt NP. And yes, we are still obsessed with the Utah desert–GSENM, Capitol Reef, Valley of the Gods.

Favorite town

If you’ve followed along on this trip, you know it: Crested Butte! Bozeman was second. Maybe Telluride is third?

Biggest pleasant surprise

Idaho! The hiking and scenery around Sandpoint, Stanley, and Ketchum is bananas, and Sandpoint and Ketchum were fun to hang out in. We were also surprised at what a cool town Bozeman is.

Places we’d like to return to

Oh my. Our favorite cities: CB, Bozeman, Telluride; Glacier and Theodore Roosevelt NP as part of a trip to the Banff/Lake Louise area; and of course we’ll be going back to all the southern Utah places. And I freaking loved the Tetons, so we have to get back there sometime.

Animals spotted

a grizzly!

A non-comprehensive list:

License plate game results

Same results as last trip–Rhode Island is the only license plate we didn’t see, and it wasn’t until weeks later when we were in NYC that we saw one.

12 Replies to “Big Trip #3 Retrospective

  1. Whoa! The stats are truly impressive. Neat to see it all laid out that way. You are not lazy RVers, that’s for sure!

    I do think it’s worth solving this Alaska situation you’ve got going on. Maybe ditch the RV and the 4 of us do an Alaska cruise once we’re all vaccinated? Tough, since we’d want to go in the summer, and that would truncate lake time. Hmm. Lots of ins and outs to ponder.

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