bugsy running on lone rock beach with the airstream and f-150 in the background

Big Trip #4 Retrospective

I think I take this same picture at the end of every trip

Big Trip #4 was in fact a BIG trip! We covered a lot of ground and had all sorts of memorable experiences, and that’s why it took me almost four months to finish writing all the trip posts. My bad. But I love writing these retrospectives a few months after we get home because it gives us a chance to reflect back on all the wacky stuff we did. If you’re interested, here are the previous Big Trip retrospectives:

Big Trip #3 Retrospective

Big Trip #2 Retrospective

Big Trip #1 Retrospective

Final itinerary

big trip #4 overview map
this is our trip, counterclockwise from Virginia

Our trip ended up looking pretty different from the original plan. We shifted westward–less Rockies, more California–to accommodate J’s work meetings that he otherwise would have had to fly to. While we are crazy about the Rockies and were sad to miss out on on some of our favorite places, we were happy to explore the West Coast more. Overall it was a fantastic trip!

Here are all the Big Trip #4 posts, in order:

Fayetteville, WV

Streetsboro, OH (and Cuyahoga Valley National Park)

Michigan City, IN (and Indiana Dunes National Park)

Madison, WI

Duluth, MN

Grand Rapids, MN

Fargo, ND

Medora, ND (and Theodore Roosevelt National Park)

Great Falls, MT

Saint Mary, MT (and Glacier National Park)

Waterton Lakes National Park, AB

Banff National Park, AB

Sandpoint, ID

Ellensburg, WA

Mount Rainier National Park, WA

White Salmon, WA

Bend, OR

Crater Lake National Park, OR

Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

Lake Tahoe, NV & CA

Reno, NV

Yosemite National Park, CA

Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Sequoia National Park, CA

Pinnacles National Park, CA

Marina, CA

Santa Cruz, CA

Big Sur, CA

San Luis Obispo, CA

Ventura, CA

Huntington Beach, CA

Oceanside, CA

Palm Springs, CA

Tucson, AZ

Alamogordo, NM

Tucumcari, NM

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, TX

Sayre, OK

Tulsa, OK

Clarksville, AR

West Memphis, AR

And I didn’t write a post about our night in Asheville, because I’m sure you’re sick of me writing about Asheville. We went to the usual suspects: Blue Spiral 1, Sovereign Remedies, The Admiral, Chai Pani, and the French Broad River Greenway; plus two newbies: breakfast to go from Early Girl Eatery (it’s a real pain in the rear to park near the downtown location) and beers and live music at One World Brewing‘s West Asheville location.

Lessons learned

hiking along the Garfield Peak trail
Crater Lake

We didn’t have any major mishaps on this trip. Our hot water heater started leaking, but we only had a week left in the Airstream, so we managed by only filling it before showers and draining it after.

We managed to bring fewer clothes this time (as instructed in each of our previous retrospectives) and we started the trip with fewer canned goods than usual, buying more as needed along the way.

Oh, here’s a good one: our propane alarm went off from time to time throughout the trip, which was super annoying, but you don’t want to disconnect your propane alarm because you might die. It turns out the fix is to clean our gray tank. Let’s not spend too much time thinking about bacterial colonies and what they’re emitting, but the propane alarm doesn’t like whatever is going on in there. Gross, yes, but it’s way better than a propane leak!

Total days on the road

82–our second-longest trip behind Big Trip #1.

Total states visited

17–WV, OH, IN, WI, MN, ND, ID, WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, TX, OK, AR, TN, NC.

And 2 countries!

See our maps here. The Airstream has now been to 46 states, and Bugsy has been to 47! The last continental US state for Bugsy is Vermont; we need to plan a trip there soon. The Airstream hasn’t been to Vermont or Delaware. J and I still need Alaska… that’s probably not an Airstream trip, although technically it could be!

Number of campgrounds

hanging at our campsite in Two Medicine
#1 campsite in Glacier NP

47, way more than previous Big Trips. Our favorite campgrounds for scenery were in Glacier NP (Two Medicine is in our all-time top campsites), Kings Canyon NP, and Ventura (despite being on the shoulder of a busy highway). Less stunning but also very enjoyable were campgrounds in Madison, Duluth, Fargo, Waterton Lakes (both campgrounds there), and Bend. We hopped around more than usual this trip, spending fewer days in a larger number of locations; the places we spent the most days in were Glacier (four days, but split across two campgrounds), Waterton (same), Banff (same), and Tucson (four days in the same campsite).

Number of National Parks visited

fall colors along the trail to Healy Pass
Banff NP

16: New River Gorge, Cuyahoga Valley, Indiana Dunes, Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, Banff, Mt Rainier, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Pinnacles, Saguaro, White Sands. That brings our total to 39 US national parks for the humans (and considerably fewer for the canine since she usually isn’t allowed).

Miles hiked

Mt Rainier from Shriner Peak Trail
Mt Rainier

368 miles, according to Strava–slightly less than Big Trip #3 in first place.

We went on 81 hikes across 59 days of hiking (!) in fourteen states/provinces, with California leading the mileage count by far (110 miles), which makes sense because we spent the most days there (27).

hiking distance by state
hiking mileage by state
hiking distance by park
hiking mileage by park

The longest hike was Akamina Ridge (12.71 mi) in Waterton Lakes NP. Most of our hiking this trip was in national parks; our top five parks for miles were Banff (47.09 mi), Glacier (31.06 mi), Waterton Lakes (25.99 mi), Yosemite (22.82), and Mount Rainier (19.29).

Favorite and most terrifying hikes

hiking along Akamina Ridge
Akamina Ridge

Our favorite hikes in descending order were: Grinnell Glacier in Glacier NP, Wenkchemna Pass in Banff NP, Sourdough Gap outside Mount Rainier NP, Healy Pass in Banff NP, Bertha Lake in Waterton Lakes NP, Bow Glacier Falls in Banff NP, Romero Pools in Catalina State Park, and Akamina Ridge in Waterton Lakes NP. The only hike where I thought I might actually die was Akamina Ridge. Looking at this list and the list from Big Trip #3, it’s clear how much we love the northern Rockies.

Breweries visited

hazy IPA at MadeWest
beer with a view in Ventura

58! Way more than all Big Trips except for Big Trip #1, which we will never catch. Our biggest beer stop was Bend, where we hit six breweries, followed by Madison, Duluth, and Tucson with four. Ventura had four, too, if you count different taprooms of the same brewery.

Favorite breweries

Old favorites still on the list: Junkyard in Moorhead, MN (Fargo), Pueblo Vida in Tucson. New favorites: Young Blood in Madison, Bent Paddle in Duluth, Boss Rambler in Bend, and Around the Bend in Groveland (outside Yosemite NP).

Best things we ate

the view from Sierra Mar
sunset view from Post Ranch Inn

Oh man we ate some amazing food this trip. Our favorite meal was an over-the-top fancy birthday dinner at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. The next five in order (sort of–we keep changing the order around) were: Mint Mark in Madison, Zeitgeist in Duluth, Campfire in Carlsbad, Workshop in Palm Springs, and Tito and Pep in Tucson.

Notable dishes include an onion jam and wild mushrooms waffle sandwich in Waterton, sweet potato fries topped with coconut curry in Bend, crab curry in Santa Cruz, fish tacos in Oceanside, and J’s Sonoran hotdog in Tucson.

This post lists the best places we ate.

Favorite town

Bugsy at the top of Bear's Hump
the setting of Waterton Townsite

There’s not one standout winner for this trip, like Crested Butte last trip. We liked a lot of towns! Waterton Townsite was adorable and surrounded by mountains; Three Rivers (outside Sequoia NP) was tiny and charming; White Salmon and neighboring Hood River are super outdoorsy and fun; and Madison, Bend, Ventura, and Oceanside are just cool cities with a lot going on. And of course we still love Tucson.

Biggest pleasant surprise

giant sequoias in Lost Grove
sequoias in Kings Canyon NP

Again, I have several: the food scene in Madison and Duluth, getting to raft the White Salmon River, how much we loved the sequoias, how incredible Kings Canyon is, how much we enjoyed White Sands NP after not bothering with it for years, and our last-minute overnights in Palo Duro SP and Spadra Park.

Places we’d like to return to

There’s so much more to do in Washington, Oregon, and northern California, but it’s soooo far away that yes, we’ll be back eventually, but not for a while. I’d also someday like to return to Waterton and Banff on the way up to Jasper NP farther north. We’ll always keep going back to Glacier, and we’re planning a trip to Tucson in December.

Animals spotted

sunrise dolphins

A non-comprehensive list:

  • sandhill cranes (Madison)
  • bison and prairie dogs (TRNP)
  • moose, bighorn sheep, a grizzly family, marmots, white crowned sparrows (GNP)
  • mule deer (WLNP)
  • Columbian ground squirrel, pika, hoary marmot (and heard them!) (Banff)
  • mountain goats, grizzly, pheasants, elk, black tailed deer (MRNP)
  • red tailed hawk (Bend)
  • black bear (Crater Lake)
  • chipmunks, Douglass squirrels, Stellars jays, mountain chickadees, ravens, buffleheads (Lassen)
  • California condors (Pinnacles)
  • harbor seals (Monterey)
  • sea lions, wild turkeys (Santa Cruz)
  • otters (Morro Bay)
  • dolphins (Ventura)
  • white pelicans, egrets, herons, kingfishers, northern flickers (Spadra)
  • llttle brown dog everywhere we went

License plate game results

I know this is the category everyone is the most interested in. We got them all except for DC! Often we don’t get Rhode Island, and this trip we saw one in Alberta, pretty exciting!


3 responses to “Big Trip #4 Retrospective”

  1. […] This post is part of our pre-trip planning for our big trip in Fall 2022. HERE IS OUR POST-TRIP RETROSPECTIVE! […]

  2. […] This post is part of our pre-trip planning for our big trip in Fall 2022. HERE IS OUR POST-TRIP RETROSPECTIVE! […]

  3. […] haven’t had the Airstream out since November (despite only finishing the Big Trip #4 posts just a few weeks ago–it took us a while to write everything up!), and we’re […]

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