Family Adventure- RV Trip through National Parks

by MaggiePowell

Read about a family vacation in an RV through some Western NationalParks. Visit Crater Lake National Park, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Fossil Butte.

My family spent 2 weeks on an RV Trip to National Parks last summer, and we saw much more than we thought possible. Starting with Crater Lake in Oregon, we then traveled north and east to Glacier National Park, south to Yellowstone National Park, and finally, Fossil Butte National Monument. I wanted to share the details of our route, because it was so much fun!

We mixed up the Natural History with some fun stops and activities along the way , we even went to a waterpark/theme park!...and of course, saw a few Roadside Attractions... because I am a sucker for the giant balls of yarn.

Somehow we managed to survive 2 weeks together in a small RV... but this trip can also be undertaken as a tent camping trip, or you can just drive from hotel to hotel... or... if you are really lucky.... you can spread the trip out over a longer period of time.

Whatever you choose to do, I'm sure you will agree, visiting these National Parks and Monuments is something that should not be missed.

photos taken by Maggie Powell...unless otherwise indicated

This is the Route we took. Started in the San Francisco Bay Area, and then off to Crater Lake, Columbia Gorge, Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho, Glacier National Park, Anaconda Montana, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, and Fossil Butte

Follow Along On Our Route

I Swear By the Accordian File For Vacation Planning

Planning Makes a Smooth Trip

I use a new Accordian File every trip I plan. I label the files- Itinerary, Maps, Reservations, Confirmations, Interesting Stuff, etc. Then I keep track of everything I do for the trip. Since it's all in order, when we travel, I have it all along in one place. 
My last file two files I leave empty. As we travel I move the used up reservations, confirmations and receipts to one file, this way, I'm all set when I need to check our expenses. 
The other one I use to stash postcards, brochures and ephemera, so I'm ready to scrapbook the trip when I get home.

Expanding File Folder / Accordian File

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Some Information About RV Trips With Kids

Planning an RV Trip with Kids through the National Parks? 
Here are a few tips to get you packed and going...

just follow this link----> RV Travel with Kids

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Mazama Campground

Crater LakeCrater Lake is a HUGE lake created by a volcano. You can't camp right on the lake, but the Manzana campground is not too far away. My son actually biked from our campsite to the lodge at the lake (as it was UPHILL and IN THE WIND the whole way, I only made it to the visitor center, puff puff).

There was snow on the ground in JUNE, but it was shorts weather (25 years ago, on my last visit to Crater Lake, the snow was piled so high, they hadn't yet plowed out the roads IN JULY). Watch out for Mosquitos, they seem to love it in the campground.

Crater lakeThe Lake was beautiful, we had a nice hike and a picnic lunch. The little one got her Junior Ranger Badge.

There are miles of hiking trails, and you can take a Ferry out to Wizard Island in the middle of the Lake. Hiking down to the lake is not easy, but it's possible. 

Wish we could have spent more than one night.

National Park Camping Guides

Learn More About Where to Camp in the National Parks
National Park Service Camping Guide

The National Park Service Camping Guide is a wonderful resource for anyone who enjoys camping in a National Park. The book describes nearly 450 campgrounds in more than 120 nati...

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Your Guide to the National Parks

"More than 530 color images, 140 easy-to-read maps, and 55 hiking tables make this guide to America's most scenic wilderness areas─all 58 national parks─the most appealing, comp...

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Columbia Gorge.... Just an Overnight

The Land of the Giant Dandelion

Giant DandelionFrom Crater Lake we drove north to the Columbia Gorge. I wish we had planned to spend more days there... but it ended up being a drive through visit.

The Columbia River is much bigger than I expected, and busier. Train tracks on one side, freeway on the other. We ended up staying in a small campground on the Washington side called Bridge RV Park and Campground. This was our first night of hook-ups, and we were all excited about having hot showers in the camper, and electricity without running a generator. Waaahoooo! The site was clean, well maintained, and right on the river.

In the morning we took a short hike and found the world's LARGEST Dandelions. Naturally, we all made wishes.....

Remember the Sun Screen and Bug Spray

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Repel 100 Insect Repellent Pump Spray (HG-94108) 98.11% Deet , 4 fl oz

The repel 100 uses a 98.1-percent deet formula to provide complete protection from mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, chiggers, no-see-ums, and biting flies. Use in areas of high infesta...

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Silverwod Theme Park

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Silverwood Theme ParkIn Idaho, we stopped at The Silverwood Theme Park because we thought the kids would enjoy a day of Roller Coasters and Water Slides before heading into the wild. Silverwood has a campground, and I was pleasantly surprised how nice it was. Clean, enough space between sites, lots of trees. All in all, a good experience. The campground fills up early though, so be sure to call far in advance. We did luck out. Originally we just had our name was on the waiting list. The day before we left we got a call... a space was open for us. Yahooo!

I grew up in Southern California, so I'm no stranger to Theme Parks. We didn't know what to expect at Silverwood, since we'd only seen ads on the internet. We loved it. Clean, big enough to be exciting but small enough to be comfortable. Not too crowded, lots of interesting rides on the roller coaster side... and a lot of rides for little kids. The Water Park side was great, especially since it got warmer as the day went on. All of my people loved the wave pool, and really loved the slides . I loved that there were enough grassy areas with shade for me to sit and relax. And the Huckleberry Shakes were out of this world!

When we travel, I try to mix natural wonders with the fun of theme parks... this was a great fit for all of us.

Clothes Line and Quick Dry Towels...

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Glacier National Park

The Continental Divide and Glaciers!

Glacier National Park Red CarsI had never seen glacier, and I wanted to. Really wanted to. Glacier National Park was on my list of places I had to see.

We reserved a campsite at Fish Creek Campground, right on Lake MacDonald. The site was shadowed by trees, and quite wild feeling. We were in Loop C, and there were no generators allowed in this campground, so it was quiet. Deer wandered through our campsite. Lovely.

The Going to the Sun Road is an important MUST SEE. You can't drive it in an RV (thank goodness), so we took a tour in one of the historic Red Buses. It wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it. The buses are open on the top, and have huge windows. The Jammers (drivers) are knowledgeable about the history and nature of the park. Best of all, you don't have to drive that narrow, hair-raising road.. they do it for you. Even the kids loved it. We saw mountain goats, sheep, and the Continental Divide.

Camping on Lake MacDonald was so much fun. We spent a day playing in the COLD glacial run-off, kayaking, and basking in the sun. A few extra days at this campsite were so worth it. My only regret is that we didn't make it to the Canadian side of the Park.

Playing In Lake MacDonald

Glacier National Park, Lake MacDonald
Glacier National Park, Lake MacDonald
Maggie Powell

An Alpine Meadow on the Continental Divide

Continental Divide, Glacier National Park
Continental Divide, Glacier National ...
Maggie Powell

Follow this Link for More Information About The Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road - a Family adventure. 

Treasure Hunting at Gem Mountain Sapphires

Anaconda, Montana

Gem Mountain SapphiresOne of the group activity stops we chose was Gem Mountain Sapphires. Our family loves to dig and collect. We've got a museum (well, cabinet with glass doors) of bits and pieces, rocks and feathers, nests and fossils, shells and snakeskins. When we stumbled on this place on the internet, we couldn't pass it by. At Gem Mountain Sapphires, you buy a bucket of tailings from a mine, and you get to wash, sort through, and find actual SAPPHIRES. OK, so we weren't going to get rich doing this.... but we did have a fantastic, wet and dirty time. We found some great shiny treasures, and even had a few sent away for cutting. Everyone in the family was able to enjoy the activity, it wasn't too expensive, and the people working there were SUPER NICE.

That night we stayed at the Fairmont RV Park. It was a bit off the beaten path, but it was clean, and the people were friendly. BONUS... it was next to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, so we got to go over and do a little swimming in the warm water. They even had a water slide. Sort of cleaned the kids off from the dirty fun they had digging Sapphires....

Basic Rockhounding Gear

We ALWAYS Carry Along Rock Picks, Eye Protection and Ziplock Storage Bags
The Rockhound's Handbook

Revised and expanded 2/E of this popular reference guide for rockhounds and field collectors of rocks, minerals and fossils. Includes expanded sections on basic geology and mine...

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Rockhound Tool Kit / Geologist Field Tools

This kit has all the basic items need by a starting rockhound or geologist. They're all top of the line tools that any geologist or rockhound will be happy to wear around their ...

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Yellowstone National Park

Bridge Bay Campground and Old Faithful!

yellowstone buffaloMillions and billions of words have already been written about Yellowstone National Park. Seriously. This is the Mother Park.... Our campsite was in the Bridge Bay Campground. We chose it because it was centrally located, and because they TOOK RESERVATIONS. We were lucky to get a spot in the trees, and not on the meadow. It definately had a better, less crowded feel. Take along bug spray.. the mosquitos are ravenous!

Our family covered as much of the park as possible in the time we were there. We saw the Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Falls, and of course, Old Faithful. Yellowstone is crowded. When we were there, every campsite in the park was FULL. As a result, there were crowds everywhere, and loads of traffic. We were constantly running into congestion and packs of people with camera... all you had to do was look in the same direction as everyone else, and you'd see the deer-buffalo-is that a fox- that they were looking at. I swear, the buffalo LOVED creating traffic jams.. every now and then one would shuffle down the road. You could practically hear them laughing about the frustrations they were causing with the drivers. Got to wonder if they keep score.

Yellowstone is beautiful, but the best part for me was the family hike we took. All of us... off the beaten path... away from the crowds.... through fields of lupine and into the woods. Wonderful. Relaxing, serene.... until we saw the fresh bear scat. YIKES! time to head back the other direction!

See Some of the Highlights of Yellowstone National Park

This Great 4 minute Video Covers A LOT!

When It's FINALLY Time To Relax!

This Portable Hammock is an Island of Sanity
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Grand Tetons

I know they are out there somewhere....

grand tetonsI admit... my tolerance for soggy weather is not so good. Growing up in Southern California, we used to put on sweaters when the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Granted, I'm not that whimpy anymore, but still... camping in the rain is a drag.

We arrive at Grand Teton National Park, and it's POURING. Uggh. People have gone on and on about how lovely the mountains are. We read reams, saw photos.... but once there... all we saw was clouds. Sigh....

Now, we hadn't planned to stay long in the Tetons, but the idea of hiking around in rain brough on the threat of mutiny. Soon we were off to our next stop...

Packable Poncho and Umbrella

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Snake River, Jackson, Wyoming

Fly Fishing and Horse Back Riding!

Snake RiverOur next stop was the most expensive campground of our trip, the Snake River KOA. We chose it because we'd been without hook-ups for a few days, and we wanted to recharge.

The campground was clean, but the spaces were a bit tight together. The Snake River flowed right behind the campground, so we could hang out by the water. This was a good central location for a few different activities for our family.

My boys love fishing, and the Snake River has some excellent fly-fishing. We got them signed on to go along on a half-day adventure with a local guide. They had a ball! And we heard some serious fish stories when they got back. While they were gone, the girls spent some time in Jackson, we restocked our groceries, and found a fantastic used book store where we happily passed an hour finding treasures.

In the afternoon, the girls walked across the street from the campground to the horse stables, where we took a trail ride for a few hours. The guide took us way up in to the hills. We were all given horses that suited our abilities, the guides were friendly and knowlegable about the area, and we all walked with an extra hitch in our giddiup at the end of the ride...

The campground is also the headquarters of a rafting company, so if you and your family want to go river rafting, it's perfect. They have all of the equipment there at the campground, and they make sure you get to, down and back from the river, in one piece.

Horse Back Riding In Jackson, Wyoming

Just Us Girls
Horse Back Ride in Jackson
Horse Back Ride in Jackson
Maggie Powell

Fishing On the Snake River

Had to Catch and Release, so no Fish for Dinner...
Fishing the Snake RIver
Fishing the Snake RIver
Maggie Powell

Planning to Do a Little Fly Fishing?

Take Your Own Fishing Gear and Flies
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Silver Lake Fishing Flies Assortment

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Fossil Butte National Monument

Millions of Years of History, Captured in Stone

FOssil ButteOur final stop turned out to be a favorite for all of us. Fossil Butte National Monument, just outside Kemmerer, Wyoming. The visitor center to Fossil Butte was small but so well done. As you travel the road in from the main entrance, there are signs along the way marking your passage through geographical time. Once in the parking lot, the signs got closer together, and we learned when fish appeared, when insects started crawling around, and when the Baja Peninsula was formed.

Inside the visitor center we saw amazing fossils. The whole area was once an inland lake, and now they are digging ancient fish out of the shale. It was amazing to realize how old these creatures were... There were a few activities for the kids, and a there was a video about the area that explained how all these fossils were formed.

Kemmerer, right outside Fossil Butte, was not really geared towards tourism. Its major claim to fame is being the home of the world's FIRST JC Penney's. I liked how their town square is a triangle. Shows creativity.

Camping in Kemmerer was sort of an afterthought. The RV Parks were really not geared for fun family camping, there were a lot of permanent residents in the parks. But, it worked. People were nice. It wasn't fancy, but it was fine for one night. Plus, we had plans close by for the next morning....

Fossil Butte Visitor Center

LOADED with Fossils
Fossil Butte
Fossil Butte

Not Many People In Fossil.....

But There are MILLIONS of Fossils
Not Many People Live Here
Not Many People Live Here
Maggie Powell

Fossil Hanbooks

Get to Know Your Fossils
Smithsonian Handbooks: Fossils

The newest addition to the DK Handbooks series, Smithsonian Handbook to Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals covers everyone's favorite beasts: dinosaurs and other prehistori...

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Fossil Hunting: An Expert Guide to Finding, and Identifying Fossils and Creating a Collection

This fully illustrated reference guide covers everything the budding fossil enthusiast needs to know in order to get started: professional tips range from locating, digging and ...

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Ulrich Fossil Quarry

Fishing in Stone

The last day was a very fun day.. a great way to end our journey. A dig at the Ulrich Fossil Quarry. They took us up into their quarry where we could actually dig for our own fish fossils. We were assigned a guide, given tools, taught to dig, and then pointed in the right direction.

WOW!! Good dirty fun! We found some amazing things. Fish that hadn't seen the light of day for millions of years. It was great. Best of all... we got to keep what we found. We were filthy, but all grinning ear to ear the whole time. Like a treasure hunt in the stone.

The nice people at Ulrich's cut the slate around the fossils down to a manageable size for transport, and packed them up for us to take home.

So much fun. The perfect way to end our summer adventure.

Splitting the Shale

Splitting the Shale
Splitting the Shale
Maggie Powell

Treasure In the Rocks

Look What's Inside!
Look What's Inside!
Maggie Powell

Truck Load of Fossils

Our Haul
Our Haul
Maggie Powell
Digging... One Layer At A Time
Digging... One Layer At A Time
Maggie Powell
Score! Big Fish Fossil
Score! Big Fish Fossil
Maggie Powell
Found One!
Found One!
Maggie Powell
Cutting Shale To Size
Cutting Shale To Size
Maggie Powell


The National Parks are very popular these days. We can thank a slow economy which keeps people in the US for travel. And we can send special thanks to Ken Burns for making his wonderful documentaries on the National Parks.

Make reservations far in advance. As soon as you know your vacation dates, get online and start booking campsites. For one trip, we started booking in March, and a lot of places were full, so we had to do some crazy rearranging. This trip we started booking in early February, so we got the spots we wanted.

Xanterra handles reservations for the National Parks, and it's a pretty good site. You can see the layout of the campground, and in some parks even chose the exact site.

Get yourself an accordian file, and keep track of all of your itinerary, reservations, confirmations, maps, and ideas that you find online or in magazines.

Roadside Attractions

Keep Your Eyes Open For the Unexpected

Stone ManWe are always on the lookout for Roadside Attractions, and sometimes we get lucky. This time we were near Burney Falls in northern California and we found this stone man, along with a giant dinosaur, a huge penguin, and a monster ant, in front of a rock and construction materials company. Fantastic!!

Elkhorn Arch

One Day we found the WORLD'S LARGEST Elkhorn Arch!!! It went across a 4 lane road!

Other days we'ver found caves where for a small admission price you can view glow in the dark rocks, we've visited restaurants shaped like giant oranges that sell the BEST orange shakes, and once we saw a an acutal jackalope exhibit.

Keep your eyes open for the unexpected!


Updated: 06/11/2014, MaggiePowell
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MaggiePowell on 08/26/2013

I couldn't believe it either! The kids still talk about it... and want me to plan another trip. Maybe the East coast this time.

ologsinquito on 08/26/2013

Those dandelions were huge. This is a trip your children will always remember.

MaggiePowell on 08/25/2013

We really did... I joke that RV camping is just like my regular life, but in a smaller space, and on wheels... but at home, the view out the kitchen window is so much different!

kimbesa on 08/25/2013

Wonderful trip! An adventure you and yours obviously enjoyed (even in the cramped RV).

MaggiePowell on 08/24/2013

Glad you enjoyed it!

MaggiePowell on 08/24/2013

I've never been to Acadia... time to plan another trip!

MaggiePowell on 08/24/2013

Thanks... It really was fun (despite being locked in an RV with three Kids...)

EliasZanetti on 08/24/2013

Wonderful trip and a great read! Many thanks Maggie!

jptanabe on 08/24/2013

What a great trip! I need to visit some of these parks - I've only been to Yellowstone and Acadia.

Mira on 08/24/2013

Loved it. Thanks so much for putting together the article! You planned a really nice trip. Loved the impressions and the photos.

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