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I regard electricity almost as magic. You flip a switch and there is light, or coffee, or music! But I never gave much thought to how it works until I bought an RV. My very first RV troubleshooting adventure began with electricity. One day I flipped a switch and nothing happened – no lights, no coffee, no music. Now what?

My home has a fuse panel, so I looked for that first. Perhaps I had blown a fuse? Alas, no problems there. Next, I supposed the battery might need charging, but the system monitor indicated the batteries were fully charged. Hmm. That was the extent of my electrical knowledge. I would need to dig deeper.

Reading through technical writing is my least favorite thing to do, but I diligently searched through the manuals that came with my RV. Not finding anything I could decipher, I called the manufacturer. The service technician told me about the inverter “reset” button. I didn’t even know that we had an inverter, much less where it was or what it did. With a little guidance from the tech, I found it, hit the reset button, and the electricity was restored. Magic!

However, I knew this meant I was going to have to learn more about my RV’s systems. I couldn’t expect the manufacturer to teach me everything I needed to know about RVing, and gaining an understanding of how my RV works would be empowering.

How the RV electrical system works

An RV’s electrical system is typically made up of several players:

  • Coach battery bank
  • Inverter/converter
  • Fuse panel
  • Generator
  • Shore power cord
  • Solar panels

Your RV may not have all of these components but will most certainly have at least the battery bank, shore power cord, and inverter.

To get power to all of your RV appliances and systems you have a few choices: shore power (that’s just a nifty name for an electrical outlet at home or at a campground), an onboard generator, or your RV battery bank (which may be assisted with solar panels).

The inverter monitor panel.

The Inverter

Using the power in an RV requires the use of an inverter – it is the heart of your electrical system. The inverter takes the stored DC power from the batteries and inverts it to AC power that is used by your appliances. (This is particularly important when you are boondocking away from a shore power source).

Even when plugged into a shore power source or using a generator, the inverter transfers that power to your outlets and appliances (if wired through the inverter). Any non-inverted outlets and appliances (refer to your manual to determine which outlets and appliances are inverted) are wired directly to the distribution panel and onward. But more importantly, the inverter can convert that power to charge up your batteries.

In its converting mode, the inverter takes the AC shore or generator power and converts it to DC power to be stored in the battery bank. This is an automatic process, so you don’t have to give it much thought. Plug into shore power and the battery bank starts charging up. Or switch on the generator, and the battery bank charges up.

As you learned in my story earlier, there is a reset button on the inverter. If the power goes out in your RV and you have checked all of the other suspects, you might want to try resetting the inverter.

An RV fuse panel.

Fuse Panels

Somewhere in your RV, there is a fuse panel for the “house” side of the coach. In it, you will find the circuit terminals and fuses for the RV.

A fuse or a breaker allows electrical current to complete a circuit. When you overload a circuit by using too much power on a single circuit (like running the microwave and a coffee maker at the same time) the fuse or circuit will “pop,” breaking the flow of current and effectively turning off the circuit. This safety measure keeps you from burning out the circuit – or setting fire to your RV!

It doesn’t hurt to keep a few extra fuses on hand as well as a tester to help you determine which fuse popped. Some newer RVs have fuses that light up when they are popped, making it so much easier to find a bad fuse. There are also RVs with circuit breakers, just like in a home.

To check your fuses and circuit breakers, you’ll need to know where the fuse/circuit panel is located and how to access it. Make sure you are looking at the panel for the “house” side of the RV rather than the engine. Take a few minutes to read your RV’s documentation regarding fuses and circuit breakers to get familiar with its set up.

Before you replace a popped fuse or reset a tripped circuit breaker, make sure you turn off  (or unplug) the appliances that were running when the power went out. It may be that too many appliances were in use on the same circuit. Make a note of which appliances and outlets are on each circuit as a reminder when tempted to use multiple appliances at one time!

A connected shore power cord.

Shore Power Cord and Adapters

Connecting to shore power via your RV power cord allows you to run everything from the air conditioner to your television. Just plug into the campground electrical outlet and your RV is ready for action. Behind the scenes, the AC current from the campground hook-up is transferred to your RV appliances and outlets through the inverter (if wired through the inverter).

There are several types of electrical supply current at a campground: 15, 20, 30, and 50-amp service. You need to know which type of service your RV uses. Bigger RVs typically use 50-amp service and smaller RVs, such as our 25-foot Sprinter, use 30-amp service. You can find this information in your RV documentation.

So what do you do when the outlets at the campground electrical hook-up don’t match your RV’s amperage? Outlet adapters come to the rescue! They adapt the plug from your RV’s amperage to what is available at the campsite hook-up. For instance, these adapters allow you to use a 50-amp outlet with a 30-amp RV plug. Just attach the adapter to the plug on your RV power cord or to the end of your surge protector, and voila! If your RV uses a higher amperage than is available at the campground, using an adapter is less helpful. Although you might be able to use some power, it is unlikely you’ll be able to run more than the lights and perhaps a small appliance.

Surge Protectors

When plugging into shore power, use a surge protector. This will protect your RV from electricity surges that could “fry” your RV’s electrical system. We found out how important the surge protector was when camping during a thunderstorm. Lightning hit the campground and while it burned out our surge protector, the surge protector saved our RV. It did its job admirably, and the next day we found the nearest RV supply store and bought another one!

Most surge protectors include a polarity tester that will indicate a faulty circuit. When you plug in the surge protector to the campsite power, a set of lights will indicate “green” if it’s safe. If there is an issue with the shore power hook up, the lights will indicate yellow or red. If that happens, report it to the campground office and ask for another campsite.

Battery Bank Power

The battery bank allows you to use some of your appliances when you are boondocking without a shore power hookup. The inverter draws DC current from the batteries and inverts it to AC current for your appliances and outlets–again, applicable to outlets and appliances wired through the inverter. (That inverter is a handy little device!) Of course, the battery bank must be charged up for the inverter to draw power.

There are two sets of batteries in your RV: one set for the RV chassis, and one set in the “house” side for all of the electronic needs there. The house batteries in a small RV are typically two deep-cycle batteries that need to be monitored and recharged when the charge drops to 12.5 volts.

If you allow the charge to drop below 12.5, the chance of battery damage increases. Little crystals form on the battery plates, rendering them useless. Some slight damage can be repaired, but more severe cases require replacing the battery.

You can recharge the batteries by plugging into shore power, using your generator, or using a stand-alone battery charger. Most newer small RVs are equipped with a converter function that automatically recharges the batteries when plugged into shore power.

You will also need to check the water level in the batteries periodically, even when you are not using your RV. Top off the water level to just cover the plates and use ONLY distilled water. Tap water can reduce the life of the battery. If your batteries are the sealed type, they are considered “maintenance free” and do not require you to add water.

Finally, it’s a good idea to switch the house batteries to “off” or disconnect them when not using your RV. This keeps the batteries from dropping to a dangerous low-charge level. Even if everything is turned off in the coach, there is always a small power draw (also called a “vampire draw”) from standby modes and warning lights. Turning off or disconnecting the batteries is the only way to stop the “vampires.”

Solar Panel Power

If you have them, solar panels transmit the power they generate from the sun to recharge the battery bank. They don’t typically generate enough power to run your whole coach, but enough to keep the battery bank topped off.

Solar panels are installed on the roof of a small RV and have a charge monitor inside the RV. If you are boondocking, solar panels can be a great help, providing free power as long as the sun is shining. You will, of course, have to monitor how much power you are using vs the amount being delivered by the solar panels. As the sun fades into evening, you’ll only have the power stored in the battery bank for the overnight hours, so use that power wisely!

The systems monitor panel.

Generator Power

An RV Generator can do two things: either re-charge the battery bank through a converter or supply AC current to your appliances and outlets through the inverter (again, only applicable to inverted plugs/appliances). If you plan to boondock frequently, a generator is a nice feature to have.

RV generators are either diesel or propane fueled. They are noisy and emit fumes, so are not particularly welcomed in campgrounds. Use generators thoughtfully so as not to disturb other campers; only use them during the day to recharge batteries or run appliances for short periods.

Like most motors, generators need to be run occasionally with a “load” to keep them in tip-top shape. For a generator, that means you should gradually add a power draw, run at that level for a while, and then gradually decrease the power draw before shutting down the generator. Similar to the inverter, most generators will have a reset breaker that can cause no power when the generator is running if it’s been tripped.

For example, start up the generator and let it run for a couple of minutes without any power draw from appliances. Once the generator has had a few minutes to warm up, turn on the air conditioner or run the microwave to add a power draw or “load.” Run the appliance for a few minutes and then turn off the appliance. Let the generator run without a load for a few more minutes before shutting it down. The total run time might be about fifteen minutes. The amount of load and the time required to “exercise” your generator may vary, so check your documentation for the manufacturer’s recommendation.

There should be a generator section in the systems monitor panel that indicates the number of hours the generator has been used. Maintenance on the generator is based on the number of hours run. Check your manufacturer’s recommendations for how often to service your generator and what needs to be done. Usually changing the fuel filter and oil is all most of us want to tackle, with the more in-depth servicing left to a professional. Just keep track of the number of hours on your generator and make a service note in your maintenance schedule.

So there you have it! The RV electrical system really is magic, creating usable power from multiple sources. Take care of each component, following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, and always keep safety top-of-mind whenever working with electrical components.

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After two years of researching, hoping, and waiting, we accepted delivery of our 2018 Unity FX on September 2, 2017. To celebrate its arrival, we “dramped” (driveway camped) for a couple of nights in front of our home in Rio Rico, Arizona. As we lay there in our brand new Unity we had to pinch ourselves – was this just a dream? We couldn’t believe we were sleeping in our own Leisure Travel Van!

Driveway camping at our home in Rio Rico, Arizona.

Getting set up, with a little help from friends

When we did the walk-through upon delivery of our Unity, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The technician tested the water coming out of the kitchen faucet and noted that the Truma water heater was working fine, checking it off his list. However, we quickly noticed that we weren’t actually getting hot water to the kitchen sink. During the walk-through, the water must have been pre-heated by the outside temperature!

Instead of leaving our Unity with the dealership while they sorted out the issue with Truma, we asked for help on the Leisure Travel Vans Enthusiasts Facebook Group and received immediate responses. One group member even sent a picture of what the valves under the sink were supposed to look like when the water heater was working correctly. Thanks to the picture, we discovered that one of the valves that should be open was closed. We opened the valve, and our water heater began working perfectly. Problem solved!

MaryAnn started reading all of the manuals in our Unity FX as soon as we got it home.

Out on the road for the first time

We were officially ready for our first road trip, and we set out in our new RV to the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to do some free boondocking on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Even though we had watched numerous YouTube videos and rented three RVs before we made our purchase, this was still our first RV and we knew we had a lot to learn about our rig.

The road to Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge winds around through rolling hills, but the Mercedes engine took the curves and hills in stride. During this drive, we discovered that the engine seems to have a sweet spot – at around 45 miles per hour, the miles per gallon (mpg) went up! We were getting 16-18 mpg. Of course, the engine wasn’t broken in yet; it had just 38 miles on the odometer when we took delivery of our Unity. But with the gas engine rigs that we rented before purchasing our Unity, millage was 5-8 mpg no matter how slow or fast we drove.

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.

Mountain views at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: BANWR Facebook page)

Our peaceful destination

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge is located in southern Arizona around the town of Arivaca. Arivaca is an unincorporated town 11 miles north of the Mexican border and 35 miles northwest of the port of entry at Nogales. European-American history of the area dates back to at least 1695, although the town was not founded until 1878.

To get to Arivaca and the Refuge, take Interstate 19 south from Tucson toward Amado, turning off on West Arivaca Road. Just before arriving in Arivaca, you’ll spot signs for the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This first area of the Refuge east of Arivaca is a great place to picnic and walk the boardwalk through wetlands, woods, and grasslands. There is plenty of wildlife to see, such as deer and a variety of birds. After eating lunch, we drove through the small town of Arivaca and into the main area of the Refuge.

We stopped for a picnic in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge east of Arivaca, Arizona.

In the area west of Arivaca, the Refuge opens up into a valley surrounded by the Las Guijas Mountains to the northwest and the foothills of the San Luis Mountains to the south. Because the area is so close to the border of Mexico – within 10 miles – the Department of Homeland Security Border Patrol watches the area closely, passing through routinely every 3-4 hours. The visitor center offers a very interesting movie about the history of the area and how it became a National Wildlife Refuge.

Boondocking for the night

Camping on the Refuge is free, however, it is wilderness camping with no facilities at all. Dirt roads lead into the designated camping areas for dry camping, where peace and quiet abound – we were the only people there for miles – and there is plenty of wildlife to behold. The scenery is breathtaking!

Upon arrival, we weren’t sure where we were allowed to camp, so we drove to an area that looked fine to us and just set up our site. A couple of hours later a Border Patrol Agent drove by us and about an hour after that, a Park Ranger came by and politely said, “You guys look out of place here.” He pulled out a map of the Refuge and showed us where we could camp. So, we packed up our stuff and moved to the designated camping area that he had shown us… only to have to turn around and drive back to pick up the welcome mat that we forgot to take when we packed up!

Cacti at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: BANW Facebook page)

We stayed at the Refuge for one night, testing out all the systems in our Unity. We tested the generator, air conditioner, and all of the appliances, and all systems worked as advertised with no problems at all. Since the elevation on the Refuge is 3,643 feet above sea level and we were there in late September, the temperature dropped at night into the mid-to-upper 40s (Fahrenheit). This gave us a chance to test the furnace as well!

The sun rising over the mountains in the morning was outstanding. We were in about 180 square feet of space, but the great outdoors was our front yard! As far as things to do in the Refuge, it’s about wildlife viewing and enjoying the beautiful scenery, seclusion, and peace and quiet – just you and nature.

Pronghorn photographed at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Kevin Wixted)

Black-Necked Stilts photographed at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo credit: Renee Tressler)

When we left the Refuge we were so excited about our new Unity FX and ready for our next adventure, the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico! We would be meeting up with the Leisure Travel Van Southwest Roadrunners Travel Club in Albuquerque. We had become members of the club even before we took delivery of our Unity, and after our first road trip, we were ready to go out on the open road to meet new people and see new things.

Following our first road trip, we did discover that we needed to develop a checklist to review before we drove away from a campsite – we left behind our welcome mat a second time when we left the Refuge!

MaryAnn and Terry in our 2018 Unity FX.

Cover photo credit: Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

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Leisure Travel Vans Texoma Traveler Chapter held their spring rally on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana this year.

Sixty-one attendees made the journey through heavy rain and thunderstorms to attend this year. It was a great opportunity to reunite with old acquaintances and meet some of our newest LTV owners and chapter members.

Besides the “meet & greet” and potluck dinner, our attendees enjoyed the food & culture that the area has to offer. No visit would be complete without a stop at Café Du Monde for coffee & beignets.

Friday night wrapped up with some local entertainment and dancing at Pontchartrain Landing RV Park.

Many of us toured the National World War l l Museum and took a walking tour of New Orleans lead by our local member Mary Quaid.


There were so many pictures thankfully submitted by our members and most are posted on our Facebook Page. We would also like to thank Leisure Travel Vans for their support of travel chapters, making it possible enjoy events with fellow owners & club members.

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We had a great Mini Rally at Columbia Sun RV Resort in Kennewick, WA this past weekend for the volunteers that stepped up to help with club activities. With close to 170 members it started to become overwhelming for one person to handle. The following attended the Rally, Phil and Connie Smith, Michael & Mari Rosales, Kurt and Ann Nordquist, Cliff Wells, and Rob & Glynis Williams. I appreciated their participation and willingness to step up and help out.

Cliff Wells volunteered to be Club Leader Assistant.

Mari Rosales volunteered to be Treasurer.

Phil Smith volunteered to be the Communications point person.

Ann Nordquist and Glynis Williams have volunteered to be Rally Coordinators.

All of us are open to ideas and suggestions and help.

Descriptions of Club positions is as follows: Duties of Officers

The duties of elected officers shall be as follows:

  • Club Leader – provides overall leadership to
    the club, maintaining and upholding the vision. Oversees other officers and keeps club goals aligned.
  • Club Leader Assistant – provides the Club Leader with assistance with all aspects of running the club.
  • Treasurer – maintain a budget of anticipated income and expenses, establish rally fees, and prepare a financial report at the completion of each rally reporting: funds received, all expenses incurred, plus any surplus income distributed as refunds to attendees or retained by the club.
  • Communications – submit upcoming events to the LTV coordinator (see Event Submission Guidelines). Review or prepare brief post-rally reports and forward them, along with relevant images, to the LTV Club Coordinator.
  • Rally Coordinator – schedule dates for a proposed rally for review and approval by the Club Leader. When practical, visit proposed sites and negotiate a group rate per coach. Obtain park’s cancellation/refund policy.

Any help for these positions would be greatly appreciated by these Volunteers.

Thank you all for your help and support.

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When you’re traveling and living out of your RV for long periods of time, having the right gear is essential. From comfort to safety, convenience to cooking, a few smart gadgets and simple solutions can really improve your experience.

This list of RV gear recommendations has been submitted by Leisure Travel Vans owners and seasoned RVers to help you travel safer, easier, and more comfortably. If your favorite gear is missing, use the form found at the link below to share your recommendation. (Please note: The suggestions below are the opinions of LTV owners and not necessarily those of Leisure Travel Vans.) Cover Photo: Claude Angers

Submit Your RV Gear
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Think fly fishing for trout only happens in pristine north country waters surrounded by pines and mountains? Think again.

Casting a fly on one of the world’s top trout streams while often within sight of the skyscrapers of a major city is a unique experience, and that’s what you can do within the city limits of Canada’s fourth-largest city of Calgary, Alberta.

A Must-Fish River

Calgary is home to the Bow River, one that’s long been on my must-fish list and should be on yours too if you’re a fly angler, or if you’ve always wanted to learn. The Bow has an estimated 2,500 catchable trout—that means browns and rainbows averaging 17 inches or better—per mile, in the waters near and through the city.

View of the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta from above. © 2019 Mountain View Helicopters

I first read about the Bow in a story written by my former boss at Michigan Living Magazine a few decades ago, and it’s been on my mind ever since. There are other reaches of this river offering great fishing all the way to Banff National Park, where the Bow begins. But because I rank it a classic big western river, meaning it’s fast (with an average speed of 5-7 mph and flow rate of 150 cubic meters/second) and rocky, it is best fished from a boat in most areas. And seeing as there are at least eight fly shops within this city of 1.2 million, that may tell you a bit about where to go – one of the best areas for fishing “country trout” is in the city. When we decided to turn our Unity Murphy Bed west from Michigan for a nine-week trip through the Canadian Rockies, making a reservation with one of those fly shops was one of the first calls I made.

All of the fly shops in Calgary have high ratings, so you won’t go wrong with any. We chose Out Fly Fishing Outfitters, a great little shop tucked into a small shopping mall on the city’s southwest side, but still only about a mile from the river. It’s a little weird pulling into a city shopping mall to go trout fishing, but that’s what you do when you fish this reach of the river.

Ready to join our guide, Troy, for our Bow River trip as traffic whizzes by above. You can wear waders or go without.

We checked into the shop the day prior to our float and found out we’d be taking what’s called the “city float,” running from Glenmore Bridge to Fish Creek. Much of the float would be within or near the Calgary city limits, and most of what we’d be fishing are called “tailwater,” meaning below one of a series of dams that help slow the Bow’s flow, and cool and oxygenate the water. Those dams didn’t help much in 2013 when record rains upstream blew out the river and flooded parts of the city. It took a few years for the Bow to reclaim its blue ribbon status, and for guides like Red Deer’s Troy Langelaar, who piloted us on our trip, to re-learn where the fish were, but the river is now back to its trout-rich self, as our trip last July with Troy proved.

“It made you learn the river again,” Troy said. “With the flood, the fish spread out. The fishing last year was really good. It’s definitely been improving every year.”

Our Day on the Bow

The morning of our float, we met Troy in the parking lot outside the shop. We backed our Unity LTV into a mall parking space (a big advantage for this vehicle), gathered our gear and secured it in Troy’s boat, and jumped into his truck for the short ride to our launch site. On the way, Troy told us we’d be using his fly rods for the trip. The Bow here is big and we’d need rods with more backbone than the ones we had brought, both in order to cast the distances needed to reach fish and to land the resident trout, many of which are pounds h-u-g-e.

After backing his drift boat in, we jumped aboard. With Troy rowing amidships, I settled in the back, being more experienced and left-handed, while right-handed Denise was in the bow. That allowed Troy to first observe Denise, who was less experienced in casting. He soon stopped at a gravel bar, and while I walked upstream to fish a riffle, Troy coached Denise on the finer art of throwing a size 6 imitation grasshopper AND an imitation “Reeses Pieces” worm together, a setup called a hopper/dropper. For those who don’t know, that’s big for a fly. With the added size increasing air resistance, it takes a bit more practice to learn.

While Denise got a casting lesson I walked up to fish a shallow riffle. The Bow is a huge river, and this was just one channel.

Imitation grasshopper and a “Reeses Pieces” worm (you can see why it’s called that) was our go-to flies for our Bow River trip.

Meanwhile, Troy outfitted me with a grasshopper fly. Hoppers are a mid-summer treat for big fish. They love to fin in the slower current near shore, waiting to slurp a wind-blown hopper struggling in the swirls to get back to shore. It’s often the best way to hook big fish on this or any other river from July through September, but you must place your fly cast as close to the bank as possible. That means inches, not a foot or even a half-foot, away for the most realistic presentation.

Hoppers are cast within inches of the undercut bank, about where this duckling is.

After that quick lesson, we were off again down the river, me laying that hopper as close to shore as possible, and Denise flinging that double-tipped offering to wherever Troy said to cast, all the time coaching us to constantly “mend” our lines, or move the loop that drags in the fast current.

We quickly became experts at flipping the rod tip to mend that line. Mending your line upstream with a simple wrist flip keeps a fly floating as naturally as possible, whereas drag creates an unnatural look to an artificial fly that makes just about any fish shy away. They’re looking for food, but it has to look natural or you’ll just be beating the water to a froth. This type of instruction is one reason a guide is crucial on an unfamiliar river, along with knowing where the fish will be, including big residents that are often caught several times throughout the season. A guide will also know where, and how, to get off a river when the day is done, what flies are prevalent, and how to play a fish so it can be released unharmed.

A few miles into our trip, and after several reminders from Troy to cast my fly within inches of the shore, the shadow of a monster fish shot towards the surface under my fly. It happens in only seconds or often in a fraction of a second, and if you’re an angler, you know what I mean. You’ll also know when I say that yes, trout do miss. And this one did, disappearing to the bottom as quickly as it showed.

Shortly after, another shadow shot from the depths. This time, the fish was hooked, and it was h-u-g-e. My reel screaming, the fish ran with the current, as they often do, downstream. It jumped once, twice, and then it was gone – another Bow trout self-release.

Shore lunch, provided by our guide.

After our shore lunch, which Troy provided from the Italian Market next door to the fly shop, we headed to a spot on the opposite bank where he said fish often lay in deeper water just off a pebbly ledge. It was Denise’s turn to have a go.

“There! See it?” Troy said excitedly, pointing to a spot just off the shallows. “I know I saw a fish there. Cast to it!”

Denise did but to no avail. That’s why it’s ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching,’ as the old saw goes.

Rowing back across the river, Troy brought us to another steep bank. While he got Denise fishing again, I watched the surface and up came another fish, uncharacteristically farther out. It was hungry and active. I didn’t need prompting, but Troy said, “Cast to it!”

Twice my fly floated over, or at least near, where the fish rose. The second time, the hopper swirled and twirled in the current. In an instant, both Troy and I saw the telltale shadow of a fish rushing to the surface.

A small splash and my fly disappears. Set the hook! My fly rod’s tip bent and vibrated. It was on. And the big Bow River brown, shaking its head, again bore downstream, using the current as an ally, trying to shed my hook. This time, however, it stuck. As the fish made several runs and I slowly brought it to the boat, Troy dropped the anchor and jumped into the thigh-deep water to net it.

It was a beautiful brown, at least 18 to maybe 20 inches, and still lively after its fight. Troy scooped it up with the neoprene net he uses that won’t harm the fish, and held it for a moment so Denise could get our “photo fish” shot, before slowly returning the trout to its river home. It quickly disappeared into the Bow’s semi-transparent water. That fish made our day.

While Denise hooked at least one, she never landed a fish that day. Despite only landing one Bow resident between us, the trip couldn’t have been better. I checked another box and spent a day on a world-famous trout stream, getting off the river just before a storm rolled in from the Rockies.

River map at riverside Fish Creek Park.

The Bow is wide, and most guides use very stable, comfortable, and maneuverable Mackenzie Riverboats.

Our next destination was to the west, where we headed into Banff National Park to continue our 9-week journey to the Pacific. Stay tuned for that installment!

The essentials

Troy Langelaar provides the proper fishing rod and flies, and lunch from a market in the shopping center where you’ll meet. If Langelaar is already reserved, the shop will connect you with an equally knowledgeable guide. Purchase your Alberta fishing license at the shop the day before your float.

Waders and rain parka

You don’t need them, but they help keep you dry if rain threatens or when you get out of the boat to use a park restroom or have lunch.

Sunscreen and sun protection

You will be on the water, in a boat, for 7 to 10 hours, and you’re in the high plains. I wear fingerless sun gloves and a wide-brim hat to protect against sun damage, as well as a sleeved shirt. Always wear sunglasses. They help you see the flies and the fish, and protect your eyes from errant casts by either you or your fishing partner.

Snacks and water

Chances are your guide will have both, but bring it along if you wish.


Plan for around $375 USD for two people.

Tip money

Either U.S. or Canadian currency is good. Count on up to 20 percent depending on your trip and success.

Where To Stay

We picked the Lions Club Campground on a Bow tributary in Okotoks, south of Calgary and a short drive from the fly shop. The campsite itself was fine. We even met a precursor of our Unity, a Triple-E RV that its owner said was 25 years old and still going strong.

Blast from the past: We joined a 25-year-old Triple-E camper at the Lions Club Campground in Okotoks, then drove to the fly shop the next morning.

But be sure to have plenty of Canadian cash if you want to use the laundromat and the shower here. The store gave change, but at even exchange, not at the 30 percent premium that was available at the time. Grr.

The view of the Rocky Mountains from across the Bow River as it runs through Banff, Alberta. (© David Morton/Dreamstime)

If heading to Banff and Lake Louise area, you can try to fish the Bow near its headwaters, where it can be waded. Out Fly Fishing and other guide services will even take you on wading trips in other stretches, or float the upper Bow depending on the season. But, as we found, if you try it yourself in the park, you may have company. Sections of trees along the river at the hard-sided campground in Lake Louise that we’ll detail in our next installment were decorated with red tape, and not for a holiday – seems that a grizzly family was frequenting the area. A good reason NOT to fish here. We took the hint.

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It seemed that having pets while living the full-time dream in our 25-foot LTV would be ideal, with both the protection and the snuggles that just make life better. But let’s face it, when you mix some pets and a small space, a great night’s sleep isn’t always easily obtained.

The Pets

When we first began considering this way of life, we already had a cat named Max, a rescue from our local SPCA. We adopted him after spotting him hanging upside down on the cage door, begging to be picked. His antics sealed the deal and he went home with us. It turned out Max was a very independent cat and he earned his name with his Maximum Overdrive antics, but the only sounds he made were those of him thundering through the house.

Max - the Traveling Cat - YouTube

Several years after we brought him home, we finally heard his broken meow and saw him have a major seizure. It was scary. The vet could not determine a cause and eventually prescribed medication which stopped the seizures, but really changed our boy. The poor cat was absolutely starving all the time and began waking us at all hours of the night, begging for food. Eventually, we took him off the prescription medication and put him on CBD oil. The seizures returned, but not as often as originally and the starving cat is now somewhat under control.

Max was challenging enough, but about a year before we hit the road we took on an abandoned oversized Yorkie named Crowley for a week trial. During that week he won our hearts.

Crowley - YouTube

Crowley grew up scrounging for every scrap of food, and as a result, he can down a bowl of food in less than 2 seconds. On the plus side, his food-driven nature has made him very easy to train. We later found out that he got car sick, which was a bad thing considering the lifestyle we planned to live.

Both pets had issues that would be hard to deal with on the road, but none of the issues deterred us. We began looking for solutions and found raw feeding. This type of feeding would have downfalls (prep work and storage) in a tiny RV kitchen, but the benefits seemed great. Crowley will still get sick with certain movements (swinging in a hammock gets him every time) but never in the LTV or Jeep, and his itchy skin is GONE. Max still has seizures but they are no longer as random, and his recovery after each one is much faster.

Heading Out On the Road

Eventually, we sold our house and started our LTV journey. Both pets have settled in nicely, and the pair keeps us on our toes as they are not really fond of each other. Crowley lives for his walks and hiking adventures. The smells at each new place fascinate and excite him. He requires many walks each day, we have to clean up after him, we have to keep him brushed and he has to routinely go to the groomer, but Crowley keeps us active. Max really only requires a clean litterbox, food, and for us to be nearby – at least during the day.

Operation Sleep

Max, the easy-going, sleepy cat becomes something else when he feels it is time to eat. Max begins his quest to be fed around 3:30 am and can be quite persuasive. He has learned a kind of meow and starts with that… in your face. Then Maximum Overdrive kicks in, and he is bounding over our heads, across our feet, and up and over the bed, all the while meowing his strange meow at the top of his lungs. The thundering noise this small feline makes when he is running around like a wild cat is unreal. Still, we ignore him. Then he starts pawing at the shades and paw-boxing us, which is something between a very firm massage and us being used as his personal punching bag. The cat packs one heck of a punch – Rocky would be proud! We don’t sleep much during the hours until it is actually time for him to eat.

We had to fight back, so we came up with five things to try:

  1. Wear him out during the day. When possible, he is outside wearing a harness attached to a cable. He loves being outside and actually gets excited when you get out his harness. Has it helped? Probably, but not much.
  2. The water spray bottle. We mostly use this when he starts going after the shades and sometimes to stop his paw-pounding. We no longer spray it when Max is near the top of the bed as that usually results in one of us getting sprayed! Has it helped? Yes, but it has not stopped the behavior. He has gotten really good at knowing how much he can get away with before getting sprayed.
  3. Harness him more. Wearing the harness really subdues Max. We like the idea of just leaving the harness on all the time, but have seen him get caught trying to get in and out of his litter box doorway. It may sound crazy, but we aim to find him a snug fitting t-shirt (hoodless) to see if that calms his mornings down at all.
  4. Random feeding times. No improvement.
  5. Have food ready, so we can go back to bed. This has been most effective in letting us go back to sleep, but Max has to wait until 6 am at least. This means we always have hours of temper tantrums to deal with.

We don’t get much sleep and tend to go to bed earlier these days. We believe the root of our problem goes back to the years when he was on prescription seizure medication and had to be on scheduled feedings with an automatic feeder. He is still on that schedule, so our problem is time – as in Time Zones. We are currently in Pacific Time Zone but are originally from Central Time Zone. His feedings were at a reasonable time there, but his internal clock does not accept the changes that driving a few hours can do to time. Our only real fix is to go back to Central Time Zone, which is not a fix at all, so we will continue to try and change Max’s behavior, one morning at a time.

If you don’t have a pet but are thinking of getting one, our advice is to spend some time with the pet before taking them traveling. Be sure that he or she does not get car sick and that food is not a defining factor. Don’t set a schedule with feedings! Be sure you are willing to take on the challenges that go along with the pleasures. If you already have a pet, start working on potential issues now.

Just for fun – Can you find Max?

We still consider our pet story to be a successful one. We live happily together in our LTV, roaming the roads and seeing the sights with pets in tow. We just do it with a little less sleep.

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A hot shower. After a day of hiking or kayaking, there is nothing better. And when you’re traveling in an RV, you always have a hot shower with you. But carrying your bathroom and kitchen plumbing along with you means there are a few things you’ll need to know in order to keep things running smoothly.

How the RV Plumbing System Works

RVs have a pretty straight-forward plumbing system. Freshwater comes from either a direct campground faucet hook-up or the onboard fresh water holding tank. Water is heated by the water heater and sent to the faucets either by water pressure from the campground faucet or by the onboard water pump. Wastewater exits the RV into either the gray water holding tank or the black water holding tank. When the tanks are full, you empty them at a dump station.

Your RV’s plumbing system can also include a water pressure regulator, water filter, dump hose, macerator, and of course, the “facilities” on board.

Service Bay

Truly the “business” end of the RV plumbing system, the service bay is used on every trip. Get familiar with the variety of valves in the service bay: in addition to the fresh water fill, city water connection, and tank emptying valves, you may also find a winterizing valve, siphon, and maybe even an outdoor shower set up or the cable TV connection!

If your holding tanks include a macerator, you may find the switch and hose for that in the service bay too. (If you have a macerator dump hose, remember to remove the cap before dumping).

If your holding tanks use a standard three-inch dump hose, you’ll find the connection in this area as well. The hose may be stored in a different compartment.

Fresh Water: Using a “City Water” Connection

Most RV campgrounds have a city water connection. This is a faucet at your campsite that allows you to connect your RV directly to a city water supply. Just attach a fresh water hose to the campsite faucet and then attach the other end to the “city water” intake on your RV (make sure the valve is turned to the “city water” setting). This will be the water source you use when at an RV resort or campground.

Optional Accessory: Water Pressure Regulator

A city water hook-up is a wonderful convenience when camping – and you won’t run out of the water! However, the pressure of city water can be overpowering for an RV’s small plumbing system, so it’s wise to attach a water pressure regulator to your RV water hose at the city water connection end. Make sure to purchase one that has a gauge and an adjustment valve. The regulator will give a reading of the water pressure at the faucet and allow you to adjust the water pressure going into your RV. Your RV’s documentation will dictate safe water pressure for your model. (If your documentation does not specify a safe pressure, 50 psi is considered safe for most RVs, although larger RVs may accommodate higher water pressure.)

Optional Accessory: An External Water Filter

And, since you probably won’t be checking on water quality everywhere you camp, a water filter attached to your RV’s water hose is also a good idea. It works like any water filter used in the home to filter out chemicals and particulates in the water supply (i.e. lead, contaminants, and microorganisms). Make sure to change the filter cartridge regularly. If your RV comes equipped with a whole-system water filter (such as a Leisure Travel Van), a second filter on the water hose is optional.

Fresh Water: Using the Onboard Fresh Water Holding Tank

When you don’t have a city water connection because you’re “boondocking” (camping in a wilderness area or overnighting in a shopping center parking lot), you’ll need to use your onboard fresh water holding tank.

Some RVs have a hose connection that you simply attach to an outdoor faucet at home or in a campground to fill the water tank, connecting the other end to the freshwater intake valve in the service bay. Others have a siphon-type of arrangement to draw water from a container into the tank.

Depending on your set-up, you may need to turn a valve in the RV service bay to direct water to the fresh water holding tank. Others have a port that is ready to connect a hose without turning any valves.

Check the monitor panel and find the indicator assigned to the fresh water tank. As you fill the fresh water tank, monitor the level so you don’t overfill.

The RV Water Pump

Just having water in the tank doesn’t mean you have water at the RV kitchen sink! When you are using the onboard fresh water tank as your water source, you’ll need to switch on the water pump to move water from the tank to the plumbing lines. In a small RV the water pump is small too, often tucked under a sink or in a cabinet. It runs on electrical power from the coach battery bank.

To use the water in the holding tank, you’ll turn on the water pump, give it a minute to fill the plumbing lines, then turn on the faucet or shower, or use the toilet. The water pump can be noisy as it charges the lines but will quiet down when the lines are filled with water. You may hear it go on and off as you use water from the tank since it’s pumping water into the lines to replace what you use.

For hot water, if you don’t have the Truma AquaGo Comfort Plus system, you’ll need to let the water heater fill (check to be sure the water heater “bypass” valve is turned to the “normal” position) and wait for it to heat the water.

Keep an eye on your fresh water tank level as you use water so that you don’t run out of water or run the water pump “dry” – running the water pump without water can damage the motor.

Note: Do not use the water pump when connected to city water. The pressure from the city water connection will be enough to pump water through the RV’s plumbing system.

The RV Water Heater

That hot shower you’re looking forward to requires a water heater. There are two types of water heaters in today’s small RVs.

The first is the standard six-gallon propane and/or electric water heater, which works like the one in your home. It heats a tank of water and, as you use the hot water, it refills with cold water. If you use more than the six gallons, you’ll run out of hot water and must wait while the fresh supply is heated. The standard six-gallon water heater allows for two short showers without running out of hot water. Recovery time varies, but our experience has been pretty consistent with less than 20 minutes for full heat recovery between uses.

Most of the standard water heaters that use propane come equipped with electronic ignition. You flip a switch inside the RV, and the water heater pilot ignites. If your RV doesn’t have this feature, you will have to light the pilot manually after your RV is parked and leveled. If you are using an electric water heater, it is a simple matter to turn on the water heater and wait for it to heat the water.

The second type of water heater is the tankless variety (such as the Truma AquaGo), which creates a continuous flow of hot water on demand. It has a very small reservoir of heated water, and when you turn on the hot water tap, the tankless water heater begins to heat the water flowing through its system. By the time the initial supply is used, the burners are heating the flowing water sufficiently.

Tankless water heaters can be powered by either electricity or propane and, in fact, use less propane than the standard water heater since there is no big tank of water to keep hot.

Regardless of which type of water heater you have, the length of a shower is determined more by the level of the gray water holding tank than by the water heater’s capacity!

RV Toilets

The standard RV toilet is basically a “drop flush,” but there are also electronic models (macerator toilets, like the ones found in the Unity Island Bed and Twin Bed models). Both electronic and drop-flush toilets empty waste into the black water holding tank.

The toilet flush mechanism is typically a foot pedal at the base of the toilet. When depressed, the pedal opens a portal in the bottom of the toilet, allowing waste to drop into the black holding tank. Some units have a sprayer attachment to help clean the toilet when flushing. Both the pedal mechanism and the sprayer attachment use fresh water to flush the toilet.

Electronic flush toilets have a push button to take care of flushing and may also have stronger water flow to evacuate the bowl more effectively.

RV Sinks and Showers

Your sinks and shower draw fresh water from either the city water hook up or, when boondocking, from the fresh water holding tank.

Many RV shower heads have a “pause” function that allows you to pause the flow of water momentarily, then resume at the same temperature and pressure. This is used to conserve water during showering: wet down, pause, soap up, resume and rinse! This is a serious consideration when using only the onboard fresh water tank.

Wastewater from sinks and showers empties into the gray water holding tank.

The Holding Tank Monitor Panel

RVs usually have an electronic tank monitor panel where you can see the level in each of the holding tanks. This lets you know when to add fresh water and when you need to empty the gray and black water holding tanks. Keep an eye on tank levels and plan on emptying at the campground’s dump station every couple of days. Frequency will depend on your water use, of course!

The holding tanks are mounted under the RV floor and connected to the sinks, shower, and toilet. They also have an exterior connection for adding fresh water and an exit valve to empty or “dump” the gray and black water holding tanks.

Take a little time to read up on your RV’s plumbing documentation and the maintenance each component requires. When the water flows, RVers are happy campers!

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My husband and I have been RVing for over a year now, and a question we often hear is, “which RV should we buy?” So, I’m going to explain why we went from a fifth wheel to a Class B+ Leisure Travel Van.

RV Van Tour | Leisure Travel Van | Unity - Corner Bed - YouTube

Let me start by saying one is not necessarily better than the other. It’s all going to depend on what kind of travel you are planning on doing.

When we bought the fifth wheel we were thinking, “wow – this thing is big, it’s roomy, it’s luxurious, and tons of people can fit inside.” But once we had hit the road, we quickly realized that this was not the type of traveling we wanted to be doing. We wanted to be able to stop at those random places along the way, park nearly anywhere, keep out of the RV parks, and camp for free. The reality of having tons of people over all the time wasn’t accurate either, and whenever we do have company over, we are all outside around a bonfire. Wanting that extra space was actually a waste of space.  

Camping Locations and Costs.

The type of RV you have will affect where you’re able to camp. Staying in an RV park is generally going to cost you $40 – $60 per night, although there are parks that can cost up to $100 per night. With a smaller RV, you can stay on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which is free to park on and in most locations you are permitted to stay up to 14 days. You can also park at a retail store or rest stop for a night.

We can stop almost anywhere because we fit within 2 parking spaces, even pulling a small trailer. We have gone through a few setups for the back of the RV in order to keep the motorcycle; although it is not necessary for transportation, we do love having it to explore off-road in the mountains or in the desert. For those reasons, we now pull a trailer with a rack custom-built for the motorcycle. The trailer has not in anyway been a nuisance on our travels, and we are still able to stop everywhere we desire.

La Vida Adventure’s Setup

Route Planning or Spontaneous Stops?

When we had our fifth wheel, we had to plan our route and where we were going to stay in advance because of the height and length of our RV, which limited which routes we could take. For example, there could be a covered bridge or tunnel on the route with only 11 feet of clearance, and our fifth wheel was 13 feet 6 inches tall. And taking a pass through steep grades and winding roads in the mountains was a nightmare. We were typically taking the truckers’ route and missing all the sights, scenery, and small towns in between. We didn’t want to have to plan our route, and we certainly didn’t want to miss out on being able to stop in a small town for a night.

With a smaller RV, we are able to go any route we choose because the height and length of our rig is no longer limiting us. Here’s a look at a typical couple of days in our LTV that we could not do in our fifth wheel:

Let’s say we camped for free last night at a rest stop. Today we have plans to enjoy the beach and go to dinner. After dinner, we need somewhere to sleep, so we pull into a Walmart parking lot. The next day we need to do some grocery shopping and get some work done on the laptop, so we wake up and head to the grocery store, do our shopping, then come back out to get our work done while we are still parked in the grocery store lot. Now we need a place to stay again for the night, so we head out to some nearby BLM land. The next day, we decide that we want to head to a national park to hike and camp. The campground is limited to 30-foot sites – no problem since we’re 25 feet. Maybe along the way, before we get to the national park, we’ll pass a small town and want to stop. We can do that too and not think twice. With our smaller RV, we no longer have to plan for tomorrow. 

What Kind of Traveling Do You Want to Do?

Maybe you don’t care about stopping in small towns and or driving down every road, so you get a Class A or a Class C to park at the RV park, and tow a small car that will get you around and into the big cities.

Or maybe you get a camp trailer because you want a big truck that you can haul an ATV on, to ride off-road in the desert.

Our Friend’s Setup

Or maybe you want to live like we do, in a Leisure Travel Van. After traveling for a year in our LTV, we have been able to explore the backroads, park downtown, and adventure through the winding mountain roads. We certainly would not have been able to do most of these things if we were still pulling around a big fifth wheel. 

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More than 9,200 miles in our Leisure Unity MB. Nine comfortable weeks. And, with two cats, comfortably in their beds. It was quite a trip. But, what a trip.

We began with the goal of meeting my grown children and grandkids in northern California. One lives in California, the other moving to Mexico. We had a timeline that would take us into the prairie of Minnesota, then North Dakota, into the Rockies at Glacier National Park, then north to the Canadian Rockies.

And, here’s how. Here’s also hoping that you too can plan a trip like this. It’s essential when camping in the West’s most popular national parks, take in some fishing, and go on for a taste of Vancouver, all in time to rendezvous with family in northern California’s redwoods.

More on that as we go along on this multi-part journey from Michigan. You may have already read Denise’s previously published tips on how to plan such a vaunting journey.

Ready to go? The first leg begins, now!

North Dakota

Since we keep Lucky Us in northern Michigan, it’s the perfect launch pad to head west. A short drive through the Upper Peninsula with a stay along Lake Michigan at a national forest campground near Brevort, then one mosquito-y overnight at a woodsy Wisconsin campground, and we were in North Dakota.

It’s NoDak for short, by the way. And both it and South Dakota may be boring, or a drive-thru state to you, but these endless prairies have their own beauty if you allow it all to speak to you. We stopped early at Jamestown Campground along I-94 so we could stay at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park at Mandan on the banks of Missouri the next day.

A re-created Mandan village in its original setting. Mandans were farmers, trading to other tribes. Lewis and Clark stopped here.

Commandant’s house, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Mandan, ND. Custer left from here and his wife Libby, from Michigan, received the news of the Native American victory at Little Big Horn here.

The fort is near a re-created Mandan Indian village the residents named On-A-Slant, (when you visit you’ll know why) where Lewis and Clark stopped to visit the peaceful Mandans, who grew crops to trade with other tribes, and winter nearby on their own journey west. Turns out, the route we chose would follow their own for much of the way.

It’s also the site of what used to be Fort Abraham Lincoln, where Gen. George A. Custer and men of the 7th cavalry set off to their destinies along the Greasy Grass River, or as Europeans call it, Little Big Horn, a few hundred miles west.  The fort commander’s house, where his wife Libby—who was from Michigan—got word of the Indian victory, still stands and is open for guided tours.

Our next night was at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, near Medora, North Dakota. Because we tried to stay here on a previous trip, we made sure to have reservations this time.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park campground

Badlands overlook at Roosevelt National Park

Settled in at Cottonwood Campground, we made plans to take in a ranger walk the next morning before heading west. Our campsite was along the muddy Little Missouri River, which is mentioned in Roosevelt’s journals when he tried cattle ranching here. With power and nearby water, it was a great spot under the trees.

The next day, we headed to the park headquarters just off I-94 and joined the guided hike into this part of the badlands, learning how wind, fire in the narrow coal bands, and water shaped the badlands into what we saw on the trip, where Teddy may have even ridden or walked.

A local NoDak resident

Little Missouri River near the campsite

On the hike, we met a Canadian family, and after talking about our trip into Canada, the father said he wanted to give us a small gift. It was a time of some uncharacteristically heated words between Washington, D.C., and Ottawa, and he said they’d even questioned whether to come south for their vacation, wondering what kind of reception they’d get.

Right, a Canadian family brings gifts to us, at Roosevelt National Park

They presented us with a simple gesture of cross-border friendship—a box prepared by their kids, with a sprig of evergreen, a Canadian flag lapel pin, and two chocolate “loonies,” simulated $1 Canada coins. They said they were giving one to every kind American they met. Hopefully, they ran out. We’ve still got it, minus the loonies!

We stopped next off I-94 at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument on the banks of the Yellowstone River. Countless wagon train travelers scratched their names into the rock, following the example of the first to do so, William Clark in 1806.

William Clark,  of Lewis and Clark, carved his name in July 1806, at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument

Mallard’s Rest, a state-run primitive campground along the trout-rich Yellowstone River near Livingston, Mont.

A few hours west we grabbed one of the 13 spots along the Yellowstone at Mallard’s Rest, a state-run fishing launch site and rustic campground. The waters in the West’s last undammed river flowed past our site, near the fishing—and celebrity town of Livingston, Montana, before we pushed on along Lewis & Clark’s route following upper Missouri to…

The Crown of The Continent

Our first night in Glacier National Park, we eased into its south boundary at Devil Creek Campground along U.S. 2 and took a short hike for a spectacular glimpse of the mountain goats hanging to the mountain’s edges at the salt lick along the Flathead River.

Devil Creek campground near…

Mountain goats casually jump from ledge to ledge at salt lick overlook in Glacier National Park

The next day we turned onto less-traveled Montana Highway 49, to be rewarded with more stunningly beautiful views of Two Medicine Lake and the mountains beyond. We overnighted at Chewing Blackbones Campground, run by the Blackfeet nation along Lake St. Mary, after ducking into Glacier for a short drive along the lake.

Highway 49 and Two Medicine Lake

Red bus tours leave from several spots in Glacier. We picked up the Crown of the Continent tour at St. Mary

Chewing Blackbones was hit-and-miss. Hit because of the spectacular mountain and lake scenery and the local Blackfeet family we met camping next door, miss because finding our site was confusing, and the amenities could stand improvement. The next day we arrived at tiny St. Mary to meet our famous Red Bus Tour.

Going-to-the-Sun road opens usually in June after the average 80 feet or so of snow is cleared at the top. Latest opening ever was in July 2011. Here’s a look at the East entrance to Glacier National Park:

You have another writer to blame for the term “crown of the continent,” describing the route we took into the heart of this million-plus acre park. You’ll see why when you stop at Logan Pass. The glacier peaks surround you indeed like a crown. And, because depending on the way you look, the snow and ice melt from the receding glaciers you see flows west to the Pacific, east to the Gulf or north to the Arctic. You may want to plan a trip here soon, as scientists predict the glaciers may be gone in a few decades.

We wanted to drive its 50 miles, but it’s open only to vehicles up to 21 feet long, and 10 feet high, too tight for even our LTV. And, some turns feature craggy, and “striking” rock outcroppings. Literally.

Many times in summer someone misjudges and loses a mirror, or worse. But the buses are piloted by skilled drivers nicknamed “jammers,” because of the gear changes they used to do when the buses had standard transmissions. They’ve been updated by Ford, and are the best way to go. We reserved months before, knowing its popularity.

They pull off at the best photo stops, some with “bus only” parking spots, and the roll-top roofs make it easy to get great shots, while our RV stayed where we boarded in St. Mary on the park’s east side.


It’s hard to do justice to what you’ll see here. The topography nearly everywhere is straight up or straight down. By thousands of feet. Each rocky hairpin corner unveils a masterpiece. Waterfalls stream by.

NPS/Tim Rains

Going-to-the-sun from our red bus tour seats

Weeping walls drip snowmelt onto you, followed by stunning glacier-carved valleys and lake views. Your head swivels, as there’s a new photo around every craggy corner, with narration provided by your “jammer” driver.

Mountain goats and bighorn sheep are common co-travelers, and hikers occasionally have a grizzly as a trail companion. At some points, visitors below you can’t even see the road above, it was so skillfully carved into the mountains between 1921 and 1932, much of it with no guard rails. A stop at Logan Pass allows you to get out and walk the trails a bit, and take in the enormity.

This mountain goat was a few feet from the bus near Logan Pass

You’ll pass several waterfalls like this, cascading feet from the road, some that will douse you with snowmelt

Then it’s more winding and rock ledges and even a few tunnels through the rock, and following the river flowing to Lake MacDonald. At the turnaround, the bus stops for lunch at Lake MacDonald Lodge, then heads back for more sweeping views.

I’ve taken this road several times, including at night, preparing for an overnight hike from the Logan Pass area. Don’t drive this, or the driver at least will miss most of the scenery because they’ll be concentrating on missing other tourists coming at them, and avoiding the ledges and hanging rock crags trying to take your mirrors off. Take the tour instead.

After overnight at St. Mary campground…

…we headed for one last look at St. Mary Lake

After staying overnight at St. Mary Campground, we drove north on U.S. 89, to our next adventure in Calgary, Alberta. We’ll detail that next.

When You Go

Some readers may want to go without national park campground reservations. Good luck. Make them as soon as possible, as all sites on this route fill quickly. Here’s a link to Glacier National Park campgrounds. Rising Sun, a campground we wanted to stay at in Glacier, is first-come, first-served and a schedule shows you’ll be lucky to get in. Make that Red Bus Tour reservation early as well, as there is limited space for each scheduled trip.

This is a grizzly bear and mountain lion country. Have bear spray on hand, available rather inexpensively at many western Costcos in two can packs.

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