Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It's good to know we can still do it

After four months of sitting in one place on our boondocking spot in Far North Idaho, we had to think about our process for a moment before getting on the road again to try some boonedocking near Glacier National Park. We ran through our usual pre-hookup review/maintenance routine without any issues or following a checklist. We took our time, but the ritual came right back like we had never stopped.

After an uneventful trip to the outskirts of the park, we started our search in the Flathead National Forest for a good multi-week boondocking site. It's always exciting when scouting a new area. You never know what you'll end up with. Benchmark, Delorme, forest service, and Google maps are good, but you really need to see a site to know for sure. After an hour of scouting we found some good but not great sites. On a hunch we decided to try one more forest service road and go around one more corner. After boondocking for a while, you start to look at the contours of the land in a different way, sensing where the good dispersed sites might be found. This last road was the charm. We found the perfect, large, secluded, protected view site with plenty of room for the dogs to roam off leash and swim in a nearby stream. It was a new find not on the pre-trip research list of spots. That seems to happen a lot. We just go a little further and then find the right spot. This part of the national forest and the park experienced gigantic forest fires in 2003. The forest ecosystem here is a textbook case of lodgepole pine and larch regeneration with some brushy forage for wildlife in between.

It takes either snow on the higher elevations or the lure of a spectacular spot for us to justify hooking up and leaving Idaho. There's just too much to do within a 50 mile radius of our boondocking property. Having never been to Glacier, we were wondering if it would live up to the hype. Surprisingly, it did not. Finding the perfect boondocking spot was actually the highlight of the trip.

Since Glacier has always been one of those spots that we've dreamed about visiting, it pains us to say it, but this national park is way overrated. We thought that visiting after Labor Day would free us from the hordes on the trails, but it wasn't to be. Nothing ruins a nice hike more than having to sidestep people at almost every turn and constantly trying to find views that don't have a tacky t-shirt or baseball cap in the way. The bumper to bumper traffic on Going to the Sun road was also a buzz killer. We even went out of our way to hike the supposedly "rarely visited" parts of the park, and found ourselves with as much company as we saw when hiking on the eastern seaboard during our first summer on the road. That's right, Glacier after Labor Day was almost as polluted with people as Acadia is before Labor Day!

The best hikes, sights, and swimming holes were actually in the Flathead National Forest next to the park. So why pay for the over-priced entrance fees, camping fees, and restrictive dog rules of a national park? We're starting to ask ourselves that question more and more. It seems there are too many people out there who have the national parks on their to-do list and don't want to spend the effort to explore the adjacent public lands for equally impressive sights and more seclusion. We hope it stays that way for at least as long as we're on the road. We will gladly cede the national parks to the unwashed masses in exchange for the nearby, quiet public lands. We have many more places to go in our lifetimes, but so far, the only national park we would recommend is Great Basin. Better hiking, more ecosystem diversity, and better boondocking opportunities than Glacier (and no entrance fees).

Despite all of this, Glacier still does have some pretty sites.

We did have a day of flurries that brought snow down to about 4,000 feet. That's as close as we wanted to be to it! 

Some mule deer decided to make regular grazing rotations through our campsite.

Last day and time to grab one more peak.

And one last sunset over the larch tree at Glacier.

Glacier is picturesque, but nothing beats Northern Idaho in our book, However, we like to tell people they don't need to go any further north than Couer d'Alene. The fact that people generally don't head further north in Idaho is part of what makes it so great up here! :-)


  1. Your description of the fun you have in looking for dispersed camping sites would really help newbies and wannabees -- much more than the spoon-feeding of how-to-be-an-RVer blogs would. That's because you explained the basic tools and the nature of the satisfaction.

    But I would like to suggest that you would like the 'hunt' even more if, instead of that bumpy jarring truck, you were mounted on smooth, comfortable, full-suspension mountain bikes. As big as Jakey is, even a slender woman like S could control him if the end of the leash was snapped to a belt.

    1. Riding the mountain bike is fun, but attaching Jake to it would be a death wish. That boy is a little too exuberant. He doesn't have the grace and style of Coffee Girl.

  2. Re: "It seems there are too many people out there who have the national parks on their to-do list and don't want to spend the effort to explore the adjacent public lands for equally impressive sights and more seclusion."
    This is the point we've been trying to "exercise" more and more lately, as well as demonstrate to Mr Bike Rider, that as an RVer you can usually snuggle up the "benefits" without the commotion and cost of campgrounds. Sometimes the success rate is related to rig size and weight, and in that respect, Boonster has an advantage on more traditional RVs. If only Goldie had 4 wheel drive…
    Box Canyon Mark

    1. Sometimes I envy the compact size of KaBoomie's rig, but we travel with about 3x the mass of humans and dogs that he does so we like a bigger rig. So far, we haven't had any problems fitting into the sites we've wanted in the West. There have been times I wanted to pack up and hike in to some remote tent sites, but carrying all that wine and beer in would be tough.

  3. Although we did some wonderful hiking, and lost the crowds after a mile or so in, we, too, were a bit disappointed in Glacier.
    Maybe one of these years we'll make it north of Coeur d'Alene;-)

  4. There were times we drove two hours to find so-called "remote" areas only to find trailheads where we could barely find a parking spot. We're still hoping that there are some other national parks we haven't been to yet that aren't so crowded. Always hopeful!