Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park was the very first state park we visited after we purchased Bessie. It was part of our South Dakota trip that included Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Crazy Horse, and many other stops. We were newbies though and the kids were a bit younger, so we did not hike any trails or really take advantage of the natural resources at our fingertips.

Quite honestly, I had no idea Custer State Park existed until Mike mentioned it and we decided to stop after a very full morning. The moral of the story is do your research and take time to stop at a Visitor’s Center.

We did, however, drive the Wildlife Scenic Loop, as well as the Needles Highway and Tunnel. The Wildlife Scenic Loop did not disappoint. Case and point:

I had my window down when this guy approached me. (People were feeding the animals like crazy.) I quickly rolled up my window — thank goodness — because this was my window seconds later.

Smeared by a big huge animal tongue.

We had to stop many times to let a herd of bison pass. We were actually stopped for a long period of time because they just decided to stop in the middle of the road and simply did not move.

There were also a lot of deer grazing in the fields.

On our way up towards Needle Highway and Tunnel, the weather started changing and a storm blew in. We stopped at this scenic pull-off to capture the sky as it was changing before our eyes.

As we drove higher and higher towards the Needles Tunnel, the sky was almost black and the road was incredibly crowded. It was a white-knuckled nail biter as we took our turn through the tunnel, praying the sky would not open. It did open right at the top emptying what seemed like gallons of rain, so we sped past the very most top and headed down, past the storm to safety.

My advice: Make Custer State Park part of your South Dakota road trip, but plan a whole day around it and don’t bypass Sylvan Lake like we did. We’ll be back and it’s top on our list.

Note: We did not drive through Custer State Park with Bessie. We rented a car from the Rapid City KOA, which was very convenient and reasonably priced.

Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort

During a July visit to Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, we decided to stay at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort. I googled Zion campgrounds and found the campground’s website, read some quick TripAdvisor reviews, and secured the reservation sometime in April

We rolled into town early afternoon, traveling what seemed like forever over and around countless long and winding roads. I was driving behind Bessie in a rental and it felt like we were continually driving towards this big wall of rock, delving deeper and deeper into an enormous canyon.

A shared location.

After driving past several touristy small business creating a small town, we finally arrived. When I walked into the registration office, I noticed it was very different than most campgrounds. There was no store with overpriced groceries or souvenirs — just a big pile of firewood in the corner. The woman working behind the desk asked me if I was checking into the hotel or the campground and I realized it was a dual location. The hotel was adjacent to the campground and shared its teeny tiny pool and laundry room with campground guests.

The scenery and campsites.

This campground offers an unbeatable location. It is located .6 miles from the entrance of Zion National Park, which is a 2 minute drive, an 8 minute bike ride, or a 12 minute walk. (There is a pedestrian entrance to the park, so you could technically walk.) There is also a shuttle running through the town, but we never used it.

Because of the proximity to the park, the campground’s background is exquisite.

Whether you look east or west, you are in for a treat. The canyon walls flank both sides of the campground, providing the perfect camping backdrop.

The campsites are gravel and for the most part flat with a full hookup. We had a few issues with water pressure at night, but that may have been due to a bypass switch issue on our end. While the site itself was roomy, the fire pits are positioned too close to the neighboring site — it made no sense — but we did not have a fire at all because it was too dry out and there was a fire warning.

We’ve been to an abundance of campgrounds and few delivered a sunset like this. I captured this sunset from my chair at our campsite.

The Virgin River.

To the west of the campground, behind the last row of RV sites, runs the Virgin River, which is the same river that runs through Zion National Park and its famous Narrows. Plopped in front of a human-made dirt walkway, there is a sign that says Swim At Your Own Risk. People were doing just that — tubing, swimming, wading, climbing, and just having a great time.

There is also a sandy wake adjacent to the river perfect for exploring.

Restrooms, Showers, and Laundry Facilities.

I used the restrooms a few times throughout our 4-night stay and they weren’t exactly clean, but not totally disgusting. In the campground’s defense, there was a large group of teenagers staying in massive army tents when we were there and I heard them destroying the bathrooms nightly. The bathrooms and showers are pictured in the brown building below.

The bathrooms consisted of a series of stalls separated by gender, while the shower stalls were single locking rooms.

When I checked in at the beginning of our stay, the worker doled out a bunch of gold coins, calling them “shower coins” for each of us. If we relied on their showers, we could take one shower per day for the length of our stay. A single coin granted its owner a six-minute shower. If you were to use two coins for a 12-minute shower, she stressed to not put them in successively and instead, to wait until the first one was over before you put the second one into the slot, otherwise you would use two coins for only six minutes. Mike was the only one to shower in the facilities, so we had a bunch of leftover coins at the end of our stay. He said the showers were clean, but he’s a man so who knows, really?

The washers and driers were pretty dirty. I used them once against my better judgement, but remember: I am a raging germaphobe!

Would you stay here again?

I would indeed stay here again. But I think I would also stay one night inside Zion National Park too, just for the experience. The grounds are clean for the most part and very flat. The staff responded to some water pressure issues quickly. As I mentioned above, I really think the bathrooms may have suffered a bit more than usual due to the copious amount of teenagers roaming around.

The most amazing thing happened our second night. Mike woke at about 3 am and he went outside. I heard him putting the awning up, so I assumed it was windy. (It was extremely windy every morning.) He was taking a long time to come in, so I was just about to go outside to see what the hold up was and he came in and told me I had to go outside. I protested slightly, having just woken up, but he insisted.

I went outside and looked around and finally up and could not believe my eyes. I was looking into part of the Milky Way. I had never ever seen anything like it in my whole entire life. The sky was the inkiest black studded with millions of stars and galactic plane dense with billions of colors. I felt I could reach out and touch it. It looked something like this:

It was absolutely magical.

Is an RV a good choice for you and your family?

If you are exploring travel options, try renting an RV to see if it’s the right fit.

We first experienced RVs quite by accident. I was researching a trip to Walt Disney World and was floored by Disney hotel prices. I noticed there was a campground on Disney property and began clicking through the site. I realized that people drove their RVs down and stayed at Fort Wilderness for a fraction of the hotel cost. I was talking to my mom one night and I wondered aloud, “Can you rent an RV?” She had no idea, so I took it upon myself to start researching. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered that there was a Cruise America about two miles from our house.

I mentioned the idea of renting RVs to Mike and to my surprise, he told me that his Grandma had a Fleetwood Bounder back in the 1980s and drove him and his cousins to Florida in it one summer.

A Fleetwood Bounder.
 David O / Flickr

Since Mike had some experience with RVs, half the battle was won. Plus, Mike is a very hands-on kind of guy. No task is too big for him and he likes challenges. If something is broke, he’ll fix it. Driving an RV and all of its tasks (because there are a lot of them) did not daunt him.

The next weekend, Mike and I visited Cruise America. They confirmed the pricing from the website and we signed the dotted line: We were renting a 32 foot RV with a at the very beginning of March, destination Florida.

Our rented RV from Cruise America.

We picked up the RV two nights before we were leaving, which also happened to be the coldest February 28th in the record books. Preparing was near impossible; I had no idea what to pack or what we needed outside of our own necessities. I did my best and of course, it does not at all resemble what I pack now in our own RV, but we still survived!

Our rented RV from Cruise America.

Our first night we stopped in Tennessee, right outside of Nashville and I remember laying the dark and hearing the trucks whizzing past on I-24 thinking, “What in the world are we doing?” The rest, as they say, is history. We were hooked. During the entire drive home, I kept teasing Mike that we should look into buying an RV. He thought I was joking. Little did he know that a few short months later, Bessie would roll into our lives!

How much does it cost to rent an RV?

Renting turned out to be the best way for us to get our feet wet, but we bit off kind of a lot by heading down to Disney World. You can easily rent an RV and not travel halfway across the United States.

katemangostar / FreePik

There are a few costs to consider. First, there is a daily fee based on the type of RV you are renting, as well as a mileage fee. We rented a class C and incurred an $80 per day fee and a 35 cent mileage fee. We also had a damage deposit we paid up front, but if you take care of the RV (and empty the gray and black water tanks properly), it is refunded upon return. We travelled roughly 1220 miles to Disney World over 9 days and spent roughly $1500 on the RV itself. This did not include gas nor the cost of the campground, which obviously is a separate cost.

You can price one yourself at Cruise America.

Is it hard to drive an RV?

Mike is the driver in our family and is one of the loudest backseat drivers I know. Of course, I would share the driving load, but he prefers to drive while I take care of everything else that is going on during the drive — the kids, snacks, meals, turning things on and off, securing vents, and navigating. I drive Bessie to check-ups to get her oil changed and for maintenance and yes, it’s different than driving a car, but not impossible to handle.

Prior to renting, Mike never drove a class C RV, but he watched a few videos and practiced driving a bus simulation video game on his computer (I swear this is true), which he claimed helped him immensely. So if you aren’t fearful of highways and generally enjoy driving, you will have no problem.

Are rented RVs dirty?

Am I the only person with this question? I admittedly have a little OCD when it comes to dirt and grime, so I worried night after night about the cleanliness of the RV. To my surprise and absolute utter delight, the RV we rented was brand-spanking new.

A brand new rented RV!

It was only driven from California and it still had tape on the toilet seat. When we ran the heater the first night, the vents reeked of that new heater burn (which caused a little alarm). Lucky for me, I can’t really comment on other rented RVs because we totally lucked out!

What is supplied with a rented RV?

Nothing! I think this question deserves a separate post because packing in a rented RV is hard for newbies — trust me, I was there!

My sad kitchen supplies in our rented RV.

In general, you need to supply every single item yourself, including bed linens, pillows, dishes, garbage bags, dish soap, napkins…you get the picture!

It’s the journey, not the destination.

Renting an RV is easy, not too costly, and a great way to experiment. Personally, I love having a house on wheels with food, a toilet, and a bed at my constant disposal, but then again, I’m not a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. If you’re toying with the idea of Rving, keep in mind that it takes a lot more time to travel in an RV versus an airplane. RVing requires you to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. And we sure do!

Now it’s time for you to get out there and let the rubber hit the road!