The long straight stretches of road on I80, Nevada
Destinations, Travel, USA

Diary RV Road Trip USA Days 5-8: Tahoe to Tetons

Days five to eight of our USA RV road trip starts in Yosemite when we leave for South Lake Tahoe. Then, via the Great Basin desert of Nevada and Twin Falls, we detour to Craters of the Moon National Preserve in Arco, Idaho before we spend a night in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming.

Day 5. Sun, 23 Sep: From Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe

Up at 4 am, long before the early bird caught the first worm, we started to get ready to leave Yosemite Pines Campground.

Today’s route started slowly down the winding, twisting H120 west out of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, but it sped up considerably along highways H99 and H50 to South Lake Tahoe.

Pope Beach, South Lake Tahoe
Pope Beach, South Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is situated in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, further north from Yosemite National Park.

There’s a shorter, much more scenic route via H395 on the eastern side of the mountains from Yosemite to Tahoe, but there’s a lot of mountain road from what we heard and saw on maps. For that reason, we decided to avoid it with the motorhome and took the longer route around the western side of the Sierra Nevadas: longer and less scenic, but also a lot less scary in the RV.

Five hours later, curious and a bit nosy, we were in South Lake Tahoe, driving around Tahoe Keys to look at the pretty houses of the Venice-like estate. I won’t say it’s a touristy thing to do because it looked like a private residential development, but we love to ‘window-shop’ houses and to see how other people live.

We like to snoop around residential areas for a little inspiration. How about you? I believe that seeing how people, rich and poor, live in a different country gives you another meaningful insight into their culture.

Pope Beach, South Lake Tahoe

When we arrived at Pope beach just before sunset, we still had not found a place to overnight. No pressure.

With no-where else to go yet, we stretched our legs on the lake shore and enjoyed the quiet. As a great swim beach, especially for families with its shallow water, it must be packed in the summer.   But this time, as the autumn sun was slowly fading, there was only us and a few hip rope-walkers who kept us entertained as they practiced their skill between the tall pine trees. 

If you walk or cycle into Pope Beach you can enter for free. Car entry is $10 and RV’s pay $25 for entry and parking. The gate attended tipped us to park next to the road and walk the ten minutes to Pope Beach rather than pay $25 for entry late in the afternoon.

The Largest Alpine Lake In America

Lake Tahoe is magnificent with its crystal clear water; a different blue from most lakes you’ll ever see. It’s a very deep lake on top of a very high mountain, which makes it a special place. 

Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains is America’s largest alpine lake at an elevation of 6,225 ft (1,897 m) and at 1645 ft (501 m) deep, it is America’s second deepest lake.  The surprising explanation for its famous cobalt blue water lies with algae that live in the water.  It’s dark blue color is not a result of the waters’ clarity as was previously believed. The fewer algae, the bluer the water gets, regardless of the clarity. 

Small Moments of Panic With Our ‘Let’s Wing It’ Road Trip Strategy

Relying heavily on the RV Parky app all the way, we found a few campgrounds and called ahead to book a spot for the night, but most were full or too expensive starting at $60 just to overnight.  

Just before we left Pope Beach, we found space at Campground By The Lake, which is exactly as the name states, plus it was affordable considering the area.

Our RV campsite at Campground By The Lake or City of Lake Tahoe Campground as it is shown on Google maps. There’s only the road between us and the shore of Lake Tahoe.

I must admit, we panicked there for a little while, when it was getting dark and we still had nowhere to park our home for the night. This early in our RV road trip, driving through a foreign country, wild camping and boondocking wasn’t our first choice.

Should we start booking sites and accommodation for the rest of the trip?

To Plan Or Not To Plan

To start planning, to search for campsites and make reservations at this point, means we’ll know where we’re going. We won’t have any of this last minute scrambling around to figure out where we’ll sleep or the inconvenience of being chased away in the middle of the night.

We can travel and rest easy.

On the other hand, we won’t have the freedom to choose our route every day. To take a turn or a different detour when the moment dictates or the weather changes. We love the thrill of taking the open road into the unknown. We enjoy the freedom to follow our own minds and to change it as we please.

So, that’s what we’ll do.

Fingers crossed, ‘winging it’ will all work out and turn into the epic adventure we hope for, not plan for.

Travel Distance: 155 mi
Travel Time: +-5hrs Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe
Overnight: $46 incl tax. Campground By The Lake, Tahoe  


Filling up the potable (drinkable) water tank at Campground By The Lake in South Lake Tahoe before checking out.
South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe

Day 6. Mon, 24 Sep: From Lake Tahoe To Battle Mountain

Up at 5 am: We’re slowly adapting to the new time zone.

Our day started with the short walk to the lakeshore across the road to say bye to Lake Tahoe: undisturbed and serene in the quiet of early morning.

After breakfast in the RV, we packed up, filled up the drinking water tank in the campground and left by 9 am.

We drove along H50 away from South Lake Tahoe and up the mountain towards Carson City. On the down-side of the steep 8% grade mountain pass heading into Carson City, we saw a few – get this – emergency RUN-AWAY truck lanes next to the road with deep gravel, serious hard shoulders and boulders to stop any such vehicles.

What?! How often does that happen?

Yes, run-away trucks are apparently a thing here and that was not the only place we saw these emergency stop lanes on the side of steep mountain passes. Don’t want to come across one of those when ‘in use’!

Truckers race on the highways of America like it’s the end of the world. They’re a different breed not scared of speed as they overtook us (we’re maintaining the speed limit, of course) in our little RV by the thousands.

From tall green tree covered mountains
To the open rocky hills of Carson City
H80 Nevada
To this in the Great Basin Desert of Nevada on interstate I80

Crossing The Nevada Desert 

A drastic change in scenery awaited as we once again crawled slowly down the side of a mountain and the valley below opened up to reveal Carson City. From tall trees in green forests to rocky mountains covered in short shrubs, we were clearly heading into desert territory.

From Carson City, we drove into the Great Basin desert of Nevada, north towards Yellowstone. We stopped in a small town called Lovelock, which claims to be ‘The home of the mustang’, for ice cream.

Lovelock, a pioneer town in a stretch of land rich with gold and silver, struggled since it was passed by the new interstate highway I80, but was put back on the map when OJ Simpson got locked up in the treeless Nevada Prison nearby.

Lovelock, Nevada
Welcome to Lovelock, Nevada – Home of the Mustang.
Lovelock, Nevada
Lovelock, Nevada. One of the isolated desert towns north of Reno.

Driving across Nevada may be boring for some. The road is long and straight.  Interstate I80 seems never-ending, going on and on until it meets up with heaven on the horizon. But I loved driving through the wide-open desert that gets less than 6 inches of rain a year. There’s just something about its vastness that speaks to me.

It was the first time we could drive the RV on a flat, straight road pedal to the metal. No wind and no surprises. This is where truckers put their foot down to make up time. You see the longest trains go by for miles without end.

Nevada
Nevada

My Turn!

I also got to drive the RV for the first time on the quiet straight I80 when B felt comfortable enough to let go of the wheel to take a break and while I had the nerve to take over.

The motorhome drives like a dream, like any car I’ve driven before. No problem! Between you and me, I preferred to let B drive, especially in traffic. He drove about 99% of the way. He prefers to drive too: something about me not being the best driver in the world or a nervous driver, even though I have a flawless record: no accidents to date in almost 20 years of driving.

We arrived at the Flying J truck stop in Battle Mountain at 6 pm. The Flying J’s have safety cameras, showers, and laundromats. Wi-fi is free if you fill up with gas or you can buy data from them.

The long straight stretches of road on I80, Nevada
The long straight stretches of road of I80, Nevada

The manager gave us permission to boondock as long as we stayed out of the truckers’ way, which we gladly try to do anyway. They come and go at all hours of the night and some of them are noisy because they have to run generators all night to keep their load cool.

It’s been a long day on the road so we looked for a quiet corner to park and get some sleep.

Travel Distance: 260 mi
Travel Time: 9 hrs
Overnight: Flying J service station (Boondock)


Welcome to Idaho!
Twin Falls
The Perrine Memorial Bridge – Twin Falls, Idaho
Twin Falls, Idaho
The Snake River – Twin Falls, Idaho
Twin Falls, Idaho
You can see parts of the golf course of Blue Lakes Country Club on the banks of the Snake River – Twin Falls, Idaho

Day 7. Tue, 25 Sep: From Battle Mountain, Nevada to Arco, Idaho

We were all up at 5 am, early enough to see the full moon outside. A fitting start if you consider our final destination for today.

By 6 am, still in our jammies, we left for Elko to fill up with petrol, had breakfeast in the RV and shopped for snow chains at Walmart; just in case.

Craters Of The Moon

We drove through Twin Falls, Idaho with its beautiful views of the Snake River from the Perrine Memorial bridge lookout point. A last-minute decision to go off route to take a detour via Craters of the Moon National Preserve, on our way to Yellowstone, turned out to be a great call.

A part of Craters Of The Moon National Preserve near Arco, Idaho
Craters Of The Moon Arco
Craters Of The Moon, Arco. These two photos were the only ones I took of the landscape before my battery ran out and the phone died.

Craters of the Moon NP is aptly named. You cannot describe it any other way. For some stretches of road, all you can see on either side are the pitch black lava rock, craters, and soil. It looks as if you’re on the moon. It’s otherworldly and an incredible sight to see.

We drove through the preserve and stopped at the lookout points along the way from where we saw plenty of its black lava rocks and craters.  We read the info boards to learn more but we didn’t go into the park on other trails because the sun was low and we wanted to find our campground before dark.

Craters Of The Moon National Preserve landscape. Photo: Wikipedia
The black soil on Inferno Cone in Craters Of The Moon National Preserve.
My phone’s battery was flat so this photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.
Cinder crags from North Crater on the North Crater Flow.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, taken By Daniel Mayer

The Great People We Met

Our camp for the night was Craters of the Moon KOA in Arco.  All the campers came to the ice cream social at 6 pm, which was nice, but a little inconvenient for me. I was doing laundry in my slacks, looking like death warmed up after another long day on the road! I felt like a real old hag walking up and down with bundles of washing, right past the happy ice-cream-licking group to get to the laundry room.

They turned out to be a nice bunch, down to earth like us. I made it there, slacks and all, just before the end to get a few scoops ice cream myself for $1. Bargain!

KOA campground - Arco, Idah
The KOA campground office – Arco, Idah
Free waffles for breakfast at Craters Of The Moon KOA in Arco, Idaho
Free waffles for breakfast at Craters Of The Moon KOA in Arco, Idaho

At the KOA in Arco we met long-term RV’ers, Bill and Debbie and their little dog, Bella, who the kids adored. What a lovely couple! They gave us heaps of tips and advice about RV’ing and camping in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas; their neck of the woods. They’ve been RV’ing for 26 years and they plan to do it full time soon.

We love meeting inspirational like-minded people like them. It wasn’t long before we found each other on social media so we could stay in touch, which was great because they’re the kind of people you don’t want to say bye to.

Travel Distance: 344 miles
Travel Time: +- 7 hrs From Battle Mountain, Nevada to Arco, Idaho
Overnight:  $45 KOA, Arco


Driving from Arco to Jackson Hole via Idaho Falls
Driving from Arco to Jackson Hole via Idaho Falls
Driving from Arco to Jackson Hole via Idaho Falls
Driving from Arco to Jackson Hole via Idaho Falls
Great views from the backseat in the RV as we drive from Arco, Idaho to Jackson Hole, Wyoming via Idaho Falls
Welcome to Wyoming
Welcome to Wyoming
Welcome to Jackson Hole
Welcome to Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Visitor Center, Wyoming
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Greater Yellowstone, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Visitor Center
So much to see at Jackson Hole Visitor Center
Greater Yellowstone Elk Refuge at Jackson Hole Wyoming
Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole

Day 8, Wed 26 Sep: Grand Teton National Park

We drove along H20 through Idaho Falls, H26 to Swan Valley, then H33 and H22 into Jackson Hole. B reports that driving the 28ft motorhome on these roads to Jackson Hole was easy peasy. The weather was good so we didn’t have to contend with that either.

Driving into Jackson Hole, Wyoming got us all excited. Its a lively place with a picturesque main street and snowcapped mountains. I would not want to be there in peak season, though. It seems like one of those places that could get overcrowded quickly.

A popular commercialized ski destination, you’ll need deep wallets to shop there. So we skipped that part and stopped at the visitor center. We still needed to find a campground for the night and with some of the campgrounds closed for the season, I was anxious to find a place quickly. Nick bought a new birding book and the rangers gave us advice on where to stay, the road conditions and free maps.

The beautiful Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake
Grand Teton National Park. The ranger at the gate confirmed what the rangers at the visitor center said, that there were RV campsites available at Colter Bay Campground, one of the few campsites still open after the busy summer season.

Jenny Lake is one of the places we wanted to visit in this part of the world as it was highly recommended, so we went there first. It is a gorgeous lake with the trees all around and the dramatic mountains as a backdrop.

Maybe because the cobalt blue water of the alpine lake, Lake Tahoe, was still fresh in our minds and we were shattered after a long day on the road, Lake Jenny t didn’t quite have the ‘wow’ I was expecting. To learn about how the lake got its name and to be there in person to appreciate its beauty, was still an awesome moment.

RV at Colter Bay RV Campground in the Tetons
Colter Bay RV Campground in the Tetons
RV Campsite at Colter Bay RV campground
RV Campsite at Colter Bay RV campground. We were warned to look out for bears and be bear aware, but we didn’t see any. Luckily

We stayed at a campground near Jackson Lake called Colter Bay RV campground for one night. It was one of the nicest campsites of the whole road trip because we were camping in the forest, not in a commercial campsite. Plus, we had a firepit with a grid so we could light a fire, open a beer and ‘braai’.

There was enough space between us and our neighbors. It was pitch black at night; no other lights apart from the warm glows of campfires. Just perfect.

Coulter Bay General Store
Coulter Bay Visitor Center
Coulter Bay, Grand Teton National Park
Coulter Bay, Grand Teton National Park
Photo-ready chipmunk at Grand Tetons National Park
The cutest chipmunk at Coulter Bay

The next morning we stopped a the General Store, Coulter Bay Visitor Center and explored around the marina. We found a cute little chipmunk, calmly eating his nut, right next to the walkway; not at all phased by the tourists passing nearby who stop to take photos and video of it. Hope all the wildlife in Yellowstone are this happy, relaxed and easy to spot.

Next stop: Yellowstone


Travel Distance: 196 miles
Travel Time: 5 hrs
Overnight:  $31 dry camping at Colter Bay RV Campground, Grand Teton National Park

NEXT UP

RV Road Trip USA Diary Day 9: Arriving at Yellowstone National Park

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