Top Posts in October Are…

This blog’s been QUIET the past few months, as we’re doing all of our posting for Going Mobile. Here’s what’s getting clicked on in that space:

How to score a camping site at Arches National Park

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We lucked out after talking with the helpful camp hosts at this very popular campground.

8 awesome places to eat and drink in Aspen

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The pate at Meat & Cheese in Aspen, Colorado, is exceptional.

Outdoorsy offers opportunity to try before you buy

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We’ve rented all sorts of vehicles through Outdoorsy.

4 essential tips for experiencing Mesa Verde National Park

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We loved catching the sunset at the Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park.

Let’s connect! Please follow along on our Instagram and we’ll follow back.

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8 Reasons We Fell in Love with the Peace Van

She says: We recently took an amazing trip to the beautiful Olympic Pennisula in a 1987 VW Westfalia from Peace Vans, a rental company in Seattle. It was our first real taste of what Van Life might feel like, and I think we’re in love. Of course, it didn’t suck that the mid-March weather was spectacular, which you can see in the photo below from our stellar site at Kalaloch Beach. Here are 8 reasons we love the Peace Van.

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Kalaloch Beach campground has a few spots right on the bluff. This one’s D-33.

1. Peace Out

After an excellent tutorial at Peace Van HQ on all the features of this retro rig — thanks, Jimmer! — we hit the highway, and soon we were getting flashed the peace sign from cars coming in the other direction. So groovy! That’s the universal way to say hey when you’re behind the wheel of these beloved vehicles.

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Bring on the tie dye! Leslie Kelly photo

2. Shockingly Comfy

We got the 411 on popping the top. It’s easy! Getting it back down and all the fabric tucked in is more of a two-person job, but we handled that. And while the top bunk is designed for sleeping, it was a little too cold for that this trip. Plus, you’ve got to do some gymnastics to get up there. And we like to drink wine around the campfire — Lange Estate Winery Pinot noir from Oregon was the fave on this trip — so, hopping up top seemed a little bit like an accident waiting to happen. Next time!

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We kept the bed out most of the trip because it was easy. Leslie Kelly photo

3. There’s a Place for Everything

Talk about downsizing! It’s an amazing challenge to keep it as tight as this snug space allows, but we made it work. The plastic bins the Peace Van team loads up with kitchen essentials, including condiments, spices, and a French press felt just about right. Not too much, or too little.

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Plastic bins help keep everything organized. Leslie Kelly photo

4. Two Burners are Plenty

I’m typically a messy cook who covers every surface of the kitchen, but this setup forced me to dial it way back. The two-burner cooktop inside worked like a champ. I scrambled eggs and made coffee in the morning, and in the evening, we used the powerful Coleman stove to sear steaks and grill bratwurst. Brilliant!

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Bavarian Meats bratwurst and Olsen Farms potatoes for the WIN! Leslie Kelly photo

5. The Way the Bedroom Doubles as a Living Room

Once Johnny figured out how to swivel the passenger seat around — on the last night — we tucked the bed back into its couch form and — boom! Suddenly it felt like we had a whole lot of room. Might be different if it was pouring rain for days and we were stuck inside, but this was a very cool revelation.

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Living room, bedroom, office, we were surprised by how roomy it felt. Leslie Kelly photo

6. No More Wet Tent

We’ve camped plenty in the rain, and even when it’s not dripping, there’s usually heavy dew. The weather turned nasty on that last night, and it was such a pleasure not to have to stake down the rain fly on a tent. Raindrops falling on the roof of a heated camper van sounded pretty sweet.

7. It Started Some Great Conversations

We enjoyed talking with fellow Peace Van fans, especially the mom and daughter we met at Peace Vans HQ in SEA. They were from Toronto and so pumped to explore the west coast, from Vancouver Island down to Cali. Randomly, we ran into them on our last night out, parked three spots away! So fun!!

8. They Make Road Trippin’ Extra Fun and Easy

On this chapter of Our Grand Tour, we went places we’d been before and saw them in a whole new light. Pull into your spot and you’re good to go. Also, having this self-contained teeny shelter pushed us to try some spots we probably would have avoided if we were tent camping. In La Push, for instance, we were basically hanging out in a parking lot with a bunch of surfer dudes. But we were steps from the most incredible beach, where we ate dinner and witnessed one of the most glorious sunsets of our lives. No joke!

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How to Get the Most Out of an Olympic Peninsula Camping Trip

The U.S. Highway 101 loop around the Olympic Peninsula is one of the best drives in the United States.

To make the most of it, consider camping as you travel 475 miles around Washington’s coastal handle, taking in the seafood-rich Hood Canal region, the scenic Strait of Juan de Fuca, the lush rainforest and the wild western coastline.

You can do it any time of year. We were lucky enough to hit the weather right for a winter camping trip, done comfortably in a 1987 VW Westfalia camper provided by Peace Vans of Seattle. For three nights of winter camping, it worked amazingly well.

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Filling up at Olympia’s Artesian Well.

Oly — It’s the Water

Starting in the state capital of Olympia, take a few minutes and head downtown to the Artesian Well and Commons, a small city park at 415 4th Ave. SE. There, you’ll find a quintessential Olympia scene.

Hippies hanging out. Kids shooting baskets. A constant flow of people from all walks of life. Why? They come to fill up jugs of water from the city’s artesian well.

The pipe from this well spews some of the tastiest water you’ll find anywhere. It’s free, and many people in Olympia use it as their primary source of drinking water.

It also makes great camping water. Bring a few jugs yourself and fill ’em up.

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Hama Hama Oyster Saloon is an essential stop along Hood Canal.

Hood Canal and Dungeness Spit

Continuing west on U.S. 101, take the right turn for Shelton and you’re on the way up scenic Hood Canal, the western-most lobe of Puget Sound. Besides being pretty, Hood Canal also is home of many of Washington’s best commercial oyster operations.

If you make one stop, it should be at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon. You can sit around and have them in the lively outdoor saloon, or you can do what we did and put them on ice and shuck them later. You’ll need an oyster knife, some lemon, a little hot sauce and that’s about it for a taste of seafood heaven.

From Hama Hama, it’s about 1.5 hours to Dungeness Recreation Area, a fantastic campground and natural area that takes in Dungenss Spit near the town of Sequim. At 6.8 miles long, it is the longest sand spit in the United States.

You’ll see lots of birdlife, seals, sea lions, the occasional orca, and billions of board feet of driftwood on the wild and secluded beach. It’s a long hike to the lighthouse on the end, but you can get the flavor of the spit by hiking out a mile or so.

Make sure to reserve your campsite ahead of time: This place fills up on weekends in the high season.

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Our campsite at Dungeness Recreation area.
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Dungeness Spit juts 6.8 miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Onward to the Coast

From the town of Sequim it’s about two hours to Forks, home to the vampires and werewolves of “Twilight” fame, but really just a rough logging town still trying to cash in on the books and movies.

First, consider a few stops along the way. Port Angeles is the biggest city on the peninsula and a great place to gas up and grab provisions. If you visit in summer, an essential side trip is Hurricane Ridge inside Olympic National Park, one of the visited national parks in the United States. Camp at Heart of the Hills and do a hike off of Hurricane Ridge. On a sunny day, the views of the Olympic Mountains and the ocean far below are gorgeous.

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Lake Crescent is a highlight the northern section of the U.S. 101 loop.

Past Port Angeles, you should consider a stop at Lake Crescent, a picture-perfect lake amid the Olympic Mountains. The historic lodge makes a fine place for a lunch pit stop.

When you get to Forks, you have a choice for camping locations. Drive west on State Route 110. At the main intersection at the Riverview RV Park, you can go right to Olympic National Park’s Mora Campground, or stay left and go to La Push, a small fishing town on the Quileute Indian Reservation.

Both locations have advantages. The Mora Campground is not on the ocean — Rialto Beach is three miles away. The rough and rugged Rialto is an amazing place, suitable for a great three-mile day hike along a wilderness beach to a headlands called Hole in the Wall.

If you go to La Push, your camping option is at the Quileute Oceanside Resort. The camp sites are just OK, but the beach setting is gorgeous. La Push has become one of the most popular surfing locations in Washington, and the break in front of the resort attracts a hardy group of wetsuit-wearing shredders all year long.

From La Push, two wilderness beaches are within a short distance. Second Beach and Third Beach offer nice day-hiking options within bordering Olympic National Park.

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The break at La Push attracts a hardy group of shredders.
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Hikers along Third Beach near the town of La Push.

Kalaloch

Just about an hour south from La Push is the beach camping mecca of Kalaloch. If you can snag a spot, Kalaloch offers some of the very best camping along the Washington coast. Be forewarned that you should get a reservation, or at the very least get there early.

If you’re as lucky as we were, grab a spot along the bluff overlooking the beach. You won’t forget it.

The beach itself is long, flat and beautiful, but doesn’t feel as wild as the beaches to the north near La Push. That said, the campsites along the bluff are amazing.

You have a commanding view of the beach and ocean, where you can watch sea birds, the occasional beach walker or just gaze at the clouds rolling by. There’s not a better place on the coast to just hang out and soak in the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula.

It’s a great trip-ender. From here, it’s about two hours back to Olympia — or you can hit the reset button and do it all over again.

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The view from our campsite at Kalaloch out the back of our Peace Van.
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The beach at Kalaloch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore: Hike the Bluffs and Beaches of Whidbey Island

Obviously, Joseph Whidbey was onto something.

It was springtime 1792 when Whidbey, a member of the Vancouver Expedition, sailed around the largest island in Puget Sound, rocketing through the currents of Deception Pass. Capt. George Vancouver was ecstatic, naming the island after his intrepid crewman.

Just like old Joe, you should take your own spin around Whidbey Island.

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The arching bridge at Deception Pass.

Explore these Whidbey Island parks

Whidbey Island is home to several excellent parks, each offering fine hiking opportunities. Deception Pass State Park at the north end of the island is a must-visit location to see the wild currents and historic bridge arching 180 feet above the water.

Deception Pass sprawls across more than 4,000 acres and offers camping, hiking and seasonal kayak rentals. This is Washington’s most visited state park for a reason: Aside from the recreation opportunities, the beaches offer great views of the pass and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the west.

Two other fantastic state parks are located just south. Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks were originally constructed as coastal defense locations on the west coast of the island. Their gun emplacements are still there, an invitation to explore on the bluffs overlooking Admiralty Inlet.

But it’s not all about the armaments. Each park offers camping and excellent hiking opportunities along their headlands and beaches.

One of the best day hikes in Washington state starts at the Prairie Overlook Trailhead in

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A blockhouse on the prairie at Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve.

Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve just west of Coupeville, traveling onto a bluff high above the water. At six miles roundtrip, it offers a lesson in history about the Ebey family, the first white settlers on the island, stunning views of Admiralty Inlet and the opportunity to walk the wildest beaches on Whidbey Island.

Other worthy parks for visits include Joseph Whidbey State Park, South Whidbey State Park and Double Bluff Beach, a county park that offers access to a dog-friendly strand near the town of Freeland.

Coupeville and Langley

Tourism is centered in Coupeville and Langley, both cute-as-a-button historic towns that have restaurants and shopping options for visitors. Coupeville, on Penn Cove, is the mussel capital of Washington state — try them at Toby’s Tavern or the Front Street Grill.

Langley on the southern end of the island is just an hour away from Seattle (including the ferry ride), but it feels much farther, with picturesque waterfront shops and restaurants and a small marina. An excellent seafood restaurant, Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar, is a handsome stop for lunch or dinner.

You’ll want to skip Oak Harbor at the north end of the island. The mostly charmless commercial center is also home to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

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Coupeville’s historic waterfront.
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The waterfront in Langley.

Why visit Whidbey?

Whidbey Island is just a short drive and ferry ride (Mukilteo to Clinton) from Seattle, making it equally appealing as a day trip or overnight destination. A lively arts scene, a welcoming hippie vibe and two attractive tourist towns are worthy of your attention.

But the best part of the island is its beauty, best explored from a number of excellent parks.

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The bluff trail at Ebey’s Landing overlooks Admiralty Inlet.

Cool Winter Destination: Warming Up in Desert Hot Springs

She says: Johnny is a pretty good sport about letting me indulge in my hedonistic habits. I didn’t have to try too hard to talk him into making a stop in Desert Hot Springs after a chilly night camping in Joshua Tree National Park.

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The grounds are really pretty at Sam’s. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Hot bed for hot springs

There are more than 30 spas in this teeny town north of Palm Springs, including one started by famous gangster, Al Capone. After talking with an extremely helpful person at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, I zeroed in on what I think is the very best hot spring spa… in an RV park! Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort is the only place in the area that doesn’t add chlorine to its pools, which are heated by three underground wells. (It’s grandfathered in before the health department required the addition of the chemical.) The pools at Sam’s are drained daily, so they’re crystal clear and don’t have that funky smell you can sometimes run into at hot springs.

The vibe is totally Old School, with bare-bones dressing rooms and you’ll need to BYOT (bring your own towels). But that’s OK because it’s pretty cheap. Admission on weekdays is just $14, or deeply discounted if you’re staying in the motel or at the RV park.

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Be brave and take hit the cold plunge! Photo by Leslie Kelly

Timing Was Just Right

On a weekday morning in December, we practically had the whole place to ourselves and the soak did the trick of warming us right up. I love the time-honored tradition of hopping back and forth between the hot pools and the cold plunge. I also really enjoyed the friendly energy of Sam’s. There was a group of about 10 friends sitting in a nearby pool catching up on news and trading gossip. So very Euro!

I’ve been to a whole lot of hot springs over the years and Sam’s is right up there with Nakusp in British Columbia, and Glenwood Springs in Colorado. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the area for a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, or to unwind after an action-packed weekend at Coachella in April.

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Photo via Sam’s Family Spa on Facebook