I guess it should come as no surprise that even after 6+ years of full-time RVing we are still figuring things out. It seemed so simple in the beginning. We would travel around for a few years, fall in love with a new place to live, buy a house, and settle down again. Except that is not what happened. Instead of falling in love with that one amazing place we want to call home, we have fallen in love with travel, adventure, and seeking out new places.
Full-time travel forces you to live deliberately, and as a result, we spend a lot of time talking about what comes next. We are constantly thinking about what the next week, month, or year will bring. But what about beyond that? There is no doubt that we want to live stationary again someday. We dream of a small house with a modest yard and large barn/garage for creative pursuits. We dream of joining a community and fostering personal interests that simply do not fit with constant travel and the tiny 25′ x 8′ metal tube that we call home. Yet despite these desires, the discussion about what comes next always leads back to the fact that we are not yet ready to give up the freedom and excitement of full-time RVing.
These discussions occur at fairly regular intervals — usually during stretches of bad weather or those times when full-time RVing feels more like a hassle than a blessing. The recent time we spent on the Washington coast dealing with a crazy amount of rain and cold weather spurred on a lot of talk about how and when we might do things differently. We looked at real estate listings, contemplated renting somewhere for a season or two, and even spent an afternoon at an RV dealership looking at (gasp!) small motorhomes. In the end, we once again decided the best thing to do was nothing at all. Stay the course, continue exploring, continue seeking adventure, and continue making small changes to ensure that we are on the right path.
One of those small changes is a vow to spend more time in the places that make us the happiest. It sounds easy because…well, I mean we do live in a house with wheels. But life and weather and work stuff all get in the way and sometimes we find ourselves spending time in the places we think we should be instead of the places we really want to be. And where is it that we want to be most? The mountains! After a fantastic spring and early summer hiking around the Sierras in CA and Cascades in OR, the abrupt change in course that took us to the coast (100% a weather-related) left us both struggling to maintain the feeling of exuberance that followed us through our time in the mountains.
So with all that in mind, we left Bay View State Park and turned east to the mountains. The mountains of the North Cascades National Park to be exact. We first visited this underrated and little known national park six years ago. At the time we were on a mission to reach the coast and moving fast. We came in from the east and drove up and over the mountains past jagged peaks and turquoise blue glacier-fed lakes. It was a short stay of only two nights. But we fondly remember our site at the Nehalem Campground tucked in a dense forest dripping with moss, the hike we took up to Cascade Pass, and of course, the amazing waters of Diablo Lake.
This time around we arrived with low batteries after a week of dry camping in the dark forest and headed straight for the nearest private park with full hook-ups. Another of the small changes we are making is to up our comfort level by staying at more campgrounds with hook-ups. While we will always prefer the privacy and scenery found in public parks or boondocking spots, it seems that our priorities are shifting in the direction of comfort and ease of living. Also, by the end of September most RV parks this far north are very, very quiet which makes them more appealing.
That was certainly the case at Glacier Peak Resort which was nearly deserted during our week long stay. The park is an eclectic mix of various style cabins, grassy tent sites, and heavily wooded full hook-up RV sites. As of this year, they are under new ownership and in an ongoing process of updating and renovating. We enjoyed the indoor jacuzzi and cheap laundry room but never made it to the onsite bar or cafe. Our site was tucked into the forest with just the right amount of dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. I think we might have gotten an off-season rate because the price of only $30/night was very reasonable. Sadly, I once again failed to take a single photo of the campground or our site.
The campground was nice and the endless showers a luxury, but our stay was were really all about the mountains. Did you know that North Cascades National Park is home to over 300 glaciers? That is more than anywhere else in the continental U.S. Along with all those glaciers comes some pretty incredible mountains and SO MANY hiking trails. Seriously, I think we could spend an entire summer here and still not hike all the trails. As it is, during our week-long stay most of the trails we hiked were not even inside the park and instead located on adjacent national forest land. Despite the not so great weekend weather combined with decreasing daylight in the afternoon, we still managed to get out and hike three amazing trails throughout the week.
Sauk Mountain Trail
Located about 25 miles south of the park entrance in the tiny town of Rockport, this is a short, steep hike offering mountain views and a really good leg workout. Even though the RV park was only 15 miles from the trailhead it took us 40 minutes to get there because the last 7 miles were up a steep, winding, pothole-filled dirt road. We were soon to discover that this is the norm for many trails in the area. The North Cascades are steep-sided mountains and the main roads around here all travel through river valleys flanked on either side by tall peaks. Many of the trails that go into or above the mountain peaks don’t start from the valley floor, but instead at the top of a long, winding, steep dirt road. I don’t know who I have to thank for this, but it was much appreciated as it allowed us to hike into the mountains within a reasonable distance.
The hike up to the top of Sauk Mountain is only 2.5 miles each way, but it gains 1,200 feet of elevation rather quickly. In fact, as soon as you step onto the trail you are climbing up. The long gentle switchbacks make the steep incline manageable but there is never any douth that you are going up!
Hidden Lake Lookout
In an effort to enjoy the “I can’t believe it’s not raining” mid-week weather, we hiked this trail on a Wednesday after work. It might not have been the best idea to start an 8-mile, 3,300-foot climb at 3:30 in the afternoon during the time of year when it gets dark at 7:30. But we came for the mountains and if that means hiking the last two miles by flashlight, so be it. After another bone-rattling drive up a narrow curvy dirt road to the trailhead, we piled on the layers and set off to find the hidden lake. The first few miles climbed steadily up through the forest.
Eventually, we left the trees behind and started climbing up through a hillside filled with grasses and bushes all dressed in their fall finery.
As native New Englanders, we’ve long lived by the sentiment that nowhere else does fall like we do fall. I don’t know though. While rolling hills covered with all shades of red, yellow and orange are nice and all, we’ve seen some pretty spectacular fall colors in California, Colorado, New Mexico, and even Utah. Which is why it should not have taken us by surprise that these mountains were awash in fall color. I guess we thought since most of the trees here are evergreens, there would be little change with seasons. What we didn’t realize was that the low growing wild blueberries, grasses, and various shrubs that cover the rocky hillsides here would turn colors just as brilliant as the maple and oak trees we know from the east.
This hike was steeper than the last one, and while we set a good pace, it was around 5:30 by the time we ran into a fellow hiker on his way down who told us we still had another 45 minutes to go until we reached the overlook. He sounded a little disapproving of our decision to keep going up, but we consider ourselves responsible adults who take all manner of precautions to stay safe, so on we went. We did stop just shy of the final climb to rest and eat some dinner. Tim was game to turn around, but I was determined to see the lake and after gaining some PB&J fueled energy, he agreed. We made quick work of the last little bit of hiking, scrambling up the boulders to the top of the saddle where we were able to peer over the edge at the hidden lake below. It was already in the shadows of the mountains by the time we arrived, but still quite a sight.
With only an hour left until sunset, we didn’t linger long before turning around to begin the 4-mile descent. The advantage of hiking at this time of day is that we had the immense pleasure of watching the sky turn golden, then pink and purple as it sank below the mountains.
We hiked the last two miles in the dark with the path lit only by flashlight. It was slow going as we had to pay close attention to each step, but really not all that difficult as the trail was well maintained and easy to follow. Not sure we will purposely make hiking in the dark a habit, but as we go into the season of less daylight it’s nice to know that a short after-sunset hike is not such a bad thing.
Thornton Lakes Trail
The last trail we hiked took us up to Thornton Lake. We did this one on our last day in the area which was a Saturday. The forecast was not ideal, with temps in the “wear lots of layers” zone, and a chance of rain in the afternoon, but we couldn’t resist one more trail. Compared to the Hidden Lake trail this one was a piece of cake. It clocked in around 7.5 miles total with less than a 2,000-foot climb. The first few miles were fairly flat along an old logging road.
We found more fall color along the way along with some mountains views. Even though the tops of the peaks were shrouded by clouds we did get a good view of one of the 300 glaciers that call the national park home.
As we crested the ridge, Thornton Lake came into view below.
There was an optional trail down to the lake shore, but that would have meant climbing back up, so we declined. It was a good decision as it started raining on the way back and we ended up hiking the last few miles through a steady drizzle.
I think a week in the mountains was just what we needed to help diminish the doubts we have been feeling about our current path. Realistically, we can’t spend all our time in the mountains (cold nights are coming on fast!) but it was a good reminder about what it is that propels us to live on the road.
Oh My! The North Cascades Hiway (SR20) was opened the year after I returned from Vietnam. Altho I’ve driven it many times and camped along the route, the hiking trails were not well established then. I’ll may have to do those hike vicariously via your post :( but it is a fabulous post showing off much of why the Park and road were established. Just WOW!
It really is an amazing area! There are, of course, some easier hiking trails but they don’t take you as high into the mountains. Happy you could come along for a virtual tour :)
We understand your struggle at times for the need to be more settled. But life on the road is still such a calling. We reached a frustration since we stay in private RV parks almost all the time and grew tired of the lack of privacy and noisy neighbors slamming doors. We enjoy State Parks but I don’t enjoy having to fight for spots and then having to struggle to get level. We also aren’t good with trees…no satellite dish:) So when we made our third visit to Boulder City, NV last Oct, we realized we found our future home. It is all we want and more. The perfect community for us and six huge hiking areas within an hour or less. BUT, I am struggling with the being off the road at times. It’s hard to explain the feeling. We will still spend half the year on the road exploring the places we haven’t gotten to yet. It is nice to know we can return to our house whenever we want and hit the road whenever, too. It was a fabulous eight years on the road fulltime hitting all four corners of the US and everything in between, along with many Canadian Provinces. Good luck with your future travels.
Thanks so much for this post since the Northern Cascades are on the list for next summer. We rode through on a motorcycle trip years ago and still haven’t gotten back. Your photos are so beautiful!!! I can’t wait to see these places. We both love looking out across the mountains. And those lakes are awesome. We carry two headlamps now since we almost got stuck on the trail after dark in Canyonlands. Your hike looks worth the struggle on the last two miles. Happy Trails and Travel!
The campground thing is a real struggle. We really don’t like feeling like we’re living in a fishbowl sandwiched between two RVs at private parks, but the lack of availability at public parks without planning way in advance makes it difficult. This time of year it’s easier, but as soon as we get into the snowbird season in the SW that will change again. I can imagine that living in a house even part-time is a big change for you. Although I have to say, you seem to have found a good location. Both in terms of things you want to do nearby and the proximity to places to visit. I know you will love the Northern Cascades! The hiking trails are challenging, but when you reach the top and look out over what looks like endless layers of mountain peaks it is so worth it!
I read a lot of blogs, and I don’t remember ever seeing anything about the North Cascades, so thank you for this because now I have a new must-see, and it sounds like it might not be the over-populated nightmare so many of the other national parks have become. On a related note, please delete these lovely photos before everyone else sees them and heads there. Thanks!
As for not knowing what the long term plan is, after only two years, we sometimes feel the same way. We thought we’d have found the perfect place for us by now, but we just have no idea. Fortunately, we are still thrilled to be doing this, but it is definitely pretty odd. Your whole life, you always know what’s next: Finish middle school, go to high school; finish high school, go to college; finish college, get a job; get a job, buy a house… Now, all the sudden, the future is just a blank slate and we have no clue where we’re going to physically be a year from now. It’s odd, but also kind of awesome.
Finally, I was just reading another blog and they were talking about being in a private park after spending most of the summer in national parks. I commented that we liked the balance of state parks and private parks. (We almost never boondock. Lame, I know….) We love the space and privacy that we often get in the public campgrounds, but sometimes it’s just nice to plug in the extra space heater, take a nice long shower, and not have to worry about having internet access. Like everything with this life, it’s all about balance.
Anyway, great post. But seriously – take these damned photos down before every idiot with an instagram account shows up. (Us not included, obvs.) :)
North Cascades is definitely not the zoo that some other national parks have become, but I am pretty sure the word is out because the last hike we did there (next blog post) was packed with people. More people than I had seen on any trail in a long time. While it’s no Yosemite, I would recommend getting there soon because who knows what will happen in the next few years.
Your comment on the future as a blank state really resonates with me. Since giving up on the living the expected way, we have opened ourselves up to so many options and frankly, it can be a little overwhelming. On the flip side, we are grateful to have options instead of feeling like we are stuck because of a mortgage, debt, job, etc. As you say, “odd but awesome”. This might become my new motto in life :)
Oh my!!!! Thank you for sharing North Cascades with us. The pictures are breathtaking and the trails look so inviting. I love how you described the changes that happen as we roll along in this life on the road. The flexibility and freedom to be able to evaluate, evolve and grow in new directions has to be one of the best parts of living life deliberately. We have been rolling for four years now and also love those rainy days of contemplation .
Yes to all of this! By choosing a path of freedom and flexibility we have opened ourselves up to a whole new world of possibility. And while that can feel overwhelming and unsure at times, it’s also an amazing way to live.
Your statement about seeing what we should instead of what we want to really grabbed me – especially now as we struggle to stay excited about seeing new states in the heat and humidity. Especially knowing that places we really love are having wonderful weather at the same time. But we’re “so close” to seeing all these must-see places! Your photos are stunning – every one of them. The bright red of the blueberry bushes on the glowing mountainside is especially wonderful. Thanks for making that last push to the top so I could see the hidden lake – I know you did it for me :-)) We may switch places with you and do more boondocking when we get back to the west – maybe.
Ugh, the heat and humidity always leave me wondering why we are where we are. Yet, it’s hard to ignore the desire to visit those “must-see” places when you are uncomfortable and the weather is limiting your activities. That is kind of how we felt on the Olympic Peninsula. It was gorgeous and a place we really wanted to explore, but all that rain meant we spent more time inside trying to stay dry and warm than outside doing the things we really wanted to be doing. Glad we made it the lake for you and yes, those blueberry bushes in the evening sun were amazing! I never knew they were so colorful. I have a feeling we will get back into boondocking this winter in the southwest where there is plentiful open land and sun for our solar panels. Hope to see you out there!
Loved the North Cascades. In fact, after the horrible weather we had in the Canadian Rockies in September I kind of wish we had just stayed in WA and done more exploring there.
After 10 years we are feeling unsettled about the future but don’t seem to have the gumption to make a change, whether that’s a different RV or renting an apartment or buying a house somewhere. I’m sure we will figure it out one of these days. We, too, are finding we are staying in more RV parks, having grown tired of boondocking and trying to find water, a place to dump, good internet, etc. We’ve never been much for reservations and over the years it’s getting harder and harder to get campsites in public parks without advance planning, since more and more people seem to be taking to the road in RVs, which isn’t going to make things easier going forward.
It’s still a great life, just maybe time for a few changes. Good luck figuring it all out!
Funny because after all the cold weather on the WA coast we kind of wish we had stayed inland and spent more time in the mountains. Of course, at the time the whole state was either on fire or blanketed in smoke so that might have not been the right choice. I know what you mean about struggling to find the gumption for change. Every time we talk about switching RVs, we get bogged down in the details of all the hassles that go along with it and in the end, it’s always easier to keep it the same. Boondocking is hard work for sure and those public parks are not going to get any less busy so I can see us keeping up the trend of increasing our private park stays. At least for those times of year when we can’t simply find a place to park in the SW desert (although that gets old fast). Not sure we’ll ever totally figure it out, but I think with a few changes we will keep on trucking for a few more years at least.
Your struggle resonates with many of us as you see from the comments above. Sometimes I feel guilt for revisiting places we just like to be instead of forging ahead and doing more exploring but….hey, we like what we like! I, too, haven’t heard much about the Northern Cascades and now you’ve opened a whole new area to us all. Your pictures are stunning and speak to me. We have a small cottage back east that we love but it is increasingly difficult to make the long drive back across the country to enjoy it’s lovely summers. Who knows what the future will bring, a difficult concept to deal with, but an exciting one nonetheless!
I think after a certain amount of time it’s okay to skip over new adventures in favor of those places you know and love. In the beginning, we are all about seeing everything and going everywhere but over the past few years, we are slowly transitioning in a more narrow focus on those places we like the most. I know exactly what you mean about the drive across the country. All of our family lives in the northeast and we are constantly torn between wanting to spend time visiting them and wanting we be in the west. I like to joke that if we could just get rid of the middle part of the country, going back and forth would be a lot easier!
Hey, at least after 6 years you’ve determined that you love mountains! We *think* we love mountains, then get grumpy about hikes with too much elevation change. And we fully endorse your views on private parks. Sometimes it is just so nice to enjoy endless electricity, cable TV, and nice full-size showers. We are spending November and December in California, and we’ve booked private parks for much of our time on the coast. Between the high prices for state park camping, and our lack of enthusiasm for constantly running our generator in densely forested areas, it just made sense to go private for most of our stays. Here’s hoping they won’t be too crowded! I have to think cold, damp weather will keep most campers away, but we’ve been seeing crowds everywhere, in the most unlikely places.
Yes, we definitely love those mountains! I am not usually a fan of things that are physically difficult, but there’s something about challenging myself with a hard uphill hike that I can’t seem to live without. I think your idea to book private parks for the CA coast is spot on. We spent some time on the coast in Northern CA years ago during November. It was rainy and damp and the state parks offered zero opportunity for solar power. Those CA state parks are also crazy expensive so why not spend the money on a park where you can be comfortable! Have fun!
Better and BETTER places you find! At my age all my hikes are on the keyboard, so I thank you for some marvelous views.
So happy that you could virtually join us!