As a lover of camping and the outdoors, it would seem natural that I’d be attracted to van life — parking wherever you want, waking up with sunrise and the birds in the middle of nowhere, embracing the eternal endless road. What’s not to love?
While I’m personally not jonesing to live out of a vehicle per say, taking your campsite with you while exploring a new National Park definitely sounded intriguing to Nick and I last month. With a bit of free time on our hands, we decided to book a weekend trip to Jackson Hole and explore the Grand Tetons. Having done quite a bit of international travel in the past (Nick especially in his pro snowboarding days) as of late we’ve decided we really have a hankering to see more of our own country. There is SO much to see in the United States: deserts, stunning coastline, tucked away ghost towns, cultural hotspots, and mountains. Ah, mountains. John Muir once said that going to the mountains is going home, and for Nick and I, that rang especially true on our first trip to Grand Teton National Park last month.
For the trip, Nick and I decided to book an RV on RVshare.com — basically the Airbnb of RV rentals. It’s simple really: you type in the zip code of where you want to visit, and a slew of RV options pop up, from huge motor homes to sprinter vans. Price options vary, so no matter your budget, you’re bound to find something that works. Whether you choose to rent an RV in your hometown and take it for a road trip, or you opt to fly somewhere and pick it up upon arrival like a rental car, the process is refreshingly easy. After landing in Jackson Hole, we met with the owner of a 2018 Coachmen Prism 2200 and were given a detailed explanation on the water, generator, electricity and everything else… and then, it was ours for the weekend. Meet Rick The Rig!
The snow in the Grand Tetons has probably melted out quite a bit just in the few weeks since we were there, so if you’re planning a trip this summer, you’ll likely be able to hike further and higher than we were able to. When we arrived, the weather was actually pretty variable, with a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast each day. Thankfully we lucked out with good chunks of gorgeous sunshine in addition to the rain, and the clouds made for some truly dynamic photos, along with the perfect weather for hiking and trail running.
RV Life — The Basics
Nick and I have stayed in motorhomes and RVs before, but this was our first time actually renting and driving one ourselves. Our RV was truly state-of-the-art: three sleeping areas, running water and electricity, a shower and toilet, cooking supplies, a fridge and cooler, a TV (which we didn’t use — seemed counterintuitive to watch TV while out in nature, but still, cool to have) and plenty of other amenities. When parked, the RV extended out which gave us plenty of extra room, and also had a roll out canopy to provide shade. We actually didn’t need to hook up to sewage, electricity or water once as we were careful with our usage and only used the RV for three nights — so, so easy! The RV ran on diesel and got great gas mileage — we only had to fill up once at the end of the trip, and we drove all over the Park every day. There was a generator we ran for about a half hour each evening and morning which allowed us to get enough power for hot water and the minimal electricity we did use.
While this might seem rather obvious, my favorite part about RV life is bringing the comforts of home with you. When traveling, I often have to go back to my hotel or Airbnb to change clothes, shower, use the restroom and freshen up various times throughout the day or before going out at night. Staying in an RV and literally bringing our home with us everywhere allowed us to save so much time! Before hiking, we were able to park right at the trailhead and change in the car before suiting up, and then when we were done with the hike, we could hop right back in the RV and take a shower immediately. This was such a game changer: a mix between camping and normal travel, and while at first I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it, RV life ended up being really fun and convenient.
After picking up the RV, the first thing we did was shop for food (there are plenty of market and health food store options in Jackson Hole — we shopped at Jackson Whole Grocer & Cafe). Important: make sure to turn the fridge and freezer on before you grab your essentials, and verify temps are set correctly. We had ours set too cold the first day and all our food froze overnight. We still went into town for dinner each night as we wanted to experience the local restaurant and brewery scene, but we did prepare coffee, breakfast and lunch in the RV each day. We probably over-bought, but still, it was so nice to have plenty of snack and beer options throughout the trip (we fell in love with local favorite Grand Teton Brewing!).
Visiting Grand Teton National Park
The rules of how and where to camp in National Parks are unique to each Park — do your research ahead of time. Here is a site provided by the National Park Service on camping in the Tetons. Locals hinted that we could probably park just about anywhere and be totally fine, but we opted to get campsites each night. I was a bit nervous as we didn’t book anything ahead of time and totally winged it, but it was easy finding open campsites spur of the moment — we had no trouble at all! My favorite spot we parked overnight was at Jackson Lake, which actually doesn’t offer reservations ahead of time anyway and only operates on a first come, first serve basis. I set my alarm for 4:45 AM so I could catch sunrise, and literally walked five minutes to this spot:
Another thing to think about before visiting a National Park is getting a National Park Pass, which is $80 annually and covers entry fees to all National Parks for your vehicle and everyone in it. Even if you don’t end up visiting multiple parks throughout the year to “get your money’s worth” it’s still a great way to support the National Park Service, so I’d highly considering looking into this before your visit. Otherwise, you can purchase a week pass for $35 for non-commercial vehicles such as RVs. Make sure to stop by the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center in Moose which I really enjoyed checking out!
Most people combine a Grand Tetons road trip with Yellowstone National Park, as both parks run along the same valley. While we were originally planning on doing this, we ended up staying exclusively in the Grand Tetons as we were enjoying the scenery so much. I have been to Yellowstone before but Nick has not, so I’m sure we’ll go sooner rather than later. Aside from driving around and admiring the gorgeous views, here are a few day adventures you’ll want to scope out when visiting Grand Teton National Park:
Jenny Lake is an awesome hike, both for intermediate and advanced hikers. You can make it as long or as short as you choose. We would have gone longer than we did, but due to snowpack we were reduced to a 5 mile hike with around 1,000’ elevation gain, which was perfectly enjoyable and included a gorgeous waterfall and countless marmots spotted along the trail. The views of Jenny Lake were truly remarkable and quintessential Grand Tetons. We even hopped in the lake following our hike which was freezing cold but super refreshing!
Photo Spots: Mormon Row & Schwabacher Landing
While driving through Grand Teton National Park, you’ll be tempted to pull out at every turn-off to capture stunning views of the Tetons alongside the Snake River, especially THE Grand Teton, the highest of them all, weighing in at 13,776′. A few favorite photo spots I discovered were Mormon Row and Schwabacher Landing. Mormon Row, a protected historic site, is a series of old barns and homes settled by Mormons in the 1890’s. The ones left are remarkably well-preserved, and offer a glimpse into life in the valley long before tourism became the primary industry in the area. A really cool spot for history buffs and photographers alike! Schwabacher Landing is a flat trail unfolding from a picturesque turn-off that hugs the Snake River with various little points for photographers to set up tripods and capture a great shot of the mountains. Keep an eye out for birds and beavers!
In general, you will likely see plenty of wildlife when visiting the Grand Tetons. We didn’t see any moose or grizzlies in our visit, but elk, marmots, bison, birds and other wildlife were plentiful. Remember to keep bear spray handy, and be respectful of wildlife and keep your distance if you spot them. You are in their territory!
Your Questions Answered
I asked in my Instagram Stories what questions you had about our RV experience in the Grand Tetons, and here’s what you wanted to know:
How long do you think you need there?
Nick and I only spent three nights total in the Grand Tetons, but I would have liked one more night. Sometimes it takes a night or two to get used to your sleeping accommodations, and that was definitely true sleeping in an RV (although overall it was super comfortable). Additionally, if you want to combine Yellowstone into your trip, you’ll want to allocate about a week total minimum.
What were the temps this time of year?
I brought a beanie and down jacket as I anticipated chilly mornings and I was glad I had both — but I was peeling off layers by 9 AM. I imagine it’s probably even warmer now that we’re approaching the height of summer. If you’re planning on getting up early to shoot sunrise (the light is definitely the best early in the morning) I would plan on dressing warmly, but bring plenty of shorts and tanks for hiking during the day.
How was the flight? I’ve heard Jackson Hole Airport is very scary to fly in/out of.
Honestly, I don’t remember the flights being bad at all! The Jackson Hole Airport is REALLY nice. We had a layover in Salt Lake City both ways, and the short flight from SLC to JAC was easy and enjoyable. Flying in and out of Reno, my home airport, can sometimes be a bit treacherous so I’m probably used to some turbulence (which doesn’t really bother me anyway). I truly love flying and having flown in enough small planes, I’m pretty used to getting jolted around a bit. It’s just air!
What campground did you stay at? Do you need to reserve campsites or can you park the RV anywhere?
As mentioned above, we had no problem finding campsites spur of the moment each day. I honestly do not recall the names of them as we didn’t really book anything — we just pulled up, paid the overnight fee with cash in the campsite box, then left early in the morning before we even saw anyone. The experience was much more stress-free than I was anticipating. Technically you can’t park the RV just anywhere but I was under the impression we probably could have pulled off on any number of remote dirt roads and been completely fine. We wanted to be at campsites to be close to electricity and water in case we needed it.
How much was the RV you rented? It was the perfect size.
It really was the perfect size! While technically it slept 6, it worked out great for the two of us and I’m not sure I would have wanted more people. It was a Class C Motorhome at 25 feet. You can check out our exact RV here and book it yourself if you’re planning a trip to the Grand Tetons — it was $985 total including insurance and fees for the three nights. I think the price was totally worth it, considering it was our hotel and rental car all in one!
Will you travel by RV again?
ABSOLUTELY. While I don’t think I’m ready to commit to van life just yet, RV life is a fantastic way to travel and explore every inch of our National Parks. The only question I have is where to next?!
This content is produced in partnership with RVshare — as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.