Kari T.
Custer, SD
Joined June 2016
We travel the US as Nature Tech Family, inspiring today's modern families to get out and have an adventure!
Ranger Review: Warm, Welcoming Hosts, Countryside Camping at Plenty Star!

As a Ranger on The Dyrt, I sometimes receive compensation for reviews like this one. We received a coupon code for The Dyrt's online product store in exchange for trying out the new online camping reservation system to make a reservation for Plenty Star Ranch.

We reserved a campsite for Plenty Star Ranch through The Dyrt, and it was a breeze to go through the process. We were emailed the reservation information, payment was taken via bank card, and it all made the check-in process very fast upon arrival. We needed to change our camping date and all the contact information was in the email, so we called and owner Isa was more than understanding (it was going to storm, then snow, then get really windy for the night we reserved).

This campground is actually a small, working ranch located right next to a bison ranch, which had just had about four bison calves born in the previous week. They were fun to watch run and play in the field next door. Plenty Star Ranch itself allows you to bring your own horses (for a small fee) and there is plenty of room for them to enjoy. There are cabins, campsites, and RV hook-ups, all conveniently located along the rural Highway 385 north of Pringle, SD.

We planned to pitch a tent for the night, but the weather has been pretty harsh in the Black Hills this spring, and temperatures were going to be well below freezing overnight. We are hearty campers and planned to tough it out, but owner Isa insisted that we take one of their two cabins instead and upgraded our stay for no additional cost. My boys (8 and 12) and I stayed in their 3-person cabin which has a queen bed and a pull-out twin. They provided all the linens (though we used our own pillows by choice) and the cabin was nicely heated with electric heat. We definitely stayed much warmer that night than we would have been in a tent! It was super cozy and quiet in the cabin!

The cabin is located about 50 yards from the public bathroom, which is also heated, well-lit, and attached to their garage. Parking is right next to the cabin, making it a breeze to unpack. There is a picnic table on the porch in front of the cabin, where we could cook and eat, as well as a table inside. In the morning I set up my Primus stove and made coffee, which I sat on the porch and enjoyed while watching whitetail deer and Canada geese stroll past. There is a goose nest right on the island in their pond, and I am sure it is neat to watch the goslings grow all summer!

Tent camping sites are located in one of their former pastures, and we saw plenty of level, gravel RV sites with hook-ups around the main living area. There are two shower stalls next to the cabins that are ready for your solar shower bag to be attached (we thought that would be really fun), and in the off-season they allow guests to use their shower inside the main house. We didn't need to take them up on that since we were only staying one night, but they also invited us up in the morning for coffee and cocoa (usually out on the porch, but it was about 35 degrees that next morning- brr!).

Isa and Jack (the owners) are very friendly, and were a lot of fun to chat with, I would definitely return to Plenty Star Ranch for another getaway evening or weekend in the future. They currently have plans to move their smaller 2-person cabin up into the canyon behind the main house and put it completely off-grid. It would be a perfect getaway for a couple, and what a gorgeous setting back in the hills!

If you are looking for a quieter place to camp in the Black Hills, you should definitely consider Plenty Star Ranch, as it is only about 8 minutes south of Custer, but greatly removes you from the hustle and bustle of the tourist towns. It is just minutes from Wind Cave National Park as well, which is a must-do when you are in the area!

One more thing to note: the only cell service in the immediate area of the ranch is AT&T. We knew that going into the weekend, so planned on not having service (we have Verizon), which for us is no big deal - after all, we were camping! :)

Ranger Review: Primus Essential Stove Set at Grand Junction KOA

Campground Review:

At first arrival, we were intimidated by the fact that the Grand Junction KOA sits adjoining the Mesa County Fairgrounds. But aside from the occasional whiff of horse stalls and a short interlude with music over a loudspeaker, you would not even know it was there, at least on a weekday.

We spent two nights at this KOA in two similar, but unique, capacities. The first night we rented a "rental RV", which sits on a foundation at the campground. This was awesome and we highly recommend reserving the rental RV's if you plan to stay here. There were two bedrooms - a queen and a twin bunk - and a futon in the living room. There was a TV in both the living room and bedroom (much to our kids' delight), and a full kitchen and dinette. It was very clean and comfortable even though it is an older RV unit. Plenty of storage, and outdoor gas grill, a porch, and A/C rounded off our first night's stay, along with some pizza delivery from Dominos!

The second night we stayed in a 2-bedroom Kamping Kabin. We have always stayed in the single room Kabins before, so it was nice to have more space and more privacy, especially since we had our nephew along with us this time. As usual, the cabin was clean and updated. This one also had one TV in the main room with a queen bed, then a second bedroom with two bunk sets. A/C was welcome because it was HOT during our stay. The 2-bedroom Kabin has a huge patio, fenced in lawn area, gas grill, and outdoor table and chairs. It is policy for no cooking inside these cabins, so the gas grill was a special treat.

This KOA is very close to two National Park Sites, Colorado National Monument, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. These have been on our Bucket List for a few years, so it was nice to finally have the chance to spend time in this area. After spending the day exploring, we spent the evenings splashing in the nice pool on site. As with most KOA's, this one also rents the pedal carts and has a game room area, outdoor movie theater with nightly movies, mini-golf, and a playground. Take note that the playground is not well-situated and has a "scary steep slide" according to our kids. Plenty to do right on site for those seeking a calmer day or night at the campground.

Product Review:

For a video summary of the Essential Stove Set, please see our complete YouTube video: https://youtu.be/hJx9FhRn4WQ

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, we get products to test from time to time, so on this trip we took along with us the Primus (www.primus.us) Essential Stove Set in order to have a quick way to make dinner after a long day exploring National Parks. It did not disappoint! We went from hungry family to fully fed in under 30 minutes. Dad and the boys manned the gas grill for hot dogs, and I whipped up our favorite go-to camp meal: Mac-n-cheese! Since we had traveled from the Black Hills all the way to Western Colorado, we were happy to receive such a lightweight, small product to test on the trip. At less than two pounds and under 9" wide and 5" tall, this stove slid right in the back of the car between the cooler and the suitcases!

Lighting the stove was quick and easy, like it had already been lit a hundred times. No lag from air in the lines, and hot immediately upon lighting. I had the water boiling before the boys got one hot dog on the grill! All-in-all, to boil the water, and then the pasta, took about 15 minutes. We like our pasta Al Dente, so for some it may be more like 20 minutes, especially at higher elevations, but I still beat the hot dog crew and everyone was impressed. As for clean-up, it was easy. I simply warmed some more water in the pot, and washed with dish soap and a sponge. This stove is going to be with us on all of our future trips!

A few of the nice perks of the Essential Stove Set:

-Comes with a lid/frying pan/serving plate that is versatile.

-Lightweight (37 oz) and small enough to fit in a backpack for longer trips.

-Uses gas available from most sporting goods and outdoor retailers (including Wal-Mart).

-Instant heat - no waiting for a burner to warm up. Also instant off- if the kids come running through, you can flip it off and the heat stops (just remember the pots will be hot).

Ranger Review: Renogy Solar Backpack at Stockade Lake North Campground

Campground Review:

The Stockade Lake North Campground is located just inside the west entrance to Custer State Park in Custer, South Dakota. This prime camping location is 15 minutes from Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, and just minutes from historic Custer, the Gordon Stockade, and a scenic jaunt to the State Park Wildlife Loop.

The sites at this campground are reservation-only, even on same-day arrival. In order to secure a campground, campers need to call the reservation number. However, once the reservation is made, campers can proceed to their campsite without having to worry about checking in with on-site staff, and no hassle with hanging a tag on the campsite post.

The campground is open for camping from the beginning of May to late September, weather permitting. There are 42 campsites available, many with electricity and several pull-through sites, but no full hook-ups. There are both vault and flush toilets, a shower house, and drinking water available. There is also a nice little playground in the center of the campground and an adjoining amphitheater where they may show informational films in the summer. Campsites here are well-spread among the trees, offering relative privacy and quiet space, with enough room to hang a hammock or two!

The campground is just a quick walk up from Stockade Lake, where you can fish, swim, put your boat in, view wildlife, and enjoy the small beach and playground. Across the small highway is Bismark Lake, in Black Hills National Forest, which is stocked for fishing, and provided us with a delicious fried trout meal our second night! There is also a pair of osprey that are seen frequently between the two lakes, and are a joy to watch as they fish and soar over the lakes.

We stayed on opening weekend in our small RV with electric on site 32E, and the campground was relatively empty. Our site was a bit unlevel, but very scenic and shady. Only one other site was close to ours, and luckily, no one was in it over that weekend. Sites are all gravel, and each one has an aluminum picnic table and fire ring. Most of the sites appear wide enough to accommodate slide-outs on RV units. Although there are long sites available, we did watch two large rigs struggle to back in their vehicles due to the narrow, curved campground roads. When viewing the reservation map, those sites that appear distanced from others truly are - try to reserve those if you can. Another pro tip: If you need to buy firewood, there is a Lutheran church just west of the state park entrance that offers wood for a donation, and supports their youth programs.

SInce it was the beginning of the camping season, the vault toilets were exceptionally clean and smelled great. We did not use the showers, but they looked to be in great shape.The drinking water was easy to find, and there is even a place to fill the RV tank before heading to your site.

For a video summary of our campground and the backpack, see our YouTube video: https://youtu.be/pElJjB1t4XA.

Product Review:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, we get products to test from time to time, and since we knew we would be out all day fishing and hiking, we took along the Renogy Solar Backpack (https://www.renogy.com/renogy-solar-backpack). We wanted to be able to keep our electronic devices such as our cameras and phones charged throughout our weekend adventures! This backpack is exciting! It sports a 5.6-watt solar panel and you can connect any usb device with its 5V charging port (maximum 1.2A output).

The weather all weekend was partly cloudy with isolated showers, and yet the backpack was able to charge a battery bank for our electronics 3/4 of the way in about three hours. We believe that if the sun had been out constant all afternoon, we would have easily charged bank one full and a second bank at least half way.

Other highlights of this backpack include the nicely padded strap-side that rests against your back, a slot on the left strap for sunglasses, an expandable water bottle (or other small gear) pocket, and plenty of space inside for jackets and other layers that were shed throughout the day as it got warmer. Thanks to a plethora of inside and outside pockets, we carried water bottles, battery banks, two phones, a tablet, headphones, snacks, a sweatshirt, and a jacket all at the same time with ease and comfort. A smaller laptop would also fit nicely inside the main compartment.

This backpack can be used without the solar panels exposed, with a quick zipper flip-around, and it looks great! IAt only 2.2 lbs, it also carries the inside pack weight very comfortably for a range of sizes, from a 6’ 4” father to 5-foot, 11-year-old son. Both mentioned that they felt the backpack was a nice way to carry their gear for a day of hiking and fishing.

Ranger Review: LedLenser MH10 Headlamp at Sheridan/Big Horn Mtns KOA

Campground Review: The Sheridan/Big Horn Mountains KOA in Sheridan, Wyoming, is a clean, well-kept establishment. Whether you are an RVer or a tent camper, there is plenty of space for you to enjoy this campground. We stayed on a rainy/snowy weekend in September in our 17-foot RV and found that even though we had neighbors, there was plenty of room to move, and we heard little outside noise at night.

Just off the highway, this campground is conveniently located close to both historic downtown Sheridan and the remote Bighorn Mountains. There are about 60 RV sites, 25 tent sites, and 10 cabins. Each tent site has its own covered picnic shelter, which we thought looked unique. We had to eat inside our RV due to the rain all weekend, and were a bit envious of the tent campers being able to eat outside - one of our favorite camping activities - without getting wet! The campground sits along the Big Goose Creek, where campers can fish (mostly for carp).

There is an outdoor swimming pool and spa, which we missed out on by two days when the weather decided to dip below freezing, but it was a nice size and located next to the main building, along with showers, laundry, and a small store. The host is very nice and knowledgeable about the area’s activities. There is also a small, somewhat dated, playground at the entrance to the campground, and a cute mini-golf course near the office. Unfortunately, due to the weather over our stay, we did not get to test out either one! For those that like to stay online while camping, the Wi-Fi was tested decent for web browsing, but leave the YouTube devices at home.

Product Review: The LedLenser MH10 Headlamp was a perfect choice to bring along for our camping trip to the Sheridan/Big Horn Mountains KOA. Since it rained/snowed for our entire weekend in Wyoming, this 600-lumen headlamp was able to cut the drear and allow us to walk safely around the whole campground at night. Even with a wool winter hat on, this headlamp fit lightly and securely on my head.

The MH10 is only 5.6 oz in weight and yet has the capacity to put out 600 lumens of LED glory, which believe me, thanks to my son aiming it at me, could definitely blind someone! At the high setting, the beam can reach to 150 meters (almost 500 feet!), and spreads nicely to the sides, or can be focused with a twist of the lens. Even the medium setting at 250 lumens will give you up to 100 meters (about a football field) of glow power. There are three flashing settings that can be found by holding down the power button for increasing length of time, from one flash to three, and then removed again in the same manner. Great choice for emergency signalling.

The headlamp comes with two color lenses that can be placed in the installment ring and snapped to the front of the beam. It seems to fit securely, and they snap in and out with ease. Red LED is a great way to keep your night vision intact if you need to read a map or spot an animal making noise around you, and it will allow you to see again in the dark even after turning off the headlamp. It is also great at a campground like the KOA because it will not shine into your neighbors’ tents or RV’s and wake them up! We had to do some research on the green lens, and it turns out that green will not scare wildlife, including fish, and in fact could attract them. We also read claims that a green LED is useful for trailing a wounded animal, as the blood trail may be easier to spot. Regardless of the real reason, we thought it was fun to run around seeing everything in a green tint!

The MH10 is USB rechargeable and comes with everything you need to get using it right out of the box. At the high setting, this headlamp will last up to 10 hours on one charge. We used ours for two nights, about 1-2 hrs a night, and never charged it out of the box. It lasted the entire time and even back at home another hour or two over the next week. At the lowest, 10-lumen setting, this powerhouse can last for 120 hours. That’s five DAYS of constant use!

The head strap is completely adjustable. My husband, my 10-year-old, and I were all able to make use of this product with an easy transition between us. The set comes with a nice carrying sleeve for the cords, battery, instructions, and lenses, which can be attached to your belt or a backpack strap. As with any tool, be sure to read the enclosed warnings - 600 lumens is NOT an LED strength to shine in the face of others!

First to Review
Definitely Wide Open Spaces...

We actually would rate this KOA campground as 3.5 stars, because there are some redeeming qualities, but overall it is a better place to just pass through for a night than to plan a long-term stay.

The location is very nice, being just north of Casper, Wyoming, and easy to get off and on the interstate. Surprisingly, this campground was rather quiet despite being near the highway. In addition, there are two bar and grill style restaurants that you can walk to within a couple minutes.

This campground has level sites, but everything is gravel outside of the playground. There are two areas that offer shade trees, mostly for the big rigs, but most sites are out in the sun and close together. We had to share our water and sewer area with the camper next to us. Luckily, he had an adapter for the intake hose, because his outlet was stripped and he could not hook up otherwise. I did not see any tent campers at the time of our stay, but there is a small area available that was grassy.

The pros of this campground include an INDOOR pool, which was heated and felt great. They have a mini-golf area that is due for renovation later this summer, so it is currently offered at no charge. It was fun enough for our 10- and 6-year-olds. The playground is small but nice, and the bathrooms are well-kept. We did not use the showers.

Another pro was the host, Susan. She was very knowledgeable about the area, sociable, and willing to work with anyone who had issues. I found her fun to talk with and she even gave our kiddos some free KOA cups!

Overall, if you need a place to stop for the night, this will suffice. If you want to park comfortably for a couple of days or more, you may want to look elsewhere.

Loud, busy, and packed-in at Yellowstone!

Bridge Bay is a campground located in the southeast part of Yellowstone National Park. The location is fantastic for those wanting to access Yellowstone Lake or all of the thermal features in the southern half of the park. The campground is one of the largest, boasting 432 sites in 8 loops. For the best views of Yellowstone Lake, request the E, F, or G Loop! Avoid Loops A and B, as there is very little shade - basically camping in an open field.

We pulled at 17' RV trailer with our Durango, and we barely fit into the back-in site they assigned to us. The sites themselves are pretty nice and level, but extremely close together, even in the more wooded loops (we were in Loop H). Bear boxes are shared between sites. When we arrived, our neighbors in a tent had taken over the entire bear box. We didn't completely mind, as we had an RV, but we have a very large cooler that would have been nice to store instead of transferring back and forth between camper and car twice a day.

Check-in was very slow with long lines. We arrived around 3 pm and had to wait over twenty minutes in line to check in for our reserved site. This is one campground in Yellowstone that you can reserve in advance (and you should do so by the end of March for that summer season). Flush toilets and a dump station are a bonus for this campground. Generators are allowed as well, from 8 am to 8 pm. We found that campers in this campground tended to stay up and out of their tents well past the 10 pm quiet hours began, and most were still sleeping when we got up to go spot wildlife at 6 or 7 am.

All campsites have a fire pit with a cooking grate and a picnic table. We did see and hear some wildlife from our site, mostly birds, including a grouse that walked right through our site (see video). Deer, elk, and bison are also around.

Although the accommodations were ample, the crowding, noise, and slow check-in process (compared to three other campgrounds in Yellowstone) brought down our overall rating.

Wildlife, Creek, and Solitude in Yellowstone

Pebble Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park is one of the most private options for camping in the park. The campground is smaller than most of the others, only about 30 sites, and not built for big RV rigs. This keeps out a lot of traffic, in addition to being a first-come-first-served campground. In order to secure a site at this campground, which is open from mid-May to mid-September, you need to arrive early, sometimes by 6:30 AM. The day we pulled in for a site, we were the first ones to arrive at 6:30 AM and the campground was full b 8:00 AM.

The sites are nestled among pine trees, most are level, and all have tent pads. Our site was NOT level, but with our small RV (17') trailer, we were able to find a spot that allowed us to level the rig. There are fire rings and picnic tables at all sites, as well as bear boxes for food storage (ours had two). There is no running water at this site (aside from a hand pump), or electricity, and generators are NOT allowed (to our relief!). There are a few outhouses that are well-maintained and clean. There is no dump station here, and the closest is quite a drive, so RV's need to be prepared to haul out black water. Propane can be filled in Cooke City, about a 15-minute drive to the east, out of the park.

Evenings get quite cold, as this campground sits just under 7000 feet in elevation, so plan your sleeping arrangements accordingly. In mid-June we woke one morning to frost, and most nights bottomed out in the 30's.

On our first evening at the site, a bull moose wandered through the field next to our campsite over the course of an hour or two. We were also able to use binoculars and a camera zoom lens to spot mountain goats on nearby Mount Norris, across the road from the campground (see photo). Bears and wolves are both visitors to this area, as well as coyotes and bison. Lamar Valley is just a couple of minutes away to the west. Wildlife lovers will find this campground to be in a fantastic location!

The camp hosts have been working in Yellowstone campgrounds for almost 20 years, and were extremely helpful and cordial. They are firm with following rules, so don't expect to pull over any tricks on these two. We enjoyed all of the campers we met, including some from Georgia, New Zealand, and Cody, Wyoming.

Conveniently Located for More Fun

Badlands Interior Campground is located one mile south of Badlands National Park, and includes plenty of clean, level RV and tent sites, as well as teepees, camper cabins, and a motel. The owners were a delight to talk to, which we did every morning, and very knowledgeable about the area.

The RV sites include both electric and full hook-up, which is a step above the sites available inside the national park. There are community bathrooms that are small and feel a bit older, and only two showers are located in each. On a busy summer day, those could feel quite crowded. The playground is small and dated, but the unique merry-go-round (standing version) captivated our sons for a few hours.

The sites are not very shaded, especially the tent sites. This was not a concern for us since we visited in early spring, but a mid-summer day in the 100’s might be a bit unbearable. But in lieu of the trees, visitors get to see awesome views of the Badlands from almost every site! There are picnic tables at every campsite, some have sun overhangs, which would be outstanding to have in the summer. Each site also boasts an above-ground campfire ring, which is small, but a welcome feature as the campgrounds inside the park do not allow open fires (fire dangers here stay high most of the year).

The owners keep the facility in great shape, keeping the grass short to avoid encounters with rattle snakes, and the garbage disposal areas free from larger critters. When we arrived the day before their official 2017 opening, the grounds were in great shape and they appeared ready to roll and welcome travelers at any time.

Location and Staff are Redeeming Qualities Here

We stayed at this campground in late fall. There are very few campgrounds available in this area after the summer ends, so selection was limited. Reservations are made via phone or submitted online form. Although the staff was very attentive, from the confirmation phone call to the registration, we were a bit put off that the sites were very open and close together. In addition, when the employee called to ask about what we needed for our reservation, she implied full hook up, including cable in our mind. When we arrived we discovered there were very few sites that had cable available, and so our sons were disappointed that they would not be spoiled for the weekend (they don't get cable TV at home!). This RV park appears to be owned by the city of Gering, NE.

The view of Scotts Bluff National Monument from the campground is beautiful, especially in the evening. I enjoyed watching the sun go down and hit the bluffs with that perfect golden glow (so much better than cable TV, right?), but was also put off that there were no fire rings, so we could not have a campfire at our site either. They do have raised grills for charcoal (or maybe small wood) and each site has a picnic table.

On the plus side, there is a playground attached to the property that has updated equipment that our sons enjoyed.

Year-Round Campground in Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs campground is the only (year-round) campground open in Yellowstone from late fall to spring. This campground has about 85 sites, and half of those are open in the winter. Summer time makes this campground feel quite crowded, and allows for RVs up to 75 feet, but in winter there is a tight turn that makes it only open to RVs under 30 feet. The campground is set in tiers on a hillside, so if you get a site near the top, you have an excellent view of the surrounding valley and Electric Peak.

This campground has drinking water available but no dump station. We usually haul to Billings and dump at Cabela's there, or stop at Canyon campground if heading out the East Entrance. In the off-season this campground is a very nice stay - quiet even though it is close to the road, and not usually full until spring. The town of Gardiner, MT, is only a few miles north, which offers restaurants and gas (although there is also both available in Mammoth Hot Springs). Just up the hill above the campground is the town of M. H. Springs, which is a nice place to spend time. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to stop in the awesome Visitor Center and museum. Lots of hands-on stuff to explore. Just up from the Visitor Center are the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, a geological feature sure to knock your socks off in any season.

For the more adventurous souls like us, you can access the Boiling River Trail to the north of the campground and jump in the river, even in the middle of winter. The Boiling River flows into the Gardner River, creating the perfect all-season hot tub. In addition to thermal features, there are tons of wildlife viewing opportunities right from the campground, especially elk, bison, and bighorn sheep.

Although not our favorite campground in the park, MHS Campground, being open all year, is an ample location to stay on your Yellowstone vacation.

Small & Cozy but close to Lamar Valley

We stayed for three nights at Tower Fall Campground in June 2016. This campground is first-come-first-serve and fills remarkably fast. If you don't arrive by 6:30am to get a site, you may as well look elsewhere. As the name states, this campground is located near Tower Falls, which is just south of the Tower Junction. This campground is very, very small and we would not recommend it to anyone with an RV over 25 feet. Ours is a 17-foot trailer, and we had to change sites twice just to find one level and long enough to fit. The fellow campers at this campground were very helpful in rearranging for us to find a site that worked. In general, the campground was quiet even though it is compact.

That said, our stay was still very nice, and it scores high for the location. There is a general store just below the campground. As with all Yellowstone campgrounds, wildlife WILL wander through so be prepared with bear spray and stay aware of bison and elk. We had a bison wander through one evening during dinner, and we were forced to head in to our camper for about 60 minutes to let him pass by. It was fun to watch through the window!

Price for this campground is much less expensive than the reservable ones, but if you need a campground in summer time and have no reservation, we recommend this one for short stays.

Great Stay, Great Location, Reservable!

When planning a summer trip to Yellowstone National Park, camping reservations are extremely helpful and less stressful than trying to jump on a first-come-first-serve campsite. We usually stay just outside the park in a National Forest campground, but some of these sites don't open until mid-June or later, so on our last trip at the end of May we started in Canyon campground with a reservation for one night. This allowed us to get our bearings and claim a non-reservable site the next morning (barely, by the way!).

We really enjoyed staying in Canyon. The sites are very private and scattered along several loops in the woods. We had plenty of space to relax and play, but do be aware that bears WILL wander through (as well as elk, bison, and other ungulates). With the rolling, forested hills around our site, we made sure our kids were always in view! In late May, the snow is still in patches on the ground, and in fact it snowed a little bit overnight the night we stayed there.

We liked how the campfire area and picnic table were a bit down from our campsite, but if you have accessibility issues, you may want to choose your site carefully. Our little guy with vision issues (5) tripped over roots and the "makeshift" steps they installed on the hillside a few times, but he was in general a good sport about it.

The welcome was a good experience. Although they were busy when we arrived, the rangers were very thorough in explaining the rules and making visitors bear-aware - every camper gets the talk! We were checked in within a matter of a few minutes. In addition, campers get to use nice showers and they have a dump station (for RV's), as well as containers for recycle and garbage. You can purchase firewood, which we did, and it was reasonably dry.

Of course staying in the park on a reserved site will cost you a little more money, but having a designated spot on your arrival day makes the few dollars more well worth the peace of mind! We would recommend Canyon to anyone who heads to Yellowstone in the summer time.

Great Location, But All Cement!

We stayed at this campground during our #9Parks12Days road trip, and this was the fourth campground of ten on our trip. We did not have advanced reservations and arrived around 4:00 PM to find many open sites (this was early June). The sites are private, separated by cement brick walls, with a level gravel pad for the RV. However, there was a four-inch cement "lip" that stepped up to a huge, all-stone picnic table that could be a HUGE issue for accessibility. We have a special needs preschooler who cannot see well, including differences on the ground that are the same color. Luckily, when he did trip and headed straight for the huge, cement picnic table, I was between him and it, and he only ended up with a skinned knee and not a head injury.

The pool was nice and clean, we swam well into the evening hours after arriving on a very hot day. The playground was quite… scary. The equipment looks to be from the 1970's and was mostly climbing bars, swings, and a merry-go-round. Only the swings were appropriate for our little guy, although our 9-year-old had a lot of fun climbing around. I noticed the playground is no longer mentioned or shown on their website, so maybe the equipment has been pulled out.

The rec room is great - it was our saving grace on this stay along with the pool. Plenty for the family to do, and the welcome center is very nicely kept. In the morning we filled up our coffee mugs with great brew and chatted with the managers, who were very friendly and helpful.

For a quick overnight, we would stay here again, because it is only 15 minutes away from White Sands National Monument, and several other attractions are only a day trip away. Would like to see more shade, more grass or other softer ground cover in the future (i.e. mulch) and for it to be more accessibility-friendly.

First to Review
Friendly, Beautiful KOA in Alamosa

The Alamosa KOA was chosen by our family because we like to have the option for swimming at the end of a hard day of play in the National Parks. We made our reservation for our site in March, a mere three months before our mid-week, June 7 arrival.

This KOA has a nice sized heated, outdoor pool with reasonable hours, closing around 8:00 PM. The pool temperature was warm enough for even the adults to slip right into it. There is also a fantastic playground with updated equipment, including an elevated tunnel system that ends with safety slides. When you have a small child who loves to play, especially a special needs child, this is a big deal! Other amenities include showers and laundry facilities (we did not use either but they looked nice). Wi-Fi is advertised, and the signal is available, but was not even fast or reliable enough to load photos from Instagram or Twitter. Streaming would be out of the question, but it would probably suffice for checking email.

One of the more unique benefits offered at this KOA include on-site Hunt Brothers Pizza and breadsticks. Not only can you get hot, fresh pizza here, made to order, but they will deliver it to your site! In addition, they deliver wood and ice. This site also offers a weekend pancake breakfast (seasonal).

The RV sites were leveled very well, and they have both 30-amp and 50-amp sites available. There are small shade trees scattered throughout the camping area, but they are still quite young and small. I read some previous reviews that felt the sites were too close together. Although there was little privacy, we have certainly had less room between sites than we had in Alamosa. Perhaps with slide-outs it might be more compact, but our little Starcraft fit in just fine. In addition to RV sites, there are tent sites and camping cabins available.

Our take-away from Alamosa KOA: The view from the campsite and the kindness and helpfulness of the hosts, the Martin family, make this a return-trip campground for sure! Any questions for us about this site? Leave them in the comments below!

This KOA is the Best in the West

The Cortex/Mesa Verde KOA in Cortez, Colorado, was the best campground we stayed at (out of 10) on our #9parks12days road trip in June 2016. Not only was the site itself updated, it was the FIRST KOA we stayed at that had usable Wi-Fi - as in video streaming capabilities! When traveling with kids, this is such a HUGE amenity.

This campground has an updated playground, heated (seasonal) swimming pool, a 1-mile walking trail, dog park, and even tepees in addition to cabins for overnight camping. Not to mention, the campground is located a mere 15 minutes from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. Other highlights: newer laundry facilities, of which we made use, and awesome mountain and mesa views right from your site.

Don't expect a ton of privacy - sites are very close together. The family next to ours had an outdoor living room set up that pretty much took the entire space between our RVs. However, the grounds were well-kept, and there was plenty of space to remove yourself from other people throughout the facility.

Holbrook's Family-Friendly Campground

The KOA in Holbrook, AZ, is conveniently located just west of Petrified Forest National Park. A quick 10-minute drive to the SW entrance will reward you with a quiet, easy entrance to the park. From there, you can drive through the park and end up at the main visitor center on the northern end, near the Painted Desert.

This campground has a nice, yet older, playground, a swimming pool (open seasonally), and offers full hookups (including cable for an extra fee), tent sites, and cabins. The "kamping kitchen" is open for cowboy cookouts, including dinner and breakfast (at extra charge), and we sampled their all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, which was the best one our 5-year-old ate on our entire trip! Right near the kitchen is a sampling of petrified wood to get you in the spirit of exploration. The owners are very friendly, and even in June this campground felt uncrowded. Sites are a bit close together, but with our small 17-foot trailer, we had plenty of room, a picnic table, and fire ring. The owners were also helpful about giving directions and suggestions about all the attractions in the area. There is also a laundry room on site.

Quietest Campground in the Park

Center Lake Campground is our favorite campground in Custer State Park. Because the lake's location is further from the main roads through the park, the area has less visitors and less campers than several other campgrounds here. The lake has a nice beach for the family, as well as a boat launch area. The campground sites are well-shaded and spaced out well, and can accommodate both tents and RV's. The camping is primitive, with vault toilets and water spigots throughout, but there is also a shower house available near the beach. Sites are available both walk-in and by reservation, even on the same day. This campground is one of our local favorites for camping with our family. Remember that your total camping fees will also need to include a state park pass for your vehicle.

Pretty, But Not Off-Season-Friendly

We stayed at the Red Trail Campground in Medora, North Dakota, the last weekend in April 2016. This private campground is quite large for such a small town, but during the off-season there are only about 15 sites available. The sites are primitive through electric, water, and sewer hookups. Cable was available for $5 more. We did not pay for it. Somehow, the Wi-Fi is not available in the off-season, even though the signal is there… in other words, even though it is advertised for this campground, they will not give you the password until May 15. That was a bit frustrating for us as we planned to be able to post photos and blog from the campground during the evening. The site itself was small. We have a 17' travel trailer that just fit, with a picnic table next to it. Our site did not have a grill at it, but there were several empty sites that had portable charcoal grills available so we were allowed to move one to our location. There is a shower house, but it is another amenity that is closed during the off-season, so we cannot give our opinion on that service. We never saw an adult owner during our stay. The oldest son was in charge of our check in, guiding us to the site, explaining that there was no Wi-Fi in April, and taking our money, which was cash and check ONLY, NO CREDIT CARDS. In addition, although it is a Good Sam park, we we not able to get a discount for membership because it was "off-season prices". Although the young man was friendly and helpful, we would have felt more secure in our stay speaking with someone over 18 on the premises. The location to Theodore Roosevelt National Park was the main reason for our stay, and for this we were not disappointed. The campground is located near the BNSF railroad tracks, so expect to hear an occasional train pass by (including horn blares). In general, the campground is located away from the main roads, so it was quite quiet besides the trains, and we had a very nice bluff view behind us at our site.

Quiet with Great Location!

We stayed at the Elk Mountain Campground in Wind Cave National Park in January 2016. It was definitely the LOW season, as roads were a bit icy and we were the only campers all weekend. During the off-season, part of this campground is closed off, but there still remains an ample amount of campsites available, including pull-throughs. There is a pit toilet building in the center of the campground. Flush toilets and water are available during the busy season. The campsites are situated in a small valley, placing it away from noise and traffic, aside from bison and other animals that might wander through. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring, and firewood is available for purchase at the campground entrance. Best of all, this campground is located very close to the Visitor Center, even up for a hike on a nice day (not in January!). Speaking of hiking, one of Wind Cave's Nature Trails is located off the back loop here, the Elk Mountain Nature Trail. There is also a small, semi-dry creek that wanders along the northern edge of the campground. Please note via NPS.gov: the Elk Mountain Campground will be closed from noon, August 5, 2016 until the morning of August 7, 2016.

View and Location Make this a Gem

We stayed at the Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park the first weekend in March 2016. The weather was unseasonably warm, and the tourists were few. Most of this campground is closed during the "off-season", so we pulled our RV into a pull-through (really, a shoulder) site in the group camp area. During our stay there was only one other person camping, and he camped with a tent. There are pit toilets there, and this time of year they were fairly clean and well-maintained. The sites in the group area are spread apart well. Each area has a covered picnic table. There are no fire pits or grills here, as the fire danger remains high most of the year. Plan to bring a gas or charcoal grill of your own for cooking if you don't use an RV. On occasion we were able to pick up the Wi-Fi from the Cedar Pass Lodge, which is located nearby, but don't plan on campsite internet. This is a rustic campground. That said, water is available at the entrance, as well as a dump station, In addition, electric hook-ups and flush toilets are available in the summer season. This is one of only two campgrounds in this national park. and the other, Sage Creek Campground, is on the far west end of the park, remote, and very rustic (and also FREE). This campground is located within walking distance of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Reservations open in March for the summer season, and we recommend making them, as this campground is almost always full in season. Or, visit like we did, in the off-season, which can be much more temperate for weather.