A couple of entries ago we visited Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. In this installment, we will look at many more points of interest an adventurous RVer will want to visit while in the vicinity of the Medicine Wheel.
First off are two nearby waterfalls of considerable size. The first you will encounter is Porcupine Falls. The falls features a 200-foot thundering vertical drop into a pool at the base. The falls can only be viewed from the base requiring a short but relatively steep hike.
The small opening in the cliff-face, about a third of the way up to the right of the falls, is the remnant of a tunnel that used to power a mining operation.
Once you have explored Porcupine Falls, continue north down the road to Bucking Mule Falls.
Many consider Bucking Mule Falls the most impressive waterfall in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. The listed height of the falls varies depending on the source—some claim 300 feet, others say it’s up to a 600-foot drop.
Realistically, the falls are comparable in height to Porcupine Falls. The hike to the falls viewpoint is considerably longer than Porcupine Falls, but not as steep as the falls can be viewed from the top rather than the base.
While the Bighorn Mountains were never a major source of precious metals, some mining did take place in the Bighorns providing some historic places to explore.
Mixed among the beautiful places to boondock in the mountains you will find the remains of Bald Mountain City, the Fortunatus Mill, and a gold sluicing operation.
Here is a short description of the mining activity that occurred:
“Discoveries of fine-grained gold north of Bald Mountain were made in 1890. ‘Gold Fever’ brought many prospectors to the area over the next 10 years. In 1892, the Fortunatus Mining and Milling Company purchased a group of claims on the head of the Little Big Horn River and Porcupine Creek.
The excitement led to the establishment of Bald Mountain City, the most extensive attempt at a settlement in the Big Horn Mountains. Near Bald Mountain City are the remains of the old Fortunatus Mill. The gold rush ended by 1900 because yields were not enough to pay for the effort of panning.”
In addition to the waterfall and historical stops, be sure to keep a lookout for wildlife as you explore, as the area is a mecca for moose, deer, and other animals.
How to get there
The trailhead for Porcupine Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 51.465 W107° 54.770 — Click here for trail details.
The trailhead for Bucking Mule Falls is just off Forest Service Road 14 at N44° 53.049 W107° 54.345 — Click here for trail details.
A sign marking the remains of the Fortunatus Mill can be found along Forest Service Road 13 at N44° 49.394 W107° 49.917
A sign marking the remains of Bald Mountain City can be found along Forest Service Road 123 at N44° 48.393 W107° 47.537
Those wishing to explore the remains of the sluicing operation will find them a short hike off of Forest Service Road 15 at N44° 49.811 W107°44.301
Country music singer Willie Nelson croons about being “on the road again’ and goin’ places that I’ve never been.” When your travels take you on the road to Austin, Texas, be sure to visit Willie’s nine-hole Pedernales Golf Course in nearby Spicewood. The official course name is Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Cut N Putt. The par 36 course measures 3,330 yards.
There is no pretense of a country club feel to this popular course, just an overwhelming country feel! The course opened in 1968, and Willie purchased it in 1979, along with the adjoining recording studio, hence the Cut in Cut N Putt. Over the years, the singer has given the course its down-home feel.
How can you not like a course that allows you to bring your own cooler or wear flip-flops? Another local rule says that a foursome can have as many as a dozen golfers! Hmmm.
2. Pace Bend Park
While experiencing this unique golf course and the surrounding Spicewood area, park your RV at Pace Bend Park, formerly known as Pace Bend State Park. Offering great views of the Texas Hill Country, Pace Bend Park has nine miles of shoreline along Lake Travis.
Though the park features more than 400 primitive campsites, Pace Bend offers 20 improved campsites for RVs. These sites offer water, 30/50 electrical hook-ups, showers, and restrooms. These improved sites, as they are called, are all located on the east side of the park just above Levi Cove.
It’s an easy walk to the lake. They feature plenty of shade trees and flat, grassy areas. All sites are back-in only. Reservations are highly recommended.
3. The area wineries and vineyards
Worth exploring in the area is Spicewood Vineyards. They produce a variety of wines including reds, whites, and a few sweet wines as well.
Cripple Creek, Colorado and its sister city, Victor, are located about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs at an elevation of almost 9,500 feet. Although it is known as one of Colorado’s casino towns with plenty of modern casinos, the Cripple Creek area has a rich and vibrant history.
Ute tribes used the land as part of their trading and hunting routes until gold was discovered in 1890, starting the last of Colorado’s gold rushes.
By 1900, the Cripple Creek and Victor area had a population of over 50,000 people. Over the next seven decades, more than 500 mines in the area produced more ounces of gold than either the California or Alaska gold rushes. As with many gold towns, the successful mining industry brought brothels, railroads, entertainers, outlaws, millionaires, and lawmen.
The gold rush continues in the Cripple Creek area, with several operating mines, including the Cripple Creek & Victor (CC&V) Gold Mine, currently operated by Newmont Mining.
Historically known as the Cresson Mine, CC&V is a large open-pit mine that sits between the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and produces over 450,000 ounces of gold annually.
In addition to the excitement of the casinos, there are many non-gambling activities visitors can enjoy. Here are some local favorites.
The Butte Concert and Beer Hall first opened in Cripple Creek in 1896. The City refurbished the theater in 2000, and visitors can now enjoy some of the best professional theater from classic melodramas to Broadway hits in this historic venue.
The theater also hosts community theater troupes and free community movies through the year.
The Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum is a unique way to experience the wild west days of Cripple Creek. Here you can learn about the notorious criminals, and the group of men sworn to uphold peace among the booming town.
The building was home to the Teller County Jail for over 90 years and the original jail cells are authentic to the day. Authentic police logs from the 1890s and knowledgeable staff help visitors gain a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the more sketchy side of the past.
Restored narrow-gauge steam locomotives carry passengers through the Rocky Mountains, and back in time through the Cripple Creek mining district from mid-May through mid-October.
At the historic 1894 Cripple Creek Midland Depot, visitors can purchase tickets for the 45-minute trip powered by historic 15-ton Iron Horses built between 1902 and 1947. The trip includes several stops at historic locations and photo opportunities.
Gold mining is woven into every aspect of Cripple Creek. One of the unique experiences you can have is to explore the gold mining history on a tour at the Mollie Kathleen.
The Mollie Kathleen mine was initially started by Mary “Mollie” Catherine Gortner in 1891. The mine operated almost continuously until 1961 and has since continued as a tour mine.
The hour-long tour includes a wealth of historic mining information, starting with a ride on a skip nearly 1000 feet (100 stories) below ground.
The descent into the vertical mine shaft is not for the claustrophobic but does give spectacular insight into how gold deposits form, and the processes used to extract gold ore for production. The tour includes a ride on an underground tram locomotive.
The Gold Camp Trail is nearly 2 miles from the Cripple Creek District Museum (9,520 ft elevation) to Hoosier Mine (10,342 ft elevation). This trail offers interpretive signs for hikers to learn more about Cripple Creek’s mining history.
Cripple Creek has a herd of about 15 roaming wild donkeys that are free to move through the town as they see fit. The herd is made up of descendants of the donkeys that were used to work the gold mines and were let loose as miners left the area.
The herd is considered to be Cripple Creek mascots, and a group of volunteers from the Two Mile High Club supervises the herd and provides feed and veterinary services for them from funds raised through the year.
The donkeys are usually friendly, but if provoked or bothered, they may kick or bite, so treat them with the respect they deserve.
Located 40 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan is picturesque Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois. This 4,160-acre park stretches for six-and-a-half miles along Lake Michigan, and offers 241 sites, 30/50 amp electrical, toilets, drinking water, and a dump station.
Other amenities include beach access, hiking trails, fishing, a nature center, and a park office. Many activities are available in and around Illinois Beach State Park, which is why it is so popular with visitors. As far as golfing is concerned, you’ll have to head south a little bit, but it will be well worth the short drive.
About 20 miles south of Illinois Beach State Park is the venerable Sunset Valley Golf Club, which originally opened in 1920. The course recently underwent a $7 million upgrade, re-opening to the public in mid-August.
The new-look Sunset Valley Golf Club features lots of updates and upgrades. The course reflects a uniquely British Highlands course design with an openness accentuated with strategic landforms, flowing masses of native grasses, and groves of trees which harken back to the character and aesthetic appeal of the course’s original 1920’s-era golf course architecture.
The highlight of the new course is undoubtedly the fourth hole. This short par 3 measures just 162 yards. Golfers must shoot over a breathtaking peninsula that features a natural stone wall embankment outlined by colorful plants and an expanded lake.
The renovated 18-hole course is now a par 72 measuring 6,726 yards from the black tees; there are five sets of tees to choose from.
The 18-month renovation also saw many changes in the clubhouse. The newly remodeled clubhouse now offers a classic modern vibe featuring an expanded golf shop, a new restaurant and bar, cozy lounge and fireplace, and a large outdoor patio with additional seating and fire pits.
The Peak-to-Peak Highway has been traveled since the early 1900s and is Colorado’s very first designated Scenic Byway. The highway skirts 55 miles of the Front Range’s foothill mountains along the scenic peaks between Estes Park and Central City.
The route begins as Highway 7 in Estes Park on the north end, and continues south as Highway 72 and then Highway 119. As you travel the Scenic Byway, you move through some of Colorado’s historic gold towns, including Allenspark, Ward, and Nederland.
The quaint and quirky town of Nederland is located about 30 minutes north of Central City in the Eldora Mountains at an elevation of 8200 feet. The town is renowned for its colorful locals and hosts numerous diversions and annual events that give visitors an idea of the unique nature of the little town.
Nederland was initially established as a trading post along a trade route used by the Ute Indians. In 1859, gold, silver, and tungsten mineral deposits were discovered in the Caribou gold district in the mountains west of Nederland, and the resulting “gold rush” brought people to the area in search of fortune.
In 1873, the Caribou Mine was sold to a Dutch mining company from the Netherlands, which brought the gold ore from the mine at 10,000 feet elevation down to the area now known as Nederland to process the ore out of the wind and deep snows found higher up. In 1874, the town was officially incorporated with the name of Nederland.
You can explore the town’s mining history at the Nederland Mining Museum, which showcases many of the tools used by the early miners. It will give you a great feel as to what daily life was like during the gold rush era.
It is also worth the detour up to the location of the old Caribou townsite if you have a road vehicle that can negotiate steep gravel roads with some washboard areas. The sweeping views of the Colorado high country provide a sense of the same wilderness that greeted the original gold rush miners.
The Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center is a non-profit nature center that hosts educational opportunities for kids of all ages (even the grown-up ones) and has two locations: one in downtown Nederland and the other at Mud Lake just a few minutes out of town.
Although there is still some modern mining in the area, Nederland is now known largely as a mountain town offering access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Eldora Mountain Resort ski area, and year-round outdoor recreation activities. Visit the Mud Lake or Caribou Ranch open space areas to enjoy the natural setting and spectacular scenery of the area.
Nederland has a rich history of famous musicians that contributed to the cultural fabric of the town. During the late 60s and early 70s, the Caribou Recording Studios (which burned down in the 1980s) hosted many notable musicians of the time, such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Michael Jackson.
More recent musical residents of Nederland include Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and Yonder Mountain String Band (to name a few). As part of the music scene, NedFest is a 3-day music festival that is typically held the last weekend of August and features a wide variety of music ranging from bluegrass to jazz, including many local musicians.
One of the town’s truly unique local events occurs during the first weekend in March. Nederland celebrates Frozen Dead Guy Days to honor the town’s notorious cryogenically frozen resident, Norwegian Bredo Morstøl, who has been in a state of cryopreservation in a Tuff Shed in Nederland since the 1990s.
The Carousel of Happiness is open during the summer season. This carousel is a throwback to the early 1900s when merry-go-rounds were common in America. There are now only a few hundred of the original wooden carousels left in the US. The Carousel of Happiness was created in 1910 and much of it has been restored to its original condition, featuring more than 50 hand-carved wooden animals. There is even a second story viewing balcony where you can observe the inner mechanical workings of the carousel.
The downtown area is filled with interesting shops, eateries, coffee houses, brewing companies, fortune tellers, and time-warps that hold endless surprises for all interests. Some local recommendations include Ned’s, Kathmandu Restaurant, New Moon Bakery, and Blue Owl Books. If you want to stay and explore, check out the dry campsites nearby at Kelly Dahl National Forest Campground, located just off Highway 119.
Whether paddling the mild waters of Baja California, adventuring along the rugged coast of Oregon, or drifting through glacial straits in Alaska, sea kayaking is arguably the most impactful way to explore the ocean’s surface.
Camp at one of these locations along the West Coast of North America for a paradisal kayaking excursion.
1. La Jolla Sea Caves
Located near San Diego, California, the La Jolla Sea Caves consist of seven naturally formed cliff grottos—White Lady, Little Sister, Shopping Cart, Sea Surprise, Arch Cave, Sunny Jim, and Clam’s Cave.
As well as being a sanctuary for marine life and a snorkeling hot spot, the caves boast an out-of-the-ordinary history. Legend has it that they were once used by pirates to smuggle slaves and treasure, then used again in the 1920s to store illegal liquor stashes.
The Sunny Jim cave can be accessed by foot through a local gift shop. All other caves are only accessible by boat or kayak. Several kayaking tours are available, but if you plan to head out on your own, be sure to wear a lifejacket and helmet.
Rent a kayak (or bring your own) and launch from Avenida de la Playa. If the conditions are safe, you can paddle inside the caves and admire millions of years’ worth of erosion and natural beauty. It’s even possible to swim into the caves if the current isn’t too strong.
Drift through schools of harmless leopard sharks or snorkel along the rocky bluffs searching for lobsters. Camp at the Santa Fe Park RV Resort, which offers full hookups and is less than 15 minutes away from the caves.
The island sports a small town with restaurants and kayak rental companies, so you don’t have to rent from the mainland. Take a tour around the island or go solo. Paddle out to the more secluded Sucia Island and catch a glimpse of a bald eagle or a pod of porpoises. Whale sightings are common as well.
Two RV parks are located on Orcas Island—West Beach Resort and Moran State Park. Take an RV-friendly ferry from Anacortes to either of the two campgrounds, where you can access several launch points in a matter of minutes. You can also drive up Mount Constitution in Moran State Park to find an old stone tower with amazing views and a vintage Airstream that sells ice cream.
3. Telegraph Cove
Located off the Eastern Coast of Vancouver Island, Johnstone Strait is home to the largest pod of orcas in the world.
Beginning in late June, the water is filled with over 200 killer whales who come to give birth and raise their young. The village of Telegraph Cove offers ideal access points to the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, where these orca sightings are far from rare.
The town also features two museums—the Whale Interpretive Centre and the North Island Discovery Centre. Homes and restaurants comprise the rest of the village, all built on stilts over the water.
Camp at Alder Bay Resort, which is a little over 15 minutes away from Telegraph Cove, or Cedar Park Resort, which is about 30 minutes away. From the cove, you can take a tour or rent a kayak. Paddle out into the middle of the water to get up close and personal with an 8,000-pound orca.
4. Channel Islands
Located off the coast of Southern California, the Channel Islands are an archipelago stretching from the coast of Santa Barbara to Huntington Beach.
From the Painted Sea Cave on Santa Cruz Island to the lighthouse on Anacapa Island, to the largest seal and sea lion rookery in the nation on San Miguel Island, the “Galapagos of North America” are teeming with wildlife and natural wonders.
Rentals and tours of the islands are available from the mainland. Catch a glimpse of the rare island fox or island scrub-jay, found only on the Channel Islands. Snorkel in the lush kelp beds of the Pacific.
Visit the Santa Rosa Island mammoth skeleton in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Explore the beauty and diversity of Coastal California condensed into a few incredible islands.
Although it’s possible to kayak to the Channel Islands from the mainland, the journey is very rigorous and should only be attempted by very experienced kayakers. Instead, consider taking a 1-hour boat ride from Oxnard to Santa Cruz Island.
If you book a tour, transportation for kayaks is usually arranged. However, if you rent or bring a kayak, be prepared to arrange your own through a local business. The two closest RV parks are McGrath State Beach and Ventura Beach RV Resort, both of which are located in Oxnard, California.
5. Tomales Bay
Located north of San Francisco, close to Point Reyes National Seashore, Tomales Bay is a long, narrow inlet ideal for viewing wildlife.
Paddle along the scenic shoreline and look for Tule Elk, bat rays, and leopard sharks. An array of wildlife appears on the shore during the day. However, one of the bay’s most impressive phenomena is only visible after dark.
When the sun sets, bioluminescent plankton known as dinoflagellates emit a soft green glow, causing the water to light up like the Aurora Borealis. Every time a paddle hits the water or a fish surfaces, the light flares. Night tours are available for witnessing this incredible feature, but be sure to make a reservation 4-6 weeks in advance.
Lawson’s Landing and Olema Campground are both relatively close to all four launch areas and kayak rental companies in Tomales Bay. Take a tour of the bay, explore the local tide pools, or paddle into nearby esteros for calmer waters. However, if you venture toward the mouth of the bay, be very cautious. High winds, strong currents, and the occasional shark can make this area challenging to navigate.
6. Magdalena Bay
Magdalena Bay, a stretch of deep water located near the southern tip of Baja California, is known for its spectacular whale watching. The mingling of the Alaskan cold current and warm currents from the equator create a distinct environment for marine life, as well as a prime fishing location.
Gray whales, which give birth to calves throughout the warm waters of Mexico, are plentiful and friendly. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to swim up to boats and allow people to pet them on the head. Black Sea Turtles and several species of migratory shorebirds are also unique to the area.
Whale-watching tours, kayaking tours, and kayak rentals are available at several launch points around the bay. The closest RV parks are Palapa 206 RV Park and Misiones RV Park. Drive about 45 minutes to the bay and prepare to come face-to-face with the gray giants of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Morro Bay
Morro Bay, a quiet sanctuary for sea mammals and migratory birds, is located on California’s Central Coast. Otters lounge in floating masses of kelp, invertebrates hide in the eelgrass beds, and herons nest in a nearby rookery.
The bay’s crowning glory is Morro Rock, a 581-foot volcanic plug. The large geological formation serves as a nesting ground for endangered peregrine falcons. Two creeks feed into Morro Bay, forming an estuary where waterfowl gather in flocks. These calm waters are ideal for beginning kayakers.
Camp at nearby Cypress Morro Bay RV and MHP or Morro Dunes RV Park, and launch from the Kayak Shack. During high tide, you can also launch from the Cuesta Inlet in Los Osos and paddle through the estero. During low tide, stick to the front of the bay to avoid becoming stranded on one of the massive sandbars.
Explore the dunes or sign up for a sunset tour. Visit the Morro Bay Natural History Museum. Go kayaking at any time of day and enjoy the idyllic waters of Morro Bay.
8. Santa Catalina Island
Although it is technically one of the southern Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island deserves its own category. Not only is it the only island inhabited by people, but it is also more accessible for water activities.
Surrounded by crystal clear water, Catalina is popular among divers and snorkelers. Glass-bottomed boats tour the shallows in search of fish, and pelicans dive into the waves.
Paddle along the rocky shoreline into coves and onto secluded beaches. Two towns are present on the Island—Avalon and Two Harbors. Both are small but popular among tourists.
Although there are a few campsites on the island, none of them accommodate RVs. Camp on the mainland at Newport Dunes Waterfront RV Resort or Sunset Vista RV Park, then take a 1-hour ferry ride to the island. You can rent a kayak at any of the businesses in Avalon or Two Harbors.
You can also rent kayaks on the mainland, but if you plan on kayaking the 24 miles from the shore to Catalina, be prepared for a 9-hour trip each way.
9. Glacier Bay
One of the most remote (but also most breathtaking) locations for sea kayaking is Glacier Bay. An Alaskan inlet and national park, it features scenic views of the glassy water and the John Hopkins Glacier.
Glide through icebergs and past shorelines where bears roam and bald eagles nest. Watch flocks of puffins hunting for fish in the icy depths as schools of salmon swim beneath you. The bay also features regular humpback whale sightings, so keep on the lookout.
Book a tour or rent a kayak and launch from Barlett Cove. The waters are calm, allowing for a leisurely kayaking pace and time to admire the view. Although Glacier Bay may not be the most convenient excursion, it can be the trip of a lifetime. What it lacks in accessibility, it makes up for in solitude and idyllic scenery.
10. Laguna Beach
Recognized as one of the most beautiful seaside destinations, Laguna Beach is a coastal city known for its secluded shores. The stretch of nearby ocean is ideal for sea kayaking.
From the sea lions on seal rock to the sea cave at Thousand Steps Beach, the area is well worth exploring. Laguna Beach’s mild weather makes it the perfect destination for beginners.
Paddle to the gorgeous Emerald Bay and be on the lookout for dolphins. Don’t miss a visit to Pirate Tower, the hidden gem of Victoria Beach. Once the property of a naval captain who entertained local children with his swashbuckling stories, the cliffside fortress is now kept locked up. If you look closely at the base, however, you may be able to find remaining coins hidden between the stones.
The most accessible launch point for kayaking is the main beach, but it’s possible to launch from just about anywhere. Camp at Crystal Cove State Park, a popular destination for divers and snorkelers, and make your way along the scenic shoreline. Rentals and tours are also available from various companies.
Astoria, Oregon has long been associated with the historical Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06. After leaving Camp Dubois near St. Louis on May 14, 1804, the Corps of Discovery (as the mission was called) arrived at the Pacific Ocean in early November 1805, camping at Fort Clatsop in Astoria.
Today, just a few miles from Fort Clatsop, visitors camp at Lewis & Clark Golf & RV Park. This is a convenient home base before embarking on your own discovery of the area. Offering 35 sites, Lewis & Clark Golf & RV Park also features full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical, water, sewer, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, and a pet area. Fully-furnished cottages are also available.
The nine-hole golf course is a great place to practice your short game. Opened in 2005, the par 36 Lewis & Clark Public Golf Course measures 2,738 yards from the longest tees. The course features two sets of tees for different skill levels. Though the fairways are decent, seven of the greens are artificial, so keep that in mind. Overall, it’s a great little course to get some practice on your irons while getting some exercise.
You can also get some exercise by exploring local attractions like the Astoria Column. Modeled after Trajan’s Column in Rome, the 125-foot tall concrete column overlooks the Columbia River, offering scenic panoramic views. While the city of Astoria is home to approximately 10,000 people, it’s estimated that 400,000 visit the Astoria Column each year.
Though you can’t drive all the way to Juneau, Alaska from the lower 48 without taking a ferry somewhere along the way, once you’ve arrived in the remote Alaska state capital, there’s plenty to see and do.
RVers will appreciate the incredible natural beauty of Mendenhall Campground. Set on the shores of Mendenhall Lake, this U.S. Forest Service campground presents Mendenhall Glacier in full view.
The glacier sits within the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest national forest in the United States, and visitors can watch icebergs calve off its frozen face into Mendenhall Lake. Mendenhall Glacier is just one of 38 major glaciers that extend from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield. Many visitors to the area enjoy flightseeing tours where helicopter tours land on the glaciers, offer glacier treks and even glacier dog sled rides.
Mendenhall Campground offers 69 sites, most with full hookups including 30/50 amp electrical, sewer, water, showers, a dump station, interpretive trails, and paved roads.
Golf is another activity you don’t normally expect to see in Alaska, but there are several courses around the state. Mendenhall Golf Course in Juneau offers a par 27, nine-hole course that measures 1,400 yards. It’s a great little course, especially if you need to improve your short game.
Speaking of short game, golfing in Alaska has a short season, usually May through September, weather permitting, of course.
Another popular attraction in Juneau is the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway. Beginning at the cruise ship dock, cars travel 1,800 feet up to the Mountain House which offers spectacular views of Juneau and Gastineau Channel.
Just walking through the picturesque downtown area of Juneau is a great way to get acquainted with this compact city. Many of the main attractions can be found in this area including the Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, several museums, the state capitol building, and century-old buildings that today are gift shops, restaurants, pubs, and other specialty stores.