USA Road Trip: From California to Montana

california to montana road trip with the tipsy gypsies

Maybe we have seen too many US road trips movies like "Lost in America", "National Lampoon's Vacation" or "Dumb & Dumber", but there is nothing better than packing your car and going on a fun adventure across America. You will be surprised how different people are across the states and the changing landscapes will keep you in constant awe. Instead of paying for an expensive ticket to some tropical paradise, we want to encourage you pack your tent and visit these three National Parks in the States this Summer: Teton, Glacier, and Yellowstone. Hopefully you will come home inspired to see more of this beautiful country.

Gear up! What to pack for a camping trip? 

We are assuming you will be camping, but if that is not your cup of tea, skip this part straight to the fun stuff!

All you need for this camping trip are some basics. We know that some people can get overwhelmed by camping, especially if it's more than for one night. We want to reassure you that you don't need an RV or a trailer, although it would be nice, to go on a long term camping trip, and by long term camping, we mean more than 3 days. By the way this roadtrip from California to Montana and back too us 17 days, and it included adding some extra miles to see friends in Idaho.

The Tipsy Gypsies did not always camp, but we've always been around pros that showed us how to do it. The difference between us and pro campers is that we actually don't own any fancy camping gear, especially sine we sold most of our stuff to travel the world. It takes time and money to collect all the cool camping gear, but you can easily do it with just the bare minimum like we did. You will be surprised how little you need. Let's get to it!

Camping gear essentials for your trip: 

  • Tent REI ( Half dome- Having a good tent is important. You don't want to wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of water and you want to sleep comfortably. This tent is designed for 4 people, so you can imagine its a very specious tent for 2 people.
  • Stove - we bought a gas camping stove for like $20 from Walmart on our road trip.
  • Cooking gear - pots (2), a pan, knives etc... whatever you fancy
  • Sleeping bags - no name brand, they cost us about $30 each. We've had them for years, but honestly we got a bit chilly during the night in Montana (35 F temp). So if you can, it's better to invest in a good quality sleeping bag, which should last you "forever". 
  • Sleeping pads - we like the ones that are a bit more bulky, which are super comfortable for sleeping, but they do take a lot of space in your car.
  • Cooler - where else are you going to keep your cold beer?)
  • Battery powered lamp - gotta have some night light

Now that you have all you need for this epic journey, let's hit the road Jack!


 

Vegas

On our way from Central Cal, we stopped in Vegas first.  Mostly because we had to, but also because Vegas is awesome! We love the enormous sugary Margaritas, all you can eat buffets, cigarette smoked casinos. There is no one right way to do Vegas. It is whatever you want it to be, as long as you are up for some fun. Vegas is for the wild bachelorette parties, all-dude reunions crashing the bachelorette parties, but also for parents with kids that want to hang out by the pool. When we get old we will be one of those 90 year old couples sitting by the slot machines, spiking their watered down cocktails with a whisky from a personal flask.

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But there is more to Vegas than wild parties and drinking, the shows are absolutely incredible. We have seen all the Cirque du Soleil shows, and we get excited whenever there is a new production. There is also "great" music: Britney, Jlo, Mariah and the list goes on. Vegas is also a foodie destination. You can go to some of the most exclusive restaurants, where the meals are as much as your rent, but there are also awesome all you can eat buffets, "where you get your bucks back". Our favorite is this Indian buffet, Tambo located on the main strip. We eat there every time we are in Vegas.

The are also some fun attractions a bit outside of vegas: helicopter tours, the Salvation Mountain is very popular or the Neon Museum, where the old neon signs from vegas, once in their glory, rest in the desert. We should have mentioned this earlier but on the way from California to Vegas, along the route 66, is this incredible bottle ranch, called Elmer's Bottle Tree ranch, that you need to check out! 

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Wyoming:

Grand Teton National Park

According to the NPS website, the first humans to settle in the Jackson valley and the Teton range were the Nomadic-Pale Indians, who came here more than 11,000 years ago.  Later other Native American tribes followed and settled here to hunt, fish and farm. The first Euro-Americans explorers didn’t arrive till the early 1800’s. They were mostly trappers and mountain men looking to get wealthy by hunting for beaver fur, which was high in demand during that time. With time more Americans started arriving to settle in the area, establishing homes, farms and cattle ranches. The land was difficult to farm due to the rocky, sandy terrain and the climate: long cold winters, and hot dry summers. Needles to say, life on the ranch was not easy, till the wealthy Easterners started to arrive to the West, wanting to experience the “cowboy” life and admire the magnificent mountain views. The locals quickly realized that they could charge them for food and lodging, which turned out to be more profitable and easier than growing crops and raising cattle. The newcomers were nicknamed “dudes” and “dudenes”, and the cattle ranches that provided lodging and food became known a “dude ranch”. Even today, when you drive around these mountains you will see the signs hanging over the ranches gates, “Dude Ranch”.

the tipsy gypsies

The Grand Teton Park is absolutely beautiful and it's a great place for camping and hikers. Although most of the national parks in the U.S like Yellowstone or Yosemite are extremely busy during the high season, the GTNP has slightly less tourists. We didn't have any problems finding a camp site and the trails were not too crowded. Having only a few days in this park, we only went for one hike, the Jenny lake trail and Cascade Canyon, which also happened to be the most popular hike in the park. We started the hike at the welcome center and hiked around the lake, with spectacular views and only a few hikers round us. Most hikers choose to take the ferry from the welcome center, across the lake to the west shore boat dock, where the Cascade Canyon hike starts. It's a good option is you don't have a lot of time and want to hike less, but we recommend our route around the lake, where you get the full view of Jenny Lake.

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We continued the hike to the Hidden Falls, with more amazing scenery and wild life. We saw some beavers and a moose. There are plenty of places to stop for a short break in a shade, by cool mountain rivers. 

After The Grand Teton National Park we continued to drive up North towards Yellowstone National Park, stoping along the way and sleeping at the campsites.

 

 

 

  

 

Picture:

Hike on the way to the Hidden Falls

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is one of the five top most visited parks in the USA, and as you can imagine it is packed with visitors during the summer.  It spreads throughout 3 states: WY, MT and ID. Campgrounds are like hot cakes, so you need to get there early if you want one of the more popular sites. We arrived late (like 9am) and had to camp at one of the outer sites called Indian Creek, but it was still amazing. There were no showers but you could bathe in a beautiful creek. Give yourself plenty of time to get around the park because the speed limit is max 30mil/hour, and when you have so many visitors, who want to stop to take a picture in the middle of the road, it takes a while to get from a one spot to another. Regardless of that Yellowstone is an incredible place to visit!

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Huckleberry everything, even beer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below: S'mores, an American campsite tradition.

There are many trails in the YNP, and we decided to hike the Mt. Washburn trail. It's a beautiful trail with some elevation, but nothing too hard and surprisingly not a busy trail. We did the whole hike in 4 hours total, which we felt really good about, since the estimated time was 5h minimum.

Picture: When you are out of ice you can chill your beers in a cold creek.

 

Montana

Bozeman

A fun little town in Montana, for the outdoors and beer lovers. There is one main street in town where you find all kinds of outdoors shops, restaurant etc, but outside the city is where the paradise starts for the outdoor enthusiasts. We stayed mostly in town tasting the booze. White dog brewing has excellent beer, the bar next doors, Bozeman Spirits, makes killer cocktails and their whiskey is very tasty. If you have time visit another great brewery outside the town, Map brewing. It's a hip place with outdoor seating and excellent beers! 

 

Missoula

A big university town in Montana, for a few reasons was not our favorite place during our road trip. First of all, we went to the state fair to watch the rodeo - we can only blame ourselves. Five minutes into it, we realized that watching cowboys pulling a calf by it's legs and stretching it violently in opposite directions was not our thing. Other rodeo activities included riding a horse with a piece of wood attached to it's balls, which is also not a sport that we will ever get into. Apparently, if you attend the state fair without a cowboy hat or Wrangler jeans, you are the odd ones so get ready for the stares.

We also didn't have much luck finding decent lodging. We booked a room online for about $60. We expected it to be basic, but we didn't expect the crackheads checking in at the same time. Luckily, we politely explained why we didn't want to sleep in a crack-hotel and we got a refund. Sorry, Missoula was a bit of a bummer.

 
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But it was not all bad. As we were leaving the town, we found the most beautiful Caffe Dolce, where we stopped for lunch. Check out these ceilings and architectural details. The food was great too!

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Glacier National Park

GNP was the last national park we visited on our road trip. Unfortunately, there were huge wild fires in the area during our stay so the conditions were not perfect, lots of haze and the smell of burning wood in the air. Some parts of the park remained closed, but we got to visit the park and enjoy it a little bit. 

We drove on the Going to the Sun road, with many beautiful vistas and waterfalls, where you can stop to take pictures or go for a hike.

Visit the Glacier Hotel lodge with a rustic architecture overlooking the Swiftcurrent Lake. You can eat at the hotel or bring your own picnic and eat it on the beach in front of the lake.

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Whitefish

Since the hotels in Glacier National Park are very expensive and camping was not possible due to the fires, we chose to stay in a cute town near the park, Whitefish.

 Photo: Whitefish, old town

Photo: Whitefish, old town

Whitefish is a quaint little town, with boutique shops and great cafes where you can try delicious homemade pies!

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Where to stay?

 

 

We stayed in a cozy, family run B&B, the Hidden Moose Lodge, that served amazing breakfast and in the evenings, after hikes, we enjoyed a soak in the hot tub and a complimentary (hell yes!) glass of wine by the fire place.

It's a unique hotel that acutely feels like a very large home. You can read near the large stone fire place while laying on a couch, and in the mornings your breakfast is served in a family style kitchen. You will quickly become friends with the owners and other guests. 

 

 

 Photo: homemade pie

Photo: homemade pie

 

Hwy 395

On the way back home, we chose to drive on Hwy 395, which is a more scenic route. We were notdisappointed as the views were spectacular. We drove past long stretches of farmland, and a lot of  ghost towns. We stopped in small towns to check out stores that sold weird stuff, learned that you can pickle pretty much anything including eggs, fish, fruit in these parts of America.

Picture above: Wheat farm somewhere in Idaho

Picture above: cute, all America town. 

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  Picture: What the hell, is that a shoe tree?!! Who knows a good story behind it? Apparently, these shoe trees can be found in many places in America, near highways.

Picture: What the hell, is that a shoe tree?!! Who knows a good story behind it? Apparently, these shoe trees can be found in many places in America, near highways.

We hoped you enjoyed this post. Please leave us a comment below and let us know your favorite places to road trip. We always love to hear a good road trip/camping stories.

Cheers!

 
us road trip-the tipsy gypsies