We are on the long drive through Kansas, heading home after an epic road trip through the west to the Badlands, Black Hills, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountains. We have so much we want to write about and share from this trip, but I’m starting with the campground run down while the details are fresh in my memory.
We aren’t the kind to spend much time at a campground. Our priorities are full hookups and good proximity to the sights in the region. We originally planned on taking our puppy, but changed our mind after already booking all pet friendly locations. All but the first are KOA locations, because we felt confident in what to expect with that brand. Needless to say, the state park we visited first was probably my favorite.
This state park is north of Kansas City on the state line with Kansas, and made for an easy first afternoon of driving. There weren’t full hookups (water / electric was $21) and our sight was a walk in, because they only take reservations if you stay two nights. It wasn’t quite warm enough to enjoy the pool, but the guys enjoyed fishing and Maddie and I loved walking around the campground and watching boaters on the lake.
We appreciated the super friendly and helpful staff at the Sioux Falls KOA when we slipped off our block and needed to be jacked up to get level in the spot (our chock wasn’t in place). The sites were close together, there was a busy pool and putt putt course. Not bad at $45 for full hookups in peak season. We were there long enough to visit the falls (short drive from the campground), eat dinner, sleep, and leave early the next morning.
This campground is on the other side of Badlands National Park from the highway. It was dusty and hot with little shade, but the area around is so incredibly cool. And this is the best campground around for seeing the Badlands. We had full hookups and paid $54 for our one night in the area.
This is one of those mega multi pool, water slide, golf carts, million amenities campgrounds. Not typically our first choice, but our kids love this kind of place. For $76 / night during peak season, we were able to get full hookups and a back in site within walking distance of the pool. We spent an afternoon enjoying the water slide, pool, and park activities while I was getting laundry done next door to a in site bar that offers wine tasting. Sites were close, young staff were apathetic, and the check in took well over an hour with only one person driving people to sites on the Fourth of July weekend.
The picture above is strategically taken with the hillside behind us, but we were shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors on either side. However, the campground was surrounded by the beautiful black hills. The location was great for exploring the region. We couldn’t quite work up the family enthusiasm to take the chuck wagon ride for cowboy dinner. But our kids had a great time during our rare afternoon at the campground.
Not far from the Palmer Gulch, KOA (maybe two hours), but totally with the stop, was Devils Tower. This is THE campground right at the entrance to Devils Tower national monument. We parked, hiked around the tower in crazy heat, then came back to enjoy the pool, dinner, then the nightly showing of Close Encounters on a screen right in front of the tower. It was such a fun night and one of Josh’s favorite parts of our trip. The sites were close together, hot, and dry, with little shade. The pool had a cloudy crazy amount of chemicals and was packed, but it was so hot we didn’t care. The hike, movie and experience was worth the $55, and we had a great time.
Wow this was a rough drive day. If I were to plan this again, I would have stayed in Cody, WY the first night, and then moved on to Montana the next. To get to West Yellowstone from Devil’s Tower, there are multiple routes to consider. Josh wanted to see the Bighorn Mountains so we cut through the state and had to go through the middle of Yellowstone to get to the KOA. Pulling the camper through the park was rough.
The sites at the campground were so tight, we ended up with several people helping us squeeze into the site with our 19 foot trailer. Many of the campers were smaller than ours (tabs, eggs, teardrops, pop ups, and there were lots of tent campers. And everyone was super friendly and helpful – both campers and staff. We paid $80 a night for full hookups at this peak season campground that fills up fast this time of year.
There was an indoor pool that was way too cold for everyone but our son, but with Yellowstone next door, people weren’t there to hang out at the campground. Staying in West Yellowstone was perfect for getting in and out of the park daily and spending more of our time in the park than getting to the park, compared to many places we looked at staying.
Not a planned stop, but one of those ‘let’s just see how far we get today’ kind of stops. And yikes. This wasn’t a campground as much as just a couple streets of a large trailer park that had been purchased and turned into a KOA franchise. There were residents on three sides of the campground and the interstate on the fourth side. We paid our $41, didn’t even unhook from our car, and took off first thing in the morning.
Estes Park KOA, Colorado
I’ve never seen this level of Tetris played getting campers into a tight hillside campground. We lucked out with one of the only sites big enough for you to park your car at the camper. The mountain views were lovely, we had our own deck with picnic table, and again, the staff was friendly and location was perfect for getting in and out of the national park. We paid $70 for full hookups and watched several drop in campers get turned away from the packed campground. No pool, but a nice little playground and evening golf cart pulled ‘train’ ride that my kids loved.
In general, Josh and I prefer the larger state park types of campsites with few amenities. Unfortunately, our tiny camper has equally tiny tanks. We don’t use shower houses (so no reviews include those) and we try for full hookups or water / electric at a minimum, and ask for back in where possible, so we typically get a little more room behind us. In very few places have we found full hookups and beautiful, large sites in the same place. For this trip, we booked six months in advance, and intentionally chose the campgrounds based on their proximity to the state and national parks we were able to visit during our summer vacation.