13 min read

The Wandering Weeks: Missoula, Idaho, Spokane

The Wandering Weeks: Missoula, Idaho, Spokane

Hello from North Carolina! We've been back for almost a month now, crossing the state to visit family and friends in Denver, Winston-Salem, and Raleigh before making it back to our Wilmington home base just before Halloween. It's great to be back and see everyone again (and have access to Bojangles!)

We'll be in NC through the holidays until we hit the road again in January. Still catching up on writing about our first round of adventures, so here's our next blog picking up where we left off in late August, leaving Yellowstone.

I'm calling it "The Wandering Weeks" because we took a bit of a breather from sightseeing and just kind of meandered around with no big destinations. As a result, there's less of the amazing good camera photos Joey usually takes (although there are some!) and more mediocre iPhone shots from me, haha.

Helena and Missoula, Montana

After a pretty fast-paced month in Wyoming, we were tired. We'd been driving and sightseeing a ton, moving campsites every few days, and often working odd hours around our travels (and sporadic internet availability). It was a ton of fun, and we were super lucky to have that flexibility with our jobs – but it was also exhausting. So when we left the north side of Yellowstone on August 21, we were ready to take a break and get back on a semi-normal routine.

And that's exactly what we did when we arrived a few hours later at the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds in Helena, Montana. We parked at the slightly shabby but peaceful campground and basically didn't leave our site for the whole week. We did zero sightseeing in Helena (unless driving by the state capitol when I went grocery shopping counts). Instead, we worked a normal schedule all week and caught up on stuff. In the evenings, I rode my bike around the fairgrounds, enjoying the beautiful sunsets over the mountains, and then came in to watch TV.

Camping at the Helena Fairgrounds

About halfway through the week, Joey made a random but super lucky discovery: the Flaming Lips were playing near Missoula on Friday, just a couple hours west! I listened to them a ton in high school, and they had a big impact on the psychedelic / weird rock side of my music library, haha. They were touring for the 20th anniversary of their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, which we both love, and playing it beginning to end. Tickets weren't expensive either, so we left Helena a day early and drove over on Friday afternoon. I was SO excited.

It was a great decision. I knew the Flaming Lips supposedly put on pretty crazy live shows, but didn't totally know what to expect – and it was a blast. The outdoor venue (KettleHouse Amphitheater) was really nice, one of our favorites now, and it was a beautiful night. We were in the pit and had a great view.

The first half of the show they played Yoshimi straight through, complete with giant inflatable pink robots. That was really cool, but I loved the second half even more, when they came back out after the sun set and played for at least another hour. Their light show was crazy, the singer Wayne Coyne got inside a big transparent bubble at one point, and before the last song he brought out balloons that said FUCK YEAH BONNER (the town we were in). They were as weird as I imagined they'd be, and the music was awesome. Oh, and we got a setlist at the end! (Joey fought off the competition for it, including a group of drunk bachelorette party people haha). It was one of the most fun concerts we've been to.

The night of the concert, we camped at Beavertail Hill State Park (which was very nice) but they didn't have any availability the night after. So we moved to an RV park just down the road, killing time until our next reservation at Yellowrock Campground in Lolo, Montana, 20 minutes south of Missoula.

Yellowrock was a nice campground, kind of busy and crowded in some areas, but wooded and peaceful at the same time. They had great showers, which I always appreciate so I can take as long of a shower as I want without worrying about filling our tank. We planned to spend another "normal" week there, just working and maybe doing a little hiking or exploring.

Missoula is a fun college town, sort of like a bigger, western Boone or Marquette, with breweries, coffee shops, outdoor gear stores. Joey had met the concert photographer at the Flaming Lips show, and wanted to see if he liked doing concert photography, so he reached out to a couple small venues in Missoula that had live shows that week. One of them said he could photograph the show on Tuesday. They didn't have a budget to pay him, but we could get in for free.

We ate at Tamarack Brewing before the concert and then walked over to Monk's Bar for the show. Monk's Bar was in a basement in downtown Missoula, it was a cool old venue. It was a country concert – we'd never heard of them before, but Jesse Daniel was playing with Sterling Drake opening for him. We got there early to scope the place out and get the camera settings figured out. Eventually we met the manager for Jesse Daniels, who also sang in his band, and she talked to Joey a bit about the photos: "Just make us look cool."

Both bands were awesome! The opener Sterling Drake was a guitar/fiddle duo who played more traditional country and roots music. Jesse Daniel had a bigger band, with his backup singer/manager, guitars and bass, pedal steel, and drummer. He played high-energy, original, classic-sounding country. (To compare him to someone, they did a cover of "Bakersfield" by Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens, and it sounded great. That was kind of their style).

Anyway, there weren't a ton of people at the show (it was a Tuesday night) but it was so much fun. It made me miss going to more local shows like I used to in Boone. A few people in the crowd were swing dancing and really good at it. Joey's photos turned out awesome too!

That was sadly the last fun thing we did in Missoula... because we both got sick a couple days later. We think we had Covid, but aren't sure because we didn't get tested. Either way, we both had bad colds, head fogginess, and fevers, and just laid around for a few days. We were supposed to leave our campground and start making our way to our next reservation in Idaho, camping in a national forest along the way over Labor Day weekend, but ended up staying an extra couple nights to rest more.


Finally, we started feeling a bit more normal and hit the road on Sunday, September 3. It was about 4 hours from Lolo, Montana to our next stop in Riggins, Idaho. Still recovering, we only drove an hour the first day and stopped at White Sands Campground in Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest for the night.

A lot of the drive from Lolo to Riggins is along US Highway 12 in Idaho, which goes through the national forest. It's too bad we couldn't spend more time in this area, because even though it was an overcast and drizzly drive, it was gorgeous. The road was winding and scenic, following the Lochsa River, with towering dark green pines on both sides. There are a lot of national forest campgrounds (our favs) along the way, and even a hot springs. No cell service, all peaceful wilderness.

We had a great spot at White Sands Campground: large site, river access, no one around us. It was a relaxing day reading my book by the river.

The next day, we finished the drive to Riggins and saw a few very different areas of Idaho. After leaving the lush green pine forest along Highway 12, we climbed high up some mountains – and emerged onto wide open plains. It was weird, like we had just reached some huge plateau on top of the mountains. We crossed this rural farmland area of Idaho for a while, and then started going back down the mountains. The road was steep, but the land was wide open around us – rolling and grassy, very few trees. It was very different from the forest we'd been in just a couple hours before. If you look on a map, this is along Route 95 heading south from Grangeville to Riggins. Here's a point along the road with some photos since we didn't get many from this area.

Then we got to the little town of Riggins, which is the "whitewater adventure capital of Idaho." It sits in a canyon along the Salmon River. To get to our campground, we took a narrow road following the river deeper into the canyon for several miles, which was a little nerve-wracking with the Airstream, especially when people passed us going the other way.

Fun fact: this was the second campground I ever booked for our trip, and one of the only ones we booked well ahead of time. It's a super random location, but I found it online somehow and thought it looked amazing from the photos. There was only like a week of availability left when I looked (it's not very big) so I went ahead and booked it. And we were finally there!

The RV Landing at Carlson Ranch is a nice, newer RV park along the river. It has the usual side-by-side RV spots, but with an incredible view of the river and mountains (and it had full hookups, which is always nice).

We honestly didn't do much exploring in Riggins either, but didn't feel too bad about it since the campground was so scenic already. I did a short hike with Hollie one evening on the Rapid Rivers Trail, which was beautiful and quiet – we didn't see anyone else on the trail.

Otherwise, Riggins was a tiny town with a couple bars/restaurants, a small but nice grocery store (we got used to shopping at independent grocery stores with varying food options out west – different than what we're used to in NC haha), and some whitewater rafting tour groups. It was an uneventful but nice week working and hanging out at the campground, enjoying the great weather and views.

Another fun fact: Riggins is right on the border of the Mountain and Pacific time zones – it all depends on what side of the river you're on. At our campground, we were technically on Mountain time, but our phones kept switching back and forth between Mountain and Pacific because they didn't know where we were. It made going to work meetings a little confusing.

On Sunday, September 10, we left Riggins and drove a few hours north to Hawley's Landing in Heyburn State Park, on the shore of Chatcolet Lake. It was a nice little wooded campground with walking trails in the woods along the lake. There's also a popular 73-mile bike trail running through here called Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. We rode a bit of it one morning; the coolest part was riding over a bridge across the lake, which had steep inclines on both sides – it was fun to zoom down.

Even though we didn't see a ton of Idaho, we saw enough to know that 1) it's very beautiful, and 2) it has kind of a different vibe. Most of it is very rural, like Wyoming and Montana, but felt different. Maybe it's just because we were more off the beaten path, compared to some of the towns we visited before that were "destinations" close to the big parks.

On the drive to Heyburn State Park, we drove through some unique places. The Coeur d'Alene Reservation was the first Native American reservation we were aware of driving through on our trip, and it was our first look at how much poverty is in them. There was also another instance of driving up a huge mountain and then not coming back down immediately – instead feeling like the earth just leveled out up there, like you were on a prairie on top of the world. It was all beautiful rolling wheat fields at the top of this mountain. Idaho was strange.


We honestly weren't sure where to go after Riggins. We had no campground reservations and no set plans. Eventually we landed on Glacier National Park, because we might as well – we were so close! (That'll be the next blog).

On the way, we took a detour across the border to Spokane, Washington. It was only an hour from Hawley's Landing and I found another good state park campground to stay in for a few days: Bowl & Pitcher Campground at Riverside State Park.

Spokane was the biggest city we'd been in since we left (not counting our day trip to Detroit) and it was weird being back in a town with so many options. I went grocery shopping at Trader Joe's and we got Mediterranean takeout for dinner. The state park was nice and had some good hiking trails, plus a cool suspension bridge – we each stood on one side and had Hollie run back and forth across the bridge to get some energy out (she was not a huge fan of it moving around).

I have a couple friends from App State (hey Abby & Ryan!) who live in Spokane now, so we met up with them one night. We went out to a couple breweries, caught up on everything we've been doing (crazy that it's been over 5 years since graduating) and biked/scootered around Spokane at night, which was super fun.

Our last morning in Spokane, I walked all around the riverfront area downtown. There were really cool views of the waterfalls, bridges, and Spokane Pavilion – it was a unique area.

Then we headed out of town to start the drive north to Glacier. Saturday night, we stayed at Blue Lake RV Park in the skinny northern section of Idaho. The campground had a little wine bar overlooking their pond, which we sat at for a while, talking to the campground manager. We were only 45 minutes south of the Canadian border.

Our wandering weeks were over. Next destination: Glacier National Park.