Full-Time RVing: East Coast vs. West Coast

Reflection time

We’ve completed two “legs” of our full-time RVing journey.  We’re currently parked on Hannah’s brother’s property in Pittsburgh and are planning the third leg now.  Doing so has given me the opportunity to reflect on our journey so far, and it’s amazing how different the two trips ended up being in hindsight.

The Fox parked in muggy Pittsburgh (missing from the picture is the Ram – our tow vehicle)

The first leg was through somewhat familiar territory – the east coast – and let us get more comfortable RVing.  We stayed at old favorite beach locations (the Outer Banks, Hilton Head Island), found new favorites (Santa Rosa Beach, Fort De Soto Park near St. Pete, FL), and spent two winter months exploring the many parts of the Florida peninsula.

Calla’s first time at the beach! Virginia Beach, VA.  She couldn’t walk yet!
Calla playing with her grandfather in the white, floury sand of Santa Rosa Beach, FL

The first leg took us to beautiful Alabama beaches (who knew?) and ended in New Orleans, LA, where we put Trudy in storage and flew back to Pittsburgh for 3 weeks over the holidays.

Calla eyeing the entrance to the fish-filled natural springs of Ocala National Forest in Ocala, FL

The second leg took us out of our comfort zone and pretty much blew the first leg away when it comes to exploration and adventure.  Excluding a few short trips/vacations of yesteryear, the furthest west either of us had been before RVing was probably Ohio.  Needless to say, the west blew our minds!

Tim and Calla in Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.  Even Calla enjoyed it.

We flew back to New Orleans in January 2018 and continued west through TX, NM, AZ, and CA.  We then turned around, spent more time in AZ before the highlight of the second leg – Utah – and finally Colorado.

Calla at White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, NM
Hannah at Bryce Canyon NP in Bryce, Utah. Bryce is probably our favorite NP so far.
Tim above the Colorado River, 6 miles & ~3200 ft of elevation below the Grand Canyon rim. It was quite a hike back up.

Calla flew back to Pittsburgh from Denver with family and we high-tailed it 1,500 miles in the Fox in 4 days.  That 1,500 mile journey will be covered in a later post, but as a teaser,  it included two tire blowouts in 20 miles, an overnight stay next to an abandoned murder hotel, and pretty much no fun whatsoever.

Practice makes perfect, right?

Now that I think about it, the first leg was focused on water and the second leg was focused on land.  Both have their advantages and both make it crystal clear just how puny we are compared to our home planet and its natural wonders.

 

Interesting stats

One advantage of using RV Trip Wizard is that it allows you to easily track mileage, fuel usage, and camping costs.  I’ll also say that RV Trip Wizard has gotten much slower and significantly buggier recently, perhaps since the “integration” between RV Park Reviews and RV Trip Wizard was introduced (both of these sites are owned by the same company so it’s not mind blowing that they work together).  the Wizard’s pros outweigh its cons at the moment but we’ll see if we end up renewing in July.

A few high-level status from RV Trip Wizard

Anyway, I found it interesting to compare a few high-level stats accumulated so far.  We started our journey in Trudy and named our trips in the app accordingly.  We’re continuing that naming convention in honor of Trudy despite the fact that she has new owners now.  These numbers are approximations since some campground fees were recalled from memory and some of the stops weren’t overnights (e.g. stops on long drives, RV storage, the airport). The costs include approximate fuel costs based on an average MPG and average fuel price.

The second leg was significantly cheaper than the first leg despite being over a month longer and including nearly 50% more stops and close to twice the miles.  This is mostly due to the east coast’s expensive RV parks – we occasionally paid $60-70 per night on the first leg – and the fact that we boondocked (camped for free on public land) for 25% of the time on the second leg.

Boondocking in Kaibab National Forest, two miles away from the entrance to Grand Canyon NP in AZ

We spent 33 out of 79 nights boondocking while making our way through AZ, CA and UT during the second leg, only going to established campgrounds when we had guests, were changing rigs on the road, or when there simply weren’t any good boondocking options around.  And that’s not counting the nights we paid a few bucks to dry camp at campgrounds – there were many of those, too.  You can probably tell that we are proud boondockers and are comfortable doing it.  We’ve had enough practice and own enough gear to be rather comfortable without any amenities whatsoever.

 

West coast, best coast

It’s become clear to us that the western portion of the country is better for full-time RVing and exploration and adventure in general.  There are many reasons for this, but here are our highest priorities when it comes to RVing:

Climate

After spending a significant amount of time in very low humidity (<10% pretty often), it’s very clear that humidity sucks.  It makes spending time outside uncomfortable and forces us to shut windows and run the A/C and dehumidifier.  A damp RV is not good.

It also usually coincides with lush vegetation, which is nice, but also with lots of rain and clouds.  It’s rained nearly every day in Pittsburgh since we’ve been here – it feels like we’re in a rain forest.  That’s not good when you live in an RV!  We’ll take the desert over the rain forest, thank you very much.

2 days of sun out of 10 in Pittsburgh. 2/10, would not recommend.

Open spaces

There’s very little public land in the eastern half of the country.  That means boondocking is pretty much nonexistent.  Bummer!

Hannah and Calla at Joshua Tree NP in CA

The east coast also feels a lot more “crowded” – everything is built right up against roadways, and the roads themselves have more hills and curves and feel narrower.  Add in the fact that there are far more trees in PA than in the arid west and things start to feel a little claustrophobic.  I can’t believe we drove Trudy around Pittsburgh as novices – it’s so much harder to navigate in an RV here than out west.  The trees, power lines and old bridges are enough to give me pause even now.

Open spaces in Capitol Reef NP, Utah

Natural attractions

It’s not that we don’t enjoy cities, it’s more that it just feels right when you’re surrounded by nature.  I’d take the cool breeze, hot sun, and wonderful pine scents of the western backcountry over traffic, pollution, and hustle of most cities any day.

I fully admit that cities do offer far better restaurants and grocery options.  Shopping at Walmart or tiny grocery stores gets old pretty quickly, but that’s a pretty small sacrifice in the big picture.

Who’s up for a hike? Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon NP, AZ

Back to the point: the western side of the country simply has more natural beauty to see.  There are far more national parks, monuments, recreation areas and forests in the west – and that’s usually where one finds nature as it existed before strip malls and Walmart took over.

Exploring Arches NP in Moab, Utah
Hannah next to our spirit cacti at Saguaro NP in Tuscon, AZ

Overall cost

RVing out west also costs less if you’re willing (and have the gear) to boondock for free in dispersed camping areas or dry camp for cheap in established campgrounds on public lands.

Group boondocking with Tim’s dad and his solar-powered Camp-Inn teardrop camper near Buena Vista, Colorado

There are tons of national forests, national rec areas and BLM areas that offer free dispersed camping (boondocking) or established campgrounds with few amenities but cheap nightly rates.  They’re also fairly easy to find with tools like freecampsites.net, Campendium, and Google Maps satellite view (to check out forest roads and dispersed camping options).

An office with a view – Hannah getting some work done outside while boondocking in Sedona, AZ

Free or cheap camping is rare on the east coast and is probably not available at all anywhere you actually want to be.

 

Part III

We’ll be hitting the road again in the middle of July 2018.  We’re currently doing some (early) scheduled maintenance on the Ram and fixing stuff on the Fox – mainly from the blowout extravaganza in Kansas as the second one did damage to the slide, blew a hole in the undercarriage, and bent up the fender sheet metal.

A very rough draft of the third part of our journey

The third leg should take us to many new places and also a few familiar ones.  The current lineup includes seeing new places in the the Michigan upper peninsula, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, California, and probably spending some of the winter months back in Arizona.  We’re excited to explore the northwest portion of the country in the warm weather.

A Kansas sunset – one of the only good things we experienced there when we drove from Denver to Pittsburgh in 4 days

 

Have you RVed on both sides of the country?  Let us know what your favorite (or least favorite) parts are of each in the comments!

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Hey Tim- we continue to enjoy your blog. Like you we are new to RVing and we traveled throughout the west this past spring. We have a similar expedition to the northeast (Maine, New Hampshire and Quebec) planned this fall. We were not as entranced by Utah as most, though Bryce Canyon was spectacular and Canyon Lands was like being on a big western movie set. Arches NP was okay, but the Moab area was mostly red dirt. Joshua Tree NP just had weird little trees (really a grass) and the notoriety of being Graham Parson’s resting place. Still, to each his own and the openness of the road was a draw unto itself. I can certainly understand how the southwest appeals to anyone seeking open vistas and solitude. However, we thoroughly enjoyed Idaho, Montana and Alberta (okay, not technically “the west”- but I’ve long believed Canada should annex the U.S.). I think you will find visiting Glacier NP akin to the words of the John Denver song: “He was born in the summer of his 27th year” when he visited the Colorado Rockies. Breathtaking. If you get a chance, rather than traversing all of North Dakota, dip down into western South Dakota and visit the Badlands and Custer State Park. Gorgeous scenery, lots of hiking, lots of critters to see, no humidity but still green. Enjoy your trip!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Mike! It’s interesting to hear your take on the west. Your next trip sounds awesome!

      We’re definitely looking forward to Glacier NP and are also planning on checking out Custer State Park as well. Everyone sure raves about it.

      Thanks for the suggestions and thanks for reading!

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