50 Hikes 50 States Project–New Jersey

50 Hikes 50 States Project–New Jersey

Over Labor Day weekend, we decided to hike three states by flying on Southwest Airlines into Philadelphia for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. We loved up frogs in Pennsylvania and got lost in New York. When we got to New Jersey, we figured the crazy adventure would have to continue with something unique, and the local Jersey girls didn't let us down.

Meet the Jersey Girls

First, I want to apologize for using the word "girls" for beautiful, amazing women who deserve better. It's not a word I'm comfortable using for females over 12, but it seemed like the right vernacular for this area of the country.

Our girls, our ladies, our women....were the unbelievably friendly and kind volunteers at the Great Swamp Natural Wildlife Refuge who greeted us, cared for us, and warned us. They took gobs of time to show off their well-done Visitors Center and their shiny gift shop. They wanted to know about us--asked us lots of questions--shared their love for their buggy swamp--and treated us to love and kindness. I felt like a rock star.

And then We Asked Where to Hike

 

Prior to arriving, I had researched the Great Swamp and hadn't found many suggestions. I had a vague reference to a loop, but the directions were a bit sketchy and the description wasn't too inviting. But I love swamps; having lived over twenty years in Florida, I find the large trees, ferns, and moist atmosphere intriguing. So I persisted.

The first question our lovely ladies asked was if we had pants. That should have been the first clue. And boots? Yes to both, but the temperature was hovering at 85 and the thought of pants didn't appeal to me. Boots, meh. I generally save boots for rocks and roots, which I didn't think we'd find here.

The reason for pants and boots, they said, was the underbrush. Because the trails were often muddy, the volunteers and staff have to manually clear the trails--no lawnmowers here--and the underbrush can be thick.

We reviewed several of the trailheads, and, well, the ladies were so cute. They certainly didn't want to speak negatively about their beloved swamp, and they certainly wanted us to have a fun and delightful time, but they were having a tough time reconciling our desire to hike 3-5 miles and their desire to make sure we enjoyed it.

It's Not Trespassing

After much back and forth, we decided to do the Blue Trail to the Yellow Trail. We followed the ladies' directions to a road that had a large white gate. The trailhead sits just beyond the giant private house where it looked like we weren't supposed to go. Yet we persisted. Down the road we went to its end and the beginning of the trailhead (a local address to put in your GPS that will get you close to the trailhead is 72 Woodlane Road, New Vernon, NJ.)

Signs subtly pointed the way to the trailhead. You'll drive about 1/3 mile down a long driveway passing large, exclusive homes on the way to the dead end at the trailhead. I admit, I gawked a bit.

Bug Up

I'm not a fan of bug spray, but for this trail, it certainly became my best friend. We bugged up, but due to the heat, we decided to stay in shorts. I had on closed-toed Chacos (yes, Chacos makes a closed-toe shoe that I love!) and away we went. The trail starts by crossing a bridge over a pond, setting the stage for a swamping experience. Beyond the bridge, a few steps on elevated boardwalk move you along.

From there, we hiked in dark soil that occasionally had puddles. Grasses, ferns, and fodder fell over the path, but it didn't keep us from enjoying our amble. Brilliant orange and green mushrooms dotted the forest floor. I grabbed a stick to wave in front of me along the trail to clear cobwebs. Occasionally, I swatted a mosquito or too. Yup, it was buggy, and yup, the bug spray helped substantially.

Blue blazes marked the trail. We often lost the trail due to overgrowth, and always found it by the well-placed blazes. A deer darted in front of us. By the time we arrived deep into the swamp, my Florida-ness had become somewhat confused. Having lived in Florida for twenty years and had hiked many swamps, including the Everglades National Park swamps and those in Big Cypress National Park, I kept looking for cedar, cypress and other assortments of pine.

There were none.

A New Jersey Swamp Differs from Florida!

Instead, I felt like I was in an upland forest with a muddy bottom. Oaks, maples, sweet gum and birch trees provided thick cover and fabulous shade. Occasionally, I'd see a "swamp plant" like fringed orchid or swamp rose. But mostly we'd see mushrooms, ferns, primrose, yarrow and black-eyed susans. Fallen logs held surprises and welcomed exploration in their decay. Spiders, crawly things, and roly polies wiggled about.

Abundant with life, from little specks of color to big bounding deer, our senses popped.

The trail took us along the river to the Yellow Trail, which looped back to the Blue Trail. By this time, the wonder of the swamp had begun to wear off. We'd only hiked maybe a mile or so, but I was about ready to return to the trailhead. Between the tree canopy, the sun beat down a fierce heat. Humidity in the swamp and started to kick up and our bug spray began to weaken. I began to reflect back on the conversation we had engaged with in the swamp. No wonder our friends had recommended pants and boots.

By the time we returned to our start, we were ready to say adieu to the swamp. Hiking in swamps takes a certain grace. It's a place to slow down, see the small things, ignore the flying teeth that want to eat you, and exercise patience. The swamp slowly opens up and comes to you, if you'll let it.

But you have to let it.

Be prepared; wear long sleeves and long pants, spray on extra thick bug spray, cover your head, and brings lots of water. Leave deadlines behind and embrace the rhythm of the swamp. And the sounds. And the sights. And listen to the locals. These Jersey ladies know their stuff.

From the Swamp to the Shore

After the last bug swat, we turned the car to the Jersey shore to see "the real" Jersey Girls and Jersey Boys. We stumbled upon Bruce Springsteen's beloved Asbury Park (and his home where he grew up), drove along giant mansions, board walked the shore, and watched the sun set.

We grabbed an Asbury Park Blond brew at Asbury Park Brewery, and I tried on a funky fifties dress at Bette's Bombshells that didn't quite worked, but I loved. Our weekend of hiking thrice during our 50 Hikes 50 States Project had come to an end, closing out the summer season of our hiking adventure. Next up, Kentucky in the fall!

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)

 


50 Hikes 50 States Project--New York

50 Hikes 50 States Project--New York

After our pleasant, Norman-Rockwellesque hike in Pennsylvania on our 50 Hikes 50 States Project we headed north past New York City to Harriman State Park. Just 45 minutes from the Big Apple, this state park welcomes hikers to miles and miles of good hikes from easy to challenging.

Get a Map for Harriman State Park

Prior to arriving, my husband and I grabbed some oatmeal from Starbucks. I mentioned to him that we should buy some lunch to pack for the hike, and he responded that we'd probably be done with the hike way before lunch. He didn't feel the need to snack up; I on the other hand agreed we should be off the trail by noon, but went ahead and bought two hard boiled eggs "just in case" we needed a protein nibble. Little did I know at the time that these eggs would be our saving grace for the day.

We pulled into the park at around 9. The small parking lot at the Meadow Brook Visitor's Center had filled already, so we parked along the street with over 50 other cars. It was Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the weather was perfect for a hike, and we joined every other city dweller at the Visitor's Center.

Small and quaint, the local non-profit ran the Visitor's Center. They sold trail maps for $3.50 and didn't allow pictures. We thought that was a bit silly; add to the pain was that the bathrooms were "out of order." My attitude got the best of me. Not only did I not buy a map, I got a bit snarky about the whole situation. None the less, we walked out of the Visitor's Center to find a public bulletin board with another map hung up for everyone to see, where I did take a map picture. It mapped the trails. We found our pre-determined route (the Reeves Brook circular) and went hiking.

Which Way to Go?

Little did we know that at the first intersection, we wished we would have purchased the map in the Visitor's Center. It had a key on it that explained the colors of the blazes on the trees that marked the trail. The picture of the map we had taken only had the names of the trails. At the intersections on the trail, you had to know how the names of the trails corresponded to the blaze colors to determine which way to go. My directions were to take this named trail to that named trail. The problem was, there were no signs with trail names; only blazes. We didn't know which color blaze mapped to which trail.

Fortunately, a local stopped to help. We determined we needed to take the red blazes to the orange blazes to the white blazes. If we stayed our course, we'd make the  5-mile, Reeves Brook loop. And as planned, we'd be back to the trailhead in a couple of hours.

Harriman State Park is the second-largest state park in New York. In the early 1900s, Edward Harriman and Mary Averell Harriman didn't like the idea of a state prison being built in their neighborhood. So they struck a deal with the state and donated the land to create a park. New park. No prison. Thank you Harrimans! Since then, about 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail goes through the park, and another 200 miles of trail invite the adventurer.

Reaching the Summit

Once we got away from the trailheads, the crowd thinned out and we passed hikers every ten minutes or so. The trail through a wooded forest of maple, oak, and elm danced along over roots and rocks, challenging every other foot step. Up we continued. Soon, we found ourselves scrambling over boulders, across gorgeous streams and waterfalls to Raccoon Brook Hills on up to the  Russian Bear cliff. The summit's slip rock top invited a nice break with gorgeous mountain views of wispy blue hues. Blue-tailed lizards darted in and out.

We had hiked about 3 miles up to this point. About half of my one liter of water was gone, and my husband and I snacked on the two boiled eggs. We thought they'd be enough to keep us satisfied until we got off the mountain and found lunch.

We took off again, thinking we were headed downhill to the Visitor's Center.

After about two miles, we still hadn't arrived at the Visitor's Center. We had arrived at an intersection that was blue and white, not the orange and white we expected. And then we found a trail name painted on a boulder that went up and over the summit. The trail name wasn't on our map. I looked on my GPS tracker and discovered that it had gone into hibernation and hadn't tracked our route. It didn't know where we were either.

Uh-oh.

Lost

Where we went wrong...

Lucky for us, locals rested just a view point away. We asked them where we were and had them point to our location on our map. We were exactly opposite of where we thought we were, and we were a good three miles away from the Visitors Center. We figured out that after our break on top of Russian Bear cliff, we had turned the wrong direction. They set us straight, and advised us how to get back to the trailhead where we'd parked.

Off we went. Scramble. Hand over foot. Scramble some more. Foot over hand. It was a hard hike.

And we were hungry. I scrounged in the bottom of my back pack and found a granola bar. We scarfed it down. Between the two of us, we had about a half liter of water left. We sparingly sipped it. And scrambled some more.

Two hours later, we were back to the Visitor's Center. Our five-mile hike had turned into nine.

Don't Be Dumb

Humbled, I took note of the errors I had made as an experienced hiker who knew better.

  1. I didn't bring enough water and had ignored my first rule of hiking: Always bring more water than you think you'll drink.
  2. I didn't pack enough food and had ignored my second rule of hiking: Always bring more food than you think you'll need.
  3. I didn't bring a map and had ignored my third rule of hiking: Never rely on technology and always bring a map.
  4. I had relied on technology and had ignored rule number 3: Always have a map.

Kicking myself for such a stupid ego, I was thankful the weather had been perfect, we hadn't gotten injured, and there were people to help us. I had not acted like a the good, certified Wilderness First Aid responder that I am, and I made some promises to my self that I wouldn't be that stupid again. We got lucky. My good karma paid off, and I'm desperately grateful.

When we got back to the Visitor's Center, the bathrooms were open. I filled my water bottle, drained it, filled it again, and drained it again. I was that thirsty. I then went into the Visitor's Center and paid for a map I will probably never use again.

Stressed Out from Being Lost

We found some lunch at Rhodes North Tavern. While eating some pretty good fish and chips and breaking down the day, I mentioned that although I had enjoyed the beauty of the hike immensely, I hated that we had gotten lost. It stressed me out.

To combat the stress, I decided logically that we needed to find the best piece of cheesecake in Manhattan. We did some quick googling, found a bus that went into the city, and away we went on an evening adventure.

The Best Cheesecake in Manhattan

An hour later, we found ourselves in Times Square. It was 8 pm on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. As usual, but probably more so that night than many others, Times Square was packed. Humanity took pictures of humanity. It was awesome.

Around the corner, we found Juniors, which purports to be New York's best cheesecake.

I am not sure about that.

But I can confirm that I got a piece of carrot cake cheesecake the size of my head covered in whipped cream. My husband got a traditional piece with fresh strawberries. I drowned my getting-lost-hiking-fears in the cheesecake and all the memories faded away. Thanks Juniors.

Stuffed on sugar, fat, and yumminess, we walked back to Port Authority and hopped on the bus back to our Airbnb. Two quick hours in Time Square and $100 later, we fell asleep, tired, exhausted, but happy. The next day, we journeyed south back to New Jersey to do our next hike in this fun 50 Hikes 50 States Project.

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)

 


50 Hikes 50 States Project–Pennsylvania

50 Hikes 50 States Project–Pennsylvania

We had a few weeks off from out last hiking trip to Wyoming and Montana and a three-day weekend to enjoy. We set our sights to the northeast, grabbing its southern edge to adventure on our next hiking trip in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. This time, we boarded Southwest Airlines on one of our longer flights. At just over three hours, we jetted out of Denver with our companion pass on an early flight to land in Philadelphia three hours later.

Hiking Tyler State Park

Tyler State Park picked us for our Pennsylvania hike. Why? After traveling for five hours, grabbing lunch at the delicious Moish and Itzy's Deli where they make the best egg salad sandwich in PA, we didn't want a long or difficult hike. Plus, when I think of Pennsylvania, I think of covered bridges and the Amish communities. Granted, the Amish communities are not in Philly, but Tyler State Park did have a covered bridge. So off we went.

The drive from Philly to Tyler State Park takes just under an hour. It's easy. We entered the park and immediately felt like we had arrived at a farm. With sprawling fields and old farm houses along the way, I wondered about the park's history. The park started as land owned by William Penn. It eventually broke into several farms, and it finally became one large farmstead created by the Tyler family. Eventually the Tyler Estate became the park, and now its old roads that connected the various farms and mills make the trails and access points for the park. I couldn't wait to get out of the car and explore.

Mill Dairy Trail to the Neshaminy Creek Trail

We parked at the Boathouse, used the restrooms and started our four-mile hike. We found the Mill Dairy Trail, a multi-modal blacktop trail that roughly follows the Neshaminy Creek. It starts at a bridge/dam where locals gather to wade in the water and fish. On this Friday before Labor Day, kids skittered along the bank, kayaks darted between the small ripples, and parents set up barbecues. Norman Rockwell would have enjoyed the scene.

Walking along the blacktop, the maples and oaks shaded us from a too-warm sun. Dog walkers and strolling babies joined us. It seemed the entire community was out getting their last summertime walk in before the turning of the leaves. Bright yellow and orange orchid-looking vines bloomed along the edge of the trail, while fat bees bumbled from stamens to carpels.

Along the way, old stone farm houses stood sentry while boys casts their fishing poles into the shallow creek.

A mile and half passed before we realized we were on the wrong trail.

The red-blazed trail called the Neshaminy Creek Trail that we originally sought, we found out, was the dirt path along the river, not the blacktop where we ambled.

Crossing the Schofield Ford Covered Bridge

No worries. The blacktop went where we wanted to go, the Schofield Ford Covered Bridge. We stayed on the blacktop until we came to the sign that said "covered bridge." Walking down the hill toward the bridge, a deer and her two fawns jumped in front of us. I wondered if Snow White were right around the corner with a pair of blue birds.

About 1/3 mile down the hill, we arrived at the coveted covered bridge. Spanning the creek, the all-wooden structure just waited to tell us stories. And those stories displayed in interpretative signage on both sides of the creek. Long story short? The bridge connected the two communities, Newtown and Northampton Townships, and people made their livelihood via this bridge.

Then tragedy struck in 1991.

The bridge caught fire and burned the elm and hemlock bridge down to its crossings. The local volunteer fire department did its best to save it.

The community rallied, and in 1997, they rebuilt the post-and-beam bridge to its original splendor, adding in diamond-shaped windows so people could see out the sides of the bridge when crossing. Now, it's an active bridge for walkers, hikers, and horseback riders alike.

We walked across the bridge, took our pictures, and marveled at the historic construction. And then, as if on queue, Snow White showed up on her horse. Actually, it was three of the local teens out for a ride. One of the teens who was walking her horse even stopped to let some of the smaller girls, gawking on the sidelines, pet her horse. I truly felt like I was on a set waiting for a director to call, "Action!"

Frogs Jump By

After taking a break, we headed back to our trail head. But this time, we found our red blazes marking the trail and stayed in the woods on trail the entire way back. Hundreds of tiny frogs leapt out of our way.

We relaxed into the walk, discussing the world's problems and finding solutions to world peace. The hike really was a nice way to end a long travel day at the end of summer. Watching the frogs jump out of our path made it all more fun.

Once we finished the hike, we loaded up the car and pointed ourselves to the northeast. Our next hike would be in New York at Harriman State Park, about two hours away. We only could tolerate an hour's drive after our long day, so we crashed the night at an AirBnB in New Jersey before making our way to our hardest hike yet.

What I Wear and What Gear I Use

I've had several people ask me what I wear when I travel and hike. Although I always carry on my bag, I try to make sure that my travel clothes can be hiking clothes if necessary.

So, on the plane I wear a skort. My favorite skort is the Gym Girl model from Skirt Sports. I love that it comes in a bunch of solids and prints. If you want a longer or short skort, they have those too. A skort is the perfect bottom to not only be comfortable in, but it can function as a travel skirt and a hiking short at the same time. Combined, the skirt with a short built in makes the ideal travel to hike combo. (I'm in the Skirt Sport Happy Girl model above.)

On my feet I wear my closed-toe Chacos, which I often hike in although I will change to my boots (Salomon) when the trail requires more solid footing.

On head is my beloved Wallaroo hat, (use my code EATWALKLEARN20 for a discount!) and I carry all my stuff in my favorite carry-on bag, Eagle Creek.

If I think the hike will need poles, I bring my Black Diamonds trekking poles (I prefer the fold up ones as opposed to the telescopic), and I carry all of my hiking gear in my Osprey Hikelite pack.

As for what's in my pack, you can check out all my suggestions on my gear page.

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)



50 Hikes 50 States Project--Wyoming

50 Hikes 50 States Project--Wyoming

For this particular state, we decided to do a road trip and combine Montana and Wyoming for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. We had left from Denver in our new Tesla, driving through Wyoming to get to Montana where we hiked the Four Dances Trail near Billings. From there, we headed south, skirting the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park (read my tips on how to avoid Yellowstone crowds), and arrived at South Pass City, WY, for what might be my favorite hike so far in this American hiking project.

If you're flying on Southwest, you can fly into Denver, Boise, or Salt Like City for quick access to Yellowstone National Park and these two hikes in Montana and Wyoming.

Hello South Pass City

South Pass City, WY, a tiny spot in the middle of the middle of no where, bursts with fun, intrigue, beauty, and history. It's so gosh-darn interesting, Patagonia will hold its annual Run the Red marathon there. We weren't there to run, but we were there to complete our next state's hike.

We drove down the 3-mile dirt road and arrived early. We greeted a fellow getting ready to pack out on the Continental Divide Trail, which runs through the center of town. Wishing him Happy Trails, we took a look at the trail map nicely recreated on the billboard in the parking lot. Three trails combine through sage and pine to create a giant loop of about 5 miles. I couldn't wait to head out.

A Network of Mining Trails

The State of Wyoming turned this old ghost town into a state park. Various trails lead to old claims, retired mining equipment, and historic buildings. Along the way, interpretive signs add richness and history to the hike through sage, juniper, aspen, and pine.

Of course, being a story about mining, there must be water to help process the ore to gold. The trail also dips across and runs parallel to Hermit Creek, which provided nice shade and respite from the warmer uplands of the hike.

A Bit of Spanish

We picked the Flood & Hindle Trail to start our loop. Surprise! At the trailhead, the Friends of South Pass City provided a sunscreen dispenser. We greased up and continued along the dirt path, taking us first across the Hermit Creek, and then to several buildings that were once the Smith homestead. The kitchen building, an 8 x 8 wood shingle shack, still had some of its rusting cooking gear. From there, the trail continued along the creek, taking us to the Flood & Hindle arrastra.

A Spanish class was in order. The interpretive signs taught us the origin of "arrastra," and then we rounded the corner to see an arrastra. A flume from the creek attached to a rotating wheel that crushed and moved ore. The miners would add mercury to the ore to extract the gold. I can't imagine the mess, but wow, how cool to see an authentic piece of mining equipment.

 

We journeyed on. The trail rose out of the creek bed and on to the mountainside, connecting with the Mohamet Group Trail. The trail became more rocky and no shade protected us. We meandered on trail through the sage, where the park service provided wonderful stories of the various miners and their attempts to homestead and claim mines.

The trail lead to us along a gulch, past an incline shaft and to the Cuba Mine. Stories highlighted the way. We got a kick out of the strategy the miners used to intimate other claimers and miners by locating their operations within vision of the other miners. Veiled and not-so-veiled attempts were used to threaten competition. Life was not easy; it became easier if someone bought you out.

The English Tunnel

Down the side of the hill we went on a rocky trail to the Hermit Creek Trail. It was surprising to go from a dry sage brush ecosystem into cool, willow and aspen forest. We were hiking at around 8000 feet. The trail took us to the most interesting feature of the 5-mile loop, the English Tunnel.

The English Tunnel, with tracks, ore carts, shafts, and a cave-style entry, told the story of how simple gold-panning mining could become a complete operation with heavy tools, heavy lifting, and heavy finds. It would be fun to come back and attend a guided tour of the mine.

The last part of the Hermit Trail took us to the actual ghost town of South Pass City. Dotted along a main street, we found an assortment of restored buildings. Homes, taverns, hotels, and general stores captured our imagination. Again, the State of Wyoming had painstakingly restored and interpreted the buildings, of which most of them we could enter and explore. We meandered for a good 45 minutes through the buildings after paying the well-worth-it $5 entry.

The Home of Women's Suffrage

But the creme de la creme of the tour popped up at the end of the row of buildings, the courthouse of the first U.S., female, justice of the peace! In the courthouse, we learned the history of woman's suffrage in Wyoming and how South Pass City owns the rights to the first female vote in the U.S. My daughter and I took a picture in front of it in honor of my great Grandma Virgie, who fought for suffrage in West Virginia in 1910.  It was a tearful moment.

To end our fabulous day hiking in South Pass City, we found the general store and treated ourselves to some handmade chocolate bark. Our 5-mile hike in the sun caused us to want something sweet to give us a burst. But we quickly learned we weren't the intended audience for the chocolate. The thru-hikers of the Continental Divide Trail often bought out all the chocolate in the store!

Perhaps My Favorite Hike So Far

Hiking Wyoming, we have now completed 7 states in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. I loved this hike. It was a good length, it was moderately difficult in some places, it was loaded with great history that was personal to me, and all members of my family completed the hike. If you're thinking about hiking South Pass City on your way to/fro Yellowstone National Park, you can certainly shorten the hike by cutting off the big loop, and other members of your family could easily enjoy themselves in the ghost town while you enjoy longer hiking. Although there were a few snacks, trinkets, and water in the general store, plan ahead and bring sufficient water with you.

What You Need to Know about this Hike (click for interactive map)




My First Long-Distance Road Trip in a Tesla Model 3

My First Long-Distance Road Trip in a Tesla Model 3

I've done a lot of road tripping. I've also owned an electric vehicle since 2011. But I've never done a long-distance road trip in an electric vehicle. Until now.

Last week I said goodbye to my third Nissan Leaf, sold the Toyota Rav4, and purchased a Tesla Model 3. Our new electric vehicle has become our sole family car for daily commuting, teen taxiing, shopping, and long-distance travel.

We Head to Montana

My daughter got to ride shotgun and took to doing some doodling.

We had a trip already scheduled for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project to Montana and Wyoming where we had prepaid our hotels. The logistics for the trip revolved around driving the Rav4. But our Tesla came in earlier than expected; I purchased the Model 3 with the long-range battery. At full 100% battery charge, we can travel 310 miles. So I set the battery to full charge and off we went on the previously determined Rav4 itinerary.

Gas Logistics vs Battery Logistics

We started our trip at 3 pm on a Thursday to arrive at our pre-purchased hotel room in Casper, WY. In the Rav4, we would have driven until we needed gas, perhaps stopping for dinner at the same time (or not), and arriving at the hotel with no concern for whether the gas tank were full, empty, or somewhere in between.

With the Tesla, we had to consider when we would charge, where we would charge, and how long it would take. With the combined networks of Tesla Superchargers, Tesla Destination Chargers, ChargePoint Chargers and EVGo Chargers, we didn't worry about the opportunity to charge; we had to focus on how long it would take to charge.

See the table below which reflects some assumptions about how the trip would have gone in the Rav4 versus how it did go in the Tesla.

 

CarDay’s DestinationGas/ChargerEatStay
Rav4 (~400 miles range)Denver-Casper

279 miles

Start with full tank in DenverCheyenneCasper
Tesla Model 3 (~300 miles range)Denver-Casper

279 miles

Start charged

Supercharger Wheatland, WY (45 mins) + Casper Destination Charger (4 hours)

WheatlandCasper
Rav4 (~400 miles range)Casper-Billings

277 miles

Get gas Buffalo (10 mins)BuffaloBillings
Tesla Model 3 (~300 miles range)Casper-Billings

277 miles

Supercharger Sheridan (45 mins)Sheridan

Billings

Billings
Rav4 (~400 miles range)Billings-Lander

282 miles

Get gas Greybull (10 mins)GreybullLander
Tesla Model 3 (~300 miles range)Billings-Lander

341 miles

Supercharger Sheridan (45 mins) + ChargePoint 3rd party (4 hours)SheridanLander
Rav4 (~400 miles range)Lander-South Pass City-Denver

420 miles

Get gas Laramie (10 mins)LaramieDenver
Tesla Model 3 (~300 miles range)Lander-South Pass City-Denver

420 miles

Supercharger Laramie (45 mins)LaramieDenver

In addition, we had to consider the breaks along the entire route, not just the day's itinerary. It took some thinking. Fortunately, the Tesla did much of the thinking for us. We'd punch in the day's destination, it would calculate the miles and the range, and Tesla would tell us where we needed to stop to use a Supercharger so we would make it to our destination.

Tesla Long-Distance Strategies

We quickly discovered several Tesla road-tripping strategies.

Tesla will point us to Superchargers first. Then to Destination Chargers. And ignore non-Tesla options.

The Tesla routing map took us off the route we originally designed (and had non-refundable hotels), so we had to look for ChargePoint and EVGo options in order to make it to our hotels. Next time, I'll be sure to look at the Tesla routing first before I book hotels!

Not All Chargers Are the Same

Let me throw in some charger definitions:

Supercharger: A Tesla-owned and branded charger. These are strategically placed along Tesla's charging network, have proprietary technology, and can "fill up" a Tesla in about 45 minutes. The cost varies and is billed directly to the Tesla owner's Tesla account. A fill-up costs around $10. They can only be used with Teslas.

Tesla Destination Chargers: Also Tesla-branded, these chargers are slower than Superchargers and are often found at hotels and are often reserved for hotel guests. To fill up takes about 4-5 hours and the hotel usually pays the charging bill. They also have Telsa proprietary technology and can only be used with Teslas.

Non-Tesla Chargers: There are several networks of electric vehicle chargers. ChargePoint and EVGo are two major ones. They often have two types of chargers; ones that charge at about the same speed as the Superchargers. (Nissan Leafs love these, but Teslas can't use them.) These stations often have slower chargers that most all electric vehicles can use, and they take about 4-8 hours to fill up a Tesla. Tesla provides a converter to attach to these power plugs. Costs vary by time and by charger type.

I didn't know much of the above until we headed out in the Tesla. Life in the Leaf had been simple; charge where Tesla isn't. I spent lots of time at ChargePoint and Nissan Dealer chargers in my previous EV life. But I never traveled long distances so I never had to plan out a long-distance road trip.

We Modify the Route

We punched Billings, MT, into the Tesla navigation map, and immediately, I started seeing the error of my pre-planned ways. Instead of routing us to Casper, Tesla wanted us to go through Gillette where we'd find a Supercharger. But since we had prepaid our hotel, we had to go to Casper. We'd have to do an extra charge in Casper to ensure we'd make it to Billings.

None the less, we left Denver, put the car in the amazing and wonderful Autopilot, and casually relaxed our way out of the Denver traffic and into high-speed travel. Soon, we arrived at the first place to charge, Wheatland, WY.

Wheatland is a spot in the road. It's now a spot in the road with a Supercharger. We followed etiquette and pulled in backwards into the charger, then we headed to the local restaurant: an A&W.

I haven't been to an A&W for 40 years. At least.

I don't think I'll be back any time soon.

But at least it was a place to grab a bite, charge up, and get us to Casper.

Hotel Destination Chargers

In Casper, we learned the hotel secret of Destination Chargers. We discovered that the Hilton Garden Inn had several chargers we could use, but we had to be guests. Our hotel, where we were guests, was two miles away. Being long-time Elite Status members at Hilton, we figured we'd been customers many times elsewhere and felt ethically that it was okay to use the destination chargers.

So we did.

We plugged our car in and walked to our hotel for the night. It would need a six-hour charge. In the morning, we walked back, picked up the car, thanked Hilton, had some great breakfast grub at Eggington's, and sped off to our next stop, Sheridan, WY.

Next time, I'll just book the Hilton.

Note to self: plan overnights at hotels with chargers. And, another note to self: The Tesla makes me walk more (that's a good thing.)

Fun Times in Sheridan

If we had been in the Rav4, we probably wouldn't have stopped in Sheridan. But we weren't 100% confident in Tesla's prediction of its range and we were wanting a cuppa, so we made the stop.

We had a blast in Sheridan. The Superchargers were conveniently placed in the middle of downtown. While charging, we wandered the main street, stopping in the roping museum (don't miss it!), and grabbing a delicious chai at Bison Union. My daughter loved several of the vintage shops. Our 45 minutes zipped by.

Note to self: whereas in the Rav4, we would have zipped by Sheridan. We loved the stop and realized that Tesla vacationing isn't about getting from A to B, it's about enjoying the route along the way.

Two Days in Billings, MT

In the late afternoon, we rolled into Billings and spent the next two days enjoying the hikes and sites of this riverside town. We also checked off Montana for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project by hiking Four Dances. On Sunday, we charged at the Billings SuperCharger and pointed the Tesla to Lander, WY.

More Miles in the Tesla

If we had been in the Rav4, we would have taken the shorter route directly there through Greybull of 267 miles. I didn't feel comfortable arriving Lander with less than 5% charge left on the battery. So we took the longer route (368 miles) by going back through Sheridan. This made my daughter happy, as there were a few stores she'd missed in Sheridan. Thus, we stopped in Sheridan again, charged, and ate a cowboy-sized breakfast at the Silver Spur Cafe.

Lander exists to provide access to Yellowstone National Park (see my tips on how to avoid the crowds at Yellowstone.) Prior to arriving, I had been a bit worried about the charger in Lander. It showed up on ChargePoint as a J1772 (a slower charger.) Fortunately, I had called ahead, and the local who answered assured me the charger worked and was readily available. We arrived to our pre-paid hotel on Sunday afternoon; Lander was a modern-day ghost town.

Luckily, our hotel was coincidentally next door to the charger. We found it in the rear lot of a sandwich place. It looked much different than any charger I had ever used now or in my Leaf time. It had a credit card charger that I immediately wondered if there was a skimmer on it. Attached to it was a power cord that was twisted like a spring. Attached to that was a typical plug. Skeptical as all get out, but with no other choices in town and only 25 miles left on the battery, we were a bit desperate.

I pulled out my Tesla adapter. It attached and worked perfectly. For whatever reason, my credit card wouldn't register a swipe on their machine. My husband tried his, and voila, everything worked. My Tesla's blue charging light started blinking, turned green, and a charge began.

Then we looked at our interior screen of the car. It was going to take about 8 hours to charge at $5 an hour. $40 for a fill up! We quickly did some arithmetic.

How Much Charge Did We Really Need?

Our next destination was South Pass City, WY to hike for our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. The closest Supercharger was in Laramie. We did some math just like we'd do if we had rolled into a gas station where the price per gallon is out of the norm. (Think the gas station at the exit to Moab where they charge a good $2 more per gallon!) We would need about 175 miles to complete our trip to South Pass City and get us to Laramie. Thus, we wouldn't need a full charge. We could charge for about 4 hours, pay $20, and get 200 miles of charge. So we left the car, walked around town, got some pizza, chilled out in the hotel, then picked up our Telsa, and stayed the night.

South Pass City, WY--Put it on your list

Rested, we grabbed our Tesla, now named Journey, and zipped over hill and dale to South Pass City, WY. If you haven't been to South Pass City, make sure you put it on your must-do list. It's a super stop in/out of Yellowstone and well worth the time. The state of Wyoming has created a state park out of a ghost town, providing a network of trails to enjoy the culture and history of the gold rush. Bonus: you'll visit the first place that suffrage passed and where women could first vote in the U.S.

We hiked, read, learned, and enjoyed South Pass City immensely.

And On to Laramie

Next stop: Laramie, WY. Journey scooted her way easily to Laramie. We were a bit anxious that we had calculated our mileage correctly in Lander, so we found ourselves constantly checking the energy consumption graphs on the car's display. Tesla was a bit worried as well and started recommending that we manage our speed and not exceed 70 mph.

Being on a straight road where we could see infinitely, it was painful to not drive super fast and pass everyone we wanted. But wanting to arrive in Laramie exceeded our desire to see how fast Journey could go, and we obeyed Tesla's recommendations so that we could get there. We did. With 20 miles to spare.

A quick Supercharge in Laramie with a bite at Subway put us back on the road. The last leg to Denver invited us to again use the fabulous Autopilot in traffic. We arrived home safely and with plenty of charge.

The Biggest Differences?

Comparing a road trip in a Rav4 to a Tesla Model 3, we definitely had unexpected consequences of our trip.

  • Even though we had to stop every 300 miles or so to charge, we would combine a meal with the stop. Thus, the extra  charging time really did not add extra time to our trip.
  • We walked more. The chargers, although usually convenient, weren't at the exact place we wanted to go. So we had to walk, which was nice.
  • We drove more. Because it was our first trip in the Tesla, we weren't exactly sure exactly how exact the range finder was. Having had a Leaf for a decade, we knew there was such a thing as "Leaf math." The range might say 100, but we would only be able to drive 80, for example, due to air conditioning, speed, heat, etc. But with the Tesla, we found during our trip that the range is about as true as it can get. Next time, we will play it a bit more liberal on the range and not feel like we need to necessarily go out of our way to charge.
  • Electricity certainly costs less than gas. Our total "fuel bill" was $50 to Tesla plus $20 to the third-party charger, for a total of $70 for about 1600 miles of driving. In the Rav4, 1500 miles would have cost us about $130 (at $2.75/gallon.)
  • The Tesla forces us to enjoy places we might have missed in the Tesla (see Sheridan and Casper, above.)

My daughter hasn't learned to drive yet; it will happen shortly. I like to think I'm raising the first generation of people who will never drive a gas-fueled vehicle. I'm feeling good about the future.

See ya at a charger!

~Chris