Trailer Life Everything about Travel Trailers and How To RV from Trailer Life Magazine 2019-11-19T22:04:52Z WordPress Jack Ballard <![CDATA[Keep It Reel: Hooked on Ice Fishing]]> 2019-11-19T22:04:52Z 2019-11-19T22:04:52Z

With the latest advances in clothing, gear and shelters, there’s no reason for winter anglers to be left out in the cold

Black and white photo of ice fisherman sitting on bucket
Ice fishing has been used by folks for centuries to acquire winter food.

Ice fishing in North America began before the arrival of Europeans. Native Americans took fish from frozen lakes as a means of sustenance in some places after the summer and fall foraging seasons had passed. Tribes in the upper Midwest in the United States and central Canada fished by breaking or chipping a hole through the ice. They used carved decoys in the shape of a fish to lure living specimens within the range of a spear that was then used to harvest the catch. A 1948 photo from the Minnesota Historical Society shows examples of a covered shelter and its pole frame used by the Ojibwe people on Lake Mille Lacs.

Ice fishing is popular in other parts of the country, but folks in the upper Midwest, especially in Minnesota and Wisconsin, claim a particular affinity for the sport and a long history with its practice. Another photo from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection documents about a dozen anglers posing with their catch in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, around 1915. The black-and-white photo bears the inscription, “Great Northern Pike:
A Few 10 to 20 Pounders.”

The Scoop on Ice Fishing

Ice-fishing contests were staple activities at winter carnivals and other cold-season events in the early decades of the 20th century. More recently, the 1993 movie Grumpy Old Men and its 1995 sequel, Grumpier Old Men, brought national attention to the beloved Midwestern sport in a pair of hilarious portrayals of the culture. The first film had an unexpectedly strong showing, earning $70 million in the U.S. market.

Aerial view of Green Bay with ice-fishing shanties on the frozen bay.
In Green Bay, Wisconsin, a clear day and a foot of ice are enough to bring ice-anglers out to set up camp. Generally, they are fishing for perch, walleye and whitefish, but other species may take the bait in winter.

However, ice fishing has changed dramatically since legendary actors Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon had theater audiences laughing in the 1990s. Images of chilly anglers sitting on a bucket over a hole in the ice or huddled in primitive shanties poorly illustrate the current state of the sport. Advances in gear, from ice augers to shelters to GPS devices, have put ice fishing on the map as a sport that’s ever innovating to help anglers catch more fish and remain comfortable and safe while doing it.

Staying Warm on the Ice

See Related Story: Tiny Trailer: Camp365

Jarrid Houston of Houston’s Guide Service in Duluth, Minnesota, is an avid angler and accomplished guide who focuses heavily on ice fishing. He has followed the evolution of ice-fishing gear since he was old enough to fish. In his mind, there’s been no better time to be angling through the ice than the present.

“Staying comfortable while fishing is huge,” Houston says. Advances in apparel and footwear in the past few years have yielded gear that’s not only more comfortable to wear, but warmer and safer. “There’s so much available now. Clothing with a personal flotation device integrated right into the apparel is getting popular. Known as ‘float suits,’ more people are using these all of the time.”

Man in blue jacket on frozen lake holding a large fish.
Trophy pike can be the most exciting species to target through the ice.

There’s also a growing emphasis on clothing that’s more wearable in the early and late seasons. “Ice fishing has become so popular in the last 10 years that there are more people out there in the spring and fall,” Houston says, pointing out that super-warm apparel isn’t usually necessary in the shoulder seasons. “We’re seeing clothing that’s lighter, breathable and more mobility-favorable when it’s not so cold.”

When the temperatures are frigid, ice anglers, like other winter-sports enthusiasts, have an ever-growing array of battery-powered clothing items to keep them warm. On the footwear side, heated socks and insoles are available from a variety of manufacturers. As an individual whose feet seem perpetually cold while engaged in stationary winter activities, I’ve found these to be a game-changer, not only on the ice, but for waterfowl hunting and winter fly-fishing.

A more recent development in heated clothing is the battery-powered vest. Produced by several different outdoor-clothing companies, heated vests puts warmth right on the core of the body. Layered under an insulating, windproof outer garment, a lightweight, heated vest is the proverbial game-changer in really cold weather, especially for folks lacking the protection of a shelter when ice fishing.

Man in blue parka on the ice with a fish in his hand and another man and tent in the background
Fish for dinner! The flesh from fish taken from cold water is at its finest.

Taking Shelter

Speaking of shelters, that’s another area where Houston has seen dramatic improvements in portability, functionality and design in the past few years. “The newest portable ice shacks are easier to transport but durable enough to really take the elements,” he says.

Quite recently, a couple of manufacturers have added another very appealing feature to their shanties: an extra door. “Some of the brand-new portable houses have side doors so you don’t have to climb over people to get in and out,” Houston adds. “They’re also pretty neat because you can butt two houses together through the side doors to accommodate larger parties of anglers.”

Breaking the Ice

Man using a powered ice auger to make a hole in the ice
Gas-powered ice augers are considered the “workhorses” by many anglers, but battery-powered models are becoming popular as well.

“When I was a kid, we chopped and chiseled holes in the ice to go fishing,” Houston recalls. For the modern ice angler, those days are long gone. The development of hand-
powered and engine-driven augers made getting through the ice so much easier than chopping. But as Houston describes it, “That older stuff was heavy and hard to work with.” The latest evolution in hole-boring technology is the battery-powered ice auger, a device receiving rave reviews from guides and other ice anglers for its light weight and ease of operation.

Battery-powered ice augers may be driven from a fixed internal battery or interchangeable battery packs. While some folks may be skeptical of the capacity of a battery-powered device auguring through numerous holes in thick ice in frigid temperatures, such concerns are unfounded. “The best ones out there will last a weekend on a single charge,” Houston says. “Extremely cold temperatures diminish their efficiency a little bit, but they are nothing short of amazing.”

Tracking Fish

Man on frozen lake making preparations for ice fishing.
Preparation can make for cold hands; a portable shelter is an ideal place to warm up.

Warm, comfortable clothing, portable fishing shelters and lightweight, easily operated ice augers are all focused on one thing — catching fish under the ice. Houston believes the biggest challenge of ice fishing isn’t having just the right lure or bait and employing it with the best technique. It’s finding the fish. “Chasing pods of fish is the huge puzzle, especially on big water like Lake Superior where I do lots of my fishing,” he says.

For anglers seeking to make the most of their time on the ice, recent technological advances have eliminated much of the guesswork in finding schools of fish. “People are decking out their vehicles with GPS mapping software to look at what’s under the ice — the structure of the lake bottom that’s so important for finding fish. These units can go on a snowmobile, side-by-side or a pickup truck.” The GPS units allow an angler to know exactly what’s under the ice in terms of lake-bottom structure.

“A lot of people are starting to use information for their summer fishing trips in the winter,” Houston says. “You can, for example, store the waypoints from productive locations and structure from summer outings in your GPS.” Fish are often in the same places in the winter. If the summer hotspots are retained in the GPS unit as waypoints, the angler can return to exactly the same place in the winter.

No GPS? Not to worry. “You can do so much of this stuff now with a smartphone,” Houston says. “You don’t need to buy an expensive map or a high-end GPS. Pretty much all of the basic information you need can be done with an app.”

Ice fishing has advanced far beyond a couple of grumpy guys sitting in makeshift shanties. Technology has made the pastime not only more comfortable but has also given anglers the tools to achieve the end-goal of this popular winter sport, fish on ice.

Man walking on frozen lake pulling sled with ice-fishing gear.

In-Stream Winter Fishing

There’s another wintertime fishing experience besides angling through the ice that’s become increasingly popular. On trout streams across North America, more and more anglers are extending their fishing season into the winter. Just as in lakes, fish in rivers eat when snowbanks pile up at streamside. Fly-anglers in many locations have learned that, with the right timing and technique, the fishing can be as good in February as in July.

Winter fly-fishing requires open water, which is most commonly found in “tailwater” streams (those that issue from a dam). The warmer water released from the bottom of a reservoir may flow for many miles before freezing, giving fly-anglers plenty of liquid real estate to fish in the winter. In some places, freely flowing streams will also stay ice-free, except during the coldest winters.

Man with hat and sunglasses in river fishing in the snow.
The author braves the cold and snow to fly-fish in winter.

With very few exceptions, fly-fishing during the cold season is most productive for a few hours at midday, when water temperatures are highest. This gives a rather casual approach to winter fly-fishing in terms of the daily schedule. There’s no need to barge out of bed in the morning to beat the heat and experience the best bite.

By far the most consistent technique for winter fly-fishing is nymphing, drifting flies that mimic the immature form of aquatic insects under a float or “strike indicator.” It’s a fly-fishing method that’s great for beginners, making winter angling accessible to novices and experts alike.

As it turns out, ice fishing isn’t the only winter-angling pastime that’s increasing in popularity.

Winter Games

Each year in central Minnesota, more than 10,000 anglers brave the cold to compete in the world’s largest charitable ice-fishing contest. The 30th annual Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza takes place January 25, 2020, on frozen Hole in the Day Bay on Gull Lake.

Authors Lisa and Jack Ballard in a kayakJack Ballard, Trailer Life contributor and an award-winning author and photographer, has written hundreds of articles on outdoor recreation topics that have been published in more than 50 different magazine titles. He has also written 13 books. Jack’s first RV was a 1961 Aristocrat camping trailer he bought for $500 in 1989. Although he appreciates the technological advances of modern RVs, he retains a keen interest in vintage units.

<![CDATA[Go Deep: Diving and Snorkeling in Florida’s Lower Keys]]> 2019-11-19T21:02:34Z 2019-11-19T19:27:48Z

RV travelers will find lots of camping opportunities in the Florida Keys, with most parks close to the Overseas Highway. Set up camp and hit the water.

Part of the Keys island chain that stretches southwest of Florida, the Lower Keys sit amid huge expanses of unspoiled ocean habitat. On land, the locals have fostered that classic, laid-back Florida Keys charm; beneath the surface, the surrounding untamed waters constitute some of the most exciting diving and snorkeling in the country. Connected by the Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1), these islands and surrounding waters appeal to RVers seeking to trade crowded interstates for clear waterways.

What makes this area so special for underwater explorers? The region encompasses large chunks of the only living coral-reef habitats within the United States’ territorial waters. Since the 1980s, conservationists have mounted aggressive sustainability efforts, preserving the natural beauty of the reefs and enabling marine life to thrive and grow.

Indeed, the Lower Keys give divers and snorkelers a rare opportunity, says Denise VandenBosch, dive operations director and PADI Master Instructor at Captain Hook’s dive shop in Big Pine Key. “The shallow reef system, unlimited dive sites, short boat ride to the reef (only 3 miles from shore) and the diversity of the aquatic environment is the perfect combination to make divers and snorkelers feel comfortable,” explains Denise.

Ready to plan your diving or snorkeling getaway to Florida’s Lower Keys? Check out this guide to find out how to get started and the top places to kick off your underwater adventures.

Two divers following a fish in a coral reef area.
Diving in the Florida Keys. Photo: Pixabay

Diving Basics

There are plenty of dive shops in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys offering lessons and tours. If you’re new to diving, you’ll have to complete an introductory course before heading to the reefs. The quick course teaches you how to use scuba equipment (regulator, fins, wetsuit and weight harness) and safety protocols to follow in the water. You’ll also do a practice dive in a pool so you can get comfortable breathing and moving around with your gear. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’re ready to get out on the open ocean. A PADI-certified instructor will be by your side the entire time to guide you to different sections of the reef and help you spot wildlife.

On dive day, remember to pack reef-safe sunscreen, comfortable shoes for the boat and a waterproof camera so you can document every moment.

Take the Plunge

Don’t let claustrophobia stop you from diving. “Once you’re on the bottom [of the sea], you realize there’s more space down there than there is on land,” says Denise. There’s also no need to worry about sharks, as divers rarely see predatory fish in the water. Even if you did see a shark, the bubbles from your regulator make so much noise that it would scare it away. “We are certainly not on their menu — we are big, bubbling, noisy, camera-flashing visitors to their waters, and we’re of no interest to them at all,” says Denise.

Becoming a Certified Diver

Diving is an exhilarating feeling, and many people get hooked after their first experience. If this happens to you, consider becoming a certified open-water diver. This lifetime certification takes four to seven days to finish and teaches the skills needed to dive without a licensed instructor. The course consists of an online portion, confined water dives and open-water dives. The minimum age to get certified is 10 years old. Denise believes this is the perfect time to introduce kids to diving. “Most families get certified together, and parents get to raise their best dive buddies,” she says.

The Snorkeling Alternative

Snorkeling, on the other hand, is a much simpler proposition. If you’re new to snorkeling, you’ll be happy to know that intensive training isn’t required. And if you’re comfortable swimming in deep water and don’t mind breathing through a tube, you’ll discover an underwater paradise in the Florida Keys. The warm, tropical waters make for a comfortable experience, but if you go on a snorkeling tour, always heed the instructions of your guide. Stay within your comfort zone and enjoy the nature that surrounds you.

A snorkeler swimming on the surface of the ocean.
Bahia Honda State Park is a hidden gem for snorkling the Florida Keys. Photo: Dawn Sunshine

Top Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Florida’s Lower Keys

1) Looe Key Marine Sanctuary

“You’ll never be disappointed with any dive you make at Looe Key,” says Denise. Resting 6 miles south of Big Pine Key, Looe Key is a National Marine Sanctuary that’s home to the only complete reef ecosystem in the continental United States. Spearfishing, coral collection and lobstering were banned in 1981 and have allowed the reef to flourish into one of the most spectacular dive sites in North America. Go underwater and hang out by the steep coral formations to spot angelfish, turtles, eagle rays and more. According to Denise, “all the sea critters are well aware they are protected” and won’t hesitate to swim right up to your mask. Not interested in diving? Try snorkeling instead. You’ll still get to enjoy close-up views of the reefs and wildlife from along the water’s surface.

A dive boat on the water surrounded by several snorkelers.
Snorkelers explore Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau

2) Adolphus Busch Shipwreck

Adolphus Busch is a 210-foot cargo ship that was intentionally sunk 7 miles from Big Pine Key in 1998. Since then, the wreck has served as a home to a diverse array of vibrant marine life. Dive under the surface to swim with swirling schools of silversides, barracudas and horse-eye jacks. There’s also a good chance of finding southern stingrays if you go all the way to the ocean floor. Before heading back to the surface, say hello to the residents in the vessel’s cargo holds. Tenants here include green moray eels and 350-pound goliath groupers (don’t let the name scare you — they’re gentle giants).

3) Bahia Honda State Park

Located on Bahia Honda Key, Bahia Honda State Park is an excellent training ground for new snorkelers because of its protected and shallow waters. Rent all necessary gear from the on-site dive shop and go for a dip at Bay Side Beach. You can find fish toward the Bahia Honda Bridge, a 5,055-foot railroad span that connects Bahia Honda with Spanish Harbor Key to the west. You’ll also find prime spots near the wall at the end of the beach. Boat trips to Looe Key also depart from the park, so sign up for one after you’ve gotten the hang of snorkeling.

4) Boca Chica Key

Located just south of Boca Chica Key, Western Sambo Ecological Reserve is a dream come true for both divers and snorkelers. Consisting of 9 square nautical miles, the area encompasses the highest habitat diversity in the Lower Keys. It also has the region’s last remaining stands of elkhorn coral, which can be found in the grassy bed areas of Western Sambo Reef. Another destination worth exploring is Cannonball Cut on the east side of the reef. This is where you’ll discover the Aquanaut tugboat wreck along with spiny lobster and massive star coral. Haystack and Hawk Channel are excellent spots too if you’re searching for tropical fish.

5) Cudjoe Key

Cudjoe Key, located about 9 miles west of Big Pine Key along the Overseas Highway, is the place to go to get off the beaten path. The secluded area is home to around 1,800 residents and promises a quiet snorkeling experience without big crowds. Rent a boat from Cudjoe Gardens Marina, or launch the boat that you’ve been towing from the ramp, and sail off the coast to snorkel with parrotfish, sergeant majors, angelfish and more than 150 species of other exotic fish. The corals on the reef are just as impressive, especially the brain, star and fire varieties.

Bonus: The Lower Keys aren’t known for shore diving, but there is one spot locals recommend. Mile Marker 35 on the Overseas Highway is a calm area protected by the wind and an excellent place for a walk-in dive if the weather isn’t good enough to go boating.

For More Information

Learn more about Florida’s Lower Keys.

Bruce W. Smith <![CDATA[Tiny Trailer: Hélio O2]]> 2019-11-01T23:48:24Z 2019-11-01T23:37:40Z

Made in Quebec and now available on the U.S. market, molded-fiberglass Hélio trailers are lightweight, easy to tow and built to last a lifetime.

Hélio is a respected name in the Canadian RV market but until recently has been virtually unknown to the majority of tiny trailer enthusiasts south of the border. That’s changing as U.S. RV dealers begin getting their first shipments of the 14-foot-long molded-fiberglass Hélio O Series ultralights. The company offers three versions, designated by the number of people they can sleep: O2, O3 and O4. All can be towed by most cars and crossovers, and retail prices start at less than $18,000. The O2, which caught our eye, is designed for fun-loving couples.

Inside trailer showing the cooktop, table and bench seats.
The Hélio O2 maximizes storage space and comes standard with a 3.3-cubic-foot Dometic refrigerator-freezer (LP-gas/120-volt AC) and a two-burner LP-gas cooktop with a cover.

Living Area

According to Jeff Mercier, who is heading up the U.S. sales effort, the Hélio O2 is the Quebec-based company’s best seller, and it’s easy to see why. The tiny trailer has a nice layout with a 65-by-74-inch sleeping space in the rear and an enclosed bathroom with a shower up front. The bed converts to bench seating with a round, post-style table in the center.

Trailer bed made up with turquoise cushions.
Hélio O2 models feature a bench dinette with a post table that converts into a 65-by-74-inch queen bed.
Door to enclosed shower open inside trailer.
The enclosed bath with a molded-fiberglass shower/toilet is a convenient feature. The O2 has a 13-gallon freshwater tank and a pair of 10-gallon tanks for black and gray water.

Headroom is plentiful, as is ambient lighting from a skylight and side windows that open to provide good ventilation. The trailer has LED lighting in the padded ceiling, a full-size screened entry door, four 120-volt AC outlets inside and two more on the exterior, a convenient charging station with both 12-volt DC outlets and USB ports, and an automatic-temperature-controlled ceiling-vent fan. Air conditioning and an LP-gas heating system are optional, as is a 100-watt solar panel that plugs into the solar-ready electrical system.

Kitchen and Storage

Located midship is a convenient kitchenette with a two-burner Dometic LP-gas stove, a microwave and a two-way 3.3-cubic-foot refrigerator-freezer. The sink and prep counter are at the front, adjacent to the bathroom. It’s a cozy but highly efficient setup. Hot water comes from a 13-gallon freshwater tank routed through an on-demand LP-gas water heater, while 10-gallon black- and gray-water tanks are good for short periods of dry camping.

Flooring is decorative fiberglass that’s durable and easy to clean. Storage space is well thought out, as Hélio’s designers made excellent use of nooks and opens spaces under the bed/seating area.

Sink and counter area of trailer with enclosed shower door closed.
A handy sink and food-prep counter cabinet are to the right as one enters the O2 through the full-size screened door.

Special Features

What sets Hélio O Series trailers apart from most competitors is their molded-fiberglass monocoque construction with an exterior gelcoat finish — just like a fiberglass boat. There’s no wood or aluminum used in the body structure. The body is mounted on an epoxy-coated aluminum frame with alloy wheels supported by an independent torsion suspension.

“Hélios will not rust and will still look the same in 20 years,” says Mercier.

Three small camping trailers on grassy field with solar panel in front.
The 2020 Hélio O2 is new to the U.S. market but well-known in Canada as a premium tiny trailer for two people. The body shell is built like a fiberglass boat with no wood or aluminum so it will keep its looks for many years. Photo: Bruce W. Smith

Manufacturer’s Specifications

2020 Hélio O2
Black and white floorpan illustration of trailer showing bench dinette, appliances and bathroom.Exterior Length: 14′ 2″
Exterior Width: 6′ 4″
Exterior Height: 7′ 6″
Freshwater Cap.: 13 gal.
Black-Water Cap.: 10 gal.
Gray-Water Cap: 10 gal.
LP-Gas Cap.: 5 gal.
UVW: 1,550 lbs.
Hitch Weight: 132 lbs.
Axle Weight: 2,000 lbs.
GVWR: 2,000 lbs.
MSRP, Base: $17,990

Bruce W. SmithA respected automotive and RV journalist and longtime Trailer Life contributor, Bruce W. Smith has held numerous editorial titles at automotive and boating magazines, and authored more than 1,000 articles, from tech to trailering. He considers his home state of Oregon a paradise for RVing and outdoor adventure.

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Kerri Cox <![CDATA[Family-Friendly RV: Cherokee Wolf Pack 23GOLD15]]> 2019-11-08T17:47:44Z 2019-10-31T18:20:35Z

Pack the toys, grab the kids and party on the deck of the Cherokee Wolf Pack 23GOLD15 toy hauler.

Toy haulers have long been a popular choice for adventurers who wanted to take along their motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles. Splashed with racy graphics and somewhat minimal interiors, the toy haulers of years past often weren’t marketed toward families. However, today’s toy haulers come with residential flourishes and loads of family-friendly appeal, making them competitors for those seeking something more flexible than a bunkhouse travel trailer.

The 2020 Cherokee Wolf Pack 23GOLD15 is one toy hauler where families can feel at home. The comfortable interior makes it easy to forget that the rear garage space is, well, a garage. However, the impressive cargo capacity (topping 4,500 pounds) makes it clear that this toy hauler means business. Fully loaded, the 23GOLD15 can weigh up to 11,300 pounds.

Flexible Sleeping Spaces

Rear garage of toy hauler with lower and upper beds in position.
With convertible roll-over sofas and a manually operated bunk that comes down from near the ceiling, the 23GOLD15 can sleep four in the rear garage space.

Unlike traditional bunkhouse trailers, toy haulers usually do not feature dedicated bunks for the kids. Instead, the 23GOLD15 has convertible beds in the garage area. Two roll-over sofas transform into a large bed, and a bunk manually glides down from the ceiling for additional sleeping space. As many as four kids can get a good night’s rest in this pair of roomy beds, with USB charging ports easily accessible.

For Mom and Dad, a walk-around king-size bed and abundant storage await up front in the enclosed master bedroom. The adjacent bathroom has separate doors to the bedroom and main living area, and features an enclosed corner shower.

Trailer bedroom with dark bedspread on queen bed and cabinets above
A separate master bedroom features a king-size bed surrounded by windows and storage, as well as a convenient entrance to the bathroom (not shown).

Cozy Living Area

The 23GOLD15 houses a roomy kitchen, thanks to the side slide that bumps out the 10-cubic-foot refrigerator, microwave, oven and cooktop, significantly opening up the floor space. A counter extends at a right angle to a deep farm sink. Wood cabinetry adds a cozy touch.

Across from the kitchen, a versatile space has room for a folding table and two optional lounge chairs. The table can also be used with the rear sofas to create a dinette and provide a functional place for meals, work or play. Opening the garage door extends the living space onto the rear ramp, which can be equipped with the optional deck-railing system.

View of toy hauler from midship to rear with plank-look flooring, kitchen and rear sofas.
The interior provides a modern residential feeling with vinyl plank flooring and black kitchen appliances housed in a slideout.

Standards and Upgrades

Upsized standard features like the 100-gallon freshwater tank, 15,000-Btu air conditioner and 35,000-Btu furnace help the 23GOLD15 shine. The Gold Package comes with a tire-monitoring system, sturdy MORyde entry steps, an LP-gas quick-connect, black-tank flush and solar prep.

Families seeking an open, comfortable space with room for toys and the whole crew will find the 23GOLD15 an appealing choice, with a starting MSRP of $30,927.

Outside of toy hauler with stairs and awning extended.
The painted metal exterior of the 23GOLD15 is designed for durability.

Manufacturer’s Specifications

2020 Forest River Cherokee Wolf Pack 23GOLD15
Exterior Length: 33′ 5″
Exterior Width: 8′ 5″
Interior Height: 7′ 6″
Exterior Height: 12′ 5″
Freshwater Cap.:  100 gal.
Black-Water Cap.: 38 gal.
Gray-Water Cap.: 38 gal.
LP-Gas Cap.: 10 gal.
UVW: 6,768 lbs.
Hitch Weight: 1,152 lbs.
GVWR: 11,352 lbs.
Base MSRP: $30,927

Floorplan illustration of toy hauler showing front bedroom and rear sofas and table.

Click here to take a virtual tour of the 2020 Cherokee Wolf Pack 23GOLD15.

Author, blogger and photographer Kerri Cox.With her small bunkhouse travel trailer in tow, Kerri Cox has traveled near and far with her husband and two teenage sons, documenting their adventures on her blog, Travels with Birdy. When not on the road, she spends her time teaching and writing. Her words and photographs can be found in print and digital publications, including Trailer Life and the Good Sam Club Blog.

Chris Hemer <![CDATA[2020 Vision: New Trucks and SUVs for Towing]]> 2019-11-01T19:54:25Z 2019-10-30T23:38:06Z

Raising the performance bar, the hottest new trucks and SUVs for towing offer more capability than ever.

Trucks and SUVs have officially surpassed sedans as America’s sales leader. Though this fact may confound car-enthusiast magazine editors, the reasons seem pretty clear to us. These vehicles, though perhaps not as fast or as agile as some sedans, offer a higher seating position, better visibility and far more utility. The right SUV or pickup has room for the whole family (providing you don’t run herd over a modern-day Brady Bunch), can haul sheets of plywood and fertilizer on the weekends and still offers an acceptable ride.

But readers of Trailer Life like them for one important reason. They can tow just about any trailer you have in mind. Trucks, in particular, have been raising the bar in this area, with half-tons towing in excess of 12,000 pounds, while heavy-duty models can pull an astronomical 30,000 pounds or more. And for those of you shopping for a new truck or SUV in the coming year, there’s good news: more capability and more choices than ever.
We’ve got a long list to cover, so let’s get started, shall we?

2020 Chevy Blazer
Sleek lines combined with a fuel-efficient powertrain and a tow rating of up to 4,500 pounds make the Chevy Blazer a solid choice for RVing families.

GM Chevrolet

There’s much to talk about here. In case you missed the September issue, the Chevy 2500 and 3500 series heavy-duty trucks are all new, with major drivetrain changes that enable a class-leading tow rating of up to 35,500 pounds, not to mention a rating of at least 30,000 pounds for any diesel-equipped 3500 series dually.

The flagship 6.6-liter Duramax diesel maintains its 445 horsepower and 910 lb-ft of torque rating, but gets a massive 28-inch mechanical fan and a functional hood scoop designed to keep it cooler under heavy loads. It’s backed by a new 10-speed Allison transmission, as well as larger driveshafts, axles and differential ring gear. The fully boxed frame receives additional reinforcements, and the base gas engine swells from 6.0 to 6.6 liters, generates 401 horsepower and 464 lb-ft of torque, and is backed by a six-speed automatic.

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• Silverado HD
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Up to six built-in cameras (as well as an accessory rear-trailer camera and trailer-interior camera) provide up to 15 views to make hitching, backing and towing easier. Combined with the ASA Electronics iN-Command control system (which allows owners to monitor and control a range of systems in the trailer such as water-tank levels, HVAC and generator start/stop) and an in-vehicle/mobile trailering app (trailer-light test, electrical diagnostics, tire-pressure/temperature monitoring and predeparture checklist), the 2500 and 3500 trucks promise to provide an effortless towing experience.

On the half-ton front, Chevy has also introduced an all-new 3.0-liter Duramax diesel to compete with the likes of Ford’s 3.0-liter Power Stroke diesel and Ram’s reintroduced 3.0-liter EcoDiesel. Unlike those engines, however, the little ’Max is an inline six cylinder that produces 277 horsepower at 3,750 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm, routed through a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Able to tow up to 9,500 pounds, 3.0-liter Duramax trucks achieve an EPA-estimated 33 mpg/highway and 23 mpg/city in rear-wheel-drive models, and 29 mpg/highway and 23 mpg/city for four-wheel-drive configurations.

Chevy is upping the horse­power ante on its gas-powered half-tons as well. For 2020, more than half of Silverado trim levels will be available with the top-dog 6.2-liter V-8 churning out an SAE-certified 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. In the RST model, that translates to a tow rating of up to 13,400 pounds when properly equipped.

In the weirdness that surrounds model-year introductions these days, there wasn’t any detailed information on the 2019 Chevy Blazer when we were compiling last year’s guide to 2019 trucks, so a little rewind is in order. The Blazer is Chevy’s midsize SUV that forsakes the blocky honesty of its truck-based predecessor for “the most progressive expression of the Chevrolet crossover design theme,” according to GM. With a wide stance, high belt line and athletic styling, the new Blazer certainly is a looker, and is available with a 2.5-liter inline four cylinder or the venerable 3.6-liter V-6, front- or all-wheel drive. Of particular interest to RVers is an available Trailering Package with Hitch Guidance and Hitch View technology on 3.6-liter AWD models, which are rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds.

The GMC Sierra HD on the road
The GMC Sierra HD packs the same mechanical features as the Chevy HD models but offers different styling and a MultiPro tailgate, among other details.


It’s no secret that GMC is Chevy’s upscale cousin, so it should come as no surprise
that the GMC Sierra 2500/3500 trucks boast the same mechanical upgrades and towing-
assistance features as the Chevy Silverado heavy-duty trucks highlighted in these pages. There are some differences, however. GMC HD models are available with a 15-inch-
diagonal head-up display that offers vehicle speed, navigation information and an inclinometer that shows the road grade, along with a MultiPro six-function tailgate. Unique styling as well as availability of the luxurious Denali trim level may be other reasons to choose the Sierra HD.

For those who anticipate towing to off-road locales (are you listening, toy hauler owners?), GMC presents the all-new 2020 Sierra Heavy Duty AT4, featuring mechanical upgrades like Rancho shocks, skid plates, locking rear differential, 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin all-terrain tires (20-inchers available), Traction Select with Off-Road mode, hill-descent control and hill-start assist, and HD Surround Vision1 for low-speed view of the vehicle’s surroundings. It looks different, too, with dark chrome exterior finishes and contemporary detailing that includes body-colored front and rear bumpers and grille surround.

GMC’s midsize Acadia
GMC’s midsize Acadia gets tough with the new AT4 trim level, which includes a unique grille, wheels, badging and black-chrome exterior accents.

Similarly, the GMC Sierra light-duty models will also offer the 3.0-liter Duramax diesel, as well as an available Enhanced ProGrade Trailering system with the same 15-camera-view system as the HD models, plus an available Adaptive Cruise Control camera, new trailer tow mirrors and an 8-inch diagonal infotainment display. A 10-speed automatic transmission is now available on 5.3-liter V-8 models (SLT, AT4 and Denali with 4WD), and the handsome Elevation model is now available in Crew Cab as well.

GMC’s midsize Acadia SUV also gets a major update this year, with new styling, an available 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, new nine-speed automatic transmission, an enhanced infotainment system and a head-up display. And, for the first time, the aggressive-looking, off-road-inspired AT4 trim package available on other GMC products will be offered on the Acadia as well. With the available 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 and Trailering Package, the Acadia can tow up to 4,000 pounds.

Ram Heavy Duty 3500
Ram Heavy Duty 3500


The Ram Heavy Duty lineup was completely updated for 2019, so we don’t expect any major changes for 2020. In case you missed the review in the May issue, the new Ram HD benefits from a new Cummins High Output (HO) diesel engine that produces a nice, round 400 horsepower and 1,000 lb-ft of torque, while the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 gas engine now benefits from an eight-speed TorqueFlite 8HP75 automatic transmission. Chassis and suspension improvements, reduced weight and all-new interiors are just a few of the details that make the Ram HD one of the top choices for 2020 as well.

See Related Story:
• Ram HD

Ram’s emissions struggles with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 were well publicized, but the engine is back for 2020 and is better than ever. Completely new for 2020, the EcoDiesel produces a class-leading 480 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm, along with a respectable 260 horsepower — good for a tow rating of up to 12,560 pounds. Available in all models and configurations, including the Ram Rebel, the double-overhead-cam engine features revised intake ports, a 16:1 compression ratio, water-cooled VGT turbocharger and 29,000-psi direct injection.

2020 Jeep Gladiator
Legendary Jeep capability meets truck toughness in the all-new Gladiator, which has the highest payload and tow ratings in its class.


Most of us associate Jeep with iconic models like the Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, but the brand has a long history of building pickups. With the all-new Gladiator, it is back in the pickup game and is taking no prisoners. As you might expect, the Gladiator offers real off-road capability, with equipment like Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, a segment-exclusive electronic sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires.

Perhaps more germane to Trailer Life readers, the Gladiator also boasts the highest available towing capacity in its class at up to 7,650 pounds, along with a 1,600-pound payload. And in a nod to its Wrangler cousin, the Gladiator is also the only true open-air pickup, offered with a soft or hard top and dozens of different door, top and windshield combinations. There’s even a fold-down windshield.

Initially, the Gladiator is available with the lauded 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine and a six- or eight-speed automatic transmission, but the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and eight-speed combination will be available in 2020.

2020 Ford Explorer ST
The first-ever Ford Explorer ST matches handsome exterior details with 400 horsepower and all-wheel drive, making it the baddest Explorer ever.


In the spring of 2018, Ford announced that it will stop selling cars in North America with the exception of the Mustang, choosing instead to focus on SUVs and trucks. With that in mind, it introduced a decidedly carlike 2020 Ford Escape one year later, and recently introduced an all-new Ford Explorer.

Redesigned from the ground up, this new Explorer uses a rear-wheel-drive architecture (instead of the front- or all-wheel-drive offerings of the past), which the company says allowed for a sportier design, improved on/off-road capability and a 600-pound boost in maximum towing capacity to 5,600 pounds when properly equipped. An Explorer ST model, meanwhile, is the most powerful Explorer ever, with a performance-tuned 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 that produces an impressive 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque.

See Related Story:
• Explorer Hybrid

A Class III Trailer Tow Package is available with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost and new 3.3-liter hybrid engines, and comes standard with the 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. (See the June issue for an exclusive look at the Explorer Hybrid, paired with an Airstream Nest.)

Trailer sway control, which selectively brakes and adjusts engine power to keep a towable in line, is standard across the board. An available console-mounted Terrain Management System offers up to seven selectable drive modes including normal, trail, deep snow and sand, slippery, sport, tow/haul and a new Eco mode, each with special 3D animated graphics displayed in the available new 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

A redesigned interior offers an available 10.1-inch portrait-mounted touch screen with full-screen maps, traffic-sensing Ford Co-Pilot360 driver-assist and features that can help reduce stress, such as available Reverse Brake Assist and Active Park Assist 2.0, which handles all steering, shifting, brake and accelerator controls during a parking maneuver with the touch of a button.

Trucks are Ford’s bread and butter, and with GM and Ram having introduced new heavy-duty models, Ford is answering back with a substantially updated Super Duty lineup. At press time, details are still filtering in, but the company promises the Super Duty will be offered with its highest ever conventional and fifth-wheel towing (and payload) ratings.

In addition to the standard 6.2-liter gas V-8, Ford is introducing a second, more powerful gas option: a 7.3-liter V-8 that promises to be the most powerful in its segment at 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. The 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel will also be updated with a new fuel-injection system, redesigned variable geometry turbocharger and structural enhancements that will allow for higher output, but we don’t have any horsepower or torque figures as of this writing. An all-new, Ford-designed and -built 10-speed TorqShift automatic transmission will be available with all three engines.

Visually, the Super Duty doesn’t change much. An enhanced front end with a redesigned front bumper and air dam help optimize cooling, while the LED headlamps have a new look and improved performance, according to Ford. At the rear, a freshened tailgate design, revised tail lamps and a new bumper convey a bolder Built Ford Tough style.

Kia Telluride
Kia Telluride


Both under the same corporate umbrella, Hyundai and Kia have introduced all-new midsize SUVs, the Palisade and Telluride, respectively. Built on the same architecture, both models are powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 producing 291 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed transmission, with a choiceof front- or all-wheel drive.

Hyundai Palisade
Hyundai Palisade

Rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds, Palisade and Telluride models offer three-row seating for up to seven passengers. So what are the main differences? Aside from appearances, Palisade is built in Korea, and Telluride was designed in California and is assembled in Georgia. There are small differences in overall length, width and interior volume, with the advantage going to Telluride. Which to choose? Honestly, it comes down to which one you like better, as both are similarly priced.


The Tundra full-size and Tacoma midsize pickups get minor upgrades, and the Sequoia full-size SUV is now offered with the off-road-inspired TRD Pro trim level. The biggest news from Toyota this year, however, is an all-new midsize Highlander SUV, built on the company’s Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform. Promising higher levels of comfort, capability and safety, this fourth-generation Highlander comes standard with
a 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 packing 263 lb-ft of torque, matched with a new eight-speed automatic transmission.

When equipped with the available towing package (heavy-duty radiator, engine-oil cooler, improved cooling-fan performance and Trailer Sway Control), the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Available in front- or all-wheel-drive with seven- or eight-passenger seating, the Highlander comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay/SiriusXM/Waze/Amazon Alexa compatibility and offers a 12.3-inch multimedia display.

Trailer Life contributor Chris Hemer

A frequent contributor to Trailer Life, Chris Hemer is the former technical editor of Trailer Life and MotorHome, and has been an RV and automotive journalist for more than 20 years. An outdoor enthusiast who now makes his home in Portland, Oregon, he enjoys camping, motorcycle riding, mountain biking and hiking.

Rick A. Diaz <![CDATA[RV Upgrade: Maxxair Roof-Vent Cover]]> 2019-11-05T22:19:07Z 2019-10-30T21:11:33Z

Maxxair’s roof-vent covers help keep the air circulating while in the rain and on the road

RVs come in many brands, shapes, styles and sizes, but one thing common to almost all of them is the presence of at least one standard 14-by-14-inch crank-up roof vent, typically found in the bathroom and opened by way of a knob or crank mechanism. There may also be one or more over the main sleeping area or living area.

In the bathroom, the vent may have a motorized fan that can remove warm, moist air during a shower, to prevent potentially damaging condensation on or in the walls, or the pungent aftermath of that beans-and-hot-dogs dinner. In the galley or living area, it can remove cooking odors and warm, musty or stale air, and improve overall air circulation and comfort.

Maxxair vent-cover kit and tools and supplies for installation
Before starting the installation, have everything you need on the roof to avoid multiple trips up and down the ladder. In addition to the Maxxair vent-cover kit, you’ll want a cordless drill, 1⁄8-inch and 3⁄8-inch bits, a Phillips-head screwdriver or driver bit, 11⁄32-inch and 7⁄16-inch wrenches, something to mark the mounting holes with, and a broom or hand vacuum (not shown). Photos: Rick A. Diaz

Opening the roof vents before turning on the air conditioner can also help cool the trailer quicker, as the warmer air at ceiling level will be drawn out instead of needing to be cooled. In milder climates, with the entry door open and the screen door closed, these vents can keep the cabin comfortable enough without using the air conditioner, particularly in the evening when it’s cooler outside.

Info graphic for Maxxair’s roof-vent cover installationOne problem with these crank-up vents is that they need to be closed in the event of rain to prevent water entry. Another problem is that RVers sometimes forget to close them before getting on the road, and they can easily be damaged, as they are typically constructed of lightweight plastic and are not made to withstand highway winds. The same is true of high winds when stationary.

Maxxair, a division of Airxcel, offers vent covers that provide a cost-effective means to maximize roof-vent operation and keep you from wondering if you remembered to close the vents before leaving the trailer, turning in for the night or hitting the highway.

Every style of Maxxair vent cover is designed so it won’t compromise the existing seal of the roof vent. Installation is fairly simple, requiring nothing more than a drill (cordless preferred) and a few common hand tools. All necessary mounting hardware (aluminum and stainless steel) is included with each cover.

Be sure your RV’s roof is walkable before starting and that you can safely move around on it, as you may be in an awkward position when drilling the four required mounting-bracket holes. Don’t worry; these holes go in the metal frame of the roof vent, not the roof of the trailer. If the roof vent is close to the edge of the trailer on one side, it might be safer
to use a ladder for that part of the installation. If you’re uncomfortable working on the roof, seek out a professional to install the vent cover.

Check Here for More RV Upgrades

Maxxair vent covers carry a six-year warranty against manufacturing defects and come in a variety of colors to match your style and needs: black, smoked tint, almond, silver, champagne and the translucent white we installed here.

The Maxxair Original Vent Cover has a built-in screen at the back louvers, which is removable and washable, and gives a second layer of protection to keep leaves, bugs and varmints out. The wide, overlapping design helps keep damaging UV rays off the roof-vent sealant, potentially extending its life.

See Related Video

Maxxair manufactures a full line of vent covers and vent shades, as well as replacement shrouds for Coleman-Mach air conditioners. The company also makes powered roof fans in regular and low-profile versions, with or without rain sensors, to fit almost any rig, from pop-up campers to travel trailers, fifth-wheels and motorhomes. If it helps get air into or out of an RV, Maxxair makes it.

Headshot of author Rick A. DiazResiding in West Palm Beach, Florida, Rick A. Diaz is an avid mountain biker, woodworker and former Hollywood, California, custom Harley-Davidson shop owner, as well as a motorcycle and truck journalist. Rick will be taking his fiancée, their two retired racing greyhounds and an Italian greyhound puppy on adventures in their Winnebago Minnie Plus while contributing to Trailer Life.


Chris Dougherty <![CDATA[Staff Pick: TST 507 Series Tire-Monitoring System]]> 2019-11-11T16:37:28Z 2019-10-29T23:04:17Z Nothing puts a crimp on RV travels like a tire blowout. At best, it means delays and a road-service call. At worst, a wayward tire carcass can tear a hole through the RV floor, rupture LP-gas lines or even damage the RV’s frame. Damage costs start in the hundreds of dollars and go all the way up to a total loss of the RV.

Green box containing tire monitoring componentsTST (Truck System Technologies) specializes in tire-pressure monitoring systems for RVs and commercial trucks. The company’s new 507 Series kits are ideal for trailerists and include six sensors, a repeater and a 3½-inch color display. The systems can monitor pressure and temperature in real time for up to 115 tires, providing visual, audible and textual alerts; the monitor can be used on up to four trailers.

Sensor batteries are claimed to last up to two years, and the programmed code lock isn’t lost when they are replaced. The display has a long-lasting internal battery to operate unplugged or via a USB port with the included cable. Kits are available with flow-through, cap or internal sensors, based on the type of valve stems.

MSRP: $389


Staff Pick >>

We installed the 507 Series TPMS with six flow-through sensors on a Keystone Montana fifth-wheel, which included the four trailer tires and the spare. Installation was straightforward, and most of the programming and prep work were accomplished before even going out to the fifth-wheel. We particularly like the option of mounting the color display on the dash with the rubber mount or on the windshield with the suction cup. The display’s battery lasts a long time without charging.
Chris Dougherty, Trailer Life Technical Editor


Find more new RV and travel products handpicked by the Trailer Life staff.

Lee Merchen <![CDATA[10-Minute Tech: Take the Edge Off]]> 2019-10-25T18:24:19Z 2019-10-28T21:24:14Z Our Heartland Bighorn fifth-wheel had a rough edge on the bed platform. I found that drywall J-channel trim fit the edge of the ½-inch oriented strand board (OSB) base perfectly. I cut the pieces to fit, and the platform now has smooth, finished edges. I bought the J-channel in 10-foot lengths for $2.40 at Home Depot.

Lee Merchen | Rives Junction, Michigan


Read more tips and tricks for making RV travel easier, safer and more pleasurable, submitted by Trailer Life readers, based on real-life RV experiences.

To submit an RV DIY tip of your own, email an explanation of the idea to and attach at least one high-resolution photo.


Kate Dunbar <![CDATA[Bourbon Maple Sausage]]> 2019-10-28T19:12:53Z 2019-10-28T19:06:20Z Using America’s native spirit to sweeten your breakfast

Sitting on our back porch looking at the sherbet-colored sky above our Texas home a few nights ago, I was reminded of our family RV adventure along the Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey trails. The distillery tours we took were full of history, lore, incredible scents and science. A glass of bourbon holds a story; its complex, mysterious and one that has quietly developed for years as it slept quietly in its barrel waiting for that perfect moment to be awoken and poured into a bottle for you to enjoy. That moment when you take in all of its flavor, the mildly spicy yet sweet taste, helps you savor a mash-bill mix of 51% corn, rye and possibly malted barley. The new American oak charred barrel gives bourbon its vanilla, caramel and spice flavors.

Two bottles of Blanton's single barrel bourbon whiskey
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Photo credit: Kate Dunbar

What separates American whiskey from bourbon? A strict set of standards from the government regulates and defines “America’s native spirit, bourbon,” and the guidelines are as follows: Bourbon is made in United States (not just Kentucky), produced from a fermented mash of 51% corn and distilled at no more than 160 proof. It’s stored at no more than 125 proof in new, charred American oak barrels, aged for minimum two years and free from additives or coloring.

I’ve been taking classes and attending tastings at many distilleries over the past two years. I’m friends with a Master Whisky taster who schools me regularly with facts, science and the magic of distilling bourbon. She goes into great detail about what’s happening to the barrel as it rests in certain areas of the rickhouse, the building barrels age in before being bottled. If a barrel is placed on a rack in the top levels of the rickhouse, the alcohol inside the barrel will evaporate much faster than it would if it rested towards the lower section of the rickhouse. All barrels along the east and west walls will age faster due to the sun rising and setting, which warms up those areas more than the north- or south-facing walls. The materials used in constructing these warehouses — like brick, wood, metal or even a dug-out limestone caves — all add to the flavor profile of bourbon.

Bourbon barrel room with rows of barrels
Photo credit: Kate Dunbar

Let’s take another look at that upper level of the rickhouse. Because of hot air rising through the warehouse, the alcohol inside the barrel warms up and the wood of the barrel starts to absorb that alcohol at a much faster rate. This makes it easier for the alcohol to be pulled into the wood, where flavors and color develop quicker, resulting in a bourbon that can be bottled sooner because it is aged faster from the exposure to extreme weather conditions. When the winter season settles into the warehouse, that barrel wood contracts, expelling the alcohol from the wood back into the mix of the barrel. There you have the push and pull process of barrel aging.

One of my favorite moments when I visit a distillery is my first step into the rickhouse. I’m surrounded with the scents of smoke, spice, alcohol vapors and warm, thick air. If I’m visiting in the winter, it’s cold in the warehouse and the aroma is sharp, spicy and bold. The air is dry, the summer humidity and thick feeling has left and the dramatic climate change inside the building is about as breathtaking as anything I have ever experienced.

Maker's Mark bourbon barrel with glass jars above on wall
Photo credit: Kate Dunbar

Doing a Distillery Tour

Here are a few of my favorite distilleries to visit if you are traveling through Tennessee and Kentucky. First, you will need to start at the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and Kentucky’s Official Bourbon Trail. These two links will help you find the complete list of distilleries to visit, tools to help you plan your trip and a great spotlight on the master distillers.

Kentucky Distilleries

  • Buffalo Trace Distillery, Franklin County, one of the original distilleries that was not closed during prohibition, this 200-year-old historic landmark has produced some of the world’s finest bourbon. In one year alone this distillery can produce 2.6 million gallons of whiskey.
  • Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, Kentucky seven generations and over 200 years in the Tennessee Whiskey craft, this distillery is cemented in family and the passed down generational education of its founders and employees.
  • Limestone Branch Distillery, Lebanon, Kentucky two of the most famous bourbon labels have come from this distillery, Minor Case Bourbon and Yellowstone Bourbon. Steve and Paul Beam (yes that Beam family) proudly distill small batch Bourbon with a commitment to donate part of its proceeds to the National park Conservation Association.

Tennessee Distilleries

  • Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, home of the Original Tennessee Whiskey.
  • Old Dominick Distillery, Memphis. This distillery has a rich history and was groundbreaking in that they were the first to legally distill whiskey in Memphis since prohibition ended.
  • George Dickel Tennessee Whisky, Tullahoma, has been producing some of the finest and smoothest whisky for over 60 years. Since its start this brand choose to keep with Scottish tradition by spelling whisky without an “e.”
  • Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg, with over 150 years of time-honored tradition. From burning and creating their own charcoal for the mellowing process to their legendary friendship with Frank Sinatra, this is a must-stop for all your whiskey wants and needs.

The Bourbon-Barbecue Connection

Where there’s good whiskey you can pretty much bet there is good BBQ nearby.  That low-and-slow piece of pork seasoned with salt, pepper a few spices, then mopped with a mix of apple juice or apple cider and butter. Honestly, its delicious and if you can get to a good BBQ place in Kentucky, you will not be disappointed. Here are a few of my Bluegrass State picks:

  • Moonlight Bar-B-Q Inn, Owensboro. Their hickory smoke makes their food taste unbelievable.
  • Lyle’s BBQ Company, Lexington. Ask for the bacon and bourbon jam. I promise you will not be disappointed.
  • Feast BBQ, Louisville, for the best pork ribs I’ve had outside of Memphis. The bourbon slushy is to die for.
  • Old Hickory BBQ, Owensboro, has been tending their fire for over 100 years. Get the chopped pork with a side of spicy sauce. It will make your mouth tingle!

What better way to celebrate bourbon and pork than with a delicious and flavorful breakfast sausage? Homemade sausage patties are easy to make and cost a fraction of of what you pay for in store-bought prepackaged breakfast sausage. Use a few flavorful herbs and spices, fresh ground pork and the addition I have been waiting to use, Pappy & Co Bourbon Barrel-Aged Pure Maple Syrup. The maple syrup used was tapped from trees on the Bissell Maple Farm in Ohio.

Bissell maple farm with fall colored trees and red barn
Photo courtesy of Bissell maple farm

This family-run company not only grows the trees, but they tap the trees as well. Then they purchase used bourbon and rum barrels from distilleries and age their maple syrup in those rich flavored spirit-soaked wooden casks. Flavors of vanilla, oak, butter and, of course, bourbon shine through. This is one of my favorite toppings for homemade waffles or pancakes. Now to use it as an ingredient for my family to enjoy with our sausage-and-egg breakfast sandwiches.

Bottle of Pappy & Company bourbon barrel-aged pure maple syrup on table cloth
Photo credit: Kate Dunbar

Bourbon Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup Sausage

2 pounds fresh-ground pork

¼ cup Pappy & Co. bourbon aged maple syrup

1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped fine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped fine

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon red chili flake

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

In a bowl add ground pork, garlic powder, smoked paprika, red chili flake, maple syrup, salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix the ingredients until all the spices are evenly distributed.  To shape the sausage patties, divide sausage mixture into 2-ounce portions. Shape into balls and gently press the ball flat using the palms of your hands. Do not press the patties too flat or they crack around the edges. Place patties on a parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Heat a nonstick or seasoned cast-iron pan over medium heat. Place four to six patties at a time to the hot pan. Cook for 5 minutes a side or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees and the center is not pink. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any extra fat and cover with foil to keep warm while you are cooking the remaining sausage patties.

Make ahead: The patties can be shaped and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to four days before cooking. To freeze the sausage patties, once you have pressed and shaped all the patties, place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet pan in one layer. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight until frozen solid, remove from baking sheet pan, and place in a zip top plastic bag. Return to freezer where they can stay for up to six months.

Woman holding tray of baked bread in kitchen Kate Dunbar has always had a passion for food. Growing up in a farming family, she took the statement “love your farmer” to heart. Now a published cookbook author, Kate has a mission is to show how delicious and simple outdoor cooking can be. Spending time at the campground started with her grandparents and now continues with her family as they travel all over the United States in search of food, fun and the joy of the open road.


Bruce W. Smith <![CDATA[The Big Show]]> 2019-10-28T19:18:43Z 2019-10-28T17:23:52Z Winter along Oregon’s Southern coast offers spectacular sights not seen at any other time of year 

Thundering 25-foot white-frothed breakers crash into the rugged rock formations below the cliff I’m standing atop sending an exploding spray of saltwater a hundred feet high. The powerful impact from the waves generated by a Pacific winter storm hundreds of miles to the north roars in my ears and sends a shudder through the earth below my feet. The next swell rolling in behind it looks even bigger.

Massive ocean swell crashing on large rocky cliff during the day in Oregon
Powerful winter storms out in the Pacific send massive swells crashing into the rugged rocks at Oregon’s Shore Acres State Park, sending spray more than a 100-feet into the air. Visitors standing on the cliff overlook locations get a close-up view. Best viewing time is at or near high tide. Photo by Bruce W. Smith

I’m not alone. Dozens of others stand by my side at the Shore Acres State Park overlook, cameras in hand, anticipating the show Mother Nature is treating us to. And as darkness falls, everyone turn around and head across the parking lot to join hundreds of other visitors enjoying another show that’s just as spectacular—the Annual Holiday Lights display in the park’s seven-acre botanical garden.

People walking along street near houses covered in holiday lights, dressed warmly
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas more than a quarter-million Christmas lights transform Oregon’s Shore Acre State Park’s seven-acre botanical garden into a magical, colorful display of artistry and imagination. Visitor are treated to hot coffee, apple cider and cookies inside the garden house. Photo by Bruce W. Smith

2019 marks the 33rd anniversary where local businesses and groups from the surrounding communities string more than a third-of-a-million Christmas lights along the garden’s walkways, the Japanese lily pond, around the shrubbery, into the trees, and form them into animated displays of whales, birds and local wildlife.

Holiday lights displaying blue humpback whale and colorful lights on houses
The Annual Holiday Lights display includes numerous animated displays including one of a Humpback whale breaching. The best time to walk the seven-acre botanical garden during the early winter light show is at sunset. The crowds get larger after dark—especially on clear evenings. Photo by Bruce W. Smith

Inside the gardens the roar of the crashing surf is replaced by the soothing sounds of Christmas music and the voices of local choirs wafting over the celebrated gardens. This colorful and breathtaking annual display opens on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 28th) from 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m. each night (including Dec 24th & 25th) thru December 31st. A parking fee of $5, or showing a campground receipt, is all it costs to enter.

Holiday lights of blue, green, yellow and pink on houses near pond
Colorful Christmas lights during the Shore Acres State Park Annual Holiday Lights display reflect in the celebrated garden’s Japanese Lily pond. Photo by Bruce W. Smith

The park was once part of the 750-acre estate and summer home of local timber baron Louis J. Simpson in the early 1900s, which he named Shore Acres. Simpson eventually donated all the land to the state, and RVers who love watching the power of the Pacific Ocean and enjoying beautiful gardens will be forever grateful.

RVers coming to the area for the first time will find numerous campgrounds to spend time exploring the area. The closest to that offers RV camping is Sunset Bay State Park, a mere 3/4-mile from the entrance to Shore Acres. The park offers 29 full-hookups and is tucked in a wooded cove that’s a short walk from the beach.

Shore Acres State Park Crashing Waves October
Ocean swells created by powerful winter Pacific storms in Alaska and toward Hawaii pound the Oregon Coast. Photos by Bruce W. Smith

A few miles closer to Hwy. 101 on Cape Arago Highway is Bay Point Landing, a brand new RV campground sitting on the edge of Coos Bay with more than 160 RV campsites and offering top-tier amenities. And for those who want to be closer to gaming, fine dining, and the exploring the towns of North Bend and Coos Bay, the Mill Casino Hotel & RV Park, on Hwy. 101, offers more than 115 campsites that can accommodate up to the largest of trailers. The Mill is just 12 miles from Shore Acres.

Aerial View of Shore Acres State Park’s seven-acre botanical garden during the Annual Holiday Lights Display
Aerial View of Shore Acres State Park’s seven-acre botanical garden during the Annual Holiday Lights Display where more than 325,000 LED Christmas lights are arranged in colorful, creative displays by local businesses and artisans. (Photo by Cody Cha/

An early winter trek along the Oregon Coast provides sights and sound that are never seen any other time of year. Once you’ve experienced the power of the Pacific Ocean up close and taken in the Holiday Light show and other festivities, it’ll stay etched in the memory bank forever.


Bruce W. SmithA respected automotive and RV journalist and longtime Trailer Life contributor, Bruce W. Smith has held numerous editorial titles at automotive and boating magazines, and authored more than 1,000 articles, from tech to trailering. He considers his home state of Oregon a paradise for RVing and outdoor adventure.