YNP Trip: Size matters -- both good and bad
We just got back from a 2-week trip to Yellowstone in a cramped van, and thinking it could be our last, I paid particular attention to every trip detail affected by vehicle size -- both pros and cons. Here are but a few (sorry for length)
Cons are easy -- 300 cubic feet of space for two adults is tiny. Limited space in turn creates added inefficiency because too many things had to be moved around between day and night. Not that moving a couple of duffle bags with extra clothes or sleeping bags is difficult or takes more than a few seconds; but psychologically it adds to feeling of confinement. Fortunately we are not very large so can still move easily in close quarters.
The less space you have, the more every additional inch counts. Because of it being a longer trip we took an enclosed hitch carrier box roughly half the size of a Honda Civic's trunk, and that extra +/- 7 cubic feet of outside storage helped immensely. An even larger carrier would have been great.
We stayed in campgrounds every night, and therefore had access to showers. Most were more than adequate, but it's still a major inconvenience, particularly when temperatures drop into the 20s at night like it did in Yellowstone.
The pros were not as noteworthy, but were numerous. The first thing most of us think as an advantage to smaller RVs is fuel economy, but that's really minor in my opinion. I did get one tank at 17.0 MPG by having to drive slower than normal, followed by 15.4 and 15.0 MPG -- not bad for a Ford V10 with over 165,000 miles. Overall average was about 15 MPG driving between 70 and 75 MPH on main roads. Still, fuel savings compared to average small Class C or Axis/Vegas was probably less than $500, so not huge as part of total trip costs.
A great advantage was not having to tow a car like many RVers in larger motorhomes end up doing. It's not about cost savings, but convenience and freedom to drive just about anywhere without much if any planning. As an example, in Colorado we were told of a restaurant in a small town/village in the mountains along a scenic route, and pulling in and parking in front was no issue. With an Axis or similar towing a car I would have not stopped there at all.
Yellowstone's south entrance would not open until next day, forcing us to drive from Grand Teton NP to west entrance. The office lady at campground warned us about going over Teton Pass, but said a van would be OK. The road is rated up to 60,000-pound trucks, so I suppose motorhomes should be OK anyway. Still, I had to use 2nd gear most of the way up and down in a light van, staying in the +/- 40 MPH range to keep from having to ride brakes. Had it been a MH two or three times heavier with same V10 for engine braking, it would have required much slower speeds both up and down.
While in Yellowstone, touring the park was as easy as driving a car. We could park anywhere to see wildlife, including off the side of the road, or drive a few miles down a gravel road not knowing where we would turn around. And all while having everything with us. At one point we made a 3-point U-Turn to see a coyote eating his dinner in a snow-covered field. We also saw a total of ten bears while parked off the side of four different roads which would have been tougher to do with large MH.
On way back through Colorado we went up to the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 just to see how difficult the grade was to climb (the Ike challenge is used by The Fast Lane Truck to compare truck towing abilities) and found maintaining speed limit of 60 MPH was easy by just turning off overdrive. By comparison, many trucks and large RVs were going up at well below 30 MPH, so power-to-weight does help, particularly with NA gasoline engines at 11,000-feet elevation.
In summary, there is no doubt we could use a lot more space for the "camping/living" part of touring; the more space the better, but only to the point that a MH would still be small enough to allow us to go just about anywhere we want on the spur of the moment. Comfort amenities, at least for now, remain secondary. Versatility and ruggedness, and the travel freedom they provide, remain of primary importance.