The Ups and Downs of Planning on the Fly

Beautiful park next to our RV park in Lapeer, MI.

After lingering in Northern Michigan we decided to make up time by driving over 200 miles across the state to get to New York through Canada. Similar to when we went to Mexico to go to the dentist, passports are not required for crossing into Canada and back by road; since we don’t yet have them for the kids we used original birth certificates as proof of citizenship. Unlike Mexico, where we walked across the border, this time we would be driving our RV and bringing the dogs. Aside from the likelihood of being searched there were no special requirements for the RV, and we only needed rabies vaccination certificates for the dogs.

We spent a couple nights in Lapeer, Michigan. It seemed like a nice enough town, but major street construction taking place on a main road and outside our RV park was a bit of a hindrance (including preventing me from getting to grocery shop in an exciting new regional store, Meijer; I had to go to boring old Walmart instead). On the plus side, we were right next to a big park with a nature preserve, playground and bike paths. We rode bikes to the cute Main Street for lunch, and Rita and Charlie had fun with a group of kids on the playground.

New friends in Lapeer. The biggest and oldest kid in the group was great at including all the kids, even when some of them (OK, Rita) weren’t being so nice to their little brother.
Gorgeous reflection in the pond next to the playground.
I’ve never seen so many lilypads.

The Canadian border was a 50 mile drive east of Lapeer in the town of Port Huron. This was made very clear by several signs as we got closer. We waited in line to pay a $10 bridge toll for the RV and tow car, then waited in line at Canada Border Services. Chris handed over all our paperwork to the border agent, who asked a few questions then sent us over to the inspection area where no one else was waiting. We were greeted by five cordial border agents. They asked us all to step out of the RV, including the dogs, while they had a quick look around inside. Chris showed them the BB gun we have in an outside storage bay and they were satisfied that it was not a real gun. With that, we entered a new country!

Got it!

Waiting to be approved to enter Canada

Unfortunately, our big trip to Canada lasted only one night. We didn’t have Verizon cell service as expected, and the wifi at the campground we stopped at outside of London, Ontario was the first place we’ve encountered where they charge for wifi, per device – and it still didn’t work. If we had planned this better in advance we could have stayed longer (we know from experience that campground wifi can be hit or miss, but we thought our Verizon plan would work once we crossed the border like it did in Mexico), but with Chris working remotely we couldn’t take the chance of being offline for too long.

So, back across the border we went. Sorry, Canada, and my Canadian friends. We’ll be back for a real visit one day.

We had horses behind our campsite in Ontario!

Charlie made the most of his one night in Canada, playing basketball with big kids and impressing them with his skills.

The crossing over Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls went quickly, and it was really cool to get a view of the Falls, but it was also an abrupt entry into the Northeast in a couple ways. First, the border lanes were ridiculously narrow; it was like playing the game Operation with an RV: Don’t touch the sides! Since it was a Sunday we weren’t too concerned about finding a place to stay and started calling nearby campgrounds after pulling over to the side of the road. What we were not expecting were the crazy prices: the first two places we called were around $100 per night, and not even with full hookups. We’ve stayed in some touristy areas before, and in nicer/pricey campgrounds, but nothing close to this cost.

Crossing Rainbow Bridge from Canada to the US

We quickly decided to push on to Buffalo, and this is when things got exciting. As we turned a curve in the highway just past downtown Niagara Falls we encountered what no RVer wants to see: a low bridge. A yellow sign indicated that the clearance was 11’8”. The sign was only a few feet ahead of the bridge. To our knowledge the RV was a foot taller, but we literally could not back up with the tow car, there was no place to turn around, and we were on a bend in a highway. Fortunately there were no other cars around, and Chris did what he could: moved to the left lane where the clearance was highest and slowed down to about two miles per hour. Our antennae scraped on the bottom of the bridge, but otherwise we made it through.

We knew there’d be low bridges on the East Coast, to follow truck routes and to avoid parkways, but were not expecting to come across a height restriction only a few feet in advance. We measured the RV later and it is in fact 12’6’’ to the top of the AC units. Apparently the state of NY labels bridge heights with a buffer of one foot, which certainly worked in our favor this time, but sometimes “actual” clearance height is posted. I found this blog post by a trucker to be enlightening. (I wish I read it before.)

With that obstacle out of the way, we continued on to the RV park we found outside of Buffalo. The price was still high relative to what we were getting for it – a small space with no amenities beyond bathrooms and a couple washing machines, located on a busy road with no good place to walk the dogs. But it was clean, run by a very nice family, and we were still within easy driving distance to Niagara Falls at half the cost of RV parks nearby. And it happened to be Father’s Day, so Chris got to celebrate by eating his favorite dish of Buffalo wings in the town where they originated. 

That’s a tight spot.

Duff’s Famous Wings lived up to very high expectations.

We took my Dad’s advice to visit Goat Island and it was a great way to see the Falls with minimal hassle. Even knowing that Niagara is a major tourist spot I was still surprised at how busy it was on a Monday in June. We were able to park in the main lot on Goat Island for $10 and walk around for a few different views of the Falls within a couple hours. If you have more time, there is a walking path around the entire perimeter of the island that I’d imagine is really beautiful and peaceful once you get away from the crowds. We made our way past the main visitor buildings, with construction going on and a maze of barriers and people waiting for tours, to the viewpoint at Horseshoe Falls. The path goes right up next to the river, and it really is incredible to witness the power and beauty of all that water and the dizzying sheer drop of the Falls up close. Next time we’ll have to experience it from below!

Close up of Horseshoe Falls

Bridal Veil Falls and view of the Canadian side.
View from Goat Island to Bridal Veil and American Falls. We also walked across a pedestrian bridge just up from the American Falls that leads into Niagara Falls State Park.

Another pleasant surprise from our location-picked-at-random was being a few miles away from an awesome dog park. We’ve been to some great dog parks and off leash areas, like the open trail with gorgeous canyon views in Springdale, Utah just outside Zion National Park; or the 25-acre fenced in park with a stream running through it near Colorado Springs. But this was a dog park on its own island! After crossing a small pedestrian bridge over Ellicott Creek and entering the typical dog park double gates, dogs and their people are free to run around under the shady trees, walk along a path around the island, and play on a sandy beach. The dogs, and Rita and Charlie, were in heaven.

Entering Dog Park Island

Dog Heaven

After a couple nights at the basic RV park we were ready to find a place with more space and things to do. I needed to get out with the kids while Chris caught up on work after traveling around every couple days. We found just that about 50 miles east of Buffalo, at the Southwoods RV Resort: a pool (two pools!) and playgrounds, lots of space to ride bikes around and walk the dogs, and a campsite surrounded by trees with no immediate neighbors. There was cell service, and a cute library in the town of Bergen nearby. We would have stayed longer if they weren’t full over the weekend, but then I wouldn’t have had a lovely birthday lunch at a winery on Cayuga Lake, so things worked our for the best in the end.  

Since then we’ve had ups and downs with cell service, and with the abundance of Northeast bugs who seem intent on welcoming us and inviting themselves inside, but no more low bridges. Next up: the beautiful and historical Finger Lakes, Lake Ontario, Thousand Islands, the 4th of July, and Sal, the best camp host ever.

Happy to be back in the pool!

Lots of space and fun at Southwoods.

The small but friendly Byron Bergen Library
I shouldn’t have been surprised to see long freight trains similar to those in the West near the Great Lakes and Erie Canal, but we didn’t get these on Long Island.


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Denise Melley Gagen says:

    Another great blog!!!


    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you!!


  2. Cec says:

    Wonderful entry Michelle! Can’t wait to share❣️


    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thank you, Cec!


  3. Lindsay says:

    I can so relate to this on-the-fly pros and cons feeling. We’ve been in the same boat with many of the surprises you mentioned (i.e, hey! Crossing the border is easy! Oh, Verizon totally failed me!). It’s really refreshing to read about another family and all the highs and lows and everything in between on the road. Keep on writing and living the adventure!! Love it!!


    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thanks so much, Lindsay! I’m glad you can relate, and appreciate the encouragement.


  4. Jenn says:

    So we drove all over NY State and the NE…we found many bridges that are not labeled. We had to back our fifth up in one place when we were driving on the fly. Good Sam trip planner saved us a ton of grief by navigating us around all small bridges. I highly recommend using it, it’s free for members. Are you enjoying those NY tolls? Love that you enjoyed the falls, we also enjoyed Goat Island. Happy travels!🚌


    1. MichelleNeale says:

      Thanks so much for the commiserations and the tip! Having to back up at a bridge must have been so stressful. I didn’t know about the Good Sam trip planner, will check it out now!

      Liked by 1 person

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