Sounds like a great trip! Suggestions will vary, depending on how much time you are allowing for the trip. (I hope you're allowing at least a month!) I would suggest making a list of those sights in the U.S. you have always wanted to see but never have, and try to include them on the itinerary if possible. Plan your routes accordingly. When do you leave? If it's soon, be aware that many CGs in the northern tier won't be open until at least April 1st, and a good number not even until May. The idea of buying a camper (I'd go used, to minimize your loss) rather than renting, is a good one, IMO. And if you like it, you may just want to keep it & use it for camping trips in the East after you get settled. Good luck!
Conversely, we are lifetime members and haven't gotten any such solicitations - nor have we gotten any "swipe & save" card nor an offer for one. Not a big deal for us, really, but it does seem that lifetime members should get a card...
As far as being hard up for money, we've being getting solicitations from many other organizations to re-up, months before our membership expires. And magazines have been doing that for years. Not sure if it means anything or not, though of course the economy is still pretty bad.
Sidney, Nebraska (abbreviation should be NE) and Rawlins, Wyoming. Western Hills is pretty unprepossessing, but a decent spot. If its appearance puts you off, consider the surrounding terrain. :) There's not that much available in Wyoming. If Rawlins is where you need to stop, Western Hills is preferable to the KOA. We've also done the KOAs in Rock Springs (even less scenic than Rawlins) and Cheyenne. Cheyenne is nice & clean but the entire ground is graveled with round stones & would not be good for those with mobility issues. Also not many sites to fit long rigs.
Iowa State Parks are pretty decent, though bathroom standards may be somewhat uneven (it's been many years since we've camped in one of their SPs.) Most are not really all that near the interstates. On the other hand, Nebraska State Parks & "waysides" offer some pretty good options as well, especially during the week, and some of them are quite convenient to I-80. Mostly just electric hookups, but for a night that should be fine if you travel with water in your tanks. We liked Kearny State Rec. Area, outside of the town of Kearney. FYI, there is an entrance fee in addition to camping fee. Mormon Island, Windmill and several others are strung along that route. Grand Island KOA is ok for an overnight; their best feature is a little less road noise (they're about 1/2 mile from the interstate) and freshly-baked pizza which can be delivered to your site. (Pretty good pizza too.) Extra cost for the pizza, of course. :)
It never seems to fail that someone asks about camping in Yellowstone and end up getting people pushing commercial campgrounds outside of Yellowstone, predominately in West Yellowstone. It's almost as if they get discounts for doing it.
Reality is that if you choose to stay outside of Yellowstone, you will increase you daily drive significantly, not to mention missing morning and evening activities inside the park. Staying outside puts you in a tourist trap town that you won't spend much time at because you'll be driving back and forth all the time. Most who visit Yellowstone spend very little time actually in the campgrounds, the place is just too big and there is too much to see and do.
If you want to really see Yellowstone, stay inside the park in one of the many campgrounds available, the experience is worth it all. If you want to stay in a RV resort, well, you can pretty much do that anywhere, but not in Yellowstone.
Keith makes some good points, but the reason I - and probably many others - recommend staying in West Yellowstone is that some of us need, or really like to have, hookups. Other than Fishing Bridge, those are just not available inside the park. As for spending time driving into and out of the park, technically, it's maybe 5 minutes to the park boundary from Grizzly; longer, of course, from some of the other parks that are outside of town. :) It's about 1/2 hour drive, give or take a few stops for photos, wildlife viewing, buffalo jams, picnics, etc., from West to Madison Jct. And after all, aren't those stops what you spend a lot of time doing throughout Yellowstone? :)
I'll have to second camp-n-family's response. Tow rating is a helpful (though not 100% reliable) figure for towing a trailer, but not a 5th wheel, because of where the weight sits. Pin weight of the 5er sits ON the bed of the truck, directly over the rear axle, while hitch weight of a "bumper-pull" trailer sits on the hitch itself, which is (or certainly should be) attached to the truck's frame, and that weight is mitigated by the use of a weight-distributing hitch, so the entire truck frame carries it, instead of just one spot on the truck.
At least that's my understanding! :) Pin weights are virtually always much higher than hitch weights, too.
Now the downsides: At least with our TT, in order to call it a "lightweight," it was mounted on two 3500-lb axles, which we feel are barely adequate, and perhaps just under adequate, for this size trailer. There is so much storage space, but with the 7600-lb GVWR the CCC (cargo capacity) is very low, so you will be tempted to overload the TT, especially for long trips. We tried hard to keep under the GVWR but I'm sure we exceeded it several times.
The trailer is nice & big, which is good for living space, but makes it harder to tow. It sits high, making it a big windcatcher, and that also makes the awning higher than we like for providing shade. It's also very long, which meant for us that we no longer fit in many state park, national park & national forest campsites - and even have trouble getting around some of those campgrounds. It's been difficult to back into some sites because of narrow CG roads and sharp angles in those spots.
If you plan to take camping trips of fairly long duration (i.e. more than 3 weeks), especially staying several days in each spot, and if you prefer private CGs with big long pullthroughs and all the amenities, you will love this TT. If you like to camp in state parks, deep woods, national parks, etc. you may want to rethink your decision.
I crafted a nice long reply to you, but the site froze and I lost it all, dang it!! So I may split this response into several. We have a similar model - Flagstaff & Rockwood are twins, made in the same factories with each other.
First, I LOVE the wardrobe being the BR slideout - somehow it just makes sense to me, and makes for some good room in that part of the TT. Great floorplan. That wasn't available when ours was made - nice improvement.
OK, the upsides: Very spacious & comfortable, with lots of storage space. We have especially enjoyed having many seating options - chairs and couch both - and the table makes a great computer desk. This brand (Flagstaff/Rockwood) has some nice touches - little things (toilet roll holder, toothbrush holder, etc.) that we haven't found installed on other campers; nice solid wood cabinetry; couches that are comfortable to sit on, not hard like rocks; good firm mattress (if that bothers you, an "eggcrate" foam topper or memory foam topper will likely make it perfect), and some mattresses are even heated!) But those little things add up. Good solid slideout support & motor. Love the heated, enclosed holding tanks, too - very handy for "shoulder season" camping.
These trailers feel more like a vacation cottage than a camper. Very nice for trips of a month or more.
If you want to camp as close as Charleston, Oak Plantation CG is nice, and convenient to James Island as well as downtown. Haven't seen the KOA, which is on the other side of town (north, also near the shore) but have heard good things about it.
We stayed at the KOA south of Savannah for several days. Not super, but clean & friendly, and there are tons of things to do from there, including the downtown (lots of history - plenty of old homes to tour), historic Fort Pulaski, more beaches, etc. We even took a day trip from there to St Mary, where there's a little but wonderful submarine service museum in town.
No idea about 55+ - I think that's more of a southern/west coast thing. However, Normandy Farms was great (be sure to reserve early and ask for a pull-through site; their regular big-rig pull-throughs were shady and really nice, but the "Safari" sites were cheek-to-jowl in the sun. Rhe CG was otherwise very nice & well-located. Great for visiting Plimoth Plantation, if you've a mind to.
The Mystic (CT) KOA will have some good-sized sites but isn't as attractive a CG as Normandy Farms, by far.
Not sure if this applies to hybrids, but on TTs the GVWR is pretty much determined by the GAWRs (of the trailer axles) plus some allowance for hitch weight. The low CCC situation happened to us with our current trailer - despite cavernous storage, a CCC of under 900 lbs doesn't go far enough to fill all the cubbies. We tried hard to stay within the weight ratings, but probably exceeded them a time or two.
That said, keep looking. You may get lucky. Or you may find (as we did with our hybrid) that the SUV is a marginal tow vehicle for the camper, and decide to upgrade the TV. :)
We've been both routes many times between SLC & Yellowstone and the Midwest. Your idea of going out one way and back the other is a good one, as each has its own charms. I-80 is great for pioneer (crossing the Plains) historic sites, and I-90 for a few good tourist-oriented or scenic sites.
What are you looking for in a CG? My idea of "great" may not be yours. With a little more info, it would be easier to help out.
There are towns not terribly far away with TV signals. Back in the day of antennas, an especially tall one (probably with some kind of booster) was able to pull in a grainy picture from a channel in Idaho Falls. That was 1969 - watched the moon landing on that TV, located at Lake.
Hope the OP is able to find out the answer - and that it's positive for at least satellite reception.
If they're open (they may close seasonally), the West Des Moines KOA in Adel is quite decent. Lots of pullthru sites, and there have always been larger rigs there when we've stayed. Clean facilities. A little off the interstate - not quite a mile - so no road noise, but still convenient for traveling I-80.
I was wondering if you were planning to stick with the Tundra, which would probably be able to handle the 31' TT adequately (we have a 34-footer, which is labeled as a 31', and the truck has had no trouble with it; granted, we have the larger Tundra.) Makes a difference if you have the older, pre-2007 Tundra, of course.
We have found that our camping habits have changed since getting the large TT. We have definitely sized ourselves out of many state parks and national forests that we would otherwise have considered visiting, and even a few of those with sites long enough, actually backing into some of those sites has been dicey at best. In a couple instances, we had to request an alternate site. Just something to consider.
Remember that you will need a truck with enough payload capacity (GVWR, GAWR) to hold up the heavy pin weight of a 5er. If the 2500 you're considering will do that, and you want to continue camping in public CGs, you may want to go that route. At least, based on our experience, that's what I would suggest.
Absolutely do NOT miss Mackinac Island!! Best town I can think of to wander around on foot. Several good CGs nearby; we've stayed at the St. Ignace KOA, which was fine; Straits SP (on the UP near St. Ignace) and Wilderness SP (a bit farther afield, west of Mackinaw City) are nice; several other private CGs in Mackinaw City. Ferries go from both towns for a great day trip to the island. You really do step back in time.
If you have time, the Keweenau Peninsula is a great place to visit Lake Superior. If not, you could consider a visit to Whitefish Point on the eastern end of the UP to count - and it's a fascinating little museum there, dedicated to the various shipwrecks in the Lakes. Camp at Tahquamenon SP (and hike to the waterfall in the park) for a base camp for Whitefish Point.
To visit the Soo, I'd recommend camping at Aune-Osborn County Park, on one end of Sault Ste Marie. Not much to look at as a CG, but the view of the lake freighters going by is stupendous (clean facilities too).
You can pull it. You may not be super pleased with the performance; your gear ratio is pretty low for towing. Remember that "dry weight" means with NOTHING in the trailer - often not even LP gas, much less any water, or any of your personal gear. We started out towing our similar-size/weight hybrid with an Explorer with better gear ratio than yours, and similar towing "ability" (according to the official info from Ford), and ended up trading it for a truck that was much more capable. We found the SUV just wasn't up to towing in stiff headwinds - MPG dropped like a rock and the car was really struggling. Good luck! Nice choice of trailer, BTW.