Allen, Texas (suburb of Dallas) – Here we go!
We have been talking about and planning a long road trip for the spring without having a specifically planned itinerary or reservations. With tentative plans to head to the West Coast and to visit Sequoia National Forest (a park on Bill’s bucket list), we headed out to Tucson on Wednesday, May 10.
In the past few long road trips we’ve taken, I collected Christmas ornaments from areas visited and on our international trips, I collected cookbooks from the various regions. Lately, just to keep things interesting, we went through a stage of stopping at Antique stores looking for napkin rings with the idea to give a unique ring to each of our children and grandchildren. After a while we kind of got tired of stopping and searching through endless antique shops but we do still like to buy ornaments and cookbooks. This gives me something to do while Bill adds to his collection of tourist souvenir stickers. He’s determined to fill the RV’s backend with stickers from everywhere we travel.
Las Cruces, New Mexico – Stop Over: There was one over-night sleep-over in Van Horn Texas at the Good Sam RV Campground that has plenty of vacancies this time of the year. Last year on our way to Tucson, we learned about a little hidden gem in Las Cruces, New Mexico so it was a definite must-stop again this year. Our timing put us there during lunch and we had Gabby with us as we strolled through the Old Mesilla Village where we stopped to purchase Toffee at our favorite candy store The Chocolate Lady. I asked the owner to recommend a nice outdoor restaurant that would allow pets so Gabby could join us and she recommended Andele’s Dog House (http://www.andelerestaurante.com). At first I thought she might have misunderstood and perhaps she was suggesting a kennel to board Gabby while we have lunch? No, she clarified, it is a restaurant and dogs are welcome to join you and other 4-legged friends for a very nice lunch on their outdoor patio. Gabby has become so well socialized and enjoys going everywhere with us, once we were seated she politely laid beside my chair as we enjoyed our delicious lunch. (Andele is pronounced like the Spanish word which means “hurry up, let’s go.”)
Tucson, Arizona – Far Horizons RV Resort, 555 North Pantano Road, http://www.cal-am.com (3-nights): We arrived at Far Horizons RV Resort in Tucson late afternoon Friday, May 11. This park was sold to Cal-Am Resorts in February of this year and as a consequence, there were major renovations and improvements being made to infrastructure and facilities. Plenty of sites were available mainly because the snowbirds had already left for the season and also because of the renovations, although they did not bother us during our few days stay. We had the opportunity to stay at a Cal-Am RV Resort in Yuma, Arizona last year and discovered what a nice job they do in managing their resorts and providing nice amenities, planned activities and resort-style living.
Our visit to Tucson this year was primarily to visit the Smith Family, no touring of the area as we had toured the highlights last year. We enjoyed visiting Uncle Gerry, Aunt Pat, Cousin Linda and her son Ryan, his wife, Riley and their 3-year old son Clayton. We also got to spend time with Cousin Sue, her husband Don and their 16-year old son Joseph.
Palm Springs, California – Horizon Village and RV Park, 3575 E. Palm Canyon Dr., 92264, http://horizonvillageandrvpark.com (4-nights): We departed Tucson on Mother’s Day and drove all day to arrive in Palm Springs, California late in the evening. Initially, we had reservations at an RV campground in Indio, approximately 30 miles before Palm Springs but as we approached Palm Springs we decided that we wanted to be closer to downtown so before cancelling our current reservation, we pulled over to a parking lot to begin our search for different campground site.
It was Sunday evening, many places were closed and we were getting voice mail messages that no one was available. Finally, we reached Kent at Horizon Mobile Village & RV Park-Palm Springs. On their website they describe themselves as the “best kept secret” and we concur they are indeed a hidden gem and a unique vintage park. Although the park is primarily permanent mobile home dwellers, there is a collection of units that range from RVs to tiny houses to old vintage remodeled mobile homes. Kent was very friendly and helpful in getting us into our site even though the office was closed. The next day when we officially checked in, the office staff was equally as kind. The manager offered to loan us her dog-carrying sling to take Gabby to town so she wouldn’t have to walk on hot-concrete. We didn’t take her up on her offer, but do plan to purchase our own in the future.
The park has an eclectic charm and includes a nice pool, hot tub and an outdoor laundry room. Also, while there we were able to observe a local artist as he painted a mural covering the entire outer wall just outside their developing dog park. The residents were all very friendly and welcoming to us temporary guests. Horizon does not have many short term RV sites, but our site was beautiful and tucked among the palm trees. In the end, it turned out that our last minute change of plans gave us a nice surprise of only $28 per night and it was just a few blocks from the downtown action in Palm Springs (other sites were charging $75 or more and looked like big ugly parking lots).
The quaint downtown area is a great place to relax and take a casual stroll to the many shops and restaurants and of course Bill has to have the mandatory stop for ice cream. Even though this was considered Palm Spring’s off-season, the temps were very mild and we very much enjoyed the nice spring-like weather during this visit in May.
Fisherman’s Market & Grill (http://fishermans.com at 235 South Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs 92262; 4.2 star) is a must stop for fresh seafood accompanied by live music served in a nice outdoor, pet friendly courtyard.
Lulu California Bistro (http://lulupalmsprings.com at 200 S. Palm Canyon Dr. 92262) has seating and tables on a terrace offering views of downtown Palm Springs. The expansive menu offered a variety of delicious food and this was a restaurant we thoroughly enjoyed. While there we noticed a few tables celebrating birthdays and each table was decorated with Lulu’s signature large martini glasses filled with cotton candy, cute.
Indian Canyons Golf Resort – South (http://indiancanyonsgolf.now at 1097 Murray Canyon Dr. Palm Springs, 92264) and Indian Wells Golf Resort – Celebrity Course (http://indianwellsgolfresort.com at 44500 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, CA 92210) were the two courses where we played golf. Lucky for us, even though this time of year was considered off-season with reduced pricing, the weather was mild and beautiful with temps considered much better than usual for the time of year. We had a great day on both courses and as high-handicap golfers, we enjoy the ambiences of the course as much as playing the sport.
While returning from golf, we detoured and stopped by to check out Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort. It’s an over 50 campground with pristine manicured sites and they have their own on site golf course. The park has RV sites for sale (timeshare), however, many are also available for short-stay rentals and some are positioned with views of the small golf course. It was a nice RV park that we would consider staying at on a future visit to the area. The website is under Encore Thousand Trails RV Resorts (http://rvonthego.com, 36-100 Date Palm Dr., Cathedral City, CA 92234).
Three Rivers, California – Sequoia RV Ranch, 43490 North Fork Dr., 93271, http://www.sequoiarvranch.com, (3-nights): Google Maps indicated the drive up from Palm Springs supposed to be about 3 hours but it ended up being over 6-hours. We learned later that we should not have taken the steep graded Grapevine Pass route due to the long, extreme road grades and if that wasn’t enough we also got to enjoy the rush hour like stop n’ go traffic as we went thru Pasadena on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Sequoia RV Ranch campground has the Kaweah – North Fork River running through it which was nice and the campsites are shaded. However, there were tons of ground squirrel holes and gopher holes with heavy activity and that drove Gabby, our Toy Fox Terrier, crazy. Also, we knew when making the reservation that they were heavily booked and initially we were told we would have to move 3-times over our 5-day scheduled reservation (we met other campers that also were asked to move spots during their short stays). In the end, there was a cancellation on a site that backed up to the river so we just ended up only having to move once on our second day. The sites run $36 for non-river sites and $54 for river sites, most but not all sites have sewer hookups. The $18 additional charge for the river sites seemed a little high and other campers agreed. At times the staff did not seem as organized as many campgrounds we visited but the staff was friendly and the river is beautiful.
While at this campground we enjoyed meeting three couples. Gary and Dana McBurney from Tulsa, Oklahoma were camped across from our first campsite. They joined us for dinner at River View Restaurant and Lounge (https://www.restaurant.com at 42323 Sierra Dr., Three Rivers, CA 93271). We actually ate two meals at River View Restaurant with its good food and nice river-view patio. We also spent time with John and Irene Sumner from St. Petersburg, Florida. John is a retired pastor, Irene (German decent) is a retired OR nurse. The McBurney’s and Sumner’s joined us around a campfire at our campsite after dinner on Saturday. The next day we met Park Avenue Baptist Church members Bill and Elaine Boyd from Titusville, Florida. One of the things we enjoy most when on our road trips is camping at various campgrounds and meeting new people who enjoy some of the same things we do.
Sequoia National Park (southern Sierra Nevada) – Day Trip: We picked up sandwiches at Sierra Subs and Salads (http://www.sierrasubsandsalads.com, 41717 Sierrra Dr., Three Rivers, CA) to carry with us and picnic while visiting the Sequoias. There menu includes several vegetarian/vegan items. I had the Vegetarian and Bill had the Muffaletta, we both agreed they were absolutely delicious and probably the best sandwiches we had eaten in a very long time. The enormous Sequoia trees were quite spectacular to see as we read the history behind the park and drove and walked through the park. The weather again, very nice with great temperatures and no rain fall. One-full day was plenty of time for us to see everything in the park and we took our time hiking up to a few of the viewpoints. There are plenty of longer hikes if you’re into hiking. We saw the General Sherman Tree, estimated to be 2,000 years old and “by volume, the largest known living single stern tree on earth.”
King Canyon National Park (southern Sierra Nevada) – Day Trip: We talked to a few other campers who did not visit King Canyon during their stay, comments like they had seen all the sequoias they wanted to see, but we were determined that if we drove this far, we were going to visit King Canyon. So we did another day trip to King Canyon, the home of the General Grant Tree, named after Ulysses S. Grant (1867). It was declared the Nation’s Christmas tree by President Calvin Coolidge on April 28, 1926 because of its huge base and thought to be the largest in the world prior to 1931, until they discovered that the General Sherman Tree was actually larger. In addition to large Sequoias as seen in Sequoia National Park, in King Canyon’s Cedar Grove we saw the granite canyon walls, beautiful water falls, and occasional patches of snow on the ground. In the end, we were glad that we visited King Canyon for the beauty of the canyons and water falls; things not seen in Sequoia National Park.
Coarsegold, California – Yosemite South RV Park, 34094 CA-41, 93614, http://rvcoutdoors.com (2-nights) – This RV campground was formerly a KOA campground and is in the process of making improvements and renovations. It is big rig friendly so parking was simple and it is located approximately 25 miles from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. Camping inside the park itself would have been much more desirable for us, however, it takes many months, up to 1-year of advance planning to try and get a reservation in the beautiful Yosemite National Park campgrounds.
Yosemite National Park: It was late afternoon when we arrived, knowing we only had 2-nights, we decided to go ahead and make the best of the day and do at least ½ day visit to Yosemite. To aid our planning, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Oakhurst, a small town just before you get to the Yosemite entrance. We spoke to a guest services volunteer who provided very helpful information. She showed us on the map places that we had time to reach and visit before dark. One of her good suggestions was to go up into the South entrance of Yosemite, but to come down out the El Portal route. Because the river runs along most of the El Portal drive, it is very scenic and even though it is a little further drive to get back to where we were staying in Coarsegold the river drive would be worth it. She also gave us the best advice for the next day and that was to get to the park as early in the morning as possible to avoid the crowds. Yosemite entrances never close and visitors are well advised to getting there the earlier the better.
Yosemite’s waterfalls and the beauty of the park are so magnificent, beyond any place we had visited.
Half-Day (afternoon) – upper Yosemite
Wawona area – we walked the bridge over to the historic area exhibits where we observed 6th graders who were dressed as pioneers in a “living history” program. One group was cooking in the cabin, another group of boys were kettle cooking over an open fire, and there was a group in the barn with an elderly man versing them in historic facts in farming. It was fun watching these young people re-live history.
Glacier Point, located in Yosemite Valley, was a highlight preview of the park. With its patches of thick snow still on the ground in some areas and a family of deer grazing close to the viewpoint parking, that preview drive definitely gave us an appetite to see more. Driving up to Glacier Point and set back off a curvy road was Alder Creek. Although not marked anywhere on our visitor map, Alder Creek was a beautiful set of cascading waterfalls that we were able to catch just before sundown on our way down. The stop was a little tricky because the curve leaves no place to pull off safely and the sharp turn makes the visibility for drivers coming around the corner a little dangerous for pedestrians. However, we took our chances and were so happy to have stopped to enjoy and take a few photos.
Full-Day – lower Yosemite
We could have spent a week at Yosemite without running out of things to see, perhaps get in some longer hikes, etc., but given our limited time there we still felt like we saw the highlights of this beautiful park. Our second full-day was the Wednesday before Memorial weekend and it was much more crowded than the half-day before. We arrived at the entrance about 8:30 am and traffic was already backed up due to some park construction. As the day progressed and we drove around to the various look outs, finding a parking spot became more difficult. Peak season begins in May and we saw lots of large groups, tour buses as some school groups. This was made somewhat worse because there were areas closed because of late snow.
The highlights we visited on our full-day at Yosemite:
Tunnel Drive – fabulous views and this is what many consider the “postcard” view to the entire park. The parking lot is just before the tunnel entrance and it was here that we saw the beginning signs of crowded visitor parking. Still, this is very much worth the stop.
El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Fall, Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Vernal Falls, and Mariposa Grove – these are the all-time favorites. Many great photo ops and you should try to see as many as you can.
El Portal/Highway 140 route – this alternate route out of the park offers many stops along the road to see the raging Merced River and though the late snow had created very rough waters we did observe a group of rafters making their way down a portion of the river that was much calmer than most of the area on this drive.
Petaluma, California – KOA, 20 Rainsville Road, 94952, http://koa.com/campgrounds/san-francisco/, (1-Night): In continuing our road trip to visit the giant redwoods, our next scheduled stop was the Avenue of the Giants, Redcrest, California. Getting there required a drive through busy San Francisco traffic, so we decided to make it as far as we could and then find a place on the Northern side of San Francisco. Petaluma provided a nice, clean KOA campground with many amenities in a beautiful, quiet setting. Since we arrived in the late afternoon, we decided to drive to the downtown area where we explored a little on foot and finished the day with dinner at a little hole in the wall named Kabuki Sushi.
Redcrest, California – Ancient Woods RV Park, 28101 Avenue of the Giants (old Hwy. 101), 95569, www.ancientredwoods.net, (2-Nights): We camped in Humboldt State Park right in the middle of the giant groves of coastal redwoods at a Good Sam RV campground that was super clean, well-managed and had an awesome gift store. Our campsite was clean, recently paved and as a bonus, it backed up to a wooded area. The park cons were no television service, limited Wi-Fi, and no mobile phone service with AT&T. We took the first half day touring the area, enjoying the drive on old Hwy. 101 (now officially named “Avenue of the Giants”). The drive takes you through a canopy of giant redwoods towering over both sides of the road. With the sunshine glistening through, it made for one of the most beautiful scenic drives of our trip. In the park, we visited the Women’s Federation monument, an outdoor 4-sided fireplace that is a favorite for groups meeting in the park. The next day we hiked the Drury-Chaney Trail, visited Founders Grove, and drove the Avenue of the Giants again.
Ferndale, California – Day Trip: At our campground we met a couple local to the area and they recommended we visit Ferndale, a small quaint Victorian town, only about 20 miles from the Ancient Woods RV campground. Ferndale has been featured in a few Hollywood movies and is also famous as the hometown of Guy Fieri, host of TV’s “Diners and Drive-Ins”. It was a nice drive over and we spent the day walking around Ferndale. Bill picked up a steak to cook later at the Ferndale Meat Company, a restaurant
hometown on an episode. We ate lunch at Lost Coast Café famous for their Vegetarian menu and was recommended by a local clerk. Funny thing was Bill bought a ham sandwich to go at the Ferndale Meat Company and planned to eat that while I enjoyed my vegetarian selection at Lost Coast but the Lost Coast owner told Bill not to take it out of the bag, in fact he said they really prefer that no one even bring meat in the door!
Gold Beach, Oregon – Turtle Rock RV Resort, 28788 Hunter Creek Loop, 97444, www.turtlerockresorts.com, (2-Nights): This portion of our trip was to follow the Oregon coastline and move from the forest and magnificent trees, to a different landscape. We were surprised to see even more beautiful scenic redwoods and canopied roadways as we continued our drive through redwood areas, such as the Redwood National Park (world heritage) south of Orick, CA. This quite beautiful drive includes an Elk preserve visible as you drive along the Klamath River.
Gold Beach is a seaside community located at the head of the Rogue River where we had hoped to engage a guide for an awesome salmon fishing adventure. Unfortunately, locals we talked to discouraged attempting to fish for salmon or trout, saying we had arrived just a few weeks too early before season opening. Apparently, rules prohibit catch and keep of the wild salmon the area is famous for until June. So instead we decided to do a little surf fishing on the beach. We purchased $80 worth of fishing gear to fish for the ocean perch we had observed other people bringing in right off the beach. It was quite windy and though we bought the right weights and lures, we really did not have the right rods/fishing line and after losing three leaders, an hour or so later we gave up the idea of fishing.
We still liked Gold Beach and wouldn’t mind going back someday. The drive along the Oregon Coast is so beautiful. The section of the Pacific coast is dotted with rocky islands poking up thru the surf and the land side of the highway has continuing changes in scenery from forests to hills.
White Salmon, Washington – Bridge RV Park, 65271 WA-14, http://www.bridgerv.com (1-night): Coos Bay a cute historic bayside city, then drove through Oregon Dunes National Recreation area and observed Multnomah Falls off of Highway 84. We crossed over the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington and arrived at Bridge RV Park in the late afternoon. The 12 mile drive after the cross over is a scenic route along the Washington side of the Columbia River. The route passed through 3 or 4 tunnels with signs that displayed tunnel heights as low as 11 feet, 8 inches. The problem was our RV is 13 feet, 6 inches high. Luckily we were behind large 18-wheel trucks that were as
tall as or taller than us. We observed the trucks positioning themselves over the center stripe for the drive through and since they cleared OK, we crossed our fingers and followed on. Later we learned that those signs referred to the lowest spot which is at the bottom of the tunnel’s curved opening. The traffic lanes have a much higher height. Still we felt kind of eerie driving into those low tunnels on the route up to White Salmon, with so many appearing to be just barely tall enough for our trailer.
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho – Blackwell Island RV Park, 800 S. Mariana Dr., 83814, www.idahorvpark.com (4-nights): Beautiful water view sites, a nice beach with Adirondack chairs, and walking and bike trails made Blackwell Island one of our favorite campsites.
We met Greg and Laurie McCarter from Oregon who had just purchased their new 5th wheel, and we met long time Blackwell campers Alan and Laurie Avery from Washington. Alan and Laurie invited us to join them in a round of golf at Circling Raven Golf Course but we passed because there were so many things we wanted to see and do in Coeur d’Alene and a day’s golf would cut out many of those other activities.
On a couple of days we took a nice bike ride on the Centennial Trail that follows along the lake and then winds its way into downtown. We took a scenic lake cruise narrated by an excellent Captain that highlighted the historic lake and its celebrated houses along the banks. He also pointed out the floating green of the Coeur d’ Alene golf resort and its unique driving range where golfers must hit their balls into the lake (special ball retrieval machines retrieve them each evening). Access to play the course is by boat only. At Blackwell Island and many other Norther campgrounds we learned open, wood-burning campfires are not allowed. So it was nice visiting with Alan and Laurie by their propane fire pit campfire each night, so much so, Bill decided to go to Lowe’s and purchase us a propane fire pit to carry in the RV.
We stayed at Blackwell Island for about 5 days and during that time the truck’s computer said it was time for an oil change, so we had it done at the local GMC dealer. While waiting on the oil change we stopped by an outdoor outfitter’s store to make another important purchase to prepare ourselves for the Canadian national parks and Yellowstone; “Bear Spray” (which by the way, thankfully we never needed to use).
Banff, Canada – Tunnel Mountain Campground, Tunnel Mountain Road, www.pc.gc.ca.com, (5-nights): Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff may be one of the most well laid out and beautiful campgrounds we’ve ever visited but take notice, for this very popular campground it is highly recommended that you book your reservations well in advance. The campground has several large sections with nice pull-through sites with full hook-ups and they also offer several slightly more remote campgrounds designed for dry camping.
These dry camp sites are further apart, more “in-the-woods” style and clearly the most popular with tent campers. Just know that if you don’t have advance reservations on the full-hookup, pull-thru campsites, the dry camps sites is where you may find yourself. One perk we learned of though is nice. Apparently when you book a dry camp site, it includes the park delivering a stack of firewood to your site. Some sites have better views than others, but can’t really complain since being anywhere in this beautiful, scenic national park is such a wonderful experience.
Getting from Coeur d’Alene Idaho to Banff Canada was somewhat of a surprise in driving time. Alan Avery, our friend we met at Blackwell Island RV was surprised when Bill told him Google estimated an approximate 6-hour drive to Banff and we were driving it in 1-day. Alan recalled it being a longer drive. Sure enough, this turned out to be the most extreme example of Google’s miscalculation of driving time for pulling an RV. It was actually an over 9-hour drive and in addition to a long drive, it was raining when we arrived so we had to set-up camp with rain ponchos and rubber boots (nice to have a pair of galoshes conveniently in storage for just such an event).
In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the founding of Canada, all Canadian National Parks offered free-admission for all of 2017. As an example, without the free passage, Banff would have cost $136 for a family of two or more. We visited Banff, Bow Valley Parkway, Jasper, Ice Fields Parkway, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise and Waterton Lakes national parks and did not pay any admission at any of them. Many of the souvenirs being sold were marked Canada 150. Interesting Fact and another surprise bonus was that not only did we enjoy really nice, mild temperatures, we also got to enjoy really long day — Sunrise about 5:30am and Sunset not until almost 10:00pm, including dusk and dawn twilight, we had 17 hour days.
It was a fabulous drive with beautiful country-side and a wonderful experience, especially after passing the Canadian border: Just pass Inverness, Canada, we started seeing hoodoo mountain-tops which were common as we continued our road trip after entering Canada. Just inside the entrance gate of Kootenay National Park we saw our first two-sightings of two-bear (within approximately 100-yards of each other). A black bear and a grizzly, right off the road. Drive-by Radium Hot Springs with an over-the-shoulder look at our first large pool hot spring.
Looking at the top-10 things to do in Banff, we covered most of them.
Moraine Lake & Lake Louise (day trip):
The drive to Lake Louise is on Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) and, we made a stop at Baker Creek Mountain Resort where we took a river-flowing photo by their picturesque beach. If you wanted to vacation in the area without an RV, this would be an excellent choice www.bakercreek.com. Our next stop was at Moraine Lake, although we thought we were following directions to Lake Louise. It was a blessing, as we probably would not have made a stop at Moraine Lake if we had seen Lake Louise first. Moraine was quite beautiful with its late season floating ice patches and we were glad that it turned out to be much-different than Lake Louise. Moraine Lake was full of tourists, but still well worth the stop. Located in what is known as the Valley of the Ten Peaks, this lake is closed to vehicles in the winter, but is accessible and popular for cross-country ski trails. The lake was a beautiful color, still icy, and we saw a few chipmunks scattering in and out of the rocky viewpoints, scurrying too fast to get a good photo.
At Lake Louise, renting a canoe is “must to-do.” There was a short-hesitation on whether we wanted to pay $80 (US) for a 1-hour canoe rental, questioning too whether we wanted to row on the very-cold lake, but it was one of those things that we knew we would later have regretted not doing. This turned out to be an experience of a life-time! It wasn’t that cold at all and gently rowing in the calm waters of this very serene, quiet, scenic lake was fantastic. Lake Louise and the surrounding Victoria Glacier are the most photographed locations in the Canadian Rockies. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise www.fairmont.com is an option to stay over-night, if not in an RV or if you are just wanting a romantic over-night, but be prepared to pay a high price for rooms with or without a view ($900 – $1700 per night). After our canoe adventure we had an appetizer and drink on one of their patios where guests get to enjoy the lake view.
On the trip back to Tunnel Mountain Campground, we decided to not take Bow Valley Parkway, 1A (scenic route) and got back on Trans-Canada Highway 1 instead. Once back in Banff, we enjoyed a nice, relaxing dinner at ‘Earl’s Kitchen and Bar’ where we had a few cocktails and observed that the clientele seemed to be more locals than tourists.
Cave & Basin National Historic Site (few hour trip):
Listed on the top 10 things to do in Banff, Cave and Basin claims to be Canada’s oldest national park established to be maintained for generations to come. It is there that you will find historical information on Banff and the natural thermal mineral hot springs that were discovered in the cave. The National Park was actually developed around the discovery of the hot springs. We also learned that Banff National Park was formerly named Canadian Rocky Mountains Park. The cave and it’s still active mineral springs pool is open to visitors and it was fun walking thru the cave tunnel and spending a few minutes sitting on a bench by the underground pool. This original hot springs was discovered inside the cave and is documented as having been used by the Nakoda Indian tribes to conduct rituals and ceremonies. It was neat to see early photos from 1914 taken when they developed the site as an open to the public natural heated pool. The pool continued to operate until 1994 when the Cave Basin pool was restored back to its original cave-only pool and the public swim pool was relocated to Banff Upper Hot Springs.
Banff Upper Hot Springs (few hour trip): At the Cave we learned that you could take a short drive up the mountain to Upper Hot Springs where Banff built a large modern swimming pool totally provisioned with natural hot spring water (the same water that flowed down the mountain into the cave). Though the water in the modern pool is filtered to provide clean, clear water it still retains its natural hot temps and mineral content. The Upper Hot Springs Pool is opened to the public and is definitely a “must” to swim in. The cost for the experience is minimal (about $5). The pool is open daily, year round and they have a café and gift shop. Be sure and bring your swim suit and a towel (although they do rent towels). The facility is nicely equipped with private changing rooms, showers, hair dryers for the ladies and lockers to store your things. The water was listed as being approximately 103 Fahrenheit (39 Celsius). It felt great enjoying the fantastic mountain views while relaxing in an outdoor pool of hot, mineral rich water.
Johnston Canyon Falls (Walking Trail) – Upper & Lower (full day):
Listed as an easy, green-level hiking trail in the area trail guide, the trails were well maintained although sometimes narrow at spots where a catwalk is provided across the stream or around a cliff side. We packed our lunches and left Gabby at the RV since everywhere we had been signs posted said “No dogs on the trails”. We headed for our Johnston Canyon hike and soon learned why it is one of the most popular trails and is listed as the most spectacular natural features trail in Banff National Park.
The two parking lots were both full and we had a short wait for someone to leave so we could park. As the saying goes, “Anything worth seeing is worth the wait,” and so it was! One of the first things we discovered was that dogs were allowed on this trail, poor Gabby missed out on this fun outing.
After seeing so many beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite, one may think “what is just another waterfall?” yes, but this experience really was different. One viewpoint is inside
a tunnel that emerges right under the Lower Falls. Another extraordinary experience was seeing 3-expert kayakers’ ride over and survive a few large, very ferocious water falls. The group of 3 kayakers looked like they were filming a documentary. They had a cameraman setup a few yards away from the bottom of each falls and a director at an upper site with a whistle to signal the kayakers when the camera was set to film. They staged at least 3 fall drops and ultimately rode their kayaks back to the entry point parking lot where we and everyone else parks. We followed them down the river with their photographer and team. Along the way they developed quite a cheering crowd with each fall they rode and emerged. It was quite exciting to witness in person.
Icefields Parkway and Jasper Canada (full day): Icefields Parkway (highway 93 North) is also listed on the top 10 things to do and it’s a drive that takes you through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains on a scenic route that happens to be the only route between Banff & Jasper. The drive extends through both Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. There are many stops for look-out points and hiking trailheads. Be sure to pick up a map and decide where you will stop because it could take a week or more to see and hike everything available.
We saw many glaciers and ice lakes and along the way, we stopped at Bow Lake. Large parking lot and a nice stop with a pathway to walk down to the lake shore. Some folks were picking up a piece of ice from the frozen lake to hold in photo. A couple we met said they hiked around Bow Lake, but emphasized that snow boots were really necessary. After Bow Lake the drive continues to Glacier Information center where you have to leave your car/RV in their public parking. It’s there that you buy a ticket to take the Glacier Skywalk tour that includes a bus ride to the skywalk. A ticket (about $60 each) is required, even if you decide to stop at the Glacier Skywalk on your own. Recommend checking out the glacier skywalk video at www.brewster.ca for information. The glacier walkway is a clear glass-like floor that expands out over the canyons with a beautiful 360 degree view. We did stop at several of the look-out points along Icefield Parkway and since it was still early in the day, we decided to make the 155 mile drive to Jasper.
While traveling in areas known for wildlife, you soon learn if there are a group of vehicles pulled off the road and stopped, it is either a popular look-out point or wildlife has been spotted. At one point on our road to Jasper, there were several cars on both sides of the road so we pulled over as well, and on our side of the road we spotted a very large White Mountain goat grazing. It was the type goat we just don’t see in Texas, so of course, we had to take a photo.
The 155 mile drive to Jasper was a nice drive and we had lunch in town on a sidewalk café patio that allowed dogs. We purchased a few souvenirs in town, but there was no time to visit any of Jaspers high-points or hiking trails. It was while in Jasper having lunch that Bill started talking about how close we were to Alaska and how if we had the 5th wheel (we had left our 5th wheel back at the campsite in Banff), we could drive approximately 800 miles to Hyder, Alaska. Hyder (population 76) is the closest point in Alaska that is drivable, Ketchikan is slightly closer but requires an expensive ferry drive. Hyder is most known for being the closest drivable point for people who just want to say that they drove to Alaska.
Looking back, our trip home from Jasper was the point in which we regretted making the decision to drive the rest of the way from Glacier Skywalk up to Jasper. The remaining 100 miles or so left us only enough time to walk the town a little and have lunch. What made it worse was that on the way back it started raining heavily and even worse, the dark clouds brought an early darkness to the drive. One of the brochures for the Icefields Parkway drive warns tourist to drive during daylight hours and not recommended for night driving. It was difficult to see or predict when there might be a turn-out to allow faster moving cars to pass and there were many vehicles driving much faster than we felt comfortable driving on unfamiliar roads with many curves around mountains on sometimes narrow lanes. Fortunately, we were not towing the RV and basically it’s what made up our minds not to grab the RV in Banff and head back up the same road to connect to the Alaska Highway on this day-trip.
Waterton, Alberta Canada – Waterton Springs Campground, www.watertonspringscamping.com (2-nights): Our 28th wedding anniversary was spent driving from Banff to Waterton Lakes (aka Canadian side of Glacier National Park). Driving through Calgary, we were diverted on a detour through some with heavy freeway construction. Hauling a 5th wheel RV in the crowded, slow traffic made for some driving anxiety and making sure we were on the right route became difficult. Then while stopped at a busy intersecton red-light, a man in the lane to our right, motioned we roll down our window. Our first thought was that he must be trying to tell of us of something gone wrong with our RV or truck. Surprisingly, he was concerned that we might need assistance and simply asked if we were okay. He then proceeded to welcome us to their city. He asked where we were headed and then he provided simple directions and confirmation of our upcoming next turn. This experience was awesome and affirmed for us that there are “good people” in this world and in particular the Canadian people are friendly to Texans/Americans.
The Waterton Lakes RV Park is a family-run, private campground offering fabulous views, clean grounds and facilities and is very close to Waterton Lakes National Park (Canadian Entrance to Glacier National Park). With our reservation confirmation we were provided with specific driving directions that included GPS coordinates. The truck GPS didn’t support GPS coordinates but once we entered them into our iPhone then we successfully reached our destination. We settled into our RV spot, however, the weather wasn’t kind that day and we experienced winds stronger than any we had ever been in before. Our 5th wheel slide awnings were whipping so hard we feared they would tear. As a precaution, we brought the slide rooms in and left them in until next morning. It was a little inconvenient, but given the floor plan of our trailer it was doable.
Waterton Lakes (1/2 day trip): It was cold and very windy during our day trip to Waterton Lakes and it was disappointing because we saw that there are lots of fun things to do if the weather were nicer. We would have enjoyed renting mopeds, canoeing, or horse-back riding and all were offered activities in this very cute, quant village-town. Before we left we spent some time driving through the in-town public campground looking at possibly sites that could accommodate our 5th wheel. It was the park ranger at this campground who told us that the Waterton area is one of the windiest areas in Alberta. Photos never deliver the real beauty and experience of being there in-person, nor do photos provide the sounds; so, I took a video to help remember the actual noise of the wind whirling around us while touring this village/park. We grabbed a bowl of soup to-go, purchased a few souvenirs, walked around a little, and were ready to get out of the wind and cold.
½ Day Drive from Waterton to St. Mary’s Campground: Leaving behind Waterton Village, with the 5th wheel left behind and parked at Waterton Springs Campground, we decided to make the approximate 45-minute drive over to St. Mary’s Campground in Glacier Park. St. Mary’s was one of the few campgrounds we had made advance reservations and we wanted to check it out to see if it was as windy Waterton. We crossed over into the U.S. by taking the scenic Chief Mountain Highway up to Glacier National Park. The St. Mary’s sites (electric only) were more secluded and private. With a better possibility of see more wildlife, St. Mary’s campground offers a more engaging experience of camping in the National park. Turns out, it was as just about as windy as Waterton and the sites we checked out were a little more difficult to get into for a 5th wheel. Also, Bill’s arm and shoulder had started giving him pain, so we decided to forego St. Mary’s and go for an out-of-the-park private campground that had full-hook ups and easier parking. We drove to the KOA located approximately 2 miles from the St. Mary Campground and made reservations for the next day, upon returning to Waterton Springs campground we let them know we would be checking out a day early. For the trip from Waterton to St. Mary’s we took the route through Cardston instead of Chief Mountain Highway. It was slightly more miles but a much easier drive and tow.
St. Mary, Montana – KOA East Glacier, www.koa.com/campgrounds/st-mary (3-nights): This is a large KOA and we recommend you make advanced reservations in their high season. For example, on our second night there was a large motor-coach tour group and they took a block of several sites. Because we made the 45-minute drive to St. Mary before actually moving our RV to the KOA Campground we ended up going through customs a second time. One peculiar note is how we were warned earlier by fellow campers that customs would ask about any wood burning logs we were carrying and should we have any, we would be required to discard them before crossing over. But we were never asked (although warning signs were posted). Probably the most difficult encounter was when we were asked by the US Customs Agent for our truck’s title registration paperwork. Problem was we did not have it in the truck and did not expect to be asked for it. We did have the 5th wheel registration paperwork and we thought the truck’s inspection/registration window shield sticker would suffice. The customs agent asked questions as though he was suspicious of our answer that the sticker is all that is necessary in Texas, he asserted “but you do have the 5th wheel registration so why don’t you have the truck registration?” Anyway, it ended well and finally did give us clearance to proceed. Recommend carrying vehicle and RV registration paperwork, if you plan to cross borders.
St. Mary Glacier National Park (½ Day Tour): Thankfully, the wind was not as bad and the temps were warming. We were able to get in an afternoon at Glacier National Park. Entering the Southeast entrance, we stopped first at the Visitor’s Center and viewed their short film of park history. It was disappointing to hear that Logan Pass and the “Going-to-the-Sun” road was closed due to late snows that remained to be cleared off the roads. Logan Pass is a high point viewing area where you can view the Continental Divide (USA/Canadian).
Because the amount of time we had dedicated to tour the area, we stopped to talk to a visitor hostess for recommendations regarding highlights to see. Though some visitor hostess’ are more helpful than others, we were lucky to get a young lady who provided us with good recommendations for easy walking and hiking trails, accessible view highlights, etc.
Gunsight Pass Hike Trail (1/2 day tour): Gunsight was recommended as an easy, short and level trail. So we parked in a congested area at the end of the drivable part of the open road where they had barricaded the route to Logan Pass. The trail was a little disconcerting in that it was a narrow trail thru a lot of natural tree and brush growth with bear warnings posted and more concerning, we were the only people on the trail for quite a distance into our hike. A couple of times as we hiked, we considered turning around, thinking we might be lost since there was no signage on the trail to confirm distance, etc. After hiking what seemed a long time, but really wasn’t too bad, we came to fabulous Deadwood Falls and while enjoying the falls, four Park Rangers caught up to us and not surprisingly, alarmed us into thinking that there must be an issue on this trail. There wasn’t and the rangers assured us they were just making their rounds with a few new rangers “in-training.” As you might realize, we are not avid hikers!
On the return hike from Deadwood Falls we faced a deer coming towards on the trail and it really was a spiritual moment for me. It was as if I was making “eye-contact” with this animal who like me, was wondering if it was safe to proceed towards one another. Bill and I both felt a little uneasy as the deer just kept walking slowly towards us since we had been warned that wildlife are unpredictable and do many times cause harm to humans. So we made quick distracting motions in order to drive the deer off the trail and away into the woods. The deer did not go far and just moved off and continued grazing.
On the road back to camp, we saw several cars stopped and parked along the road. Park rangers were directing traffic so we asked what was causing the traffic jam. Ranger told us a bear had been sighted up on the side of the mountain. We were on the opposite side of the road, on a curve with limited visibility for oncoming traffic so with no place to pull over we couldn’t stop to see the bear.
In the summer 2017 edition of Gateway to Glacier Adventure Guide magazine that we picked up at our KOA campground there was a nice photo, titled ‘Blanketflower blooms in the St. Mary drainage of Glacier National Park’. The article stated that “while the trees (burned in a forest fire in 2015) will remain black for years to come, the burn will also bloom for several successive seasons with wildflowers from seeds that may have sat dormant in the soils for decades.” This article explained the reason we saw so many people photographing all of the wildflowers along the roads, up the mountains and covering the open fields.
Many Glacier (full day): The Visitor Center guide recommended that we head to ‘Many Glacier’, a few miles away and a different entrance to the East but still part of Glacier National Park. The roads were much rougher, in the process of being repaired due to the damage caused by wintery, snow cover. Many Glacier is referred to as the heart of Glacier. The drive into Many Glacier ended at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn’s large parking lot. There we found several trailheads beginning there. Next to the Inn is the Many Glacier Park Campground and before we left we did a quick drive thru more out of curiosity than anything else. The Swiftcurrent Pass (nature trail) appeared to be the most suitable hike for us based on distance, time allotted, and level of effort required, so off we went.
On the hike we stopped to watch a few photographers taking photos of what we learned was a hummingbird around a dead tree in an open field. Later, we stopped along the trail to just listen to the loud birds singing and we took a video to remember both the beautiful sights and sounds. I also took several photos of the wild flowers in different settings along the trail. We crossed a few neat bridges over little streams. The trail itself was more manicured and a more populated trail unlike the Gunsight Trail Hike the day before. After walking a little over a mile we arrived at Redrock Lake where we met a couple who pointed out a moose on the banks of the lake, quite a distance away and really only viewable with binoculars. Another couple coming down the trail, shared their binoculars and we were able to see the moose clearly. It was a very large moose. We continued our hike on the trail around the lake to a view point with many cascading waterfalls. On our hike back to the Inn we saw a three moose family at the same location as we had seen the single moose before. We took a few photos with my iPhone, but without a strong optical zoom the distance kept us from getting a very clear photo of the moose.
When we made it back to the Inn we decided to share a pizza for lunch at Nell’s Restaurant at Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. After lunch, we decided we had time for another short hike. We drove back toward St. Mary’s and stopped at Grinnell Glacier trail. There was a very tame deer grazing close to the parking lot and Bill walked very close before the deer had enough and walked away. Again, at the entrance to the trail was a sign posting “bear frequenting area,” cautioning hikers to carry bear spray. We hiked for only a portion of the trail, stopped at a bridge over a nice river and then decided not to continue the short mile to Josephine Lake. Beyond the lake, we could have hiked about 6 more miles to Grinnell Glacier. Perhaps another day!
Glacier National Park – Late Afternoon Drive: The day we were going to check out of the KOA and drive towards Billings, Wyoming (over-night stop before arriving in Buffalo to visit Hilan), it was raining and reports said the conditions in Billings were even worse, so we decided to stay another night in St. Mary. After the heavy rain fall stopped in late afternoon, we spur of the moment took another drive through Glacier National Park in hopes of seeing more wildlife. The heavy rain had drenched the landscape and provided us with vibrant colored views of fields of wild flowers where everything looked brighter and more colorful. Because of the storms there was less traffic and less people on the roads. The beauty in all of the fields of wild flowers, the clouds covering the mountains was so spiritually moving, that I could not hold back the tears when “Praise You In the Storm,” was playing from our music library. We saw a beautiful waterfall running through two-narrow rocks that we had missed on our previous stop at Sunrift Gorge. After parking, we discovered stairs going down to the creek and under the bridge to a short path that lead to the lower falls at Sunrift Gorge. On our first stop, we took the lower stairs and walked half-way up the upper stairs, but it was crowded and we thought we had seen all there was to see. This second time we hiked on up into the upper section of Sunrift Gorge and visited the deep dramatic mountain cut that gives Sunrift Gorge its name. At the Gorge we saw beautiful moss and wild flowers growing up the walls to where the waterfall ran. It was so beautiful after the rain! One more time we drove through St. Mary’s Park Campground and caught a photo of a young buck meandering through the middle of a campsite, a campsite like the one that we had originally reserved.
Gardiner, Montana – Yellowstone RV Park, 121 Highway 89 South, 59030, www.VenturesWestInc.com (3-nights): With no WiFi or cell service in St. Mary, used the KOA’s phone to call ahead to the Livingston, Montana KOA which we thought at the time would be a good base camp to visit Yellowstone. On our drive to Yellowstone, once we had cell service back, we found that Yellowstone RV Park is only 1-mile to the North Yellowstone Park entrance in the cute, quaint town of Gardiner. Many of the RV Park’s sites backup to a fast moving, river that directly behind and below the campground. We could see the river out or rear window and the sounds of the fast moving river could be heard inside. The camp host is very friendly and we would highly recommend this campground. Just understand it’s a small park and you need to call ahead and make reservations. We were lucky to get the one open spot the same day we called.
Interestingly, there was a competition rodeo Friday and Saturday night in Gardiner while we were there. The arena performers and horse trailers all parked along the road just above the RV Park. One horse was tied outside the horse trailer and was making quite a ruckus. I was concerned that the horse would break loose from the tie-out and run loose because the road was a major highway (89 South).
Yellowstone National Park (2-days): We arrived mid-afternoon and took a drive through the park only to discover that a large section of the road to Norris had major road construction and a section of the road was restricted down to 1-lane. With crews alternating single line guided traffic flow, we had a 30-minute or so wait for our groups turn to proceed on the torn up single lane. The route from Gardiner into the main park required either a long, high altitude trek up the pass or a shorter easier trek through Norris, we ended up having to wait several times for this construction delay during our visits down into Yellowstone. On this first visit we stopped at one of the many visitor centers and picked up general info and hiking trail maps. Later we exited the park going thru Mammoth and out the Gardiner exit where we stopped and had a terrific dinner at The Raven Grill (118 E. Park St., Gardiner just outside the North entrance). Bill had Seafood Ragout and I had the Crabcakes appetizer. Both were very good.
The second day in the park we spent a full day driving through various sites like the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Fishing Bridge and West Thumb Basin. We stopped several times to take a close-up look at the many sulfur geysers across the park.
Of course, no Yellowstone visit would be complete without stopping to join the huge circle of tourists on the platforms surrounding Old Faithful. We watched a nice rather large eruption that began about 4pm and lasted probably 10 minutes.
After leaving Old Faithful, we continued our drive around the many parkways looking for wildlife. One of the most exciting things to happen was a distant roadside glimpse of a red or grey fox. Bill did manage to get a close-up photo of the fox and we showed the photo to a Park Ranger. Ranger said it was hard to tell from the photo if it was a red or grey fox but he pointed out the position of the fox’s ears (both pointed in inward) and shared the fact that foxes can rotate their ears almost 360 degrees and this is what helps them hunting. As we continued our exploring we saw many Bison a family of Bison that we took a picture of. That was about it for wildlife and we didn’t see any bears or any other rare animals in the wild.
One of the things we enjoyed the most at Yellowstone was taking the winding, less-traveled site-seeing roads that run throughout the park like Firehole Falls, Firehole Lake, and Virginia Cascade. These are listed on the Park map, but because they’re kind of out of the way, we experienced very few vehicles/people when driving through these areas.
Our last day in the park, it was raining most of the day, so we mostly drove to lookout points and our only hike was a half-way trek at the popular Storm Point trail. On the way back to camp we again stopped in Gardiner and this time it was a nice late lunch at Rosie’s Bistro just outside the North entrance of the Park.
Don’t know which National Park to Visit? We would like to share our opinion in a comparison of Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Avenue of the Giants, Yosemite, Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, Glacier (Waterton) and Yellowstone Park:
Sequoia National Park: Lots of very old, very large huge trees, 34,000 acres of giant sequoia groves, some as old as 3,000 years. You can drive through a huge tree trunk and take a walk through a hollowed out trunk. The park contains the General Sherman tree, the world’s largest tree by volume. As a tree-hugger, seeing these beautiful huge trees was great for us. Kings Canyon is another national park that is directly adjacent to Sequoia (easy visit on same trip). The Kings Canyon scenic byway takes you along the canyon next to a beautiful river and through the mountain range to a signature large waterfall.
Avenue of the Giants – Coastal Redwoods: Similar in size to the Sequoias, this forest is North of San Francisco and has a more nature preserve feel as the trails meander through a forest covered with ferns and wildflowers. It is just enough different from Sequoia that we suggest making a visit, especially if you’re headed towards the Oregon Coast.
Yosemite – Ranked #1: A beautiful park, best visited in the spring when the many waterfalls are flowing at full-force from the spring mountain snow melting. One of the many stops is a picnic area at Mirror Lake. It is there that you will find the most beautiful photo op where photographers line up to take a postcard quality shot that includes the massive Yosemite Falls reflected in the mirror surface of the lake. While Mirror Lake is the best, there are many more and we saw so many beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, and hiking trails that we lost count. Even though Yosemite was the most-crowded with lots of large tour groups making parking in some areas difficult and frustrating at times (we observed two-vehicles verbally fighting over a parking space); for this entire 50 day trip, Bill and I agree that Yosemite is #1 out of all the parks we visited.
Banff National Park – Ranked #2 (close tie to #1): This park was very close to being our #1 favorite and a lot of that had to do with how much we really loved Banff’s Tunnel Mountain campground. Sites in sections A, B & C were all full-hookup, pull through sites and most of the campsites have beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. A day trip from Banff to Lake Louise is easy and it’s there that you’ll see the gorgeous, breath-taking view of a snow covered glacier that cascades down into Lake Louise. Here you can rent a canoe and paddle through the calm Lake Louise waters right up to the glacier. We think this canoe experience was very affordable ($70us) and an absolutely must do. Back in Banff, a walk around the small village town that is a ski resort for winter months is fun and presents many choices for a nice dining experience. We recommend Banff as a “must-to-visit” and believe it is as beautiful as we had heard. It’s like a drive to Alaska, without the long highway days and or ferry expense, etc.
Glacier National Park (Waterton Lakes aka Canadian Glacier NP) Ranked #3: Heading south from Banff to Glacier NP you can stop on the Canadian side at Waterton Lakes. Waterton is a cute, quaint village with a beautiful lake and historic hotel. You can get a campsite in town and the town offers bike, scooter, boat and other summer fun rentals.
The real glacier experience though is Glacier NP on the USA side. We entered through the St. Mary (USA) entrance. More glaciers than you can imagine, more beautiful spring wildflowers and a different landscape experience than we saw in the other parks. Our visit in late May found snow still on the ground in many areas. If you visit Glacier NP, try to find time to go over to the East side and visit the ‘Many Glaciers’, a separate entrance and drive up to historic Swiftcurrent Motor Inn where you’ll find a campground, nice restaurant and trailheads that are an easy hike around glacial lakes with accessible waterfalls and the best chance for seeking Moose.
Yellowstone National Park Ranked #4: The Old Faithful Geyser is definitely the highlight for this park. Be sure to check the eruption schedule make time to see the eruption. There are many smaller geysers throughout the park, but honestly once you’ve seen one geyser, you’ve seen enough. At one stopover, we listened to an interesting Ranger lecture about the history of the geysers, the dangers and possible damage they can cause. The landscape isn’t near as pretty as other parks we’ve visited and if you’re expecting to see an abundance of wildlife as often advertised, you’ll be disappointed. Wildlife is there to be found, but other than Bison, you have to drive around a lot and look hard.
Jasper National Park – Icefield Parkway Ranked #5: Jasper is very touristy but worth a stop and visit, only if you are on your way to Alaska. However, the Ice Fields Parkway experience, like Lake Louise, can be had as a nice day trip out of Banff if you just take the journey to ice covered Bow Lake and then turn around and head back to Banff. Skip going a few more miles to the heavily promoted Glass Platform Glacier view, it’s a waste of money and time and doesn’t deliver anything like what the posters promote. Not knowing better, we did make the drive all the way to Jasper before turning back and that’s why in our opinion, visiting Jasper only makes sense if you’ve decided to go all the way to Alaska. Otherwise, just turn around at Bow Lake.
Buffalo, Wyoming – Buffalo KOA Journey www.koa.com/campgrounds/buffalo-wyoming/ (3-nights): Very pretty drive from Gardiner, MT to Buffalo through the beautiful Big Horn Mountainous countryside. This Buffalo KOA Journey was one of the nicest KOA’s we’ve visited. Easy to get to off the main road, this KOA has a fast-moving river that runs along the back side of the park, a large swimming pool, nice deluxe patio sites that are clean-clean-clean and the staff are very nice, accommodating and great!
This leg of our trip was to surprise my Step-Father Hilan for Father’s Day. After my Mother passed away last February, Hilan moved to the Buffalo Wyoming Veteran’s Assisted Living Home in October 2016. We surprised him by showing up at his room the afternoon we arrived. We visited a few hours and had dinner with him at the home. We invited him out to our campsite for Father’s Day the next day to just relax and enjoy a cook-out. KOA staff was able to get us into a large concrete patio site that accommodated Hilan with better movability while using his walker that also serves as a carrier for his portable oxygen machine. The patio site included a propane grill, fire pit ($5 bundle of wood), glider swing, and complete patio set. Weather was beautiful and we all had a nice afternoon, grilling out and visiting. Praise God for His blessing this day!
Next day, we walked around downtown Buffalo, took some photos and paused to read many of the little historic markers. One interesting fact we learned (Hilan didn’t know either) is that Buffalo, although when founded was surrounded by ranges populated with free-roaming buffalo, was named after Buffalo, New York and not after the herds of buffalo. In one of the souvenir shops we stopped in it was cute to find a Buffalo, NY sweatshirt hanging with a personal note pinned from a former patron. The note basically stated that as promised, once she returned home to NY she was mailing the store owner this Buffalo, NY sweatshirt in exchange for the Buffalo, WY sweatshirt the store owner gave her in return for a promise to display the Buffalo, NY sweatshirt in her souvenir store. Buffalo is a cute town, we got a chuckle out of one “old-vintage” signage advertising a Pharmacy with ice-cream, my first thought was “oh neat, an old-timey soda fountain type store;” Bill’s response was “if it is even still a pharmacy.” Sure enough, it was no longer a pharmacy it was another type retailer, but the vintage sign was cool.
As we planned out the next part of our trip, Bill thought that since we were so close to states we had never camped in before we should change our route and go North to North Dakota, drop down South to South Dakota and then route through Nebraska on the way home. The drive to North Dakota was only about 100 miles though it was pretty bleak and boring. South Dakota gave us tourist town Deadwood and a nice round of Golf. Nebraska was a nice surprise when we stopped at a park on the old historic wagon trail.
Bowman, North Dakota – Butte View Campgrounds www.bowmannd.com/recreation/parks–recreation, (1-night): Bowman, ND is located at the far southwest edge of North Dakota and thus was the least out of the way for us. A search for campgrounds in Bowman, ND and a call to the office guided us to the campground which is 1-mile East of Bowman on US-12, just past Hometown Shopko and the entrance to the park is just past the sign for the large John Deere equipment retailer. Once we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised to see newly updated drive-through sites with full hook-ups. The camp hostess was pleasant too and provided information on the area with recommendations to visit their Museum and to checkout ABLE Inc (www.ableinc.net), a non-profit retail store with products made from recycled goods and produced by intellectually disabled workers.
Deadwood, South Dakota – Elkhorn Ridge RV Park, Spearfish, SD, www.elkhornridgervpark.com (2-nights): Really nice drive through Black Hills National forest from North Dakota to Deadwood. We decided to not lose another 1-night’s deposit by booking advance reservations and changing our mind so we took a chance at getting a campsite at the Deadwood KOA. This time, it didn’t work out for us, the KOA located close to the historic district was booked up. This actually turned out to be a good thing since we ended up in a much nicer campground at Elkhorn Ridge, just about 6-miles from Deadwood. Elkhorn Ridge RV is a modern resort style park that has every amenity you can want or need. The entire campground is very clean with manicured lawns, easy pull-through or back-in sites on level concrete pads. It appeared to be an ideal location for large groups or family reunions, if only it were closer to us in Texas. They have nice cabin rentals, hiking trails around park, volleyball/tennis courts, horseshoes, large swimming pool/hot tub, laundry room, showers, and a nice 18-hole golf course (we played of course). We absolutely loved staying at Elkhorn. Though it was a little pricey, as most resort style parks are, but our $65 a night was nothing compared to the jacked up rate they charge during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally. Sturgis is very close to both Deadwood and Elkhorn RV so for Sturgis week they charge a whopping $250 to $400 per night.
Historic Downtown Deadwood (one evening) – lots of casinos and a stroll down historic main street. We had fun walking around, put a few bucks in slot machines and paused to read all the historic site markers and signs. Deadwood has an entertaining street gun-fight show every day except Sunday on Main Street. We enjoyed a wine tasting at Belle Joli Winery Tasting with Megan as our hostess with the mostest and afterward had a nice dinner at Gold Dust Saloon. After dinner we took the 10% of our meal cost that was refunded in the form of slot machine “free play” and combined it with the $5 bonus for the free reward club sign up. With all that free play, we then walked around until we picked the absolute perfect slot machine that we were sure would make us rich. At his point I could tell you we hit the jackpot for $1000 but that would be untrue. We did however have a lot of fun though in this cute and active downtown.
Elkhorn Ridge Golf Course www.golfelkhorn.com (Day Visit) – With the nice discount offered to RV campground guests, we played this nice course. One of the holes on the front-nine takes you up relatively high on a mountain with awesome views from the tee-box. During the rest of the 18 holes we saw three deer at different spots along course, we also saw an old historic house on the back-nine, and the entire course had nice paved cart-paths. The golf pro shop staff were extremely helpful and kind and we thoroughly enjoyed playing the course.
Scottsbluff, Nebraska – Robidoux RV Park, Gering NE, www.gering.org/robidoux-rv-park (1-night): This was another time during this trip where the RV Park was full when we arrived without reservations, but this time it worked out OK because they had available over-flow parking that still included electric & water for $10 per night less than usual camp sites. The campground has a large public, fenced park located just behind the campground and our spot was adjacent to the fence gate which made going into the park to play with Gabby fun and easy. The campground is very close to Scotts Bluff National Park & Museum and our spot had nice views of the mountain-tops of Scotts Bluff.
Scotts Bluff National Monument & Museum (few hour tour). Once again our National Park Pass for seniors got us into this driving tour for “free.” Scott’s Bluff towers 800 feet above the North Platte River and was a famous stopping point for covered wagons on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trail. The small museum is worth touring and has nice exhibits and old historic photos. We purchased post-cards for the grandchildren and placed them in the “pony express pouch” ready for delivery. The Ranger informed us that the town is quite small and the businesses including restaurants, etc., all close down fairly early so other than the National Park, there’s really not much to do which was OK since we had planned only an over-night stay anyway.
Estes Park, Colorado – Elk Meadow Lodge & RV Park, www.elkmeadowrv.com, (3-nights): The drive from Scotts Bluff, NE took us through Thompson Canyon. Wow! What a beautiful, scenic drive. It was a little difficult pulling our 32ft 5th wheel because of the many sharp and narrow curves but we took advantage of the many pull outs to let others pass us and we made it just fine. When we arrived in downtown Estes Park, we learned there was a Scandinavian Festival and the streets were very crowded and the town was hopping with lots of activities. We also learned that it was Estes Park’s 100th anniversary and there were Centennial street flags on display just about everywhere. The town was promoting various celebrations to occur from April through December 2017.
We were arriving in Estes Park on a Saturday, the day of the week when it is typically more difficult to get an RV site without prior reservations. While making calls on the road, we already knew that Estes Park KOA and Manor RV Park were full with no vacancies. When we called Elk Meadow RV Park they said they had plenty of spaces. The good things we have to say about Elk Meadow is that the staff were friendly and we were greeted by a gentlemen when we first drove in and he also escorted us to our site. Elk Meadow is the closest RV park to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park visitor center/entrance gate. One the nicest bonuses was a really good local live band that played Saturday night in the lodge. The lodge had a full bar and offered very limited food menu (grilled cheese or pulled pork sandwich, chips). The pool was too cold but they had two hot tubs that we enjoyed after a full-day of hiking. Online reviews of Elk Meadow were less than favorable so we did have a few concerns. Elk Meadow’s rate ($70 per night with Good Sam discount and taxes) seemed too high for the area and what is offered. It is a dirt-road, campsite without gravel sites or roads. There are many ground squirrel/mole-holes and these little critters everywhere drove Gabby crazy. Although we asked at check-in for best available rear-view site, we were put in a space surrounded by other large RV’s even though we noticed several better sites that remained empty the entire 3-days we were there (but we didn’t want to move once set-up).
Rocky Mountain National Park (2 ½ days): Estes Park is located at a much higher altitude then our previous visits of the previous weeks. Upon arrival on early Saturday afternoon, I immediately felt a little dizzy with shortness of breath. This is the second time in a few years that I experienced altitude sickness (the first was in Ruidoso, NM) so I knew what was happening. After setting up camp, we drove up to visitor center to get information on the park and hiking trails and such to be prepared for the next day.
The lines to get through the park were very long on Sunday morning. When going through the gate, we were told by the Park Ranger that many Coloradans visit the park during the weekends and so she offered popular trail heads to avoid until later in the afternoon or a weekday. We drove to the highest point “Alpine” at 11,000 feet where we had lunch. On our way back down the mountain our nice drive included a pull off to hike into a field where a herd of Elk could be seen grazing amongst the snow patched grassy fields.
Monday we headed out early and by heading into the park a little before 8 am there were no lines at the entrance gate. We hiked two of the more popular trails Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge. The visitor center guide had warned us that Bear Lake’s parking lot fills up by 8:30 am and when we arrived at 8 am on Monday, we took what may have been the last spot available. Rocky Mountain NP is very beautiful with snowcapped mountains, nice hiking trails, and easily accessible lakes and rivers for angler fishing. However, like Yellowstone, it was one of the most-crowded, especially on weekends.
Drive back to Dallas – After 50 days, 8,750 Miles, 13 States, 13 National Parks: All good things must come to an end, after leaving our home in Allen, TX on Wednesday, May 10th we finally headed home. We ended up making the final 1,000 mile drive in just 2 days with an overnight stop in Dalhart Texas at Corral RV (a very nice Goodsam park). On the second day it was about another 450 miles thru Amarillo and Wichita Falls until we at last pulled up to home in Allen on June 28 after a wonderful, 50 day, 8,750 mile long road trip.
15 States – Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado.
13 National Parks – Sequoia NP, Kings Canyon NP, Giant Redwoods NP, Yosemite NP, Banff CNP, Lake Louise CNP, Lake Moraine CNP, Jasper Icefields Parkway CNP, Waterton Lakes CNP, Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, Scotts Bluff NP, Rocky Mountain NP.