Saturday, January 2, 2016

The 2015 NW National Park/Canada Roadtrip Recap

So this post is only 4 months overdue?! :) But since the roadtrip sticks out as my most favorite moment from 2015, I figured I should share a bit of it here finally. :)

Stop 1: Olympic National Park x 2 nights

Let me just preface by saying this was not my best planned trip, although that may be one of the reasons I enjoyed it the most. Oh sure I'd looked stuff up, but I still couldn't really formulate a plan and I was so stressed/tired from work that I just decided to roll with it....and I was absolutely incredibly fortunate that fortune smiled upon me so much during this trip.

Case-in-point number #1 was when I was low on gas and the National Park and State Park were both out of campsites....but the friendly ranger let me park in day-use "overflow" for the night. (Or how about the fact that I just happened upon the next to last campsite in two NPs and arrived in Jasper the week after the busiest week of their season? Fortune, so blessed!!)

Day 1 of the trip allowed for a great slow drive up north, a quick meander along some beautiful sunlit trails,

and getting situated at the camp site. Day 2 allowed me to snag a great new campsite actually in ONP and then I changed and nailed out an epic 24 mile day hike that was oh so beautiful and my body felt great!

I got back to the car as night was encroaching, changed clothes, made some food, crawled into my sleeping bag, and passed out. Day 3 I drove from that location up to Hurricane Ridge where I did a few super short excursions from the visitor's center,

grabbed coffee at a great little bistro on the way, took the ferry across to Whidbey Island, drove up the beautiful route to Bellingham where I stopped at a brewery for a burger & beer, and then I watched the most incredible sunset over rural Washington farmland right before I drove across the Canadian border. At the next large town, I grabbed an actual hotel to lounge in the tub (a full hot bath with a bucket full of ice chips to munch on is one of my favorite hotel guilty pleasures) & get a solid night's sleep.

Stop 2: Hotel just across the Canadian border

The next day I grabbed a coffee, extracted Canadian cash from an ATM (so pretty!),

and headed toward Kamloops. I had researched enough to want to make a few stops on the way so I did the quick jaunt at Bridal Veil Falls & the Othello Tunnels.

I grabbed a cheap, legit diner BLT on the way and then I made it to Kamloops. Driving through the passes was a lot of fun also. In Kamloops I snagged a beautiful spot on the tent side of the RV Campsite where I enjoyed the cows and hung out in my hammock until I met up with Amber (Girl with the Red Hair) for a great sunset hike! The views in Kamloops were incredible 

and it was so wonderful to meet Amber in person :) Post-hike I headed toward downtown where I grabbed an amazing meal of mac & cheese and a local beer and then I drove back to the campsite.

Stop 3: RV Campsite in Kamloops

The next morning I headed to an area that Amber had told me about to do some trail running, which really was getting my rear end handed to me :) Kamloops is a hiker/trail runners dream, but those trails are by no means easy!

Truthfully I feel like there are a lot of additional areas that I could have checked out there but I needed to hit the road, so I headed toward the lake region of BC/Alberta. I had wanted to stop at one of the lakes to kayak and possibly camp, but I had pushed on too far and hit the more crowded areas, so I only stopped for lunch and to chat with the visitor's center (which I stopped at the Visitor's Centers in many towns on this trip---great resource!). From there I headed toward a rural campsite, but a wrong turn on the road I was on had me flag down a super friendly industrial worker who advised me not to go to the campsite I was headed toward. He had hunted and camped in that area for 30 years and so he directed me to a different, still remote, and beautiful. The campsite was toward the headwaters of the Columbia River, allowed for a few super short hikes, and made for a great place to wash off in the chilly river before crawling in for the night.

Stop 4: Campsite on the upper Columbia River

From here I headed toward Golden, which actually had the most unhelpful Visitor's Center of them all and changed my initial "plan." I instead stopped at the Parks Canada Visitor's Center which turned out to be perfect...and truthfully directed me to a great campsite and one of the best hikes of the trip. The walk-in Tent site was 1/4 to 1/2 mile walk-in, but I only needed to make two trips to get everything situated and my food secured (bears!). From there I still had several hours til sunset, so I hiked the four miles up to the glaciers (AMAZING!)

and then ran the six mile loop back down. There were several incredible waterfalls on this trail and seeing the glaciers was pretty amazing. The only drawback was the immense amount of smoke from the wildfires, but it still was so beautiful and an incredible experience. I was glad to crawl into my tent that night and sleep to the sound of the immense waterfall down river.

Stop 5: Walk-in Tent site in Yoho National Park

I woke up early the next morning (per the advice of many) to make it to the infamous Lake Louise before the biggest wave of tourists. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

I wished I could have ventured onto more trails this day (but you have to be in a group of four here due to grizzly habitat...and I didn't have as much time nor energy for lots of hiking this day). From the main lakes in Banff National Park, I drove the Icefield Parkway up into Jasper NP, stopping at several of the waterfalls and sights along the way and thoroughly enjoying the immense beauty that this area provides. Photos could never do it justice truthfully and it's an area where I'd love to return to eventually.

I did manage a sort of off-the-beaten-path hike this day that was pretty nice to do...and then after I got situated at my campsite on the north end of Jasper NP I ventured out for an evening hike. I wasn't sure I had enough time/daylight to do the one I really wanted to do, so I did a different one that I eventually realized I had gone farther than I was supposed to for the day hike and I got a little nervous about being alone in bear country... Post hike, I decided to try out the natural hot springs pools (I'd been hoping to do one of the natural springs rather than the pool type, but it just didn't work out for me to do that extra leg of the journey this trip). The pools were a nice change of pace but definitely not the most relaxing nor solitary. :)

Stop 6: Jasper National Park campsite

The next day I drove out of Jasper and headed toward Edmonton, which was my main destination so I could be there for my high school buddy's wedding. There wasn't much on the road to stop to see but I did finally stop to get some coffee & carbs from Tony Horton's, which is pretty Canadian iconic (think Starbucks mixed with McDonalds).

Once in Edmonton, I got situated in my AirBnb basement room, oriented myself via some maps and park trail guides, and headed out on a running tour of part of the city. Edmonton in the summer reminds me a lot of Portland: river bisecting town, lots of great parks, major quadrants of the city, etc. I probably covered between 7 and 10 miles this day cutting through 2 of the city parks, running through the UofAlberta neighborhood,

and eventually making my way back to the house. After a much needed shower, I headed out to a nearby pub for an organic burger & this delicious rose beer.

Stop 7: 2 nights in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

On day number 2 in Edmonton, I drove to the other side of the river to check out that side of the city on foot. I grabbed coffee at a hip lil place in one of the newer neighborhoods, checked out Canada's version of REI, and then literally walked between 20-30 blocks to check out a farmer's market, the business district, and the main center of the city.

 I'm not gonna lie, by the time I made it back to the car, my feet were not very happy to be in their sandals. After the morning excursion, I bee-lined it back to the house to shower, change, and head to the wedding....and eventually to the reception. It was so great to see this buddy get married, I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with his parents, and it was really nice to have almost a full day to catch up with another couple from high school who were the only other guests from our hometown who had been invited. We had a great time that evening!

The next morning I rolled out early (after realizing that I actually prefer sleeping in the back of my SUV snug as a bug in my sleeping bag & fuzzy blanket rather than staying in a house)....and truthfully as much as I enjoyed Canada, for some reason I was just ready to make it back into the US. Ironically as I eventually crossed the border (with some incredibly strong winds), I also arrived at the same time as a massive thunder storm that was blowing in from the west (which thankfully helped with some of the wildfire issues this summer....). I was able to snag the next to last campsite, I bundled up and hid out in the lodge for a bit eating a tasty burger and drinking some amazing huckleberry beer, and then I headed back for my snug dry SUV where I spent the rest of the pouring afternoon & evening finishing off the book I'd been reading. Truthfully at this point a forced day to relax and hibernate was actually pretty amazing.

Stop 8: Rainy campsite in Glacier National Park

The next day was chilly, overcast, wet, and with winds...and I hadn't packed much cold weather gear, so I knew I needed to scrap my initial plan of long day hikes. I did manage a 2-3 mile cold, windy hike up to a neat view point (42 degrees, 33 mph winds)

and then I drove the Going to the Sun Rd through the park. 

From there I headed over to White Fish where I stopped for lunch and to check out the lake, I did a brief stop to check out Flathead Lake, stopped for an incredible elk burger & huckleberry milkshake along a rural highway in Montana, contemplated stopping at one of the campsites along the rivers, 

but pushed on to arrive in the dark & way late at an (overpriced & noisy) RV Site along I-5 just outside Coeur D'Alene.

Stop 9: RV Campsite outside Coeur D'Alene, ID

The next morning I decided to drive around the lake and I stopped for coffee and a bit of exploring at Harrison, ID. I chatted with the nicest locals and had some incredible bites & coffee brew for breakfast. This would be a great place to come in the off season for kayaking, hiking, & running.

From here I had decided to drive over to check out Mount Rainer National Park. It made for a couple of hours of extra car time, but it was fun to fit in an extra National Park before I made it back home. The two short hikes I did were both foggy & misty, as the rain was still falling from the western storms. From here I was glad to head back home...

Altogether an incredible outing! 2800 miles driven, 4 states & 2 provinces, 6 National Parks, several new towns explored, lots of great people met, countless trails/roads covered, and oh so many incredible memories. I was so grateful for safety & no major issues along the way. The break from work and not being accessible via phone/email to many was a nice change of pace. I seriously enjoyed just camping in the back of my SUV and the simple freedoms that the days presented. Oh and I purchased a National Parks pass too.....and have already made my money back between the US parks I visited and the hiking on federal lands I've already done since then. Altogether just an incredible journey that happened with just the perfect timing!


  1. WOW! Even though I got some updates on your trip from our visit and also from messaging with you afterwards I don't think I realized the full full extent of how much hiking you did and how many places you visited! What an epic journey that was. I am SO GLAD it worked out for us to meet up in Kamloops that week as I know my schedule was a little wonky that week and there was only one day we really could have met up, so thank you for accommodating that, it was so so awesome to meet you and go for a hike with you and I'm so pleased we got treated to such an awesome sunset that night. I totally admire how adventurous you are just driving and then stopping wherever and camping and hiking and just kind of going where the wind takes you. I've never done a vacation like that but I would love to one day (maybe if we ever do make that roadtrip down the Oregon coast happen which I'm dying to do!)

    Loved reading about your trip and so glad it was such a wonderful highlight of 2015 for you!!! And Edmonton is a really awesome city, just not one you want to visit in the winter :) haha

  2. This is such an amazing trip and you have taken wonderful photos - good for the armchair traveller. Not sure that I will ever get an opportunity to travel that far but I enjoy reading your posts - if I actually got there I think the thought of being in bear country would scare me!