First let me say that this was an amazing trip. You can argue that we didn’t do anything justice, with just a sampling of things, but we absolutely had a fabulous time, and no one can argue with that. I can’t say we didn’t get tired…we did…but that’s normal for our vacations.
Special thanks to Toddnick, Hikes, Montana Slowhiker and K2Kelley for their US input…it was invaluable. Also on the Canadian side thanks to AchesonTopeka, Vacouverite, BanffLakeLousie, KRP329 and Dougsunny!
This will include our foray into Canada, so if you have no interest in that, just skip those days!!
Day 1…arrived at Great Falls and picked up our Toyota Highlander. Since DH loved the Lewis & Clark journals so well, we decided to explore the river area, seeing Black Eagle Falls, Rainbow Falls and the Great Falls. It is shame they had to dam those majestic cataracts and there was very little water, but it certainly gives you a good idea of the problems L&C encountered when going west. We saw 3 mule does and a rabbit. Supper was orange chicken, rice, and salads. We spent the night at Days Inn because it was close to Walmart and we could get supplies for our picnic lunches before heading on to GNP.
Day 2…We were up early and off after an excellent continental breakfast. We began with a trip to the visitors’ center at St. Marys and then headed to Logan’s Pass. After circling a few times we got a spot. We did the Highline Trail to Haystack Pass and had lunch sitting on a large rock. We hiked a little farther as someone had said there was a wolverine on the trail but it was gone. We met two muley fawns on the trail….with people on both sides of them they didn’t know what to do. Finally they bounded off like kangaroos…my first experience at seeing that…awesome! There were also 6 bighorn sheep above the trail and one big one ON the trail who didn’t want to move. Before we left we saw a gopher and some Columbian ground squirrels. I don’t like uphill so the switchback to the pass and the final little jaunt to the parking lot weren’t my favorite, but the part with the cables didn’t scare me like I thought. We had been doing some training, and the elevation gain was not as steep as what we did on our farm, but the altitude got to me! We returned, doing several pull-offs along the lake, walking closer to the shore to get photographs and seeing another mule deer and a coyote in the meadow. Supper was at The Park Café. They were very busy and the wait was long so we told the waitress we would be glad to share our table with someone. We spent a nice evening comparing notes with a retired couple from Minnesota. We had hoped to finish supper and return to Wild Goose Island pullout for sunset photos, but our meal wasn’t even served and the beautiful red orange ball was sinking out of sight. Our night was in Rising Sun Motor Inn.
Day 3…We began with breakfast at Two Dog Flats near the end. All I can say is that people must be on really slow motion around here…every time we ate out I was chomping at the bit. We are not “foodies” and just want to have our meal and get going. Our first hike was to St. Marys Falls. It was creepy because no one was around and I kept expecting to run into a bear. We continued on to Virginia Falls…very much worth the extra time, plus you get to see maybe 3 more unnamed waterfalls as well…what a treat! We stopped for morning photos at a St. Marys Lake pull off and were rewarded when there was a grizzly on the hillside eating berries. Yea, so exciting seeing our first grizzly….and when we were near the car and not on the trail!! We continued on up to the pass….we only had to go around twice to get a spot. We did the hike to Hidden Lake. This one surprised me…I expected it to be easy, but we found the steps much harder than doing a trail uphill. The lake was absolutely beautiful…there is nothing to prepare you for the glacial colors. We walked a little farther out the trail & picked a spot for a late lunch. While we were eating a goat came onto the path right below us. I was snapping photos like crazy. We began to finish our lunch when a mamma goat and baby came into the trees behind us….absolutely adorable….the baby was soooooo fluffy!! More photos. Coming down from the lake a coyote almost posed for us in the meadow. We headed over GTTS road as this was the last day it was open. We saw three more goats along the road, one creating a traffic jam as it was on a ledge and right by the road. WE only had to wait 8 minutes for the construction so that wasn’t bad, but there was lots of dust which they watered down about the time we went through and it made all sort of mud all over the car. Yuck!! The road IS narrow and I was surprised at how the rocks just almost stuck out into the road and was glad I wasn’t driving a camper!!
We had planned to take the boat ride at Lake McDonald but had just missed it so we just walked around the lake, slipping our tired feet into the cold water. We stopped to do Trail of the Cedars as well. This area got very short shrift as near dark we headed into Kalispell since we were going into Canada. Our stay was at Comfort Inn and supper was eating the raw veggies we couldn’t take across the border. Oops…not great planning. But with the ram, the coyote, the bear and the mountain goats, it was already an incredible vacation.
Day 4…We took Rt. 93 into British Columbia with incredible scenery. We saw 3 elk when they crossed the road in front of us. We then headed into Kootenay National Park….such a beautiful area. We had planned to hike the paint pots, but it was closed at the bridge, so that didn’t happen. We went on the Marble Canyon. I loved this...as the canyon just kept getting deeper and deeper. At its high point the canyon is 128 feet deep and very narrow! There is a nice waterfall at the end as well. We got to see first hand what the mountain pine beetle did to the forest…much like the adelgid did in Great Smokey Mountain NP. Areas along the Kootenay, Columbia, and Vermillion Rivers, and Columbia Lake(I think) were incredible as well. By dark we by-passed Banff and spent the night at Banff Boundary Lodge in Canmore. Supper was steaks, fries, and salads at Craigs.
Day 5…We decided to do the Icefields Parkway Banff toward Jasper, stopping at whatever we decided to see and going as far as we could get before dark and then returning back to Canmore. I certainly would do that part differently in a do-over…hated the backtracking. We started early and drove the Bow Valley Parkway hoping to see animals without a single beast in sight!
We stopped at Johnston Canyon and did the hike to the lower and upper falls…again, some unnamed falls in between make this hike seem shorter than it is. We thought the boardwalk was pretty interesting…must have taken quite a while to build!
We took the Lake Louise gondola & was disappointed it didn’t go to the top like we thought, but it was still a wonderful look at the mountains. We had a buffet lunch at the Lodge of Ten Peaks…beautiful ambiance…several salads, meats, veggie, breads, & desserts to choose from…probably our best meal on the whole trip.
Stopped at many glacier viewpoints, our favorite might be crowfoot glacier. Peyto Lake was beautiful…and made it into Jasper and the Columbia Ice Field. We spent some time there but did not take the bus ride… you don’t realize how large the icefield is until you see how small the buses are! We loved Tangle Falls, visible from the road, and made it to Stutfield Glacier before it was time to turn back…so we really didn’t explore much of Jasper at all, but we still had an amazing day. We did a fast food supper and returned to the Banff Boundary Lodge, which had 2 bedrooms, ours was a king, kitchen, living room and 1 ½ baths.
Day 6…Up at dawn. We wanted to see Tekawkaw Falls and made the trip to Yoho National Park. They were stunning and it was so easy to hike almost to the very foot of the falls. We also stopped at a natural bridge which used to be a waterfall, Emerald Lake, Lake Louise and the beautiful chateau, Mennewanka Lake, and Moraine Lake…taking time to hike a short distance in most areas. Some of these are in Banff and not Yoho. We headed back to Banff and Bow Falls at the Fairmont Hotel….gorgeous place, but not for me!! We watched sunset on Rundle Mountain from the Vermillion Lakes and did manage to see 5 elk. We went back onto the Bow Valley parkways for a distance but saw nothing again so we returned to Canmore.
Day 7…We left Canmore at dawn. We took routes 40, 541, 20 and 6 for a quick stop at Waterton. This was an amazing drive as well. We saw a moose, a big black bear in the creek, a mamma black bear and 3 cubs on the hillside and another coyote, several prairie chicken type birds, many, many magpies and an irredescent blue jay-like bird. Some of these were after we got back into the US, some before. The funniest thing were the bighorn sheep on the highway…there were a total of 21!!! On Highway 40. I wonder if that is why the area is called Elbow Sheep Provincial Park? There were also free roaming cattle all over the place…US AND Canada. We were surprised to find a Walmart at Pincer Creek, so we restocked on affordable picnic supplies. The Prince of Wales Hotel was closed for the season so we couldn’t get a peak, but we did hike to the Bear’s Hump for photos. The view is beautiful and the hike not too bad, even though it is steep. We also drove Red Rock Canyon hoping for wildlife, but nada.
We re-entered the US at the Port of Chief Mountain and headed for Many Glacier. We had planned Apakuni Falls for our first hike…a little steep and not much water this time of year. We walked along the lake and found several large bear tracks. We had a long drive as I had mis-planned our stay in East Glacier at Mountain pine Motel. The road to East Glacier is in pretty bad shape! I was glad we got across it before dark. We ate at Two Medicine Grill.
Day 8…Back to Many Glacier. We hiked to Red Rock Falls and took several photos there and along the lakes. I developed a bad headache so we canceled our Grinnell Lake hike and headed back to East Glacier. I slept for 2-3 hours and then we went back to Many Glacier area (I saw that bad road WAY too many times.) We visited the lodge and there is a very pretty waterfall there…just climb onto the rocks to get a good view! We then back to St. Mary area and walked up Sunrift Gorge and down to Barring Falls. It was late and I was bear-wary again! We stopped at the place along the lake where we had seen the grizzly, but no luck,just some whitetail does. We did sunset at Wild Goose Island, but there was no red sunball this evening. Back at East Glacier we ate at Lunas and stayed at Mountain Pine Motel again.
Day 9…I was glad it was only a 5 mile drive to the Two Medicine area. We told the ranger we didn’t want anything but a short hike…would Running Eagle Falls or Aster Falls be better for us? She encouraged us to do both. Running Eagle was a short, level hike and the story was interesting. We then did a side trip to Paradise Point…which ended up right back on the shore of the lake (bummer) and headed to Aster Falls. At that point we decided we had enough energy to do the additional 1.2 miles past the falls to Aster Park. It was all uphill and rather steep, but it was very pretty. After that we headed back to Great Falls, staying at Comfort Inn.
Day 10…Our flight left at 6 AM and we landed in Columbus, Ohio at 2:00 with 3 ½ hour drive ahead of us. Just after entering WV we saw a large whitetail buck…we laughed and said we had to come home to find a whitetail with horns. Amazing trip…loved, loved, loved it!