Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hayburger Trail, Elk Island National Park, Canada


This was a 10km loop trail. You start at a parking lot right off the main road and hike 1km to the loop. We did the loop in a clockwise direction and we found that the first half of the trail was more open than the second half - it was prairie viewing with some forest that was easily seem through to spot wildlife. The soap pots or quicksand holes mark the approximate halfway point. You will find this in a open area about 50 years past the trail as the trail veers to the right. As we were admiring the quicksand area, we were graced by a bull Bison that walked by us about another 50 yards away in this big open area. He stopped and we watched him rolled around in one of the many rub spots that you will see throughout the park, then proceeded into the nearby forest opposite our direction and out of sight. We then started the second half of this hike where the trail went through much denser forest with some open pasture views, which made it visually harder to see past the trail. We walked about another mile and then encountered another Bison on the trail walking towards us. He was about 20-30 feet from where we stopped. We calmly talk to him in normal voices and within a few minutes he trotted through the forest out of our way. That was pretty exciting to say the least. About ½ mile from the end of the hike, we encountered another Bison sitting in rub hole very close to the trail. His head was only visible at first sight. Once we stopped and started talking to him, he got up to try and figure out who we were. We continued to calmly talk to him and after a few minutes he walked up the same trail ( the way we were going ) and joined 4 more Bison coming down the trail. They all stopped watching us and eventually decided to move into the forest to our right. We cautiously move forward continually talking to them until we were safely past. The encounters plus the more open views made this our favorite hike of the park.

Tip: When you go to Elk Island, ask the attendants which hike offer the most open views, as the hikes can change dramatically from year to year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ukranian Cultural Heritage Village, Canada


During the early 20th century many Ukrainians settled in the area around Elk Island. It’s still evident by the orthodox churches that actively remain in the surround towns and communities. This village depicts the life and culture of these Ukrainian settles in the years 1930, 1891 and earlier. The entire area has groups of building representing each time period. Present in almost all building area people in accurate dress and acting the part. All were eager to answer questions and act the part include Ukrainian accents. There were more than 30 buildings total, but when we were there 5 were unavailable due to restoration. We learned that the actors make their lunches each as part of the real life experience. In fact the “place” provides them this food to prepare their meals, whether from the gardens or meat. This village is open year round with the winters months by special reservation where groups can “rent” the site for events. This summers months are more for tourists. Tip – don’t forget to ask for you AAA or CAA discount. And try the authentic food at the café. We had the potato ravioli things (with butter and onions) and they were quite good.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shirley Lake Loop & Bison Loop Road, Elk Island National Park


Shirley Lake Loop is a 10.5km (~7m) hike around two lakes. Alas, we were disappointed again as you couldn’t see the lakes for the overgrowth, and it was heavily treed, so no views. You eventually get to Oster Lake, and there is one view of the lake, but you never actually go to Shirley Lake (so we wondered why this wasn’t called Oster Lake Hike……). If you decide to do this hike, be sure you bring bug spray - it’s heavily used by flying, biting, stinging insects.

Along the main road of Elk Island is a small drive aptly named Bison Loop Road – it’s an area where bison frequent. We saw about 20 bison foraging when we drove by; if you don’t see any, try another time of the day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Elk Island National Park, Alberta, Canada

Elk Island National Park is a small park with a nice sized lake about 30 minutes east of Edmonton. It is broken on two separate zones by the Yellowhead Highway - the northern area has Plains Bison, and the southern area has Wood Bison. Why is it called Elk Island? Because there are elk there, but the bison flourished more than the elk over the years. It doesn’t have a townsite, and any groceries, gas, etc.. you may need can be found in Lamont, just past the northern tip of the park. There is, however, a golf course and a small dining room with grilled food type of items. There are two campgrounds, both without hook-ups of any kind - one is for tents or trailers, is the nicer of the two, with trees, fire pits, washrooms with lukewarm showers, and picnic table. It was rather empty when we were here, but it was during the week (we arrived on Monday, left on a Friday); we found good camping without a reservation but were told that they do fill on the weekends. The other campground is for RVs only, and is basically a parking lot with fire pits and picnic tables. It was empty when we were there, and it seems as if it would have a parking lot feel if it were full of RVers. This was a very low key park with lots of shorter hike; we liked it, and it’s a nice change from the larger, more frequently used parks like Banff and Jasper.

On the topic of fire pits ~ they do things different in Canadian national Parks – you buy a “fire permit”, which usually costs $8-10 per day, and they provide all the firewood. There’s usually some firewood at your site, and when you run out, you just go to the firewood shed/area/pile and grab whatever you want. Considering in the states it seems as if you get a smallish pile for $5, this is quite the deal.

Oh, here’s a handy tip – if you need wifi, go to the public library in Lamont – it’s found in the elementary/high school area. They don’t actually allow people to use it, but it’s unsecured, there is parking across the street…………need we say more?

On the first day here we took a small hike along Beaver Pond Loop ~ we weren't impressed. It was heavily treed with no views, adn there was no pond either!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Strathcona and Legislature Buildings, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

We kept hearing about the Strathcona area of Edmonton – it is an historic district that is supposed to have lots of art galleries, shops, restaurants. Nope – it ws quite run down, “seedy”, is the better word. Since we were somewhat by the Legislature Buildings, we headed that way – the grounds were beautiful! The buildings themselves were very nice, and free tours are given on the hour, all year.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

St. Albert's Farmers Market, St. Albert, Alberta, Canada

We like Farmer’s Markets, and were told that the St. Albert Farmers Market (north of Edmonton) was the best in the area, so we went. It was lovely!! It was by their City Hall, which was nice and had clean bathrooms. There were lots of vendors ~ fruit, veggies, meats, crafts, flowers, plants, etc….. Parking was tough to find, so definitely go early.

Friday, July 25, 2008

World Waterpark in the West Edmonton Mall

We went to World Waterpark in the West Edmonton Mall. There is a nice, separate children’s area, and about 7-10 slides that were open for general use, as well as a huge wave pool. There are a variety of passes one can buy, so check the URL to see which admission works best for you. Although you cannot bring food in (but many people did, we found out later), you can buy food in the water park (mostly hot dog types of things) you can go in-and-out as many times as you want, and can go get food in the mall. (We went to the food court and had great Greek food – but we forget the name of the place – it’s the first one you come to on the left, by the water arches.) There are three changing rooms with lockers – women’s, men’s and family, which is what we used and it worked great. The locker costs $7 and has in/out privileges. The family locker room has privacy stalls for changing, but you do share toilets. There are tubes you can rent for $5/day, and so you don’t have to “babysit” them when you’re not in the wave pool, you can take them back to the tube area, get a ticket, and use that ticket for a tube when you want one. You definitely do not want to leave you tube laying around – they are a hot commodity and it will be gone in no time! Like the rest of the West Edmonton Mall, it is a bit outdated, but we surprisingly spent 6+ hours there, and had a blast! Tip – keep you head up on the slides if you choose to lie down (to go faster), unless you want a headache. (Learned the hard way by Suzanne!)

The URL: http://www.westedmall.com/play/waterpark.asp

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fort Edmonton Park, Alberta, Canada

Fort Edmonton Park is a 5 kilometer park in the heart of Edmonton, that depicts four different time periods in Edmonton’s history with staff that dress and act like the time period they represent: the 1846 Fort itself; 1885 street, 1905 street; and 1920 street. Each areas has historic replications of these times – all of the buildings were constructed as they would be at those times with the complete workings, such as fireplaces where staff cooked their lunches while in persona. There were streetcars at the time when they were in vogue, horse drawn buggies, etc. Each area had presentations as well, such as how to press pelts to send back to Europe. There is also a steam train you can ride one or both ways (included in the admission price), and you can bring own food and have a picnic (picnic areas provided). We had lunch at Hotel Selkirk which surprised us with our best lunch yet! Hotel Selkirk is a fully functioning hotel in Fort Edmonton Park, and you can stay here overnight. We spent a surprising five hours here and highly recommend it if you plan to come to Edmonton. The cost $13.25 CA per adult.

The URL: www.ftedmontonpark.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

West Edmonton Mall, Alberta, Canada

This is a huge somewhat outdated in appearance, but clean two-story mall with lots of stores, basically like any other mall in any other city, although limited washroom facilities for size of mall. It has food court with fast food, or Bourbon Street (a New Orleans style décor) wing of higher-end food. We ate at Moxie’s where we learned that Canadians like very, very sweet ice tea! Moxie’s had very good food and a very nice waitress. The West Edmonton Mall has Galaxy World (amusement park, somewhat expensive for what you get), Water World (see the 7/25 post on that), Sea Lion shows, and more. We met some people who go to Edmonton just for the mall and spend days there. Not really our thing.

Tip – get an Edmonton Visitors Guide and inside will have a coupon for a free coupon book (can purchase for $4) at Guest Services. It has some coupon savings at restaurants and stores. If it’s not the high season (summer) there are 2-for-1 coupons at Water Park, Galaxy World, mini-golf, etc…

The URL: www.westedmall.com

Monday, July 21, 2008

Glowing Embers RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

This is just an okay park – the RVs are jammed in, with overflow in on the front lawn without services. The staff wasn’t very nice overall, and their wifi was out the entire time, even thought they advertise free wifi. They have weekly rates, but not on the pull-through sites, which were the only ones available for when we wanted to stay. The pull through sites ended up being the nicest, with the most space and a small patch of green grass, but no trees, thus no shade. Get this – there is no sani-station (dump) on site, so if you happen to be net to a vacant pull through site, that’s where they tell people to go dump, so in effect, you’re camping next to the sani-station/dump. (We wonder if that’s legal, but what do we know…..)There is an RV store on the premises, but quite expensive and, not surprising, not the nicest people there either. There is propane, but better prices are found in town. Two positive comments: there is a large nice laundry room, with dryers that actually dry, and, in looking at other RV parks in the area, this may actually be the best one…….

The URL: www.glowingembersrvpark.com

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump Heritage Centre, Alberta, Canada

If native people history and culture interest you, then this center is a must. Brad like this kind of stuff so it was easy for him to spend several hours. This site is where native peoples systematically directed and drove herds of buffalo off cliffs in order to provide food for the Blackfeet people in the Fall. The Heritage centre consists of museum like displays and a 15 minute movie that reenacts how the Indians performed this feat without horses. This movie is a must and we recommend seeing it first before reviewing the displays – it will provide you and overall understanding of what they did so you can understand and appreciate the displays more. The centre itself is built into the actual cliff bank where the Indians have used the buffalo jump for more than 5000 years. There are also trails where you can walk along and see the actual drive path as well as the cliffs and butchering areas below. Coincidentally, we happened upon this museum on a day where they were celebrating the birthday of the museum, and admission was free!
Here's the URL: http://www.head-smashed-in.com/

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Buffalo Plains RV Park, Ft. McLeod, Alberta, Canada

We stayed here so we could go to the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump Heritage Centre (it’s the closest campground to the center). It’s a small, family-owned campground. It was quite nice, a Good Sam’s park but not AAA. We stayed in site 1 and had shade most the day. WIFI was for $4 per day. Fire pits at each site. Free showers. Laundry was $4 to wash and dry one load. The owners/operators were friendly and nice. A good place to stop if you want to spend a good part of a day visiting the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump.

The URL: http://www.buffaloplains.com/

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bayshore Inn, Waterton Lakes National Park

We had lunch at the Bayshore Inn, primarily because it had free wifi. The food was actually very good (great turkey clubs), and even though we hung out after eating so we could use their wifi, they were very casual about it and didn’t mind at all. If you go to Waterton, you should eat there – for the food, service, and atmosphere.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crypt Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park

This hike was named the best hike in the Canadian Rockies in 1981. The trailhead is across the lake from the townsite which requires taking the boat shuttle which costs $16 CA for each person. The shuttle departure times at 9:00am and 10:00am with pickups being 4:00pm and 5:30pm. When you purchase your tickets, you need to decide which return trip you want, however if you choose the 4:00 pm and miss it, don’t worry they must take you back on the 5:30 shuttle. This hike is 10.7 miles round trip (not including hiking around the lake) with a 2214 ft elevation gain. The hike has 3 distinctive parts. The first third of the hike starts from the boat dock and immediately has some steep switch backs that go through dense forest. Eventually the hike levels off and follows the creek up into the canyon past two waterfalls. The second third of the hike is mainly thru forest and takes a gradual elevation increase thru forest. The last third of the hike begins in an area with lots of loose rock and steep switchbacks which makes the hiking difficult. These switchbacks on all in the open so this section can be very hot with the sun. The views of two dramatic waterfalls in this area makes it worth the work. The last half-mile of this section bring you to a natural tunnel which requires you to climb a 10’ ladder then crawl thru a 60’ tunnel kneeling down. Once you emerge from the opposite side of the tunnel you will have amazing views of the next canyon and other mountains of Waterton. The trail continues by climbing along a shear cliff where you need to hold onto a climbing steel cable secured to the rocks. The hike continues you through alpine forest until you reach this spectacular lake. When we were there, there was lost of snow remaining around the lake a also a few small icebergs in the lake. Very nice. Summary: the hike is nice but there are better views in the park for a lot less work. We would rate this hike as strenuous. If you want to experience the ladder, tunnel and cable parts for this experience then we would recommend this hike. This hike took us 3 hours to hike to the lake move at steady pace and slightly less than 2 hours to hike back down. During the boat ride the captain and mate provided information and when we left the boat they played Hit the road Jack to send us on our way – which was fun. We took the 9:00 am boat out and had 30-40 minutes to spare to make the 4:00 boat after spending 20 minutes at the lake eating lunch.
Tip: when you buy your ticket(s) they will ask what boat you want to return on – so choose the 4:00 return but if you miss it they have to take you on the 5:30 versus if you choose the 5:30 boat but got to the dock in time for the 4:00. The “4:00 people” have priority based on boat room so they might not let you on then you’ll have to wait until 5:30 anyway.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada

The interesting thing about the Canadian National Parks is that many of them have these “townsites” that are within the boundaries of the park. The Waterton Lakes Townsite has lots of little stores; about two-thirds food (restaurants, ice cream, dessert shoppes) and the rest touristy shops. There are a few small hotels/motels, inns, etc…. . You can easily bike around town. There is a laundromat, small grocery store, one gas station (with propane), and recycling. The neat thing about the townsite is that deer roam freely.

There are two campgrounds in Waterton Lakes: the Townsite Campground and Crandall Campground. The Townsite Campground is right in the townsite, which is nice because you can walk or bike right to the town. They do take reservations, which we recommend because we couldn’t stay as long as we had wanted. There are some fully-serviced sites as well. One nice thing about the Canadian National Parks is free hot showers!! There are bathrooms of course, and outdoor shelters with wood stoves and picnic tables to use – free to anyone who wants to use. There are deer roaming in the campground as well, and tons and tons of ground squirrels. It’s a very open campground and can be quite windy.

We stayed at Crandall Campground when we visited in 2007, and it’s away from the townsite, but much more treed and cooler since it’s at a higher elevation. There is a lot of opportunity to see wildlife, although no hot showers and space is somewhat limited for larger rigs. It’s good if you want to be more secluded. There are no reservations here; it’s first come-first served.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Iceberg Lake Trail, Glacier National Park


This is one of the most popular trails at Many Glacier ~ in fact, we did this hike two years in a row. It is 10 miles round-trip with a 1200’ elevation change, most of which is in the first half-mile. It took us 5 hours with a stop for lunch at the lake. Iceberg Lake is names so since there are icebergs floating in the lake for much of the summer. There are beautiful views along the trail, and it winds through prime grizzly habitat (but we did not see any). In fact, this trail was closed for many weeks in the summer of 2007 because the berries were ripe early that year.. We did see three Mountain Goats this year and one moose. The hike winds through forest, avalanche chutes, timberline, and alpine meadows. About half-way up to the lake is Ptarmington Falls, where many people stop and turn-around. At this point you can head to Iceberg Lake, as we did, or go onto Ptarmington Tunnel.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Grinell Glacier & Grinell Lake, Glacier National Park


The trailhead for the Grinell Complex is by the Many Glacier Hotel. We hiked the south side of Swiftcurrent Lake (where we saw fresh bear scat!), then the north shore of Josephine Lake up to the Grinell Glacier (which, unfortunately, was closed about 2 miles form the glacier, due to hazardous snow). The trail was fairly easy until the intersection of the glacier trail and the trail to Grinell Lake, where it became steep, but well worth the climb. At the end of where we could go, we saw a Bighorn Sheep grazing, and had good views of Falling Eagle Falls and Grinell Lake. We turned around (since there was no place else to go) and went on a spur trail to Grinell Lake – it’s a very pretty lake and well worth the hike. The entire hike was about 10 miles.

There are lots of ways to do these hikes – many people do what we did, go to both the glacier and the lake, some go only to the lake, some only to the glacier. There is also a boat you can take there and back for $16.00 per person, although you still need to hike the short distance from Swiftcurrent lake to Josephine lake, and then onto the glacier, the lake, or both. Alternatively, you can do the hike we described above, then take the boat back, which we did, at a cost of $8.00 per person. (If you do not have exact fare, you can pay when you get off the boat at the Many Glacier Hotel.) One caveat - those without roundtrip passage are not guaranteed a boat ride back, and the limit is 49 passengers. Tip –according to the staff, the 1:40pm boat from Josephine to Many Glacier Hotel is usually the not full. That being said, they will always take back anyone on the 11:40am 5:40pm boats.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pizza & the Hootenanny at Glacier National Park

One place to eat while at Many Glacier is the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge, and they are known for their pizzas, so we decided to try it. Well, the waitress was very nice and sweet, but the food took forever, and although the pizza was large (we ate it for 3 meals overall) it was just okay, not great.

On Sunday night, we went to the Many Glacier Hotel Hootenanny. Many years ago the staff would sing/entertain during dinner and in the lobby, and the tradition was brought back in 2005. Nowadays, the staff voluntarily puts on an hour-long show in the lobby (get there early if you want a seat) and it was a blast! It’s very casual and definitely something to do.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

It was still snowed-in when we went to Logan pass this year, but if you want to see some great Mountain Goat and Bighorn Sheep pictures look at our photos from our 2007 trip at http://picasaweb.google.com/Suzanne.and.Brad.photos

Last year we hiked to Hidden Lake, which was about 1.5 miles to the lookout, all uphill (some boardwalks will start the hike) and another 1.5 miles to the lake. Most people stop at the over look and make it a round trip from there. We would have done the hike again this year, but it was closed (along with a few other hikes we would have liked to have done, such as the Highline Trail). There are also a ton of Glacier Lilies here, which are a favorite of the Grizzly Bear – they savor the bulbs.

After tooling around the St. Mary and Logan Pass areas, we headed for lunch at Johnson’s of St. Mary’s. It was recommended for lunch by many of the locals, so we decided to try it on our way back to Many Glacier Campground. As you leave St. Mary and head north, you will see the sign. It’s in a rustic log house full of historic artifacts, and they serve the regular fare: burgers, chicken sandwiches, etc… It was a very casual atmosphere and rather busy, the food was good.

St. Mary's & Virginia Falls, Glacier National Park



Since we like the Many Glacier Campground much better than St. Mary’s, we decided to use the Many Glacier area as our home-base and went to the St. Mary’s and Logan Pass area for the day. A short 2 miles one-way hike takes you past St. Mary’s Falls, which is very nice, onto Virginia Falls. But don’t be fooled by the unnamed waterfalls along the way – keep going – you’ll know Virginia Falls when you get to it. (Especially considering it has a sign!) It’s very tall and very nice, and has logs to walk around the falls – it feel somewhat like being in a tree house. It took us about 2 hours round-trip – it’s a very easy hike with little elevation change.

Speaking of St. Mary’s – big tip here - there is a small grocery store and gas station – avoid!! The grocery store (both years we’ve been there) barely has food, and the prices are outrageous. Same with the gas. Head to Browning instead.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bullhead Lake, Glacier National Park


The trailhead for Bullhead Lake is at the west-end of Swiftcurrent Lodge. One your way, be sure to take a very short side trip to Fishcap Lake, where moose are often seen. Continue past Redrock Lake and the very pretty Redrock Falls (at 1.8 miles one-way). You can stop here and head back to the lodge as a hike in itself, or continue onto Bullhead Lake, as we did. Once we stopped for lunch at Bullhead Lake (which was beautiful, as all glacier-fed lakes are), we continued and walked up the riverbed past a small lake covered in willows, and to the start of the switchbacks to Swiftcurrent Pass. At this point it is about 5 miles, making the trip 10 miles both ways. It was a pretty hike, fairly easy with little elevation gain – some great mountain views, some forest hiking, some open areas with meadows – quite a lot to enjoy in the course of one hike!

Many Glacier Campground at Glacier National Park, Montana

Many Glacier Campground is our favorite in Glacier National Park, and since it is also first come-first served, and very popular, you have to get there about 9-10am to get a site. There are very few sites that accommodate big rigs (>25’), but there are a few. There is a decent gift shop with a few groceries, but most importantly, they have self-serve soft ice cream! Huckleberry and vanilla!!! You can swirl them too. There is laundry at the Swiftcurrent lodge, but our clothes never really got dry…….There is great wildlife viewing in the campground (saw a grizzly mom and her two cubs from our site, but not too close), and every night at the Swiftcurrent Lodge parking lot, volunteer interpreters set-up telescopes and search for wildlife. Be sure to bring your own binoculars, though, since there are so many people.

Many Glacier has no hook-up sites and is $20/night. You can get shower tokens at Swiftcurrent Lodge, and their showers are pretty good – about 2 tokens per shower is about right.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park


Two Medicine Lake (obviously in the Two Medicine area) has a 7.2 mile loop around the lake, with lots of side trails you can take. We started at the lower boat dock and walked clockwise, and with all the side trips, and walking back to our campsite, it was about 11+ miles in total. The first side trip is to Paradise Point (0.4 miles each way), which gives a nice view of the lake. You then walk through a nice alluvial fan, quite open, and then can take a side trip to Aster Falls. The trail then zig-zags through rock, where yet another side trip take you to Twin Falls which is beautiful! Throughout this hike you will traverse a cable bridge, through forest, by beaver dams, alluvial fans, avalanche areas and meadows. The upper boat dock is a popular place to stop for lunch, and if you choose not to hike the entire loop, you can take the boat back at this point. Alternatively, you can take the boat form he lower dock to the upper dock, and hike back one half of the loop.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Scenic Point, Glacier National Park




Scenic Point Hike in the Two Medicine area is a great 3.5 miles (one-way) steep (2450’ climb) hike to a viewpoint with spectacular views. The trails starts in the trees, and at 0.8 miles, there is a short detour to Appistoki Falls, which are nice. The trail opens and there are some great views (and wildflowers) along the way. At the viewpoint (look for the cairns), it is open and you can see views of Lower and Middle Two Medicine Lakes, as well as many mountains.

We recommend that you start the hike early in the day, before 10am, since it can be hot, and the sun is better earlier for photos. The hike took us 4 ½ hours (with a lunch stop and time on top to meander and take pictures). Note that the top can be very windy and cool, so bring a wrap.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Running Eagle Falls, Glacier National Park



Running Eagle Falls in the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park is a nice, easy 0.3 miles (one-way) dirt path. The trail starts with a footbridge, with lots of beargrass and wildflowers along the trail. The falls flow from an underground cave, yet in the early part of the summer also has winter run-off.





Two Medicine Campground at Glacier National Park, Montana

So we decided to start our journey heading back to Glacier National Park, since we liked it so much while on vacation there last year. The first three nights we stayed at Two Medicine Campground, which has 99 sites, no hook-ups but can house larger rigs, and has bathrooms and potable water. It’s a fairly remote campground, but we liked it because of that fact. It’s first come-first served, and cost $20/ night.

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