Most of you know that we love to travel. Our goal is to see as many places as possible while we live in the States. However, I have to admit that we prefer places with predicted temperatures above the 50s… Nevertheless, this year we decided to visit Yellowstone in the fall, which doesn’t exactly match my temperature criteria. Martin always wanted to see the buffalo herds in the north, a curiosity I don’t share. A dream he probably developed after seeing many old western movies as a kid. But I want him to be happy, so the North it was!!
Extra bonus: Our friends Kara and Ben coincidentally had the same idea and we decided to take this trip together!
You might have seen some of the highlights in my Instagram Stories while we were there. And in case you are not following me yet, here you go 😉 After coming home and perusing all the gorgeous photos, I decided to write about our trip. I am not a travel blogger but why not providing some info and ideas for everyone thinking about a similar trip? And believe me, even though that part of the US was not on top of my bucket list, it’s totally worth a visit or two!
After deciding to do the trip together we started planning. Clearly this was going to be a hiking trip and for those we usually rent a smaller camper van to stay as flexible as possible. We started to search for a suitable vehicle. We highly, highly recommend Escape Campervans whenever available!
Unfortunately, Escape Campervans does not have a station close to Salt Lake City where we wanted to start our adventure. This was 2019 and things might have changed by the time you read this. So it turned out to be more challenging than we originally thought — finding the perfect car since no other rental company really matched our needs with regards to pick-up location, price and size.
But why an RV?
After a couple of weeks going back and forth Kara & Ben surprised us with amazing news! They just had bought a 38-foot trailer!! Enough room for all of us. Combined with a brand-new truck! How about that? They decided to make it an overall seven week trip across the country, and just like that our first problem was solved. Well done!
Since Martin and I weren’t able to join the full tour, this blog is about the two weeks we actually travelled together. If you are interested in Kara & Ben’s full adventure, check out her page Kara Mickell Designs.
Now we needed to decide on a route. Having maximum flexibility and a vast area with almost unlimited options, this was even harder. Especially since we wanted to explore more than just Yellowstone National Park. At one point we had enough ideas for a six month trip literally scouting every peak in the Middle Rockies.
We needed to cut it down, just a little bit… And that’s how our planning process usually works. Going from nothing to researching all the possibilities. Then we decide on the highlights, sketch a rough trip around them and then add a buffer. And yes, this includes many hours of researching, reading and replanning. The most important advice I can give: Plan your buffer! It’s just as important as in my wedding timelines 😉 You might like a spot more than expected and it’s nice to have the flexibility to just stay longer without running behind in your itinerary. In case you have a four-legged friend keep in mind that on most hikes in the United States dogs are not allowed – except for service dogs. In Canada they can come on almost every trail. Sweet Kara had already stocked the fridge and cabinets with essential and basic foods, snacks and drinks and cooked dinners in the freezer. We agreed on eating out occasionally and also bought groceries at local food stores along the way.
Martin and I flew from Charleston to Salt Lake City where our friends and their Rottweiler Captain already waited for us. Why SLC? The flights were pretty affordable and we also wanted to check out the city at the end of the trip. Salt Lake is a city you have heard of, but don’t really know about. And just like that, we were on the road for our 14-day trip from Salt Lake City all the way up to Calgary in Canada.
The goal of our very first day was to go as far as possible, leaving Utah and getting close to Wyoming. As on all our trips, we booked a campground for the first night. This gives you the option to drive into the night without stressing to find a vacant campground or trying to find an alternative in the woods when it’s dark already.
Nevertheless, we didn’t miss to take the chance of a short dive into the famous Lava Hot Springs in Idaho. Since it was surprisingly warm and sunny that day, getting into the hot water didn’t have the same relaxing effect as it would have when you come from a blistering cold. A tube ride on the river looked much more appropriate. Maybe next time…
Quite early we headed to our first planned stop. Ben found a great remote spot, north of Jackson, Wyoming. Our campsite was free, so there were no hookups for our second night. But the view was incredible!!
On the way, we passed our first buffalo herd — or should I say they passed us? Some of these impressive animals decided to rest on the road and didn’t really care about the cars attempting to pass. Martin was happy and so was I! We were really close to the T.A. Moulton Barn with a panoramic view on the Teton Mountain Range. The famous Moulton Barn is a historic icon and America’s most photographed barn within the Mormon Row Historic District – which we found out that day thanks to google 😀
Since we arrived early in the day we followed our plan to do our first hike. A quite easy one to start with – at least that’s what we planned. We still don’t know what exactly went wrong or if we missed a turn at some point but our intended 2.7 mile walk along Jenny Lake to the Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point ended up being 10 miles – around the entire lake! Despite the length, it was a fun one to start with and we really deserved our dinner that day!
The next day we decided to do Taggart Lake Loop which is a 4.1 mile mostly flat hike. The trail is super easy to follow and totally worth it. Especially when you arrive at the lake where it enters Taggert Creek. We immediately jumped on some of the rocks sticking out of the water and enjoyed our breakfast in the sun. It was just the perfect relaxing, remote spot. I would highly recommend doing that trail on a sunny day and definitely packing a picnic.
We were back on the road later, leaving Wyoming to a find a suitable campground outside the national park.This led us back to Idaho. We got a beautiful spot right on the shore of Henrys Lake. This made it easy to enter the park through the west entrance. With a half day left until sunset we decided to drive into the park to get a first impression and visit the Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. I honestly didn’t even know what to expect.
First of all, I have to say that Yellowstone is much more touristy than the Tetons and also the other parks we explored. I definitely recommend a visit, but prepare yourself for some crowds. Most of the top attractions are easily accessible via a (crowded) parking lot right beside them. I must admit we also didn’t look for real hikes since we just had planned one full day in the park.
Back to our first stop, the Grand Prismatic Spring. A boardwalk leads you around the area along several pools, with the Grand Prismatic as the most famous one. Its color spectrum is simply stunning and unique, but the other pools are also fascinating. Varying from a Caribbean blue to shades of orange and greens. The colors are caused by heat-loving bacteria that only survive in the springs. Definitely a highlight of mine!!
Old Faithful is the best known, but there are many more geysers along the paved path. When it comes to geysers, timing is everything – otherwise you are just staring at some pale small rocks within an immediate surrounding that appears pretty much dead. And that’s probably the reason why Old Faithful is the most famous, since it erupts reliably in a quite short frequency. Also it’s the closest to the parking lot and visitor center 😀
All incoming tourists definitely stop here, some might even watch it from their hotel room right next to it. All estimated eruption times of each geyser are available online or in an app. However the information is not always a 100% reliable. Take a look, maybe you are lucky to see one of the rarer ones.
On day two we decided to drive along the Yellowstone River. The Grand Loop Road takes you south from the Canyon Village to Yellowstone Lake. This is a very scenic ride and you get to see a lot of wildlife. Mainly bison gathered in big herds along the road. Definitely another one of my highlights! There are several trails starting next to the road and you pass some more attractions like the Mud Volcano. We didn’t do any of these since we wanted to head further north the same day.
We stopped at one of the picnic areas on the river to have some lunch and put our feet into the cool water – the weather that day was once more amazing for late fall – and headed further north. Overall, we didn’t do a single hike (at least we don’t really consider anything below a mile and only paved walkways a hike…) in Yellowstone. Everything is designed for families, close parking, paved ways – less adventurous I would say. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the time there and I love to think back. Overall it was the right puzzle piece for our entire trip.
The next stop on our route was physically demanding. Glacier National Park is much more about hiking with its trails kept more natural (less flattened or even paved). Since our friend Kara already wrote a very good summary about her highlights of the park, I am being lazy and directing you to her blog: Kara Mickell Design. All I will say is that Glacier National Park turned out to be one of my favorite national parks! Seeing a real glacier and a grizzly bear were some of my absolute highlights ever!
Canada was not on our itinerary until two weeks before we left. Kara reached out to me and asked our opinion about Banff. I had no idea what she was talking about since I have never heard of it before. First hit on google and I knew: We’re in!
To get to our last stop, we crossed the border to the Great White North. If you’re not an American citizen, don’t forget to bring your passport! We crossed on the East side of Glacier NP, north of St. Mary, where we stopped at the campground. It is still a quite long trip up to Banff, with a five hour drive, but I definitely recommend it. The area offers so much beauty and diversity! It is not a coincidence that you see some of these spots constantly on Instagram…
Lake Moraine was our first stop that morning. Due to its popularity you have to be there at 5am, latest! I am not kidding! When we arrived at the small parking lot at 4:55am, we got the last legal spot. More and more cars arrived and small groups equipped with flashlights — yes it was still pitch black — entered the short hiking trail to the famous photo spot. We decided not to follow the crowd and went on another path which leads along the lake to the south end. This might have been the wrong decision. Even though we were super excited since we were the only ones we probably should have stuck with the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a stunning atmosphere, but we honestly expected something more dramatic for all that effort. Thanks Instagram…not!
After getting up that early we were all still tired and decided to relax a bit before spending the rest of the day in the town of Banff. Banff is such a cute town and offers everything from shopping and dining to a beautiful river walk. If you are looking for a place to eat, I can highly recommend Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine, the food was so yummy!
Well rested, we started to prepare for Ha Ling Peak the next day. It is a fairly short hike but the elevation of 2.637ft makes it quite a challenge. Out and back it’s rated as difficult but I think only the last part is kind of scary and windy. A number of newly constructed wooden steps definitely help with some parts. At the end you are rewarded with a stunning 360 degree view on the Bow Flats and adjacent mountain peaks. Be careful at the edge, at some point I felt a bit uncomfortable standing at the very top. We enjoyed our lunch at a more secure and less windy place. On the way down another hiker told us that there is a race once a year where they run on four mountain peaks, one of them being Ha Ling Peak. Haha, no thank you! We were all done after this one already, but you might be sportier that I am so you might want to sign up 😉
For our last day in the mountains we picked a more convenient way to get up top. We just didn’t feel like hiking and therefore took the lift up to Sunshine Village Ski. Another gondola lift takes you all the way up to a small station that offers great views over the area. Looking down on Grizzly and Larix Lakes, surrounded by the majestic peaks like the Monarch or Citadel. Also several trailheads are located up there and would offer possibilities to go for another elevated hike.
We opted out and instead went to the last spot in Canada before flying back to the US. Lake Louise offered the perfect scenery for a sunset photo session. Remember? I am a photographer and this was the perfect way to end the time together with our friends. You might have already seen the pictures on one of my previous blog posts — if not head over.
Around noon the next day, Martin and I flew from Calgary to Salt Lake City. We had planned a little city trip for another two days before flying back to Charleston. Kara, Ben and Captain continued their journey with the camper for another few weeks. If we could, we would have stayed with them….
We honestly didn’t have a plan for Salt Lake City. So, we just randomly explored the city on foot. Google maps guided us from one point of interest to another. Here and there we took a detour if we saw something along the way. We both love to explore cities that way.
Salt Lake definitely has a lot to discover. Besides the obvious Mormon Temple Square and its surrounding attractions, the city offers architectural, historical and cultural variety. Definitely check out the Salt Lake City Public Library — really modern — and the Utah State Capitol Building. My favorite place was the Red Butte Garden. Super peaceful above the city!!
We clearly enjoyed being back in a city and seeing something different than rocks. However I have to admit that at this point I was truly exhausted. My body was tired form all the hikes and we ended up not exploring as much much as we usually would. During our last two days I often sat down with coffee while Martin kept going with a camera.
I know, this all sounds like a lot, and again I was exhausted in the end but it was so worth it! All the planning, and hiking and driving brought us to some of the most beautiful spots and we enjoyed all the places we saw. Also let me say that we are not super athletic, nor do we have special equipment. The app we used most was Alltrails, showing you the possible hikes in the area along with a pretty reliable info about restrictions and difficulty level.
We went through six states and two countries:
We visited three National Parks:
We drove more than a thousand miles and hiked another 90, we saw wildlife we have never seen before and geysers and enjoyed the best weather we could think of!
Would we do it again??