Glacier NP and the West Glacier KOA

We visited Glacier National Park in July of last year, but were only able to spend five days — which was not nearly enough. We knew then that we would return for a longer stay in the near future, which turned out to be August 9-23 of this year. We spent two amazing weeks in West Glacier at the West Glacier KOA, which is one of only 19 KOA Resorts amongst the 480+ KOA properties throughout North America. We had friends fly in from D.C. and Tampa to help us celebrate my 40th birthday. They stayed in one of the Deluxe Cabins, which is a great way for friends and family to join RVers on the road in great destinations like Glacier. During their 4-day visit, we explored trails and lakes and waterfalls and hiked/walked almost 88,000 steps, or more than 37 miles. We drank whiskey and beer and ate burritos and churros and trout. The guys went whitewater rafting and we all enjoyed campfires in the evening. Their visit flew by, as did our 2-week stay, and we’re pretty sure that Glacier National Park will be a place we return to again and again.

Read about our July 2018 visit here.

West Glacier KOA

355 Half Moon Flats Rd, West Glacier, MT 59936

www.koa.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cabins
  • Tent Sites
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fire Pits
  • RV Sites with Tent Pads
  • Cable TV (Limited to 4 Channels)
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Dump Station
  • Nature Trail
  • Propane Fill
  • Playground
  • Basketball Court
  • Horseshoe Pits
  • Fenced Dog Park
  • Two Swimming Pools (1 Family, 1 Adults Only)
  • Gift Shop
  • Cafe (Serves Breakfast & Dinner)
  • Ice Cream Shop
  • Sunday Morning Worship Service
  • Weekly Mobile Dog Groomer
  • Nightly Entertainment (Wildlife Expert, Magic Show, Music, etc.)
  • 2.5 Miles to West Entrance of Glacier National Park

Our site, #166, was a back-in Super Site with full hookups and a tent pad. It’s on the end of a row and backs up to a tree line. It’s next to a bathroom, which was very convenient for when we our friends were hanging out at our site. We LOVED our site. It was huge and quiet and pretty private for a KOA.

There are a number of things that we enjoyed about this KOA:

For such a large property, it’s pretty quiet. Because we were in an end site that backs up to trees, our stay may have been quieter than if we were in a different site, but overall, the place was pretty low key even though it was at max capacity most nights

The sites are well spaced apart. Again, this might have something to do with our particular site. We didn’t walk the entirety of the campground, but every site we saw looked nice.

Breakfast and dinner are available every day, which is very convenient for those days you don’t feel like making a meal or going out.They have a pretty substantial breakfast menu each morning, along with pastries for purchase. There’s also a coffee bar to get your day started right. Each evening, Gene mans the grill, where you have a choice of trout, ribs, flat iron steak, or ribeye steak. The ribs were pretty good but the trout was our favorite (we didn’t try either of the steaks).

The. Adult. Pool. Is. Everything. Due to most people staying at KOAs with kids, the family pool was always pretty busy. However, the adults only pool never had more than a half dozen other people at it and was incredibly peaceful. There are also two small hot tubs at the adult pool — again, very nice to enjoy without kids.

The location to the national park entrance gets two thumbs up. It’s only a couple of minutes drive into West Glacier Village, where you’ll find the west entrance of the park, a post office, an urgent care clinic, the newly opened West Glacier RV Park & Cabins, a motel, a food market, retail/gift shops, coffee cart, ice cream, a bar, and a cafe.

Mobile dog grooming? Yes, please. Every Saturday, a woman brings her RV that’s converted into a mobile dog grooming salon to the West Glacier KOA. There’s a sign-up sheet in the office. This was super convenient for us, as Max hadn’t been groomed in a very long time due to having a back injury. Also, it’s really hard to get a dog in for grooming on short notice in most places and we’re usually not somewhere long enough for it not to be short notice. She did a great job and Max was done in less than an hour, unlike the three hours that are normally required at other groomers.

Things to Do

Hiking

Avalanche Lake

The hike to Avalanche Lake can be anywhere from 4.6 to 6 miles roundtrip, depending on how far you continue along the lakeshore once you reach the lake. This trail can be busy, as there is a shuttle stop at the trailhead (which is actually the Trail of the Cedars Trailhead), and is accessible during the off-season months when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. There’s ample parking, but as with most trails in any national park, the earlier you get there the better. However, we didn’t arrive at the trailhead until 9am on a Saturday during mid-August and we were able to find a parking spot. The trail is rated as moderate and seemed to be popular with families. We did this hike on an overcast day, but the views from the lake were still gorgeous. We hiked the extra distance to the opposite side of the lake, as most people stop on the near side. Only a few parties continued to the far side which made it a quiet and peaceful place to drop in with our Kokopelli Packrafts and paddle around for a bit. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~32 minutes

The beginning of the trail starts on the Trail of the Cedars, which is a 0.9-mile loop.
Much of the trail is through a forested, mossy wonderland along Avalanche Creek.
This is as far as most people go, but another 0.7 mile will get you to the other side of the lake.
Even on a gloomy day, the views were beautiful!
It wasn’t the most ideal conditions for the packrafts, but any time you can paddle around on a glacial lake is a good time.

Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls

We did this hike last year when we visited and both Travis and I remembered it as being easier than it was this year. We accessed the trail from the Saint Mary Falls Trailhead, but you can also start at the Saint Mary Falls Shuttle Stop or from the boat dock on Saint Mary Lake. The first mile of the hike is pretty flat and fairly easy, and brings you to the three-tiered Saint Mary Falls. This a good place to turn around for those who aren’t very steady on their feet. If you continue an additional three-quarters mile up the trail, which starts to gain and lose elevation regularly just pass Saint Mary Falls, you’ll reach Virginia Falls, which is approximately 50 feet tall. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~1 hr, 15 min

A few tips:

  • Throughout the hike, there are a handful of smaller unnamed falls, and some people may mistake these for Virginia Falls and turn around before reaching the actual Virginia Falls.
  • The earlier in the season you visit, the more impressive the falls will be. That’s true for any of the 200+ waterfalls located throughout Glacier. We visited Glacier in mid-July last year and mid-August this year and noticed a big difference.
  • There is a third waterfall that can be reached from the Saint Mary Falls Trailhead, though the Sunrift Gorge Trailhead is a closer option. When starting the hike to Saint Mary and Virginia Falls, you’ll see a sign that says Baring Falls to the left, while the other two are to the right. We’ve never hiked it, so I can’t comment on the difficulty of the trail or the brilliance of the falls. I believe it’s about a mile to the falls from where the trail splits in two directions.
  • There’s a pit toilet near Virginia Falls if needed, though don’t expect it to be as nice as the pit toilets you find at trailheads. And pack your own toilet paper.
Saint Mary Falls
One of the unnamed falls along the trail.
Virginia Falls

Iceberg Lake

The trailhead to Iceberg Lake is found behind the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn in the Many Glacier area of the park. There are a number of hikes that leave from this area, so everything I read about the Iceberg Lake hike said that arriving early is important, even though there’s a very large parking lot. We did this hike on a drizzly Monday morning and when we arrived at the parking lot around 7:30am, there was quite a bit of parking still available. Maybe it was because of the weather, maybe it was because it was Monday, but whatever the reason, we probably could have shown up at 8 or 8:15 and still been fine. The park’s hiking guide rates this hike as very challenging, though AllTrails says moderate. Even though it’s about 10 miles roundtrip and has approximately 1800′ of elevation gain, I’d have to agree with moderate. About halfway along the trail is Ptarmigan Falls, which is a nice place to stop for a snack. There’s also a pit toilet here, but as with the one by Virginia Falls, it’s more of an outhouse and requires you to bring your own toilet paper. Once we reached the brilliant turquoise lake, which was sans icebergs (we missed them by a few weeks), the wind really picked up and it was freezing. We spent a short time at the lake before heading back and being treated to some moose sightings along the trail. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~2 hr, 10 min

We hit the road early and were able to see the sun rise along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Most of the trail looks like this: Fairly flat, along the side of a cliff, with views of the mountains ahead and lush, green valley below.
We were lucky to see a couple of handsome moose both on the way to and from the lake.
No icebergs to be seen, but still a nice hike.
There was a blanket of fog overhead for the majority of the morning, but it didn’t detract from the great views.
There were so many wildflowers along the way!
We did this hike the morning of my 40th birthday. In this photo, I’m pretty sure I was thinking — what a silly thing to do — wake up at 5am, drive four and half hours roundtrip, and hike 10 miles in an almost constant drizzle/rain. Silly, indeed.

Hidden Lake Overlook

This is another very popular hike in Glacier, but with good reason. It’s rated as challenging, or moderate, but is less challenging than other moderate hikes we’ve done. It’s fairly accessible, as the trailhead is right behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center. At 2.6 miles roundtrip, the payoff is pretty great without having to put a lot of miles in. The hike can be extended an additional 1.2 miles each way if you choose to hike down to the lake itself. We saw what seemed like every rodent that calls the park home as well as a momma mountain goat with her babe. It’s a busy trail, but one that I would say should be on your must-do list. We arrived at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon and were lucky enough to score a parking spot without having to circle the parking lot for too long. Drive time from West Glacier entrance: ~1 hr, 3 min

Another gloomy day, but the view of the lake from the overlook was still pretty great.
This little guy was gorging on all of the flowers.
This grazing mom and baby mountain goat kept their distance, but didn’t seem bothered in the least by everyone watching them.
The views are this incredible along the entirety of the trail.

Whitewater Rafting

While I stayed back at the Airstream with Max, the guys went whitewater rafting with Glacier Raft Company. They enjoyed it, but it was a little tame for their liking. As with the waterfalls in the park, the water level and flow of the Flathead River peak in early June and slowly recede throughout the summer.

Food & Drink

Wandering Gringo Cafe

Delicious tacos, quesadillas, and burritos the size of your head. Cash only.

Glacier Distilling Company 

They specialize in small-batch whiskey but also offer brandy, vodka, gin, rum and liqueurs. Do some tastings, order a cocktail, or buy a bottle to take home — or all three.

La Casita

The rafting guide swore by their chimichangas, so we partook after our hike to Iceberg Lake. We also sampled the margaritas and churros. ‘Twas a delicious trifecta!

West Glacier Restaurant

Located right in West Glacier Village, a good place to stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner either on your way in or out of the park. The food was good, the service was fast, and the prices were reasonable.

Boat Club Restaurant – Lodge at Whitefish Lake

The Lodge is a 40-minute drive from the West Glacier KOA. We visited on a busy Sunday afternoon, so the service was a tad bit slow, but the views made up for it. Whitefish is a fantastic town and deserves to be explored, but we only had time for a quick lunch at the lake.

North Fork Pizza

Located in Columbia Falls, North Fork Pizza is about a 20-minute drive from the KOA. The pizza is fantastic and worthy of the drive.

In Conclusion…

The Glacier National Park area does not disappoint. It’s not the easiest to get to, but everyone should try their best to get there. When the park was established in 1910, there were 150 active glaciers. Today, only 26 remain. By 2030, that number may be zero. The park itself is mind-blowing, but there is so much in the area that we haven’t yet gotten a chance to explore — Kalispell, Whitefish, Flathead Lake, etc. We spent 45 glorious days in the great state of Montana this summer, but it looks like we’ll need to spend more.

A Very Short Week in Lake Louise and Banff

The idea of a visit to Banff National Park in Alberta can be a bit daunting — almost as daunting as trying to put all of the info about actually visiting Banff into a blog post can be. But, it’s the most beautiful place we’ve ever been and completely worth the hassle it takes to get there!

So, I’ll start at the beginning:

Getting to Banff National Park

Obviously, we drove to Banff, which involved crossing the international border. We drove from Helena, MT to Milk River, AB (crossing at the Sweetgrass/Coutts border crossing) to Cochrane, AB to Banff National Park to Cranbrook, BC to West Glacier, MT (crossing at the Roosville crossing). To find out more information about crossing the border with an Airstream and a dog, read this. If you aren’t making a road trip out of your visit, then you’ll most likely be flying into Calgary. Calgary is a very large, great city that deserves a few days of exploration itself. From there, it’s a 90-minute drive to the town of Banff and an additional 45 minutes to Lake Louise. This drive can be accomplished by renting a car, taking an airport shuttle, or buying tickets for the On-It Regional Transit bus (make sure to check the schedule). Another option that many people choose is to rent an RV. We saw a lot of RVs from CanaDream, so check out their website if this interests you.

Camping in Banff

Reservations for Canada’s national parks open in January. I’m not sure if it’s the same date every year or if it changes, so keep an eye on the Parks Canada site for information. I booked our sites on January 10th this year, which I believe was the day after reservations opened. We stayed in the Lake Louise Hard-Sided Campground for three nights and the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court Campground in Banff for three nights. Lake Louise Hard-Sided is open year round and has a period of about three months during the summer when reservations are available. Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court is open from the beginning of May to the beginning of October and accepts reservations during the whole season. Two dates that you should avoid during the summer are July 1st, which is Canada Day, and the first Monday of August, which is a civic holiday. We did not know this and were in Lake Louise over the long holiday weekend at the beginning of August. According to employees in the park and at restaurants, the area was MUCH busier than normal during this weekend. There is an $11.00 CAD nonrefundable reservation fee for each reservation made and a daily park entrance fee of $9.80 CAD per adult or $19.60 per family/group. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gives you unlimited admission for 12 months from date of purchase at over 80 locations, is $67.70 CAD per adult or $136.40 per family/group. It was most cost effective for us to purchase the family annual pass, which is approximately $103.50 USD, and is valid through August of next year.

Lake Louise Hard-Sided Campground

Site: 136

Price: ~$24.50 USD ($32.30 CAD)

Amenities at Site: Pull-Through, 30amp Electric Hookup, Picnic Table

Amenities in Campground: Restrooms with Flush Toilets, Showers, Phone, Dump Station, Recycling

The sites are designed that two RVs park in each pull-through. They’re separate sites with separate hookups, but you’re close enough to each other that you can’t drive a vehicle between, especially if you have slides. We were lucky and barely had neighbors during our stay. The electric box is on the wrong side of the trailer. Most people just ran their electric cord under their trailer, but seeing as we have a second 30amp connection on the front end of the Airstream, we used that. There are restrooms with flush toilets, sinks, soap, and hand driers throughout the campground. There’s one larger restroom that has free showers. All sites have a picnic table, but not all sites have a fire ring. When you make a reservation online, it tells you if a site is with or without a fire ring. There is a dump station near the entrance/exit of the campground. We didn’t see any water fill stations (and none are listed on the map), but the map does state “all water in this facility is potable unless otherwise posted.” The campground is in a great location for exploring the Lake Louise and Moraine Lake areas, but not really walking distance to anything. I believe there’s a shuttle pickup at the front of the campground that takes you to the main park and ride where you can catch a shuttle to wherever you’re looking to go. We never saw it, but according to the public transportation map, it’s there.

Note: You HAVE to be in a hard-sided trailer to stay in this part of the campground. There’s a separate tent section that is surrounded by an electric fence and equipped with bear boxes.

The side-by-side sites are situated in opposite directions and a little snug when both are occupied. The green box is the electric hookup.

Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court Campground

Site: 607

Price: ~$29.06 USD ($38.20 CAD)

Amenities at Site: Pull-Through, Full Hookups with 30amp, Picnic Table

Amenities in Campground: Restrooms with Flush Toilets and Showers, Recycling

Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court is a 322-site campground with full hookups at each site. Most sites are single pull-throughs, but there are a few buddy sites referred to as ‘shared sites’. The Trailer Court Campground is right next to the Tunnel Mountain Village II Campground, which has a dump station, potable water, a phone, and bus stops, which according to the Camping in the Banff Area pamphlet, “Public transit is available to many top destinations and is free from most campgrounds.” Tunnel Mountain II also has oTENTiks available, which are exclusive to Parks Canada and are a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent mounted on a raised wooden floor. The sites in the Trailer Court are pretty unlevel side to side, but also fairly shady. Unlike Lake Louise Campground, the roads throughout Tunnel Mountain Campground are paved and in good condition. A short drive (or long walk) from the campground is the town of Banff, a beautiful and clean quintessential mountain town full of restaurants, shops, and other services. Yes, there is a town of about 10,000 residents in the middle of a national park, and yes, it’s gorgeous.

As you can see by the triple stack of levelers, the sites here aren’t level.
The temps were perfect when we visited at the beginning of August, but we still appreciated the amount of shade the trees offered.
There are mountain views in every direction, though I’m not sure which sites have the best.

If camping isn’t your thing, there are PLENTY of hotels, motels, hostels, resorts and short-term rentals in both Lake Louise and Banff.

Note: We had a good cell signal with AT&T in both campgrounds and most areas of Lake Louise and Banff.

Out and About in Lake Louise

Hiking

Fairview Lookout

The best place to start is with a quick hike to the Fairview Lookout. It’s a steep, 1.5-mile out and back with pretty great views of Lake Louise and the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Lake Agnes Tea House

When researching hikes in the Lake Louise area, the hike to the Lake Agnes Tea House kept coming up. It’s 2.2 miles one way with over 1300′ of elevation gain. We hit the trailhead at 7:25am in order to avoid the crowds and be able to get a parking spot — arriving any later than 7:30 on a Saturday of a holiday weekend is not a good idea. It took us 50-55 minutes to get to the top. The tea house has sat at 7005′ of elevation on the shores of Lake Agnes (and on top of a waterfall) since 1905. Known primarily for their selection of loose leaf teas, they offer other beverages as well as baked goods, soups, and sandwiches to warm you up — it was 44° when we started the hike and only 60° when we got back to the truck. We each got a piece of apple blueberry crumble and split a small pot of Madagascar Almond Spice tea. We wrapped up the remaining complimentary biscuits and jam to enjoy after the hike back down.

Two Tips:

  1. Start early. Parking is limited around Lake Louise as it’s a VERY popular area. The Tea House opens at 8:00am. We got there at about 8:20 and had to wait 15 minutes.
  2. Cash only. Preferably Canadian, but it seems they do accept US dollars as well.

Moraine Lake Rock Pile Trail

This is a short, half-mile trail with stairs that leads you to the top of an actual rock pile where you’ll have the best views of Moraine Lake.

We didn’t do any other hikes in the Moraine Lake area, but there are definitely some great ones available. On the easy end of the spectrum is the Moraine Lake Shoreline Trail, which is exactly what it sounds like — a nice, flat trail that follows the shoreline of the lake with both lake and forest views. There’s also the hike to Consolation Lakes, which starts from the rock pile trail and recommends groups of four due to bear activity. This trail is rated as easy. Eiffel Lake Trail is rated as moderate and the Larch Valley Trail is rated as hard. Both trails start at the Moraine Lake lakeshore.

Food & Drink

Lake Louise

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise offers a range of dining options, from grab-and-go to fancy schmancy. We tried to get reservations at the Fairview Bar and Restaurant, but didn’t book far enough in advance. Priority seating is given to hotel guests, which is understandable, as they’re paying upwards of $700/night to stay there. The Fairview also offers daily afternoon tea service. The Lakeview Lounge is probably the most sophisticated hotel lobby lounge you’ll come across. We had a drink at the beautiful bar in the lounge before eating dinner at the fondue restaurant, Walliser Stube. Lago Italian Kitchen, Poppy Brassiere, Alpine Social and Chateau Deli round out the dining options at the Fairmont.

Pre-Dinner Cocktails at the Lakeview Lounge
The Fondue was Excellent at Walliser Stube

Note: If you have a reservation at one of the Fairmont restaurants, you’re able to park on their property for free (after getting the parking ticket validated).

There are plenty of other places to eat in Lake Louise, from fast casual to fancy-ish, but the only other place we ate was the Mt. Fairview Dining Room at Deer Lodge. The decor is a little worn but the food was absolutely delicious. The Samson Mall is located in the main part of the village and here you’ll find a small grocery store, a liquor store, souvenir shops, a book store, a bakery/deli, a cafe, and services including banking, postal, and car rental — everything you need to survive for a few days if eating out isn’t really your thing. Of course, the Lake Agnes Tea House and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House are also alternative dining options — you just have to work a bit to reach them.

Moraine Lake

Access to Moraine Lake is limited during the day (more about that later), so dining options at Moraine Lake are also limited. The Moraine Lake Lodge offers the only accommodations and food options in the area. The Snowshoe Cafe is open during the day and offers a number of grab-and-go selections. The Walter Wilcox Dining Room is open for breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner, with reservations being required for dinner. The lodge also has a fantastic gift/souvenir shop.

Things to Do

People are drawn to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for the beautiful views, great hikes, chance to see wildlife, and delicious food — but also, of course, the lakes! Both lakes have canoe rentals available, but at $125/hour (bananas!) it’s a little steep. Of course, people will stay pay that crazy price so they can paddle around the milky waters of Lake Louise and bright turquoise waters of Moraine Lake. We prefer to bring our own, however. Our Kokopelli Packcrafts are super convenient and give us access to areas we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. We’ve used them on a number of alpine lakes, including Jackson Lake in Grand Teton NP and Avalanche Lake in Glacier NP.

As I mentioned earlier, access to Moraine Lake is limited. During the busy season, the parking lot at Moraine Lake is full most of the time, especially on the weekends. When the parking lot is full, the 11km road that leads to the Moraine Lake area is closed. The road is windy and takes a bit to drive, so they avoid an obscene amount of traffic and people sitting in their cars waiting for a parking spot by just not allowing anyone to drive it. As space becomes available, they sporadically allow people through the blockade. To avoid getting shut out, there are a few options: 1) Take the shuttle. 2) Get there early. Like, really early. 3) Ride a bike. Seeing as there’s little traffic on the road during the day, this road, though windy, is actually pretty safe to bike.

Before we move on to our stay in Banff, here are a few more pics from our time in and around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake:

Unlike most national parks in the States, dogs are allowed in most places in Canadian national parks. Before taking your dog on a specific trail, I would recommend making sure that it’s not off limits to dogs for some reason. P.S. This was taken at 9:30 at night at Moraine Lake!

Out and About in Banff

Hiking

Johnston Canyon

As an unfortunate side effect of working full time, we were only able to do one hike while staying at the Tunnel Mountain Trailer Court in Banff. Johnston Canyon is one of the more popular day hikes due to its family-friendly nature. The trail starts behind the Johnston Canyon Lodge. There are a couple of parking lots, but they fill pretty quickly unless you arrive early in the morning or later in the evening. The only time we could make the hike was smack dab in the middle of the day, which was not very ideal. We ended up parking along the side of the road almost a half mile from the trailhead. Again, this is a VERY popular hike and some parts of the trail are only wide enough for single file (sometimes very slow single file), so to avoid crowds, get there early.

The first part of the hike to the Lower Falls is flat, easy, and fairly short at 1.1km (.68mi). The entire hike is gorgeous as it winds through the canyon on catwalks along the creek. At the lower falls, there is a bridge across the creek that gives a better vantage point of the falls and at the other side of the bridge is a small cave. Walking through the small cave allows for a second vantage point of the falls, but beware that you may get a little wet. People wait in line in order to walk through the cave to see the falls up close, but honestly, it’s not worth the time unless this is your last stop on the trail.

Most of the hike looks like this – an easy trail through a beautiful natural setting.
Lower Falls
A shot from above of the bridge that crosses the creek in front of the Lower Falls to the cave with a closer view of the falls.
This is the view from inside the cave. While you get closer to the water, any photos taken are either dark foreground with well-lit background or well-lit foreground with a light-saturated background.

If continuing on to the Upper Falls, the trail will become a little more difficult, as this part of the trail is rated moderate due to the incline. It’s not dramatic, but substantial enough that some people may have difficulty. From Lower Falls to Upper Falls is another 1.6km (~1mi) or 2.7km overall. The same beautiful views continue and again, if you go during a busy time, you’ll find yourself in a line. Unfortunately, this line is unavoidable if you want to catch a glimpse of the Upper Falls. The way the falls are situated, you can’t see them until you are pretty much right in front of them. There’s a small platform that extends from a narrow boardwalk from which you can see the falls. Only a few people can fit on this platform at a time, so a line forms. Obviously, you don’t have to wait in line, but then there’s no point in doing the hike unless you’re just looking for some exercise.

Another long line to get to…
…this narrow platform, which is the only place you can see…
…the Upper Falls, because they’re tucked back in a corner.
The platform is so narrow that it’s difficult to get any kind of photo besides a selfie.

If we had had more time and if we didn’t waste time waiting in line at the Lower Falls, we would have continued on the trail to the Ink Pots, which are seven cold water spring pools in varying shades of blue and green. The Ink Pots are an additional 3.1km (1.93mi).

Food & Drink

Our one major dining out experience in Banff can also fall under the ‘Things To Do’ category. We purchased the Sky Experience Package, which included a round-trip gondola ride and dinner at the Sky Bistro. The Banff gondola takes you to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, where you can find boardwalks to take in the views, an interpretive center, a theatre, a rooftop deck, a gift shop, a cafe, and two restaurants. We made the trip on an overcast day, but the views were still beautiful.

There are four people to each car and it takes about 10 minutes to get to the top.

I was really looking forward to this meal as a food and travel writer occasionally featured by Travel & Leisure said this was his best meal while in Banff. We were a bit disappointed with the quality of the food — it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great like we were expecting it to be. Unfortunately, none of the food was that flavorful.

Our meal included a starter and a main. We both got the duck confit wings as our starter.
For the main, I got the halibut and Travis got the pork tenderloin.
Tip: Make a reservation for 5:00 and you’ll get a window seat.

Make sure to get outside and walk the boardwalks in order to take in the 360° views. You might also be lucky enough to see mountain goats!

Just an FYI, there’s also a Starbucks and a second gift shop at the base of the gondola.

Things To Do

The town of Banff is full of great restaurants, great shops, and a number of things to do, including the Banff Hot Springs, Cave and Basin National Historic Site, and Cascade Gardens. It’s cute and clean and offers a pretty great public transportation system. I wish we would have had more time to explore the town and the surrounding areas of the park, but we’re treating this trip as an introduction to the area and now know what to expect when we return.

The Banff sign is on Mt. Norquay Road as you enter town, across the street from the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre.
It’s difficult to capture the charm of the town of Banff, but just know that it’s exactly what you would expect a mountain town to be.
A doe and her two babes snacking in someone’s front yard.

A week is not nearly enough time to spend between Lake Louise and Banff. I would say at least two weeks, if not longer, are needed to get a better feel for the area. We were so limited with our time that we couldn’t even think about driving the Icefield Parkway, which is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world (and runs between Lake Louise and Jasper in Jasper National Park). Banff National Park really charmed us and we hope to return in the future in order to enjoy more of its beauty.

 

Colter Bay RV Park – Grand Teton National Park

We spent one glorious week at the Colter Bay RV Park in Grand Teton National Park. The RV park books out far in advance, is on the expensive side, has narrow roads and less than level sites, and the cell signal is pitiful — but it’s one of the best places we’ve stayed. Located in Colter Bay Village, you’ll find the RV park is located a short walk from the swim beach on Jackson Lake, a visitor center, a grocery store, a gift shop, a gas station, two restaurants, a bar, the marina, and the laundry room with showers. Our site was a pull-through with full hookups and a picnic table. Restrooms and trash bins with recycling are scattered throughout the campground. Because Colter Bay is an actual little village, there are plenty of roads, sidewalks, and paved pathways where we were able to walk Max, which made it one of the more dog-friendly places we’ve stayed. For the first couple days of our stay, we had a pretty strong cell signal on AT&T (thanks to our WeBoost signal booster) and were able to function as normal. As the week progressed, the signal was still usable in the morning and evenings, but we headed to Jackson Lake Lodge during the day in order use their Wi-Fi so we could work. We didn’t use the restrooms, showers, or laundry, so I can’t comment on those. The best part about our site (O106) was that it was less than a minute walk to the Jackson Lake swim beach where we were able to drop our Kokopelli Packrafts into the water and also where we were able to enjoy some beautiful sunsets. We stayed at Colter Bay May 25th to June 6th, which seemed to be the perfect time: The weather was nice, excepting the first few rainy days; the park didn’t seem to have as many visitors as I’m sure it sees during the peak summer months; there was quite a bit of bear activity during our visit, possibly because they recently came out of hibernation; and the trails were pretty passable, though there was still some snowpack at higher elevations. Our week was incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, with plenty of opportunity to spend time outdoors, as well as eat some good food at Colter Bay Village’s John Colter’s Ranch House Restaurant & Bar and Jackson Lake Lodge’s The Mural Room.

Colter Bay RV Park

Grand Teton National Park

www.gtlc.com

  • Pull-Through Sites
  • Full Hookups
  • Picnic Table
  • Restrooms
  • Dump Station
  • Tent Sites
  • Cabins
  • Propane Fill
Site O106 – Very unlevel both front to back and side to side, but we were able to get things pretty square with a few lego bricks.
The bear warnings are never ending, but seeing as the only place we saw bear was right outside the entrance to Colter Bay Village, they are necessary.
Dogs aren’t allowed on the beach, so we enjoyed the view from a distance.
However, there are plenty of places within and right outside the campground that dogs are allowed. It wasn’t difficult to wake up in the morning to walk Max with those views!
The sunsets are pretty special!

During our stay, we took a scenic boat cruise on Jackson Lake. The Colter Bay Marina offers a few different cruise options and they can be booked right at the marina or at the activities booth located next to the general store and gift shop in Colter Bay. We learned a lot of interesting information about the park’s history as well as local wildlife, and we even saw an avalanche take place on Mount Moran. The tour guide said only 5% of visitors take advantage of the cruises offered, which is a shame, because it was very beautiful, informative, and allowed us to see aspects of the park from a different point of view.

We also did a little bit of our own cruising on the lake in our Kokopelli Packrafts!

We were pleasantly surprised by the food options available at the various restaurants within the park. We ate both breakfast and dinner at Colter Bay Village’s John Colter’s Ranch House Restaurant & Bar and Jackson Lake Lodge’s The Mural Room. The breakfast at both was okay, but dinner was fantastic. We also picked up pizza from the Cafe Court pizzeria in Colter Bay and that was delicious as well.

The Mural Room is the best place for dinner in the whole park, with fantastic views of the Teton Range.

Even if you don’t eat at The Mural Room, Jackson Lake Lodge is worth a visit. The views that are framed by the towering windows are a bit breathtaking. It was a nice place to be able to do some work for a few days when we weren’t getting a strong enough signal at our campsite. Besides The Mural Room, Jackson Lake Lodge also has a 1950s-style diner (The Pioneer Grill), a bar that serves food (The Blue Heron Lounge), and a coffee cart that also serves pastries and sandwiches. Make sure to take in the view from the outdoor terrace and you might be lucky enough to spy some moose! Of note, Jackson Lake Lodge also has a medical clinic that is open 9-5, seven days a week, May-September, no appointment necessary. The city of Jackson is a 40-minute drive, so it’s nice to know there’s help nearby in case something comes up.

There is a lot of great hiking in Grand Teton National Park for all skill levels, with trails ranging from .5 mile to 26 miles. We did the popular Hidden Falls Trails, though we started later in the day, so the trail wasn’t very busy. The trail starts in the Jenny Lake area, and is about 5 miles with 1200′ of elevation gain. The trail is rated moderate, which is a fair assessment, especially since it was quite wet and muddy at higher elevations, with some parts still snow covered. The hike offers great views of Jenny Lake and we saw a couple of moose and a number of marmots along the way.

You can take a shuttle boat across the lake to decrease the length of some of the longer trails by quite a bit.
The water in Jenny Lake is so clear!
We saw three moose along the hike. This guy and his buddy were hanging out right next to a busy part of the trail, unfazed by all the passersby.
The views are pretty great!
There was still some snow cover at higher elevations yet it was plenty warm enough for short sleeves.
Hidden Falls is approximately 100′ tall and was flowing ferociously thanks to all of the snow melt.
This is a great hike with an even better payoff!

We also did the Lakeshore Trail, which follows the Colter Bay shoreline with views of Jackson Lake and the Teton Range. It was flat and easy at 2 miles and wasn’t anything amazing, but it was close to our campsite and any time you can get outside and get some exercise, you should do it.

Any trail with views of the Tetons is a good trail!

A few miscellaneous pics…

We were lucky to see both grizzly and black bear during our visit. These guys hung out in the Pilgrim Creek area on a regular basis, so we saw them almost every day of our stay — sometimes close up, sometimes from a distance.

The view from the first overlook on Signal Mountain is pretty great. Coincidentally, you also get a great cell signal up here, thanks to the massive cell tower on top of the mountain. I believe there are some picnic tables and a pit toilet up top as well, so if you’re in need of an off-the-charts strong cell signal for an extended period of time, this is your place.

Snake River Overlook is technically outside the park, so an entrance pass isn’t required to see the spot where Ansel Adams took his famous photo of the Snake River and Teton Range in 1942 — a photo which helped promote and protect western U.S. landscapes. The trees have grown in a bit since the photo was taken, but as an Ansel fan, it was a neat feeling to stand where he once stood.

The grand lift of the Tetons is…a primal gesture of the Earth beneath a greater sky. -Ansel Adams

We drove down to Jackson one rainy day when we were getting a little stir crazy hanging out in the Airstream. Jackson is a nice little city, but was pretty busy even on this rainy, late spring day. Of course we had to get our picture under one of the infamous antler arches, but we also stopped into the Pendleton store to do a little shopping and stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few essentials.

Our week in Grand Teton was one of our favorite weeks in the 500+ days we had been on the road up to that point. We would definitely stay at Colter Bay RV Park again. It was quite peaceful, even though we arrived the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, it’s absolutely gorgeous, there are a couple of good food options, and even though dogs aren’t allowed on trails, there are so many areas that we could walk Max that I have no problem calling Grand Teton a dog-friendly park.

 

 

Sand Hollow State Park – Hurricane, UT

Sand Hollow State Park – Westside Campground

3351 South Sand Hollow Road, Hurricane, UT 84737

www.stateparks.utah.gov

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Fire Pit
  • Dump Station
  • Firewood
  • Picnic Table with Shade Structure
  • Reservoir with Boating & Fishing
  • Sand Mountain with OHV Access
  • Restaurant
  • Rentals (ATVs, UTVs, Paddle Boards, Kayaks)
  • Dive Shack (During Summer Months)

We spent two weeks in the Westside Campground at Sand Hollow State Park. When I made the reservation, I made sure to research the best sites in the campground and I feel pretty confident in saying that I booked one of, if not, the best. During this time of year (March 9-22), you probably don’t need to book a site right when they become available, which I believe is four months in advance, unless you’re staying for a few weeks like we did or you want to have a choice of spots, also like we did. We were in site 18, which is on the edge of the campground with a nice view of the mountains. I would recommend this site as well as 20, 22, 23 and 26. Our site was a super long pull through with full hookups, a picnic table with shade structure, and a fire pit. There are two other campgrounds in Sand Hollow State Park — Sandpit Campground and the Primitive Camping area that is tent only along the shore of the reservoir.

A major draw for this park is the OHV area on Sand Mountain. Even with OHVs, the Westside Campground is still pretty quiet as all OHVs must be trailered in and out of the campground unless they have current street legal registration and plates. Even then, they can drive on the asphalt only and only at 10mph.

While we didn’t use the restrooms, they were nice and clean and the separate, individual showers were as well. Also of note is that we had great cell signal on both AT&T and Verizon here.

The view from site 18 is fantastic!
Sand Hollow Reservoir offers boating, fishing and personal watercraft use.

Things To Do

While at Sand Hollow, we used our Kokopelli Packrafts for the first time. When the wind is calm, the reservoir is great for personal watercraft.

Zion National Park is a 45-minute drive from Sand Hollow. We only went into Zion once during our stay as we’ll be returning to Hurricane soon and will be staying a little bit closer. We took Max with us and walked along the Pa’ Rus Trail, the only trail in Zion that allows dogs. We also drove the Zion – Mount Carmel Highway to the east entrance and back. The main route through the park is Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and is only accessible by park shuttle.

There are many hikes in the area but the only trail we made it to was Mollies Nipple Trail. It’s a VERY steep trail of clay soil and loose rock that is, according to my AppleWatch, 2.75 miles and has 1,277 feet of elevation gain. While the hike is tough, the views at the top are amazing and totally worth it!

After many months of being in RV parks, our two weeks at Sand Hollow was just what we needed. While we enjoyed it, if we were to stay at a state park in this area again, we would probably go back to Snow Canyon State Park in Ivins, Utah. The terrain there is more interesting and the park offers a number of great trails. However, Sand Hollow does make a long stay easier due to the full hookups, whereas the sites at Snow Canyon are water and electric or electric only.