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Category: Road Trip (Page 1 of 8)

Glacier National Park: Exploring Many Glacier

Swiftcurrent Creek

In the summer of 2021 Glacier National Park, instituted a reservation requirement to drive the ever-popular Going-t0-the-Sun Road during the day. These reservations were very difficult to get and many people chose to postpone their trips to Glacier. Those that did not were able to get to the road early in the morning or in the evenings. Another option was to explore the other areas of the park that are not on Going-to-the-Sun Road. One of these areas is the Many Glacier area.

This area is home to the picturesque Many Glacier Hotel. At the base of a mountain on Swiftcurrent Lake, this is where I want to stay on my return trip to Glacier. The hotel is also the base for one of the park’s boat tours. The boat ride across Swiftcurrent Lake can help cut some mileage off of one of the longer hikes.

Dock on Swiftcurrent Lake

Many Glacier is the jumping-off point for one of the more popular hikes in the park, The Grinnel Glacier Trail. The 7.6 Mile (although boat rides can shave off 3.4 miles) round trip hike gains 1840 feet in elevation and gets you a view of the 152 acre glacier, one of the largest left in the park. When we visited at the end of June, most of the trail was still snow-covered and rangers were in the parking lot, dissuading people from embarking on the hike.

Unfortunately, road construction on Many Glacier Road left us with much less time to explore this part of the park than we had originally hoped. We ended up just walking the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail around the lake before heading back to the car so we could make our reservation for the boat tour in the Two Medicine area of the park. Because of our limited time in Many Glacier, I definitely want to return and maybe try my hand at the Grinnel Glacier hike.

Since this is one of the areas of the park that didn’t require a reservation this year, the small parking areas filled up early in the day. I was hoping the road construction would keep people away but that did not appear to be the case at all. If you plan on exploring the Many Glacier area, plan to get there early to make sure you have a place to park.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next week as we explore the Two Medicine area of Glacier National Park! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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East Side of Glacier National Park

Wild Goose Island

After leaving Yellowstone in the morning, we arrived at the East Side of Glacier National Park after about seven hours on the road. The famous Going to the Sun Road hadn’t opened for the season yet, so the east side of the park was pretty quiet.

Baring FallsEven though we knew we couldn’t cross Logan Pass, we turned on our GyPSy guide and drove the part of the road that was open. One of the hikes the guide recommended as an easy hike on the east side of the park was the hike to Baring Falls (left). The hike is less than a mile round trip and was a good way to ease into hiking in Glacier with only 400 feet of change in elevation. At a 25 foot drop, Baring Falls is by no means the biggest waterfall in the area, but it is definitely one of the easiest hikes on the east side of the park. We saw a deer grazing near the water, which was a nice treat.

Room at Rising Sun Motor Inn

Our room at Rising Sun.

After our hike, we headed to our room for the first part of our time in Glacier at the Rising Sun Motor Inn. This location wasn’t my first choice, especially so early in the season with the Going to the Sun Road closed, but the room was available two months ahead, so we grabbed it. The motel-style hotel is not my favorite but I will take it if it allows me to sleep inside a National Park. The rooms were clean and the private bathroom was a big step up from our Old House Room at the Old Faithful Inn. We hardly saw anyone else around. The downside to staying at Rising Sun in 2021 was that the restaurant, Two Dog Flats, was closed for the season due to staffing shortages. I didn’t think anything of it when we got the email in advance. I figured we would be able to find some food outside the park in St. Mary. I did not realize how dismal the dining choices would be. If I had it to do over, I would’ve planned to cook on our camp stove in the Rising Sun Picnic area across the street.

Overall, I enjoyed our stay at Rising Sun, but if you’re booking early in the season, be aware that the Going to the Sun Road probably won’t open until the end of June or early July and that really limits what you can see. If Two Dog Flats is closed again, you may want to try to find lodging on the west side of the park where there are more services.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Yellowtone National Park Overview

Bison in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park and was signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to protect the otherworldly landscape that is Yellowstone. Located in northwestern Wyoming and spanning into Idaho and southern Montana the park encompasses 3,400 square miles, and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is separated into distinct geological areas formed by geothermal features unlike anything I had ever seen. From the sprawling Yellowstone Lake to hot springs and geysers and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you could spend weeks in the park and not see everything. Ever since we were driving around Yellowstone, I have been trying to figure out how I am going to recap this enormous park!

We only had three days to see as much of the park as we could. Of course, I wanted to hit the highlights: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Surprisingly, in such a short time, we were able to see everything we had hoped to and more.

Old Faithful InnStaying in the park helped us tremendously. Driving in and out of the park can take away 2 or more hours of your time and when you are battling the record number of visitors that are coming through the gates in 2021, you need all the time you can get. While exploring the park, we heard many people say that you cannot get a room at the Yellowstone Lodges unless you book a year in advance. We managed to get our room at the Old Faithful Inn two weeks in advance. Just keep checking and it helps to subscribe to the Yellowstone National Park Lodges newsletter. They sent out a newsletter that they were opening up more rooms for the 2021 season and I was able to snatch one up before they were gone.

Staying at the Old Faithful Inn (above) was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The Inn was built in 1904 from locally sourced materials including lodgepole pine. We stayed in one of the Old House rooms that has walls made of logs. Staying in that (admittedly small) room, you really got a sense of the history of the place. The GyPSy guide called the Old Faithful Inn the only building in the park that feels like it belongs. The Disney Nerd in me understands now where the idea for the Wilderness Lodge came from. Probably the best part of staying at the Inn is sitting out on the Mezzanine and watching Old Faithful erupt without having to be crowded around strangers and enjoying a drink.

Walkway at Mud Volcano

Walkway at Mud Volcano just before the rain

Another trick we learned when visiting the park in the summer was to leave in the middle of the day. The parking lots filled up and it got hot, so we headed to one of the towns outside the park for food and air conditioning. Then, we headed back into the park as the day guests were leaving for the day and we explored until the sun went down. We also got lucky with the weather. Our first day in the park was forecasted to thunderstorm most of the day and I think this kept some visitors out. We managed to time it so we were driving when the worst of the rain was coming down and we managed to see most of what we wanted to on that first day.

Now that I’ve given you a little overview and some tips for making the most of your time at Yellowstone, next week I will begin to recap the highlights of the park! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave Header

Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 when two brothers felt cold air blowing out of a hole in a canyon. They opened the hole with dynamite and found a cave lined with calcite crystals, which is where Jewel Cave gets its name. Word of the cave reached Washington and Theodore Roosevelt named Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908.

Up until 1956, only about 2 miles of the cave had been explored. Famous rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn explored Jewel Cave for twenty years and mapped out over 65 miles of the cave. Herb Conn wrote a scientific paper about airflow in the cave and based on pressure changes, he estimated that 95% of the cave has never been explored. With 209 miles of cave mapped, Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave in the world. Experienced cavers are still exploring the cave and finding new rooms and passageways that no other person is known to have explored.

Calcite Crystals in Jewel CaveIn 2021, Jewel Cave National Monument is undergoing elevator maintenance to resolve chronic problems with the elevators. The elevators are expected to reopen in the late fall. When planning this trip, I didn’t think we would be able to visit Jewel Cave because of this maintenance, but for now, the park service is offering a modified tour. This tour involves walking down (and then back up) a steep hill and the park service describes it as “moderate to strenuous”.

I’m not sure if people were staying away from Jewel Cave because of the elevator repairs or if this park just isn’t as popular as Wind Cave because it doesn’t have the “National Park” designation. Either way, we arrived around 9:30 AM and there were only a handful of other people on the tour with us. It was a much more relaxed experience and even though we only go to see one room of the cave, I enjoyed this tour a lot more than Wind Cave. If you only have time to tour one cave in the Black Hills, I recommend Jewel Cave.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, only about an hour and a half away from Rapid City, South Dakota. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on September 25, 1906, Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the world. The monument is a popular place for rock climbers as well as hikers and others who just want to see this unique geological feature for themselves.

When planning this trip, I originally wanted to visit Devils Tower on the way from Custer to Yellowstone, which would’ve had us arrive mid-morning on a Saturday. Then, I learned that the parking lot fills up early, especially on weekends, and it is not uncommon to have to wait a while for a spot. Since we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day, I decided it would make more sense to make it a day trip from the Black Hills, and that way we could also see Spearfish Canyon on the way back.

We left Custer after Chris got off work and arrived at Devils Tower around 5 pm. There were only a handful of people around and we had no trouble parking. The visitor center closes at 6 but I was happy to see that the passport stamp is outside so that if you arrived when the visitor center was closed, you would still be able to get a stamp. Because we wanted to see Spearfish Canyon before sunset, we didn’t have much time to explore the monument, but we did get to walk a little bit of the Tower Trail.

Roughlock FallsSince this was our last day in the Black Hills, I may have tried to cram too much in, especially with the three-hour round trip drive to Devils Tower. But, we did enjoy the GyPSy tour of the Northern Black Hills and the drive through Spearfish Canyon. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that follows a river that has cut through these high rock walls. Spearfish Canyon is an absolutely beautiful area that just blew me away! There are several places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We got out and stretched our legs at Roughlock Falls (left). Several scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed in this area and maybe recognizable to fans of the film. We had planned to checkout Deadwood this day, but the road was closed for a parade or something so we just kept driving. I guess we will just have to come back with more time to explore the Black Hills!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park

Path Around Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake

Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a large park on the scale of some of the most popular national parks. If there is some type of outdoor recreation you enjoy, I’m sure it can be found at Custer State Park. From hiking and camping to rock climbing and scenic drives, there is something for everyone at Custer.

Getting Ready for the Hay RideThe 71,000 acres of Custer State Park is home to a variety of wildlife. The best way to see the wildlife is to drive the Wildlife Loop Road. Bison, Big Horn Sheep, Mountain Goats, and Prairie Dogs can be seen along the road. For my birthday, we took the Hayride through the wildlife loop road (left) and it was fun because our guide slowed down in areas where the animals are likely to be found and talked to us about them. At the end of the tour, we had a chuckwagon cookout and sing along which was a lot of fun and the food was good too! If you’re in for an off-road experience, the Buffalo Safari Jeep tour looked fun too!

Needles Highway

Probably the most scenic drive in Custer State Park is the Needles Highway. The Needles Highway takes you through pine forests and the unique needles rock formations. The drive isn’t for the faint of heart or those with oversized vehicles because there are some hairpin turns and one-lane tunnels through the Needles. I have heard that the road can get pretty crowded in the summer but we found that driving in the late afternoon or early evening we were able to enjoy the drive without crowds. We enjoyed the drive so much that we did it several times while we were staying in the area.

There are several good lakes for paddling in the park but Sylvan Lake (top) is probably the most popular. The unique rock formations are fun to paddle around and explore. It is a landscape unlike I had ever seen before. The downside of Sylvan Lake is that is fairly small and we had gone around it twice in probably less than half an hour. We were going to check out the bigger Stockade Lake after but when we got there it was closed due to bacteria. Oh well, I guess that gives us a reason to return, right?

The Black Hills really surprised me. I didn’t expect the scenic beauty that can be found at Custer and the surrounding area. I would love to return and be able to explore deeper into the park. I would love to stay at one of the many campgrounds or lodges. If you are going to be in the Black Hills, be sure to check out Custer State Park. You will not be disappointed.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Badlands National Park

Badlands Rock Formation

After our day exploring the I-80 corridor through Illinois and Iowa, we continued to head west across South Dakota to Custer. Since we were so close, we decided to take a detour into Nebraska to cross another state off our list and headed to Ponca State Park.

Three State Overlook

Ponca State Park is located on the Missouri River and is a big destination to explore the National Scenic River. Fishing, paddling, boating, horseback riding, golf, and hiking are popular activities at the park. One thing we were really impressed with was the modern cabins around the park. They looked like a fun place to stay and explore the area without having to “rough it” too much. We also enjoyed the Three State Overlook over the river where you could see Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. To learn more about Ponca State Park, visit OutdoorNebraska.com.

After leaving Ponca, it was a little over five hours drive through rural Nebraska to get to Badlands National Park. The Badlands of South Dakota is one of the most interesting landscapes I have ever seen. The unique formations were formed by deposition, the rock building up over time, and erosion, the rock wearing away. The colorful layers in the rock formations show moments in geologic time with different layers forming at different times. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/badl-geologic-formations.htm)

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands Window Formation

Badlands National Park got its name from the local Lakota people. They called the area mako sica, meaning “bad lands”. Before modern roads, this area was not easy to traverse and is probably how it got its name. It has been said that the name doesn’t do the park justice and that it scares some people away.  I can tell you that wasn’t the case when we visited. While it wasn’t as busy or as hard to find parking as Yellowstone, there were plenty of people exploring these bad lands.

We had planned to do some hiking in the park but arriving in the middle of the day during a heatwave put a damper on that. While we were driving through the park, it got up to 96 degrees. Because of that, we stuck to exploring the park by car and stopping at the scenic turnouts. We did hike the quarter mile Window Trail (above) but that was all I could manage in the heat.  I would love to return to the park when it’s cooler and get off the road a bit.

Of course, near Badlands National Park is the famous Wall Drug. This is really the only tourist trap we stopped at on this trip (our detour through Nebraska caused us to miss the corn palace). In case you’ve never heard of it, Wall Drug is a giant cowboy-themed store adjacent to Badlands National Park. It’s hard to miss the many billboards along I-90 advertising free ice water, 5 cent coffee, and their giant dinosaur. We decided to get dinner in their cafe and I was surprised by the quality of the food. Yes, it is a giant, crowded gift shop but it was a good stop to get a bite to eat and cool down after exploring the park. To plan your visit to Wall Drug, visit their website.

We used the GyPSy Guide to the Badlands and the Black Hills while exploring the area. The app gives suggested routes while also teaching you about the region. If you are planning a trip to this area, I highly recommend it!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Epic National Park Road Trip

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people

We are back from our biggest trip yet. We were gone for 23 days, visiting 7 national parks, 4 other National park service sites, and 4 state parks spanning 12 states (8 of which were new to us). We had incredible luck on the trip securing a reasonably priced rental car and managing to score last-minute reservations at two incredibly popular national park lodges. To top off our luck, the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National park opened for the season on the day we needed to use it to get from one end of the park to the other.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip during the busiest summers for our National Parks ever! Throughout this trip report, I will share our experiences with the crowds and ways to avoid the worst of the congestion.

Here’s a little breakdown of the trip and a sneak peek of what is to come throughout this trip report:

  1. Ottowa, IL
  2. Dakota Dunes, SD
  3. Custer, SD
  4. Old Faithful Inn
  5. Rising Sun Motor Inn
  6. Watford City, ND
    • Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Moorhead, MN
    • Mall of America
    • Wisconsin Dells
  8. Madison WI
    • Indiana Dunes National Park

We did SO much on this trip, this will probably take me months to recap, but I am looking forward to it! Thanks for stopping by!  To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Texas Hill Country Road Trip Recap

Mission Concepcion Sign

This trip took us to two national historic parks from very different times in American history. We had some of the best German food I have had in my life and I went to Germany in high school. We toured a bunch of wineries and had some of the best wine of my life. We experienced Texas’ first cold snap of the year. Locals were very excited to tell us Northerners about the “snow” they got. I feel like I got a taste of the real Texas on this trip.

If you are planning to explore the Hill Country, the most convenient airports to fly in or out of are Austin and San Antonio. We had flight credits from our canceled 2020 spring break trip on Spirit so we went with Austin. It is less than an hour and a half drive from Austin to San Antonio so no matter which airport you fly into, you would be able to see both cities.

The Alamo from the front

Between the two cities is the historic German town of New Braunfels which is home to Naeglins, the oldest bakery in Texas. Nearby, Greune is a fun place to step back in time and explore in the area. In San Antonio, exploring the Riverwalk and taking a boat tour are a must as well as touring the Alamo (but be sure to get your tickets in advance). If you have time, head a little outside the city to San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

From San Antonio head north to Fredericksburg. Along the way, stop at Cascade Caverns in Boerne and have lunch at Little Gretel which is where we had the best German food of the trip! A litter farther north in Comfort, I recommend a stop at Newsom vineyards tasting room.

Fredericksburg Pioneer Memorial

Once you get to Fredericksburg, there is so much to do and The Museum of the Pacific War is one of the highlights of the city. We had great meals at Austlander and Pasta Bella as well as AMAZING pastries at the Old German Bakery. There are many wineries right downtown, but if you have time, I recommend you head out of town and check out William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines, and Kuhlman Cellars.

On the way back to Austin, stop in Johnson City and visit the LBJ National Historic Site where you can experience LBJ’s ranch and see and the Texas White House as well as the original 19th century Johnson Settlement. If you need to get out and stretch your legs some more, I recommend a hike at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.

In Austin, I recommend you take a tour of the city and enjoy Ladybird Lake. It might seem silly, but check out the Austin Public Library. In Austin, I had more restaurants on my TripAdvisor list than things to do and every single one we went to was amazing. If you are in Austin, I recommend Chuy’s for Mexican food, Torchy’s Tacos, Terry Black’s Barbeque, and Ramen Tatsu-ya. If you want to get away from the city for a bit, I love getting coffee at Mozart’s and enjoying it by the water.

Some of the most popular attractions in the Hill Country are state parks. Enchanted Rock, just north of Fredericksburg is one of the most well-known. One thing I did not anticipate before this trip is that Texas State Parks require reservations to get through the gate. I don’t know of any other state that does this and being that we visited during the week between Christmas and New Years, all of the parks near where we were staying were booked up. If you are planning a trip to the Hill Country and want to see some of the natural features, be sure to book them in advance so you’re able to get in. I guess this just means I have a reason to return to the Hill Country!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Texas Hill Country Road Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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