The Canadian Rockies – Jewels of the Continent

IMG_5055

Taking a little walk around Johnson Lake

The Canadian Rockies have been on our shortlist for a few years now, and making it to Banff was the main priority of this trip. If you’ve spent any time browsing travel ‘grams on Instagram, you’ve probably seen those incredible photos of neon blue lakes nestled in snow capped peaks. Every time I saw one prior to the trip (and there were a lot – it seemed as if everyone was at Banff!) I would assure myself that there was no way a scene on this earth could be that picturesque. But it’s true, people! It does exist, just a few thousand miles away in Banff and Jasper National Parks in the Canadian province of Alberta.

We crossed into Canada just north of Glacier National Park. We were nervous about crossing into the country with Scout in tow, but everything was a breeze. If you happen to travel to Canada with a pet, be ready to show his or her rabies vaccination papers at the border. I have heard that there are limits on the amount of pet food that you can take in, but we were not questioned about this. The border patrol folks were super friendly and welcoming – much more so than their American counterparts!

We called a few days ahead to reserve a campsite at the expansive Tunnel Mountain Campground in Banff.  The campground has over 600 sites (!) but it set up in a way that most of the sites have decent privacy. Banff is interesting as the town is located within the park boundaries. You purchase a parks pass (daily fee per person or two year pass) on the main road like you would pay a toll at a toll booth. The town operates as a separate entity, much unlike American National Parks, which only allow concessionaires to operate the hotels, shops, and restaurants.

IMG_5063IMG_5068IMG_5069

IMG_5071

View from the campground

There are lots of tiny lakes and hidden spots within a few minutes’ drive of the Banff town center. We took a walk around Johnson Lake one afternoon after lunch in town. The town itself was as picturesque as they come. Crowded, but to be expected!

IMG_5073

Banff town center

IMG_5074

Banff town center

Lake Louise is probably one of the most photographed spots around Banff and Jasper. Some people opt to stay at the ever-so-fancy Fairmont Chateau, which looked incredible! The hotel is right on the lakeshore and boasts amazing views. Alas, we were booked at eh Chateau Caravan for the night, so we missed out on the Fairmont 😉 Even though it was drizzly and overcast, the lake was still beautiful!

IMG_5077

Lake Louise at the Fairmont Chateau

IMG_5080IMG_5083IMG_5084

After our stop at Lake Louise, we started to make our way up the famed Icefields Parkway for an epic road trip! The road winds in and out of the mountains with lots of stops for those show-stopping turquoise lakes along the way.

IMG_5089

Icefields Parkway

IMG_5106

Always the navigator

Peyto Lake was the highlight of the drive. I couldn’t believe that the water was actually that vibrant!

IMG_5105

Peyto Lake

IMG_5102IMG_5094IMG_5088

IMG_5086

A whole lot of puppy dog eyes!

Our last major stop was at the Columbia Icefield Centre. The views of the glacier were wonderful, but the crowds make this spot a bit of a disappointment for us.

IMG_5111

Columbia Icefield (glacier)

We ended up spending the night in the Jasper National Park overflow campground (read: field) with lots of other campers. For only $10, this ended up being a pretty sweet place to stay!

Yellowstone- America’s (First) Best Idea

The National Parks are nicknamed “America’s Best Idea” and I tend to agree. We were so lucky to visit Yellowstone again this year, as America celebrates the National Parks’ centennial. If you haven’t made the trek out to Wyoming to see it, find a way! The magic of Yellowstone never gets old!

We entered through the South entrance and the place was crawling with visitors, as it usually is in the summer. We didn’t stop to visit any of the thermal features this trip, as our furry companion is not allowed outside of the parking lots. We met up with my sister, Beth, and her boyfriend for dinner and drinks. They are working in the park for a second season this year. We stealthily crept back into our van once it got dark to sleep in the employee parking lot. Every single camp site was claimed that night and “boondocking” is prohibited anywhere in the park. Apparently, rangers are known to knock on car windows and issue tickets for violating this rule!

We set a 5:30 wake up call and get down to the Hayden Valley for some wildlife watching. Clint brewed some coffee on the hood of the van while we waited. It was a chilly 31 degrees! We were able to spot elk, lots of bison, two black bears and a coyote. All in all, a successful trip!

IMG_5028

A lone coyote out and about 

IMG_5019

IMG_5032

Scout keeping an eye out for wildlife!

IMG_5026

Two black bears ambling around a meadow (the 2nd one is further back)

IMG_5014

Early morning bison watching

IMG_5009

Lamar Valley 

Shadow Mountain- Teton Wilderness Dream

After a few days of driving and a night at the (free) Lander City Park, we were ready to make our way into the woods. Our first destination was Grand Teton National Park, specifically Shadow Mountain in the Teton National Forest area.

File_009IMG_4983IMG_4986IMG_4993

Before making camp for the night, we drove up to Jenny Lake for a walk around the shore. The water was gorgeously clear and I only wish that we had trained Scout to ride along in a canoe! She did make a nice splash into the lake, though. I wan’t able to stand the freezing waters for more than a minute or so!

IMG_4998

IMG_5005

IMG_5004

IMG_5002

IMG_5000

IMG_4999

This area is a road that meanders through the National Forest and up to the top of Shadow Mountain, overlooking the Antelope Flats and the whole Teton range. Every turn offered up some killer views of the mountains! The dispersed sites are FREE for campers. We staked out a site about halfway up and waited for sunset. The road was dirt and gravel, with steep grades and sharp turns. We saw several truck and camper rigs, but I couldn’t imagine towing anything up there! Our van did just fine, albeit a bit on the bumpy side. For the exact coordinates and directions to our “boondocking” site, click over to Campendium. 

File_003

File_006

File_000

IMG_5008

IMG_4994

Next up- Yellowstone! Our third time there in as many years and it never gets old.

Splurging in Seattle for the Weekend

We were so excited to come to the Pacific Northwest on this trip – 2 states that neither of us hadn’t visited! After a few days in the woods, we were also pretty hyped to check into a nice hotel for a couple of days. We snagged a deal on the W Seattle on Hotwire (of course) for about 50% off. Not too shabby! We were able to cruise right into town without much traffic and find a parking garage adjacent to the hotel. Hotel parking was $61 per night! Ouch! We saved a lot by parking the car ourselves, but any big city means parking can cost a pretty penny.

All of my parking woes dissipated once we checked into our swanky room.

mmmm... plush beds!

mmmm… plush beds!

I made haste with the extra Bliss bath products and jumped into a bubble bath. Priorities, right? We ran to Target – 3 stories, by the way – for a few restock essentials. A quick Yelp search yielded tons of restaurant options, but we were in the mood for a good pizza and headed a few blocks to Serious Pie. And serious it was! I wish I would have gotten a picture! After a restful night in that cozy plush bed with some HGTV, we got up the next morning with one thing in mind – food!

We are self-proclaimed foodies, and Seattle’s Pike Place Market is the place to sample. We created our own “food tour,” if you will, starting with the city’s best macaroons at Belle Epicurean.

come to mama

come to mama

IMG_4349After that nutritious breakfast, we headed straight to the market. I was overwhelmed with how many booths there were! And the fresh flowers were amazing. I told Clint that it would be perfect for a wedding – show up and pick out what looks nice for $5 or $10 per bouquet! I wish we could have gotten some.

had to sample some roasted nuts

had to sample some roasted nuts

lavender!

lavender!

didn't sample the octopus

didn’t sample the octopus

IMG_4359

IMG_4356

We continued the food walk at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. I’m kind of a cheeseaholic, so this place was right up my alley. We ordered the Flagship grilled cheese sandwich and the “Worlds Best” Mac and Cheese. I have to say, it was pretty darn good! I know a good mac and cheese…

IMG_4373

perfect balance of flavors - jack cheese, fresh basil and tomato

perfect balance of flavors – jack cheese, fresh basil and tomato

soooo creamy

We had a few other snacks, but finished up at Le Panier, who also claimed to have some of the city’s best macaroons. We ordered croissants, and they were perfect!

i bought one of these cute prints from le panier to hang in my office!

i bought one of these cute prints from le panier to hang in my office!

I finished out the day shopping at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale right down the street from our hotel. We had the best day being tourists in Seattle. This is a city that I can’t wait to visit again. Next up – a mini family reunion in Yellowstone!

Magic in the Rain Forest

Olympic National Park in northwestern Washington is truly a magical place. It’s pretty remote and boasts some pretty unique ecosystems – the coast, dense rain forests, and several 7,000 foot glacial peaks. It is also huge – encompassing nearly one million acres! During our visit, our priority was visiting the Hoh Rain Forest for a hike. There are several trails, including one that weaves 18 miles into the forest to the base of Mount Olympus. We chose to take a more leisurely route 😉

The rain forest was like no other- moss and ferns covered nearly every surface. We couldn’t believe how green and lush everything was. Here’s my personal photo tour of the trail: 

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
 
Next up- Seattle!

Cruising Coastal Oregon on the 101

Enough with the Oregon love affair, right? When we planned this trip, one of our ideas was to drive the Pacific Coast Highway up the California coast. We didn’t take into account that every other person on earth (it seemed) would be doing the same thing! We knew that we wanted to get back to the coast when we left Bend, and that we did! The Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect way to see the Oregon coastline while stopping into all of the tiny beach towns and public beaches along the way. We stopped at this particular viewpoint for an amazing shot of the ocean!

beautiful oregon coastline

beautiful oregon coastline

IMG_4236

A short drive later, we happened upon a great public beach access. We actually drove the Malibu onto the beach to park! Even though it was too cool to go for a swim, the views were rewarding and that ocean breeze was refreshing.

IMG_4240

IMG_4242

IMG_4245

IMG_4252

doggie paw prints in the sand

We stayed in a couple of state parks in Oregon, both of which were beachside. It was kind of difficult to get a spot at the last minute, but we managed to snag one night at each place we camped. We made our way to Astoria, a small town with a history that dates all the way back to the Lewis and Clark expedition! The explorers first saw the Pacific near Astoria. We shopped around and decided to eat at the Fort George Brewery and Pub. We are pub food people – casual, fried, and big portions!

After dinner, I convinced Clint to take the short drive up to Mikey’s House – from the Goonies! I have loved this movie since I was a kid, so I was STOKED to see the house. It is in a residential neighborhood and someone lives in the house. Thankfully, they welcome visitors who come to gawk and do the Truffle Shuffle.

goonies never say die

goonies never say die

first you gotta do the truffle shuffle.

first you gotta do the truffle shuffle.

This was our last stop in Oregon, and it was the best way to end a great stretch!

Beautiful Bend, Oregon

If I had to make a list of my all time favorite small cities, Bend would certainly make the top ten. It is full of personality, great views, and fun outdoor activities at your doorstep. When we asked about life in Bend, the locals said you can pretty much do “ing” activities- hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking and in our case- floating!

   
    
   
I heard that floating the Deschutes River is a summer must-do, so we made it a priority during our brief stopover in Bend. We grabbed some tubes at Dick’s and went to one of the gorgeous river front parks to start our float. You can also rent tubes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards from several outfitters on the river. We floated for a couple of hours before hopping out and grabbing a cab back to our car. This was a perfect way to spend a hot afternoon. What’s cooler than relaxing in that chilly water with views of the snow capped mountains in the distance! 

   
 
We had brunch at the famed McKay Cottage. It lived up to all the breakfast hype! Clint ordered the biscuits with sausage gravy and I opted for the croissant french toast. Both were perfection! I can’t wait to stop in Bend on our next western adventure. One more post on Oregon coming, and it features a famous film locale of the 1980s 😉