Our last night, we stayed in the Glacier Park Lodge. Built in 1912, it still retained many of the original features including the giant timber supports that circle the expansive lobby. The kids couldn't believe there was no elevator, air conditioning or TV. At least the rooms had in-room bathrooms. It was a fun place to stay but I don't think any of us would want to be there long term. The other feature was actual keys for the locks which is a difficulty when you forget to return them and then have to drive 40 minutes out of the way to drop them at a sister lodge farther north. From the reaction of the staff, this is not exactly rare and we did get to stay in the mountains a little longer than planned. Our travels home went well and all of the animals were happy to see us even though it was midnight when we got home.
Our last hike! We headed over to the east side of the park again to go up the Aster Falls trail. This was by far our warmest hike, but it ended in a great series of little waterfalls. Once we reached those, the trail was much cooler. The kids blazed up a side trail that let us climb all over the rocks. We also made friends with a fat little chipmunk who was sneaking our dropped peanuts. Since we were already up the falls, we continued the steep .5 mile section to an overlook on the top of the hill. It was tough but the kids were enticed by promises of a treat at the bottom. It was a good view from the top, but we were hoping to see a bit more wildlife. We think we saw a big cat up in the rocky crags way above us, but couldn't be sure with our binoculars. We were all very dusty and exhausted by the time that we got back down!
Eclipse time! Christian found a great spot on Lake McDonald in Glacier that only required a short hike. We had fun playing in the lake and climbing on the rocks while waiting for the apex. For a treat, we drank the Grizzly Paw sodas that Christian snuck in and cooled in the lake. Our view of the eclipse was great even though it was only about 90%. The kids thought it was cool but honestly had more fun playing than watching.
20 August 2017
On Sunday, everyone decided we needed a little break from hiking. So, we headed to the Whitefish Big Mountain ski area to play in their adventure area. First up was the alpine slide that let us luge down the mountain. Everyone loved this especially when the kids added weight and could go faster when they rode together. Next up was the ropes course through the trees, or as Colton liked to call it, the Ewok Village. Stacie and Colton were both nervous at first, but it ended up being everyone's favorite activity. As always, Ainsley was a little monkey and even finished the blue course with dad. Mom and Colton stuck to the greens. Both kids got stuck at a couple of points but they still had a blast. Finally, we went up the scenic chairlift to the summit where we watched the mountain bikers coming down. Now Ainsley wants to try that too. We had a treat and visited the nature center up top before calling it a day.
19 August 2017
We had amazing sunset views on the Going-to-the-Sun road on the way home. It was a beautiful drive earlier in the day, but the sunset was gorgeous. We quickly stopped at Logan Pass (the high point) but didn't do much exploring. It was cold, windy and getting dark. We also finally had a chance to see a mountain goat up close. Christian had to finish the drive in the dark which was a bit scary. The kids passed out after dark and were fully asleep by the time we got back to the hotel. It was a super long day, but we were glad that we made the trek to hike on the east side.
After a quick dinner, we decided to give the moose hunting one last chance by taking the short hike back to the lake where one was spotted earlier. This time we got lucky! On the way, we saw female eating some trees just off the path. Then at the lake, there was a big bull having a snack in the middle. Even with a number of people taking pictures, he didn't seem concerned and just keep eating. Before today, we didn't know that moose foraged in the middle of lakes. Seeing this big guy was a favorite for all of us.
For a little downtime, we took a boat tour that was split between two lakes: Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. We learned about the historic Many Glacier Hotel which looks like a great place to stay. We also had excellent views of glaciers in the surrounding mountains. We saw a beaver nest which has been there for many years and is strong enough to withstand bears. Unfortunately, the beavers weren't out when we passed. On the upper lake, we spotted some more bears up on the mountain. We could see these better and could make out their features. We're pretty sure they were grizzlies. From the comfort of the boat, it was interesting to see how close they were to some unknowing hikers. At that point, we decided to take the boat all the way back instead of getting off and hiking the trail below the bears! Colton had the most fun on the boat and spent most of the time in the bow taking pictures. Unfortunately, still no moose sighting.
Excited to finally be in Glacier. For our first hike, we decided to head across the park to an area known for moose. We took a 4 mile hike past small lakes to Red Rock falls. Early in our hike, we found a group of people watching bears on a ridge on the opposite mountain. They were little with our binoculars, but we could clearly see them moving. We continued past the lakes to the falls, but no moose! We had fun climbing around on the giant rocks at the falls and having a snack on the rocks. Now that Ains knew how to spot wildlife, she spotted some mountain goats even higher up on the ledge than the bears. As we headed back down the trail, we heard there was a moose in one of the secluded lakes at the bottom. Once we got there, no moose. But, the kids did enjoy whittling some spears while we waited to see if he would come back. We all really enjoyed this hike, but left without a moose sighting.
18 August 2017
Long drive on Thursday. We crossed over the mountains into BC and then drove down the valley into Montana. The drive was interesting because we passed very close to the forest fires that were causing the smoke that we had seen all week. We also made a short stop at the Radium Hot Springs, but didn't stop for a swim. Arrived in Whitefish in time to hit the hotel and have some dinner. Then, we rested up for our first day in Glacier.
17 August 2017
Lots of wildlife viewing on this day! Multiple stops for Rocky Mountain Sheep on the roadsides. A deer right in the tiny town of Kananaskis Village. Elk in the middle of the town park at Canmore. Unfortunately, no bears even though we drove right through the area above Canmore that is currently closed to hikers (which also happens to be right by a neighborhood.). We are also still on the lookout for moose and mountain goats which have so far been elusive to us.
For our hike of the day, we chose a little 4km loop that Christian was told didn't involve elevation. Canadians must have a different meaning of elevation because the first quarter of the trip was steep. Ainsley was tired and none too happy about this, but she was a trooper to the top. Once we hit the actual level part of the hike, everyone had fun weaving through the forest. We came to a field of giant boulders that the kids had fun climbing and ended at another secluded mountain lake. Since the late summer level is low, we were able to climb around on the boulder field surrounding the water and the kids built more cairns. We also crossed a couple of the prettiest mountain creeks that we have seen. The kids admitted that the hike was worth it because the top was so much fun. But, I think everyone is looking forward to a little rest for their legs.
We saved the most anticipated event of the trip, horseback riding, for our last full day in Canada. We were hoping that this would be a chance to rest our legs and still enjoy nature. We took at 2-hour guided trail ride that reached a beautiful ridge line then wove through the woods and even down some rocky little downhills. Everyone really enjoyed their horses - Colton: Hank, Ainsley: Elijah, Stacie: Rocky and Christian: Stanley. Both Colton and Ainsley had to work pretty hard to keep their horses from snacking the whole time. As littlest, Colton was right behind the lead guide. We decided that Colton must have felt that the young cowboy was a kindred spirit because he talked to him for over the last hour straight. Everyone counted this as their high for the day. Our legs were certainly more rested (and the horses got Stacie and Christian over 10K Fitbit steps), but our bottoms are all now sore.
16 August 2017
The final stop of our very long day was a hike at Lake Louise. We arrived too late to hike to the tea house for a snack, so shortened the hike by stopping at mirror lake. This was by far our toughest hike so far because we had to climb the entire 2.6 km up the mountain. All of our legs were jelly at the top and we heard a lot about it from the kids. Once we made it up, everyone loved the little mountain lake that was very secluded. This was the high for Christian and Stacie. We didn't see a lot of wildlife except birds (the type that we earlier learned protect the pine trees) and squirrels. The hike down was much easier and everyone was ready to go home after that hike. By the time we made it back to Canmore, it was 10pm and we had to stop at McDonalds to pick up dinner. Poor Colton could barely open his eyes to eat his meal. It was a super long day, but everyone had a lot of fun.
We drove back to the Lake Louise ski area to take the chairlift up to mid-mountain. The ski area has a grizzly conservation program where they provide a safe, undisturbed place for mama and babies during the summer. This is apparently the best chance to see a grizzly and we were not disappointed. We saw a mama and 2 babies foraging for berries right under the chairlift. Unfortunately, mama never did lift her head for a good look. At the top, there are some hikes to different ridges on the mountain. It was a little disturbing because we had to go through an electric gate and pass daunting signs to start the hike. It ended up being beautiful with a fun loop through the woods. Stacie was a little worried about spotting bears, but we were noisy so they would stay away. At the bottom of the lift, it was time for hot chocolate (again!) and games. Both Ainsley and Colton said this was their high for the day.
As part of the glacier experience, they bused us to the Glacier Skywalk that floats over a 290m canyon. There were beautiful glacier views with a river that was flowing toward the Arctic Ocean. The kids had some doubt that mom would be brave enough to walk on the glass-bottomed walk and would instead have to take the "chicken walk". Instead, I walked out on the skywalk, but did refuse to look down. We were hoping to see some wildlife, but they were all hiding in the trees.
We arrived at the Columbia Icefield for our chance to walk on an actual glacier, the Athabasca Glacier. Colton was also excited about the big trucks that drove us up to our walking spot. On the way up, we learned a lot about how glaciers work and how they are receding. We even had to drive down a steep hill that formed the laminar moraine. Once up there, we were able to get out and walk in a small area that they have determined is safe. We even got to try the fresh glacier water at it was melting and forming streams. It tasted good, but was a little earthy from the rock flower on top. It was really cold and little overrun with people, but still a good experience.
By far, the busiest day so far. Started early in the morning with donuts and coffee from Tim Hortons. Then a three-hour drive on the Icefield Highway which is likely one of the most beautiful drives in the world. There were so many scenic spots that we couldn't stop everywhere, but we did stop at Bow Lake which feeds the river that flows past Canmore and Banff. The photos cannot do justice to the glacial blue of the lake and river.
15 August 2017
Ended our day with a beautiful sunset over the mountains and river. The whole town of Banff was Ainsley's high of the day.
When in a mountain town, what better dinner than fondue? This is the first time the kids had a full fondue dinner and they loved it. Colton was a little disappointed that we didn't order the exotic dinner with things like kangaroo and shark. Instead we had the Alberta dinner with elk, venison and bison. Ainsley just ate the beef - I think our earlier encounter with elk may have impacted her decision. Of course, they were very excited about the chocolate fondue for dessert.
After walking around town, the kids talked us into canoeing on the Bow River. They quickly learned that this was harder than in looked especially since we had to start out going upstream. They were troopers and really pulled their weight. We had a few fits and starts, especially the ladies who did more than one 360 trying to maintain direction. The wind started to fight us so we were literally forced to turn around before we were ready. That ended up being a lucky break because we had a great view of elk grazing on the banks - 2 mamas and 2 babies. Ainsley and Stacie got a much closer view than we expected (again due to lack of control). Mama just gave us a snort and moved the group a little farther down the bank. This was the high of the day for both Christian and Stacie.
We spent day 3 in Banff which is a quintessential mountain town. First activity of the day was to summit Mt. Sampson on the Gondola. Both of the kids loved the gondola for 2 reasons - it was fun to ride and it didn't involve hiking to the top. Views from the top were fantastic in spite of the smoky haze from nearby forest fires. Once at the top, we had to do a little hike up the stairs to see the old weather station that sits right on the peak. We also learned that they used to study cosmic rays although all of the equipment had been dismantled. It was cold and windy, but worth the effort. We made some little furry friends on the way. Ainsley even got to pet one of the little chipmunks, but they moved too fast for us to get a picture in action. After some warm hot chocolate and a walk around the visitor center, I tried my hardest to get the kids to hike down. They were having none of that so we rode back down just in time for lunch. Overall fun time and Colton's high for day.
14 August 2017
Learning to skip rocks in the Kananaskis River.
Hike number two for the day - Troll Falls. Luckily, this was a little gentler walk in the woods for our tired legs. It was a beautiful path through the forest with the unexpected find of a teepee. There is a space to walk behind the falls, but the cold weather made it so that only Colton would get close. The biggest adventure of the day was following an unofficial path up to the top of the falls. It was the most technical of the day and required lots of scrambling in the mud. Well worth it with the view from the top and the smaller second little waterfall. We even had to balance across the creek a few times. Thank goodness for our waterproof boots. We were all a little soppy when we were done, but it ended up being everyone's favorite activity of the day.
Miles of hiking for day 2. We started out at Grotto Canyon. Great hike that follows a little stream through the bottom of a canyon. The kids had a fun time climbing over the rocks in the terrain. We were surprised to discover "a palace of cairns" as dubbed by Colton. Cool area where people build and leave the own versions. Both Coltons be Ainsley built their own. Ainsley decided to do a little climbing although may have regretted it when she realized it was harder to get down than up. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the end cave with Native American pictographs. But, a good hike just the same.
Family selfies - ready to start our day
We woke up to this gorgeous view today - the Three Sisters.
13 August 2017
Kids were attacked by the giant stuffed grizzly bear outside Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. Yummy dinner with good beer and even brewed sodas for the kids - bitter lemon for Colton and cream soda for Ainsley.
The first wildlife we saw are the bunnies that live around our condo. Colton worked hard to pet one, but they always ran away. He got a couple of good sniffs, but decided his fingers must be too stinky for bunnies.
First stop in Calgary, A&W for some burgers and root beer floats. Then, took the long way to Canmore so we could stop by the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. Dogs that have been rescued from all over North America that have varying amounts of wolf (and one coyedog which was a favorite) live here. Everyone loved the stop even if the kids were too little to do the interactive tour. At least the greeter malamute, Skookum, was available for pets.