Category Archives: National Parks

All Aboard – AMTRAK’s Empire Builder

This trip was booked last December transferring points from my Ultimate Rewards account to AMTRAK.  This is no longer available.  You can read about it here.

We left the Holiday Inn and Suites and walked directly to Union Station going in the entrance that I described in my previous post. Inside the lounge is a checked bag room where we ditched our bags so we could still walk around the city and get some breakfast. You do need to show your ticket once you enter the lounge.

Entrance to the lounge
Entrance to the lounge
early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded the closer to departure.
Early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded  closer to departure.

The lounge that we used will be closed in a few weeks and a new lounge will be opened, probably around the second week of June. The new lounge will have showers, more seating, and will be located in the Great Hall. In the lounge were hot and cold drinks and snacks like potato chips, pre-packaged breakfast rolls and nachos.  Here is a link to the new lounge.

After checking our bags, we left the station and headed to the French Market which we had discovered the day before. I had one of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever had – a freshly made crepe filled with fresh strawberries, crème fraiche, and almonds. Delicious !  Blogger Hubby had the crepe with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes and red onions. There were tables at the back of the market and outside for you to sit and enjoy your food.

The best breakfast ever!
The best breakfast ever!

With no bags and still a few hours before we needed to be back at the station, we walked around the city more. We walked over the to canal where tourists boats took passengers on a city tour.

IMG_0574We found the Chicago Cultural Center and went in – free admittance is always an incentive. They have two beautiful rotundas and one was by Louis Tiffany. This building was the former Chicago Public Library.

IMG_0577Close by was Millenium Park and the Chicago Art Museum – both worth walking to and through.  Throughout the park we saw a number of fountains, sculptures that we found very unique.IMG_0585

 

IMG_0591Did you know that the famed Rt. 66 begins in Chicago?IMG_0593

Throughout the city were beautiful tulips in bloom as well as other sidewalk arrangements in concrete planters – some with pussy willows which I hadn’t seen in a long time.   Another building that we saw was the Board of Trade building – very unique with huge eagles at the top corners of the building almost looking like gargoyles.

When we returned to the lounge, it was crowded and difficult to find seating. There are two screens on the walls – one for arrivals and one for departures. You will see the same name of trains so be sure you know what you are looking at. For example our train, The Empire Builder was arriving at 3:00 yet our train, the Empire Builder was leaving at 2:15.

Traveling in a sleeper, we had priority boarding. They will call you and open the door to the track. Everyone stops at the first car to see if it is theirs. If you are going to Washington State, keep moving. Our train splits in Spokane during the – the cars at the end are going toward Portland and the cars in front of the dining car are going to Seattle. That clue will tell you where your car will be.

Our Room – To get to our room, we entered the train and had to walk up a narrow stairway. If you have a large suitcase that you won’t need in your room, you can leave it on the first floor in the luggage area. We had the larger bedroom and they were denoted with a letter – we were in “D”. The smaller rooms had numbers. That tip might get you in the correct corridor since you can go left or right at the top of the stairs.

The lower level had rooms as well though I think they were smaller rooms, community showers and extra toilets (we were warned that there is no ventilation in the community bathrooms). Yes, train bedrooms are small. We knew that and expected it. The bathroom is a combination toilet/shower. To take a shower, put down the lid on the toilet and turn the water on. Since there is a lip to get into the bathroom, the water stays in the bathroom. You do have the option of using one of the community showers if you want something larger. Tip – put down the lid to the toilet to prevent it from crashing down in the middle of the night when you hit a rough patch of tracks.   We propped open the bathroom with a backpack so we could see the blue nightlight in the bathroom. Again, we didn’t want the door slamming in the middle of the night.  To get more air or less air, look to the ceiling to open or close the vents.

IMG_0605

Tip: If you are charging electronics, you might want to bring an extension card as one outlet is on the wall by the sink mirror and the other is on the wall by your head. You don’t want your electronics dangling as you recharge them.

We didn’t sleep well the first night because the train was always blowing their horns due to all the train crossings that we were passing.  You’ll get to know the whistle – 2 long, 1 shorter and 1 long.  Sometimes it seemed as though when the first set of whistles ended, the next one began.

The top bunk, which I had, was doable.  In the fact that there isn’t much turn around in and the ceiling was about 2 feet (or a little less) from my bed.  Getting up wasn’t a problem but getting down was (for me) as trying to turn around to come down the ladder was difficult since there wasn’t much room to turn around in.  I ended up putting my foot on the corner of the vanity and then the other on Blogger Hubby’s bed.  Not pretty but I did it.

We both brought carry-on luggage and a backpack. I would not bring anymore than that as they only place to store the luggage is under the bench sofa and chair in the room and a very small shelf above he chair. The rooms are small and compact and for just two nights on the train (or longer for us since we are continuing on) you really don’t need much. My concern in packing is whether the train ran hot or cold – I found this particular car on this particular day ran right in the middle. I have on a sleeveless top with a lightweight sweater and long pants though in the evening it did get a little cooler but never, in my mind, cold.  We’ve been told the Super Chief runs very cold.

IMG_0598

OBSERVATION CAR – had both seats and booths with a table. Downstairs was a lounge car where you could buy snacks as well as sit at one of their few tables. On our train were two Park Service Trails and Rails volunteers that gave a small narrative when we were going by a few things. If you brought your National Park Service passport book, they will stamp it for you (I had mine). Tip: there are some seats with 110 volt plugs so you can charge your electronics there as well. TIP – I turned on my Google Maps app while in the observation deck to see where we were and what we were passing.   There is no train wifi so I was careful how much cellular data I was using.

IMG_0113

DINING CAR – When you first board, stay in your room because a dining steward will come by and you can make reservations for dinner. Dining is about on par with airline food. For dinner I had the signature steak which was okay, baked potato and very overcooked medley of veggies. The salad was very fresh and served with packets of Paul Newman salad dressing. Second night I had the herb chicken which was much better and Blogger Hubby had the seafood shrimp/crab cakes and he thought they were very good.  Dessert was a good portion, neither too large or too small. All of this is served on plastic plates rather than the china that AMTRAK used to serve food on. Your first class accommodations include your meals on board and a drink. Beer and wine are a separate charge and they are available in the dining car. One thing to remember, although your meals are included in your accommodation if you are a first class passenger, you need to remember to tip the wait staff in the dining room. It also appears that the menu is the same on all the trains with a dining room. TIP: your first night when you leave Chicago, sit on the right side of the dining car as you are going forward and sit so you are facing forward. We had the 7:15 dinner and you could see the sun setting over the Mississippi – a bright orange ball and it was beautiful. Unfortunately we were not sitting on the correct side or facing the correct direction to get a picture but it was beautiful

Two rules that are strictly enforced on AMTRAK – no smoking and you always must wear shoes when walking around the train.

NOTE:  If you do plan to experience the Empire Builder, I strongly encourage you to download this PDF of the train route.  It gives you information on the train as well as the stops that it makes.  It’s interesting to know a little information about the cities that you are stopping or passing through.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.40.08 PM

We have met very interesting people on this journey so far either at meal time (4 to a table) or in the observation car.  We were the only ones doing a train trek.  Many were going to or from vacation, family celebrations or just as a means to travel.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how much room there was in the coach section with leg rests and room between the seat in front of you – so unlike air travel.

More to come tomorrow.  If you have any particular questions, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer as soon as  can.

All Aboard…..

 

Advertisements

Bonaventure Cemetery and Tybee Island, Sightseeing in Savannah, part 2

I never know when I am visiting a city if I should go to the “popular attractions and sights” or to be a little freer and see what else is out there.  I try to do both – the attractions that a city has is what draws me to it but I know there is more out there.  As we met people and traveled around, we would ask “what should we see before we leave Savannah”.  Everyone wanted to help us enjoy our time and the consensus was that we had to go to Bonaventure Cemetery.  We already knew that we were going to Tybee and this was somewhat on our way, at least according to my trusty Garmin GPS device.

After the free breakfast in the lobby, we got the car out of the garage under the hotel and we were off.  We tried to time it so we would miss rush hour and we did pretty good.  I wasn’t sure if the Garmin was correct because we were in a residential area that didn’t seem to me to have a famous cemetery but it did.

P1000480

As we pulled in we walked a little bit but unsure what we were seeing or where we should be going.  We did find the Administration Building that we went into (door on right side) where we could pick up a map of the cemetery.  We were given advice by the employee as to which section we should visit and walk around.  There is also restroom at the front of the building.  We were in awe at the beautiful sculptures of the various tombs.  I will say it was hauntingly beautiful.  This is a 100 acre cemetery that can be lush due to all the Spanish moss and its location along the Wilmington River and the marches.  I’ll let these photos speak about this cemetery:

P1000497

P1000496

P1000492

We weren’t the only ones here.  There was a tour taking place.  A van pulled up with a trailer carrying bicycles.  There were about 10 bicyclists who got their bikes off the trailer and biked around the cemetery.  I never thought about this being a destination for cyclists.  if you are interested, this is the van with their logo.

P1000494

The cemetery has among its section the Jewish Chapel and Circle, the Colonial Monument Garden, Order of Railroad Conductors, American Legion Field, Spanish American War veterans.  Four time Academy Award winner Johnny Mercer, born and bred in Savannah, is also buried here.  After we walked around around the cemetery, we decided to continue on with on day’s tour.  Time to head to Tybee Island.

I had been to Tybee before but never driven around much.  One of my excursions going to Tybee is to eat at the Crab Shack.  We had found it about ten years ago when when we stopped at a Visitor Center on I-95 and was told taht we HAD to go here by the woman working the counter.  How can you not do it  when it was so strongly suggested.  Well, she was right and every time we have driven by the area, we always make it a point to stop for a meal.  Now I would be introducing “Louise” to the Crab Shack.  She was somewhat concerned because it was still cold and she thought that the only seating was outside…surprise, they also have indoor seating with heaters around.

As we drove in and parked, there were lots of cages and fenced in area where there were lots of baby alligators, some larger.  It is a fun and eclectic place.

P1000510

 

P1000508

Of course I ordered shrimp and it was delicious as was the corn, cole slaw and hush puppies.  After our meal we walked around.  It seems that most times I’ve been here has been at night so it was good to see it in the daylight.

P1000504

Wrapping up our visit to the Crab Shack, we headed toward Fort Pulaski, a National Park Service Monument.  We pulled in and saw that there weren’t many activities going on,  We got our of the car, looked around and then got back in the car.  We probably should have gone in but we were anxious to get to the Tybee Island Lighthouse as well as drive around the island.

The lighthouse has been guiding sailors to a  safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years. The Tybee Island Light Station is one of America’s most intact lighthouses having all of its historic support buildings on its five-acre site.   I napped, oops meant sat, in the car while “Louise” climbed the steps into the lighthouse.  She was happy to add this to her growing list of lighthouses visited. If you look closely you can see “Louise” walking around the lighthouse walkway.

P1000533

We drove back to the hotel to get ready for our last night in Savannah before we turned our car northbound.  Once again the concierge directed us to another fantastic restaurant for us.  Since we had a big lunch at the Crab Shack, we didn’t want a huge meal for dinner.  She thought Jazz’d, a tapas restaurant with entertainment.  Once again she was right.  We had a leisurely stroll to the restaurant which is down a flight of stairs.  It somewhat reminded us of a speakeasy.  Lots of tapas for us to choose.  They even had a special where you could choose two tapas and a soup with dessert.  More than we wanted but who could resist.  While we ate there was a singer singing in the style of Sinatra with all the old classics.  A very enjoyable restaurant.

The next morning we said goodbye to our Spring Road Trip.  A trip that was fun for both of us.  I think next year we’ll do St. Augustine and Amelia Island.

Have you ever gone on a Road Trip with your best friend?  I’m so glad we did it and it has already given us such fun memories.  Hope you enjoyed traveling along with Thelma and Louise

 

 

What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area.

Spring Break #1 – Rincon, Puerto Rico

Our Home Away Rental in Rincon, Puerto Rico

2nd Rental Home in Rincon, Puerto Rico

What to Do in Rincon and the Surrounding Area

 

el faroEl Faro, as it is known, is the Punta Higuera Lighhouse  It has been lovingly restores and is surrounded by a park with a snack shop.  This park is one of the few passive whale watching parks in the world.  Additionally, we were able to watch surfers ride some of the waves in.  In other areas, many people were snorkeling.  On your way to the lighthouse, you’ll pass lots of snorkel and dive shops.

 

 

Arecibo Observatory – the world’s largest radio telescope which is used to

aceibo fathom the sounds of the universe.  This site is so impressive that Hollywood has used this observatory in many films including Contact (Jodie Foster) and James Bond’s Golden Eye (Pierce Brosnan).  This is about an hour away from Rincon.

Camuy Cave Park – Caverns  – Rio Camuy Cave park is the third largest cave system in the world with 16 entrances and 7 miles of passages that have beencamuy 2 mapped to date.  The park has picnic areas, walking trails food facilities an exhibition hall and souvenirs (of course).  When you arrive you see a 12 minute film then walk to the open air trolleys for a ride to the bottom of a 200 foot ravine.  You’ll have a 45 minute guided walk through the caves.  This is about 45 minutes from Rincon.  I am saving this excursion for when I return with Blogger Hubby.

camuy1camuy3

 

La Paguera – the phosphorescent bay makes an interesting trip after dark particularly when there is no visible moon.  Boats leave for the one hour trip to the bay beginning at 7:30 PM.  Smaller boats can be rented for a closer view.  This is about 40 minutes away.  The owners of our rental suggested using Aleli Tours at http://www.aleitours.com and to task for Ishmael.  We did not do this but when I return we will.

bay 1

Other sightseeing venues:

  • Guanica Dry Forest Reserve – designated a World Biosphere by the UN; 1600 acre forest.  Located on the southern coast off Rt. 333. dry forest
  • Gilligan’s Island – just south of the Guanica Dry Forest off Rt. 333, a 5 minute ferry ride to a coral reef cay with unique currents and vegetation.
  • Maricao – this is for coffee lovers since you’ll be in the heart of coffee country.  A great road trip through the mountains in the Cordillera central
  • Mayaguez Zoo – great for the kids when you need a day away from the beach
  • El Yunque  – the only tropical rain forest in US Territory located east of San Juan.  I’ve been here twice both times on guided tours.  The first time was riding horseback through the lower levels of the forest; the second was in an air conditioned SUV where we could get out and hike around.
  • and finally, Old San Juan.  Although I wouldn’t stay here more than one night, it does need to be visited.  Some of my favorite spots The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist where Ponce deLeon is buried.  El Morro, which is part of the San Juan National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) is amazing.  Park Rangers talk about the life of the Spanish conquistadors and really make history come to life.  Another favorite spot is the Bacardi Visitor Center where you can take a tour of their factory, learn the history behind how the bat became the logo of this brand.el morro

 

Yosemite National Park – National Park Series

This is another post in the National Park Series.  If you missed one of them, please click on the title and it will take you to the post

Glacier National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Yellowstone

Before we went to Yosemite everyone, and I mean everyone, told me that it was outstanding, that it was raw, rugged and something so spectacular that they couldn’t describe it any better.   They couldn’t give me enough adjectives to describe it to me.  I just didn’t think anything could live up to these descriptions – boy, was I wrong.

I flew into Sacramento on United the end of June to meet my husband who was doing some work in the area.  He had picked up a rental car earlier when we flew in.  He picked me up and we were off in the direction of Lake Tahoe.  As we traveled through we spent some time in an old western town called Placerville whose nickname was HangTown.  They were doing some type of reenactment with covered wagons, panning for gold in the street in a horse’s trough. This is near where Sutter’s Mill was located where the California Gold Rush began.  I had visions of gold dust in my eyes.  It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be as the gold was merely specks in the water and to get the swishing motion was not easy.  Regardless, this was lots of fun for us.

We spent a few days at Lake Tahoe driving around, doing some short hikes, seeing Emerald Bay (yes, it really is green).  A trivia fact – did you know that the old television show “Bonanza” was filmed around Lake Tahoe because after all , it was south of Virginia City and near Carson City.  There were advertisements along the road that went around the Lake for visitors to go up to the location, for a small fee of course.

We were going to travel to Yosemite from Tahoe on the Tioga Road but it was still closed due to snow.  We headed south and went in to the park where the Merced River flows through the park – the Arched Rock Entrance.  We had reservations inside the park at Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark.  This was at the southern end of the park and a little of of the way for me.  We were close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees.  Being this far south, we always seemed to have a long commute to see the famous sites of El Capitan, hiking Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome (no, we didn’t climb it but watched in amazement as others did) as well as going to Curry Village.

Since there was heavy snowfall the year we went, the waterfalls were flowing quite heavily.  I don’t think that I have seen so many waterfalls in one location.  Every turn we took was just as spectacular as the last one.   I didn’t do any of the rugged hiking that our kids did a few years ago.  They were the ones you could see as ants climbing up Half Dome.  There are steel cables going up and you are pulling yourself up.  What made it difficult for them was the sheer number of people who climbed it.  You could never get any good momentum going because there would be people a few feet from them.  Nevertheless, that is one thing that they were able to check off the list of things to do.

Blogger Sons and Blogger daughter-in-law climbing Half Dome
Blogger Sons and Blogger daughter-in-law climbing Half Dome
At the top of Half Dome
At the top of Half Dome

Whether you are going to view the granite monolith, hike to see waterfalls or wildlife, Yosemite should be on your list of must see national parks.

Banff National Park, Canada

This is the last in a series of three covering Lake Louise, Glacier National Park and now Banff by my sister-in-law.  To find the other entries click on the post you are interested in:

Glacier National Park and Lake Louise

The Canadian Rockies

On our way to Banff, we again took the Icefields Parkway and stopped at a couple of short hikes and viewing points we had missed on the way to Jasper.

Icefields Parkway photo:  valdodge.com
Icefields Parkway  photo: valdodge.com 

The day started out unusually clear with no low clouds and it continued to be sunny with only a few puffy clouds for our entire drive, until we got within a half an hour from Banff. By the time we got to our hotel, it was totally overcast. We had trouble finding our hotel so instead we decided to go right into Banff and go to the visitor’s center to ask for recommendations for hikes, restaurants and things we should definitely not miss in the area, as well as directions to our hotel. This is where we encountered the “lump”. He tossed a folded up trail map on the counter and told us to “read the book”. When we pressed him for a little more personal direction, he opened the map and drew a circle around a hike that he said would “get us started.” As it turned out we did try to do that hike the last day we were there and the entire area was closed due to “bear activity” and had been for a while. When we asked about restaurants and directions to our hotel, he told us in effect “that’s not my job”. He directed us to a couple of women at another counter for that information. I guess he doesn’t actually live in the town and doesn’t eat there either. One of the women at the other counter gave us a map of the town and marked several restaurants and things of interest on the map and give us clear directions to our hotel. She was most helpful. We then found our hotel and checked in.

We were staying at the Juniper Hotel on the recommendation of a friend and we found it to be okay. The location was high on a hill a little way out of town, and  juniper hotel the view was very good. They had our reservation messed up and couldn’t move us as they were totally booked that night because of a wedding reception They put us in a handicapped room with a queen bed when we had reserved a king. They did move us the next day to an upgraded room, which was fine. We had lunch in the hotel and it was quite good, but our last day there we had breakfast and it was only okay. Again I think I would have looked into something in town. The premier hotel for Banff is the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel — called the castle. It is a gorgeous old high-rise hotel and like the other Fairmonts extremely expensive.

Anyway on to Banff. Banff is a small tourist town similar to Jasper, only bigger, and also has a congestion problem during the busy season. After lunch on our first day there, it began thundering and lightening and then rained. It didn’t continue all afternoon and when it cleared up we went into town to look around and had dinner. That first night we ate at a very small Thai restaurant that was very good. The town has numerous restaurants of all kinds and lots of souvenir type shops. When we walked down the streets of Banff we could hear many different languages, French, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Arabic, German, etc. and even some English. We found that the days spent traveling from town to town are pretty much wasted days, so we were looking forward to our first full day in Banff.

On that first morning, we decided to hike to the Hoodoos. We had heard there were hoodoos there and since we had seen hoodoos in Bryce NP and loved them, we were excited to see these. It was a nice hike, not too challenging, and not very busy, but the hoodoos were a real disappointment. They had like 5 hoodooshoodoos on the side of a mountain. Nothing like Bryce. After that we had breakfast at Melissa’s which was an excellent restaurant. We ate there several times for breakfast and dinner. Their specialty at dinner is prime rib and it was one of the best we have had, and everything we had there was very good and the staff was great too. After breakfast we headed up to Johnson Canyon. A really nice hike to the lower and upper falls. The upper falls were especially beautiful. You come around the corner and cannot see the falls until you are at the very end of the trail and it was quite spectacular. The hike was fairly easy and pretty busy. Since we were in the area we went to Castle Mountain to see Silverton Falls. Not a very long trail, but an interesting hike, climbing over and under tree trunks and over rocks. There were a few people on the trail, but not crowded. After lunch, I looked at one of the tour books we had brought with us and saw information about a walking tour of Banff. We did a little of the tour that afternoon and planned to do more the next day. We walked along Bow lake to their city park. They were having a free concert in the park, so stayed and listened a little while.

Our second full day in Banff started out raining. We decided to continue our walking tour of Banff before breakfast. Luckily the rain did stop, but it continued to be overcast. We parked at the Cascade Gardens which is behind an administrative building at the end of town. Lovely flowers in a terraced garden. Then walked along the Bow River to the Bow River Falls. Not spectacular falls, but a very nice walk and easy trail. When we got to the falls, we were surprised to see that the Fairmont Banff Springs was just up the hill. We decided not to tackle the hill and go to breakfast instead. After breakfast we drove to the Fairmont. All the Fairmonts are definitely worth a visit. They are old historic hotels and quite beautiful. It was raining again, so we decided to go into town and walk around there a little bit. The weather did clear up and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The weather is so crazy here. It can be beautiful and then a cloud shows up and it rains. We were really glad we had our rain gear and carried it in the backpack all the time. We then decided go to Minnewanka Lake and Johnson Lake for a couple of shorter hikes. As I mentioned earlier the area was totally closed due to “bear activity”. So we went back to town and did the Fenland trail near our hotel. It was seemingly a very simple trail, but we almost got lost. This time on the way back to town we say big horn sheep walking down the road. That night we had deep dish pizza at Melissa’s which was excellent.

Our last full day in Banff was a  beautiful day. We went to Cave and Basin. There was quite a large interpretative center there and trails around the hot springs. cave and basinThe center at one time had been used as a hot springs spa. There was a small charge to go into the cave and tour the interpretative center. We did the loops around the building and wanted to continue on a farther trail from there, but were told we could only go to a certain point as a grizzly had been spotted farther in with a kill (elk), and the mosquitoes were terrible on the part of the trail we did do. We didn’t really have a lot of mosquitoes anywhere else.

At this point, we had done about all the trails we wanted to do and/or could do, so we went back to our hotel, sat out on our patio and enjoyed the view. We both felt ready to go home. We spent 4 nights in Banff and 3 probably would have been enough.

We have no idea how many kilometers we covered in hikes, but we certainly did see a lot of the area and wonderful scenery. We took well over 800 pictures, which included majestic mountains, gorgeous waterfalls and incredibly blue glacier lakes, as well as bears, sheep, goats and marmots.

Glacier National Park and Lake Louise

Once again my sister-in-law who was touring Glacier National Park last month offered to share her story with you.

We got to Glacier around noon as took much longer than anticipated on Goinggoing to the sun road to the Sun Road because it was rainy and foggy the whole way.  We stopped for a very nice lunch at McDonald Lodge, which is one of the few lodges within Glacier.  Even though I had called months in advance to try to get into McDonald Lodge they were full.   We continued on to our hotel which was just outside of the west entrance of Glacier and also handled by the same reservation company that made reservations within Glacier.  The hotel “West Glacier Lodge and Resort”  was really only a lower level motel.  Absolutely no amenities — small room, no shampoo, kleenex, coffee maker, hair dryer, wi fi although they did have a flat screen TV in the

McDonald Lodge, photo tripadvisor.com
McDonald Lodge, photo tripadvisor.com

room.  On the plus side, it was clean and the bed was comfortable and it had a heater in the bathroom which was invaluable because even though we wore our rainsuits, some of our clothes got wet from condensation and my backpack got soaking wet.  There was also a very good diner there, which had great breakfasts, and fairly gourmet dinners and excellent pizza.

After we checked in we stopped at the ranger station in Glacier and got info about possible hikes for that afternoon and the next day.  That afternoon wehiked to Avalanche Lake (2 miles one way), which turned out to be farther andmore challenging than we thought it would be.  It took us 2 hours to go the 4 miles and it was raining pretty hard the whole time.  The next day we headed to Logan Pass to hike the Hidden Lake Trail (1.5 miles one way).  It finally cleared up while we were at Logan Pass and the animals were glad too.  We saw mountain goats, big horn sheep and lots of ground squirrels.  It was a pretty easy trail and well traveled.

We stopped at Rising Sun Lodge within the park for lunch, which was very good.Virginia Falls  We then headed to Saint Mary’s Falls to hike to both Saint Mary’s Falls and Virginia Falls (2.5 miles one way), pretty easy hike and lots of other hikers.  The falls were really beautiful, especially after all the rain.  At one of the falls there was a group of young guys  jumping into the river off the rocks near the falls.  We stayed 2 nights in Glacier — so really had 1 1/2 days, which seemed to be enough.

We were told there were only 2 lodges within the park, but we saw other lodges.  So the 2, Lake McDonald and Many Glacier Hotel must be the only ones that are handled by the park service.  We had lunch at Rising Sun Lodge which appeared to be in the park and looked very nice.  There were other lodges also.

There is also a free shuttle service on the Going to the Sun Road, which we didn’t use and didn’t really have any trouble parking when we wanted to.  It stops at different places and you can get off and hike and wait for the next shuttle.  Additionally  there is the  Little Red Bus, which does tours along the Going to the Sun Road  It is touted in all the tour books, but we didn’t do that either.  I’m sure if you wanted to get an overview and lots of background information it would be a valuable tour to take.

 We left West Glacier early the next day and stopped in Whitefish for breakfast.  We found an incredible little crepe place in the downtown Whitefish, Amazing Crepes and Catering.  After lunch we  continued on to Lake Louise and arrived around 3 PM and the place was a zoo.  Cars and tour buses every where.  Luckily the hotel Fairmont Lake Louise had a parking garage for hotel guests only.  The hotel was beautiful and right on Lake Louise.  It is THE premier hotel at Lake Louise and very expensive. The hotel was  running a special of buy 2 nights get 3rd free and it was still extremely expensive, but the location was perfect.  We joined the Fairmont Club which gave us some perks like free wi fi.  Worth joining and is free. Our room was nice, but not huge, but with all the amenities you would expect, including terry cloth robes and luxury bedding.
Fairmont Lake Louise www.enjoybanff.com
Fairmont Lake Louise                www.enjoybanff.com
We checked out the several restaurants in the hotel and decided they were way to expensive ($25 for a hamburger and $20 for pancakes for breakfast).  They did have a 24 hour deli with good quality pick up and go food, and wonderful desserts and pastries, so ate breakfast, lunch and even most dinners there.  Even that was on the expensive side, but more reasonable.  We ate the first night in the Village of Lake Louise at Lake Louise Village Grill and Bar.  It was a Sunday night and not much else was open.  We ordered 2 Chinese dishes and they were both quite good.
The next day we headed over to Moraine Lake and wanted to do a trail called Consolation Lakes, but there was a restriction on the trail due to bear activity that a minimum of 4 people had to go together.  If you are caught violating a restriction you may be arrested and fined up to $5,000.  We waited a while hoping someone else would come, but no one did, so we walked another trail along the Moraine Lake.
After that we went to Yoho NP to see the spiral train tunnels.  It was pretty interesting how they had carved a figure “8” into the mountain to make it easier for the trains to make the steep grade.  We were very lucky that while we were there trains came through.  We then continued on to Takakkaw Falls where the road to the falls had two very tight switch backs and we were fortunate that we didn’t meet any cars on the switch backs.  Takakkaw Falls is the second tallest waterfall in Canada.  You could hike right up to the falls and we even got sprayed.  Easy trail and well traveled.
We then came back to Lake Louise and decided to hike to Lake Agnes Tea House for lunch.  There are two tea houses you can walk to.  Lake Agnes is 4.4 miles round trip, but very steep.  The other is Plain of Six Glaciers which is 7 miles round trip, but less steep.  We opted for the shorter one.  However, the trail and the tea house were so busy we ended up not staying for lunch.  It was an hour wait to get food.  It took us 2 hours round trip.  We later found out that 36,000 people visit Lake Louise everyday in the summer season and that particular weekend we were there was a Canadian 3 day holiday so it was even more crowded.  The hotel holds 1,200 people, but there are tour buses and vacationers from other areas that come to see Lake Louise.  It’s best to do the tea houses before 10 AM or after 6 PM because of the crowds.

The next day before breakfast we did the Fairview Overlook — again very steep, but not very far.  We were carefully watching for bear and making noise as the trail was not well traveled.  After breakfast we went to the gondola lift early hoping to beat the crowds.  At the gondola along with your ride, you could purchase a full buffet breakfast for $2 or a full buffet lunch for $7.  We purchased the lunch.  We hoped to see bear from the gondola, but didn’t.  At the top of the gondola there was a pretty nice interpretive center and other trails.  We did a hike to Kicking Horse Lookout.  Another fairly steep hike, but not very far.  Also fairly busy trail.  The other trails at the top were closed due to bear activity.  This was our last full day at Lake Louise.  We spent 3 nights there and felt it was enough.

My note:  Did you know that it is predicted that the glaciers in Glacier National Park will disappear by 2020?  For more information, read this article in National Geographic.  Of course, that is just one study but I bet by the time our grandchildren are married and having children that there will be no more glaciers for them to see.

National Park Service Entrance Passes

Yesterday was  Free Entrance Day at over 100 National Parks.  How many of you were able to go to your favorite national park to take advantage of this special day?

If you are not able to go yesterday, here is information on the various passes that are available through the park service:

The Senior Pass (formerly called Golden Eagle, Golden Age, Golden Access) is available for $10 for those who are 62 and older and are US citizens or permanent residents.  You can obtain it for $10 at a federal recreation site or by mail using this application form.   If you choose to get this pass through the mail, then the fee is $20.    When I went with a friend recently to get one, we asked “when does it expire?”  We were told that it expires when you do (a little national park humor).

nps senior

For those in the U.S. Military and their dependents,  you are eligible for a free Annual Pass that must be obtained at a Federal recreation site by showing your military ID or a Common Access Card.

nps military

Annual Pass is $80 and is available to everyone.  They are available at any recreation site or online  or by calling 1-888-ASK USGS (1-888-275-8747), Ext. 1

nps annual

Access Pass is free for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.  It may be obtained in person or through the mail using this application form.  Applicants must provide documentation of permanent disability and residency or citizenship.

nps access

Volunteer Pass is free for those volunteers with 250 service hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.  The five agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program are the National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation.  These site locations issue the passes.

nps volunteer

Now, a trivia question for you….what is the smallest national park in the United States.   Here is the answer.

What is the Most Visited National Park? Read and Find Out!

What is the most visited national park in the United States?  Yosemite? Yellowstone? Glacier?  Grand Canyon?  Here’s a hint….it’s east of the Mississippi.  Give up?  It is also one of the few national parks that does not charge an entrance fee.  It is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with over 9.6  million visitors in 2012.

Establishing this national park took many years and thousands of volunteers to accomplish it.  On the land that was to become the national park were thousands of people’s homesteads and as well as timber and paper companies.  At the same time  Americans also wanted some place to drive their new possession – the automobile.   It was their auto clubs who pushed for this park as all these new motorists wanted nice roads in beautiful scenery in which to drive their new cars on.

intro GSM

In 1926 President Calvin Coolidge  signed a bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park yet there was no land to be protected by the park service.  What I found out and didn’t know was that the federal government is not allowed, at least during this time, to purchase land to put into the park system.  Since the park would encompass parts of both Tennessee and North Carolina, those state legislatures raised money to buy out the thousands of landowners and companies who were on lands that  would become the park.   With the help of Laura Rockefeller, who donated five million dollars, enough money was raised to begin buying out the residents.  As a side note:  Laura Rockefeller’s son John D Jr established and funded Colonial Williamsburg.  Great Smoky Mountain National Park was officially dedicated in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt.

There are two entrances to the park in Tennessee and one in North Carolina as well as two visitor information centers for the park – one at the North Carolina entrance and one at the Gatlinburg, TN entrance.  I have always found the Visitor Centers to be filled with information and exhibits generally about geology and park history.  Just so you know this about me – I’m a history buff!

There are many spectacular hikes to go on including part of the Appalachian Trail that goes through the park.  There are all different levels of hiking trails from easy to more challenging.  Me, I usually choose the easiest and my husband likes the more challenging.  So we compromise and go on the easiest 🙂

photo: nps.com
photo: nps.com

Our family camped when we visited the park.  We spent a few nights at Cades Cove along the banks of a creek.  This area was very family friendly.   We enjoyed the auto tour of the Cades Cove loop where there were a number of historic buildings and barns.  Our oldest son loved the  fly fishing that he did within the park in the many trout streams.   Of course, all our family does is Catch and Release. There are also stables where you can go on trail rides.

photo: cadescove.net
photo: cadescove.net

Close to the park is Dollywood.  This is, as I’m sure you know, an amusement park owned by Dolly Parton.  It has the typical amusement park rides but what it also has that is unique to it are crafts and music that are traditional to the Smoky Mountain area.   Next door to Dollywood is Dollywood’s Splash Country, and the chain of Dixie Stampede dinner theaters.   The park hosts a number of concerts and musical events each year.  you never know when you might get lucky and see Dolly or a member of her family in concert at her park.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park?