Friday, August 25, 2017

Our National Park Road Trip From Vancouver to Yellowstone

This summer our goal was to visit Waterton Lakes National Park. When we realized how close it was to Yellowstone National Park (seven hours), we knew we wanted to add that on. In the end we had five national parks on the agenda: Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park and Craters of the Moon.


We set aside 13 days for the trip and did a combination of camping, hotels and cabins. Most days involved about four hours of driving with several hours worth of stops. The total cost of our trip was just under $2,000 which I believe is a great vacation option for a family of five. This was what our route looked like:



Day 1: Manning Park (2.5 hours).  We have been here many times and highly recommend camping at Lightning Lakes Campground. There are beautiful walks along the water and ground squirrels to amuse you. The playgrounds and nature programs are great and you can always take a swim in the lake. The campground sites are private and ample in size.

Lightning Lakes

Manning Park

Why we can't sleep in a tent every night.

Lightning Lakes

Ground Squirrel

Camping at Lightning Lakes

Day 2: Castlegar (7 hours) En route we stopped at Princeton's Visitor Centre, Osoyoos Lake for lunch, Christina Lake for a swim and then made it to Castlegar to stay with friends for the evening.

Osoyoos
Osoyoos
Christina Lake
Christina Lake

Day 3: Casltegar to Balfour (2-3 hours). We first stopped at the Science Visitor Centre which was very well done in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. Then we went to drive up to the glacier but only made it halfway (it's not meant for low clearance minivans). Finally we went to Ainsworth Hot Springs (highly recommend) and then spent the night at the lovely Kootenay Lakeview Spa Resort in Balfour. We loved it because it was so private, quiet, had access to barbeques and games, free golf, and breakfast was included. My one warning to anyone going off of Hwy 3 onto 3A is that it is very windy and not for those with weak tummies.






Ainsworth Hotsprings
Ainsworth Hotsprings
Ainsworth
Cave at Ainsworth Hotsprings are the best part



Day 4: Cranbrook (3 hours). We took the world's longest free ferry (30 minutes) from Balfour across the Kootenay Lake to Kootenay Bay and then continued on to Cranbrook. Again, just to be clear, until you meet up with Hwy 3, the roads on 3A are very windy. Once in Cranbrook we went to Fort Steele (20 minutes away) and spent a couple of hours there. It was hot and there were barely any people but the boys and Gary found it interesting. We stayed at the Days Inn Cranbrook which had a pool and Chocolate Happy Hour. Win win.







A hotel with a pool and Chocolate Happy Hour is always a good thing.

Day 5 and 6: Waterton Lakes National Park (3 hours).  We arrived at Waterton around noon and spent the rest of the day exploring Red Rock Canyon, Blakiston Falls and Prince of Wales hotel. The next day we did Bear's Hump (highlight) and then Cameron Lake and Wall Lake. You can see all about Waterton Lakes National Park here.

Bear's Hump
View from the Bear's Hump at Waterton Lakes National Park
Day 7: Glacier National Park to Bozeman (8 hours). We woke up early as this was going to be a long day! We wanted to do the Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park which takes you from the east side to the west of the park driving through amazing terrain–there is even a portion that does not allow RV's or trailers because of the steep cliffs and tight turns. We paid for an annual park pass which allowed us into the next four national parks for $100. We stopped at the Visitor Centre to pick up our maps and did just one hike. We had lunch at Lake McDonald and continued onwards to Bozeman for the night. We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and recommend it–free entrance to the hot springs!  If we had more time we probably should have camped somewhere in this park to appreciate it more but the drive through gave us a good taste of it.

Going to the Sun Road
St. Mary Lake



Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road


Bozeman Hot Springs Campground

Day 8 and 9: Yellowstone National Park (8 hours on the road each day) down to Grand Teton National Park.  Day 8 was Bozeman to the north entrance and doing the top loop. Day 9 was the West Gate down through Grand Tetons and staying in Jackson Hole. You can read all about the Yellowstone portion of our trip here.  My one piece of advice would be to book early so you can get a camping spot in the park (affordable option rather than the pricey cabin we got booking one month in advance) and to spend three days in the park. If heading down to Grand Tetons National Park make sure to stop at the Jackson Lake Lodge for a treat and to look for moose.  Every Visitor Centre is worth the stop and be sure to fill up those water bottles of yours at each stop!

Jackson Hole
Jackson Lake Lodge
Day 10: Jackson Hole to Craters of the Moon to Boise (8 hours on the road). We had stayed at the Jackson Hole KOA in a cabin again and got up early for another long day on the road. Our only stop (other than Arco for some treats!) was Craters of the Moon National Monument. There is camping at Craters of the Moon but it's very...unique. Basically you are camping in lava rocks with no shade or water that I saw. We opted not to camp there. However, it is a "must see" park in Idaho–we were so pleasantly surprised by it! Make sure you grab a map at the Visitor Centre and they'll indicate what spots would be best for you to stop at based on your interests and abilities. We stopped at most walks and it was very friendly for strollers and wheelchairs with paved paths. The "must do" would be the caves and particularly Indian Tunnel–don't forget to bring your headlamps! There are picnic tables by the Visitor Centre and a place to fill up water bottles so it is a great spot to have lunch.

Arco Idaho

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon

Craters of the Moon
The boys running up the Inferno Cone. Nya and I opted to stay in the van with AC.

Checking out the inside of a cone

Craters of the Moon
Indian Tunnel (Lava Tube)

Indian Tunnel Lava Tube

Indian Tunnel Lava Tube



Day 11 and 12: Driving home. We stayed in Yakima to break up the 10 hour drive home.

It was a wonderful road trip in regards to variety of sights seen, health and safety. The kids particularly loved the wildlife (bison and bears) and I enjoyed the views in Waterton and seeing the geysers in Yellowstone. If you are considering a trip like this, please feel free to ask me questions!

Love ,
Louise

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