There are 59 National Parks in the United States and 39 National Parks in Canada, land set aside for us and hopefully future generations as well, because of their natural beauty, unique geological features, and unusual ecosystems. Go see them! Go hike their trails, float down their rivers, paddle their lakes, and photograph their spectacular beauty! They will amaze you; they will recharge your senses, and they will connect you with nature, the most inspiring force of all.
Here are some of the details about where we stayed, where we ate, and what we did.
Preparing for the trip:
- Book hotels within the parks at least 12 months in advance. There are limited accommodations and a high demand. All parks have websites listing the accommodations.
- Weather affects conditions in the parks. If there is something in particular you want to see or do call to make sure you are able to do it. While all the parks have websites, I found it was better to speak to a live person working in the park to get up to date information. However, even a ranger working at Glacier National Park could not predict when the Going-to-the Sun road would be cleared of snow!
- We traveled over 4,000 miles, which I broke up limiting our drive times to an average of five and a half hours in a day. What I did not take into consideration was that summer is when they need to complete road repairs. We frequently had to stop and wait, or the road conditions required slow travel increasing the drive times—every drive taking longer than anticipated. However, this was not a problem for us as we did not schedule any activities or tours on arrival days.
- Grand Teton National Park has lodges within the park, however we stayed in Jackson Hole at the Wyoming Inn. Nice, spacious room; free WiFi; free self serve laundry; free parking; a bit out of town, but on the street along the side of the property was a free shuttle into town. We both liked staying here very much, and there were restaurants within walking distance.
- Yellowstone National Park, where I wanted to stay! On a previous visit to Yellowstone we visited the Lake Yellowstone Hotel situated on the banks of Yellowstone Lake and I was determined to stay at the charming Colonial Revival hotel if I ever returned; therefore I was excited when I was able to book a room for the two nights we spent in the park. As we drove up to the historic yellow building with white columns I was thrilled that it was as peaceful and lovely as I remembered, and the lobby was more spacious and elegant than I had recalled. However, when we checked in they informed us there was no power and they did not know if power would be restored. It was very disappointing! For almost twenty years I had been looking forward to staying there—I guess I am going to have to go back!
- Yellowstone National Park, where we stayed: they directed us to the Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in 1903-1904. It was exactly the type of place where I didn’t want to stay. Bus after bus full of tourists pulled in all day long dropping off mobs of people to see Old Faithful erupt. The hotel room was hot, noisy, and the restaurant was horrible—slow service & over cooked food. Definitely the worst meal on the entire trip, and we had some poor choices when on the road! But when traveling, as in life, it is important to look on a the bright side—we could lay on my bed and watch through our ground floor window Old Faithful erupt every ninety minutes (or so).
- Glacier National Park: we stayed at Cedar Creek Lodge, which is located 18 miles from the West Entrance to the park. They have a free shuttle to the West Entrance Visitor Center and Lake McDonald Lodge (you can pick up tours at these locations); free parking; free WIFI; coin operated laundry; spacious rooms; mini refrigerator; microwave; and our room was in perfect condition and very comfortable. Because the Going-To-The-Sun road was closed we had to drive to the East Entrance of the park, but it was a drive with spectacular scenery. I highly recommend this property; if nothing else it is worth going there to meet Patty, the lovely lady at registration whose warmth and kindness melted away the long drive we had before arriving.
- Banff National Park: the city of Banff is located within Banff National Park and it is a city with lots of tourists and lots of traffic. I would not recommend staying where we stayed, the High Country Inn. The staff was uninterested in providing information or service; the room was hot and noisy because it was located on the main street and we could hear people yelling and partying past midnight, which wasn’t great as we had an early morning hike at Lake Louise planned. When we checked out the person at the front desk said how happy they were we were leaving because they needed the room. I do not know a good place to stay. We went to the bar and restaurant at The Royal Canadian Lodge (Marriott property), which was located about three blocks up the street from our location. It was further from the madness in town (which is good), and the food was excellent; however, I don’t know what it is like to stay there.
- Nelson, British Columbia: we stayed at the Prestige Lakeside Resort and Convention Center, and had a lovely room overlooking Kootenay Lake. Our room was spacious; we had a small balcony; free parking; free WIFI; a mini refrigerator; and the hotel had a nice restaurant with an outdoor patio, which was a pleasant place to sit, have a drink, and read. I liked the location as there was a paved walking path along the lake that went to Lakeside Park, and the views of the lake and mountains were lovely.
- Sunriver Resort, Bend, Oregon. This stop was for Tom, so he could play golf. The resort itself is beautiful, and our room was nice and had a lovely porch with rocking chairs. The wall of glass windows brought Bachelor Mountain into our room, and when we first arrived it was quiet and peaceful, the perfect location to unwind from a long road trip. However, it is a family vacation destination, and the second day was noisy. Also, people brought their dogs that barked and were aggressive. I was walking along the bike path enjoying some exercise when a dog that was not on a leash came after me, growling, and showing its teeth. I had to talk to the dog trying to keep it from attacking until the owner came over and grabbed its collar; she kept saying, “Don’t worry; he’s friendly!” However, there was nothing friendly about his behavior and it certainly ruined my peaceful walk.
- Where to stay on the road: choosing a hotel for a one night stay while on the road is dependent on where you want to stay; how far you want to drive; and what type of amenities you need. There are lots of choices. We stayed in a combination of Best Western Plus properties; SpringHIll Suites by Marriott; and TownPlace Suites by Marriott. We did not stay at these locations because of their unique architecture or great ambiance. We stayed because they were clean; had free WIFI; free parking; coin operated laundry facilities; mini refrigerators; and were close to the freeway or highway. They all provided a free breakfast, which my husband eats. I prefer to grab some fresh fruit (some had it; some didn’t) and a yogurt. The people who worked at the properties where we stayed were all friendly and helpful. I recommend requesting a quiet room when you make the reservations; their close proximity to busy highways makes this a necessity if you are a light sleeper like I am. They all provided a good nights sleep, which is all we needed.The only issue was aggressive dogs brought by inconsiderate pet owners! We encountered problems at two locations and all we were doing was standing waiting for the elevator! We determined the answer is to never to stay at hotels that allow pets!!!!
There is no use listing the meals eaten out of necessity. Therefore, I am only listing the great meals and pleasant surprises!
- Rendezvous Bistro, Jackson, WY. This was a fun surprise as we enjoyed our dinner with Marshall, the son of friends from Riverside who belong to the golf club where my husband plays golf. The food was tasty. I had Mary’s Roasted Chicken with Garlic-herb butter, house french fries, and sauteed spinach. Everything was good!
- Three Forks Grille, Columbia Falls, Montana (located about 18 miles from the west entrance to Glacier National Park, and in walking distance from the Cedar Creek Lodge where we stayed). The food was fresh (from local farmers) and absolutely delicious! The menu, which has a Mediterranean flair, had a nice selection. I had the Sage Creek Chicken with Bucaniti Pasta, Leeks, Pancetta, Mushrooms, Spinach, Thyme, and Marsala. The flavors were amazing! Tom had the Grilled Montana Pork Chop with Bacon Jam, Huckleberry and Balsamic Glaze, toasted Hazelnuts, Roasted Carrots, and Potatoes. He was very happy with his dish also. This was one of the best meals we had on our trip!
- From Scratch: A Mountain Kitchen, Fairmont Resort Road, Fairmont Hot Springs, BC. On travel days we didn’t often stop for lunch, and I honestly don’t know why we did when traveling from Columbia Falls, Montana to Banff, Alberta, Canada. But we were hungry and driving along the picturesque Kootenay Highway when I said to Tom, “Turn here!” He did and we stopped at this great store, bakery, and restaurant. The smoked Chicken, Gorgonzola & Tomato Jam sandwich and salad we shared was fresh and delicious; the bakery items, as well as the lovely preserved items on the market shelves all looked like a must-have treat. What a great surprise!
- The Evergreen Restaurant and Lounge, Banff, AB. The ambiance was nice; the service was great; and the food was tasty. Also, it was not crowded, which was a nice surprise since the previous night we couldn’t find a place to eat that did not have long lines of people waiting. I had a warm goat cheese salad, which had these crispy spheres filled with lovely, warm goat cheese. I also had the pan seared filet of Canadian Arctic Char, which was cooked to perfection. Tom had a steak and was very happy! The service was exceptional, and it was a lovely dinning experience.
- Park Distillery, Restaurant & Bar, Banff, AB. This restaurant/bar is on the main street in Banff, right in the middle of the madness, and on our first night in town there was an hour and a half wait. We didn’t wait; but we did return two days later around 3 pm and chose to have something light. I am including the restaurant because the fish tacos I had with battered red snapper, salsa verde, lime crema, radish and cilantro were delicious. And believe me I have eaten lots of fish tacos. Everything was fresh and the flavors were not muddled, but sharp and distinct. We had two waiters: one was nice and helpful when I asked for help choosing a beer; the other waiter was like many of the service personnel we encountered while in Banff—going through the motions of doing their job, but already sick of the tourists, and they made that perfectly clear!
- Basaba Thai Cafe, Nelson, BC. Although I did not eat lunch, I did try everyone’s dish and I thought the food was delicious. In particular I liked the shredded green mango, carrot, and green apple salad, with tomatoes, shallots, cashews, toasted coconut, and a chilli-lime dressing, which my brother ordered. If I had stayed another day I would have gone back and ordered the salad myself. Yummy!
- All Seasons Cafe, Nelson, B.C. We enjoyed a lovely dinner here with my brother Don and his wife Shiela to celebrate my birthday. I had the pan seared Lamb Sirloin with Herb & Goat Cheese Roasted Baby Potatoes and a delicious Chimichuri sauce. For my birthday dessert they served a rich chocolate tart. I don’t remember what everyone else had, but as far as I know everyone was happy. I certainly was!!!
- The Grille at Crosswater, Bend, Oregon. The Grille is located at the beautiful Corsswater golf course club house. The ambiance is lovely; the service is excellent; and the food was memorable. I had a grilled salmon that tasted as good as it looked; and Tom had a New York Steak, which also was excellent. This was a lovely dinning experience, and one of the best during our trip.
Things to do:
What to do at the National Parks depends on what you like to do. In the past we did a float trip through Grand Teton National Park, which I highly recommend. I now cannot do difficult hikes, and therefore took advantage of the paved trails and the easier hikes within the parks, which we had no trouble finding. We also took a couple of tours so we did not have to drive and could learn about the parks we were visiting. Glacier National Park and Yellowstone have retro 1930’s buses that hold 10 to 12 people so when you arrive at a destination there is not a sudden influx of people making it difficult to see what you stopped to see in the first place. I highly recommend these tours. We really enjoyed the Photo Safari Tour we took in Yellowstone National Park, as we had a very good tour guide; a small group; and time to take the photographs we wanted to take. We also saw parts of the park we had not seen before.
My husband played golf at a number of courses, which he enjoyed because they provided great views of the surrounding areas. The two best courses—Crosswater and Woodlands— were at Sunriver Resort, Bend, Oregon. These courses were in pristine condition and like all the courses they are located in beautiful surroundings. He also played at Granite Pointe Golf Club in Nelson, B.C., and Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club, Jackson, Montana; he said he would recommend all these courses.