Last July (2017) we made a boys trip to Great Basin National Park. Because of its remote location it gets much fewer visitors than most of the parks in the west. When you consider the drive from Salt Lake or Las Vegas and the other National Parks that you can go to instead the park gets much fewer visitors. I say this not to speak ill of the park but to set the scene.
We stayed in the Grey Cliffs Campground. This is the only place you can book ahead. There are some other amazing campgrounds in the park that operate on a first come basis. Wheeler Peak Campground and the two Lehman Campgrounds specifically. Driving out there with 3 boys and Grandpa we did not want to risk not getting a place. Funny thing we got the last place in that could be reserved but our camp area was empty. My theory is people reserve in Grey Cliffs to make sure they have a place but then go stay in the other campgrounds. I can see why Grey Cliffs is a very cool area but much more dry than the other areas, lots of sage brush and because of the elevation even that is drier than you would expect. The other campgrounds are much more alpine more trees and higher in elevation.
We spent 2 nights here but really only 1 full day in the park. In the morning we went to Lehman Caves. I would recommend booking your tour in advance. You can do so online, over the phone or in person. There are no entrance fees to enter the park but camping and cave tours do cost. The cave was amazing. Stalactites and stalagmites and other cool cave formations everywhere. The tour took an hour, there is a slightly longer one available as well. This is a must do if you come here.
For lunch we drove to 10,000′ and the parking lot near the Wheeler Peak Campground. Many trails start here. There is also picnic tables. We opted to hike to Rock Glacier and take the slight diversion through the Bristle Cone Grove. Both are a must.
The hike to the glacier round trip should be a little over 5 miles. That being said 5 miles at 10,000′ feet with 3 kids is different. I didn’t know what to expect but knowing them i packed treats to get them to the snow. 2 miles in the boys started losing their minds as kids do. The hike seemed to be going nowhere and there was no snow in sight. After bribing them with treats and the promise of ice cream in the sleepy town of Baker, NV after the hike we made it to the Bristle Cone Grove. the trail at this point is large chunks of granite gravel. But for whatever reason this is also where the boys minds were changed and the hike was fun. We could see snow and they thought that being around trees that were upwards of 3,000 years old was very cool. We hiked through the grove coming and going from the glacier it does not add much to the length of the trail but should be done at least once, I looked at the other trail it is straight shot so probably faster but you miss all the views and the trees. The Bristle Cone Grove is on a ridge and provides tremendous views.
From the Grove the glacier is not very far. When we made it to the snow that was a few hundred feet from the Glacier my kids were immediatly energized. Snow was flying in all directions I took some direct hits as well as some collateral damage. It was so much fun. My dad and one of the boys decided to hike to the actual glacier and I stayed with the other 2 boys and made a snowman. While there are other hikes in the area including to the top of Wheeler Peak which is over 13,000 I would highly recommend making this hike part of your trip because of the snow, geology and history.
Promised ice cream in Baker…. Baker, NV is small it is not your typical town near a National Park. There was a general story place that did have some ice cream, thank goodness. But there is really nothing to do here.
All in all the trip was amazing. For people who have never been to this part of the country I might suggest skipping Great Basin for some its more famous friends Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon or Death Valley National Parks. But if you are in the area or driving through it is worth a stop and doable in a day or even a half day.
The other thing worth noting is because of the location Astronomy is a big thing in the area. The park does offer Astronomy Programs the one that was going while we were there was cancelled due to a quick rain shower. By 11 that night though the sky was clear and the Milky Way was bright, clear and could be seen with the naked eye. If you have never seen the Milky Way it should be added to your list of things to see. I have seen it a few times in my life and it never gets old.
Douglas Fir Inn
Located on Tunnel Mountain Road on the east side of Banff the Douglas Fir Inn is a great place to stay but there are some things you need to know first. The hotel is caters to families who are on ski trips in the winter and road trips in the summer.
If you read the reviews many people will say the hotel is dated. To be honest it is. We stayed in one of the stand alone duplex chalets. It has seen better days the carpet is worn the galley kitchen is small and dated. That being said we enjoyed this hotel. It had many amenities that made our stay here great.
Laundry: The hotel is located across the street from a large camp ground, and by large it is huge so the General Store and Laundry facility always have traffic. But, we never had a problem when we washed clothes. For long trips like this if we have access to laundry we usually take advantage so we don’t have to pack as much.
Waterslide: The hotel has two waterslides that are indoor, guests can use them as part of their stay. They are not special but at the end of each day our kids loved racing down these slides over and over. Many adults partook as well including this one. In the pool area is an area for toddlers. Outside but connected to the waterslide area is a hot tub. It is quite large and has a nice view of Tunnel Mountain.
General Store: Think any general store in any National Park and that is what you have here. It was great for quick things like a quart of milk but if you need to go to the store make the trip to town or even better stop in Canmore on your way in from the east.
Indoor Play Area: The hotel converted an old racquetball court into a multi-level indoor play place. While we would never tell anyone to book a hotel based on things like this, it was nice to have especially in the morning while everyone was getting ready to take the boys over here to burn off some steam before a car ride to the days journey.
We enjoyed staying here and would recommend it but make sure the hotel is right for you.
This is the first of many posts about an epic adventure our family took in the summer of 2017. In total we drove over 2,600 miles, we could have made it to Key West, FL from our home in suburban Salt Lake. But we did not go east we went north. 11 days, 2,600 miles and we never even left the Mountain Time Zone.
Day 1, 12 hours in the car. The drive north was long and a little painful. Night one was spent in Shelby, MT after a stop at a Lewis and Clark NPS site in Great Falls, MT. Day 2 started early, we found our selves eating lunch in Calgary. We hit some traffic heading west towards Banff and then a crazy summer storm north out of Banff, needless to say Day 2 was almost as long as day 2. 1,100 miles out of the way in 2 days. But as we rolled across the continental divide the storm cleared, and we saw a heard of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep the trip already seemed worth the drive. Shortly after that we checked in to the Glacier View Inn, and our kids were bouncing off the walls. They were troopers to spend that much time in a car.
The whole point of coming this far north was to see and go onto the Athabasca Glacier. The views from the hotel are amazing. There is a patio with chairs where you can stare at the glacier all day. But as we arrived latter in the day we did this until dinner and then looked out the window of the restaurant.
Day 3, Glacier Tour. For us this was a once in a lifetime experience. While it was only a short time off of the bus on the glacier we felt a world away and than time froze. Our kids were having so much fun once they adjusted to walking on ice. Usually in the summer it is more slushy but the storm the night before had left ice on the surface. Being that close the deep blue ice just below the surface and being able to get an up close view of the Columbia Ice Field and the multiple glaciers that it feeds was amazing. As one might have guessed with 3 boys a brief snowball fight broke out.
After our tour was over we took the bus back to the hotel, at lunch and headed toward Banff, Lake Louise and our hotel for the next 4 days the Douglas Fir Inn.
Note: Book your tour before you get here if you can, it gets busy and the lines get long. Also.if you have tickets you do not need to wait in many of the lines you can just go to where they are taking tickets for the tour and head to your bus. We took the first tour of the day which meant there were fewer people on the glacier I would recommend that or the last tour if possible.
We did not go to the city of Jasper on this trip but if you have the time, it is a very cool city in the middle of some of the most beautiful country on the planet.
Next post Days 4,5 & 6 – Lake Louise and Moraine Lake