Friday, August 30, 2013

Spokane Centennial Trail, A Lovely Ride Along the River

This is our second brief visit to Spokane. Back in 2008 we spent a couple of days in Spokane during a vacation. We discovered several beautiful old neighborhoods, Manito Park, met up with friend Yvonne and toured the pretty downtown district and riverfront park, and became enchanted with parts of this city.

Afternoon sun lighting up the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail.

The forested sections of trail were especially nice because it was 87 degrees at 5:30pm.

This time we were in Spokane for just two nights, staying at the Spokane KOA, and discovered its proximity to a gorgeous section of the Spokane Centennial Trail (SCT). The SCT is a paved trail that begins at the Idaho Washington border and runs along the Spokane River for 39 miles in Washington. It's open to foot and bike traffic.

Spokane River
The Barker Road access point is just a quarter mile from the KOA. Our first evening in town we set out from camp and road our bikes West for about nine miles before turning around. I don't know about the other 30 miles of the SCT, but the part we did has become my new favorite city trail!

Golden grasses along the trail.

The section we rode passed through pine forests, golden grasses, always in view of the clear, clean river, with occasional paths into the was a beautiful, serene experience.

Swimming hole.

At rides end, nearing the campground.

Once again we had a brief meet up with Yvonne and family, watching the Working Spliffs play at Pig Out in the Park...a free music and food extravaganza at Riverfront Park. Thanks, Yvonne, for the fresh produce!

Today we are off to Boardman, OR, right on the banks of the Columbia River, for a couple of nights. It should be hot and a little crazy there for the holiday weekend, but it will be great to be on the river!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Campground Review: Campground St Regis, St Regis, MT

Campground St Regis is a lovely little private campground. Gravel roads, dirt sites, each with a picnic table and fire pit. Lots of grass and a variety of beautiful mature trees. There are 72 sites, including full hook ups with 50amp service, some very long pull throughs, and some smaller sites with minimal or no hook ups. Excellent site separation, especially for the pull through sites.

Amenities include: heated pool, laundry, restrooms/showers, game room, small store, excellent park wifi. We also had excellent 4G Verizon service. Everything in the park is very clean. Hosts were very friendly. We paid $28 per night.

There is only ONE drawback to this campground: it's about one tenth of a mile from Interstate 90. BUT you cannot see the freeway, you just hear it!

Bonus camping info nearby: We discovered Sloway National Forest Campground just four miles East of St Regis, off I-90. Very nice forest service park with some HUGE paved sites, some along the Clark Fork River, no hookups. Once again, the only drawback is freeway noise and train tracks nearby...otherwise, this is a wonderful park for $10/night. Right on the river, including float access.

Both of these parks are definitely worth staying at if you are in the area. Here are photos of Campground St Regis:

We are in site 33, with reasonable spacing between sites.

Open grassy area adjacent to the pool.
50amp pull throughs across the way.

Office/laundry/restrooms/game room in the background.

Dead tree stumps throughout the park have been carved.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Campground Review: Columbia Falls RV Park, Columbia Falls, MT

Columbia Falls is about 15 miles SW of the West entrance to Glacier National Park, and it's the last town of any size before you reach the park. We spent a week at Columbia Falls RV Park, on the East edge of town.

They have 64 sites, most are pull throughs, all are full hook up. Roads are paved, sites are gravel. Each site has a picnic table and there is grass between the sites, some trees throughout the park. Most of the sites are pretty close together.

Amenities include: laundry, restrooms/showers, small store with a good selection of RV supplies, propane, free wifi and cable tv. We had excellent 4G Verizon signal so we used our own wifi during our stay. The laundry room did not open until 9am on Mon - Sat and 10am on Sun. (rather late in my opinion), but only the closing time of 9pm was posted...very annoying.

We enjoyed walking through the neighborhood behind the park to River Side City Park, about half a mile from the RV park, on the banks of the Flathead River.

At $280 for one week, this was an expensive place to stay...but the rate is typical for summer in a popular tourist area.

This was a decent place to stay but if you are going to spend a lot of time in Glacier National Park (GNP) it would be more convenient to stay closer to GNP. There is so much driving to get anywhere in GNP that the extra 15 miles each way from Columbia Falls was a bit much.

Site 26.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Highline Loop: Glacier at its Scenic Best

For our last hike in Glacier National Park we chose a doozy: the Highline Loop. We utilized the park's shuttle service to make this a one-way, twelve mile hike. We parked at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, crossed the road to the Highline Trail which we followed for 7.6 miles, visited the Granite Park Chalet where we caught the four mile Loop Trail down to a shuttle stop. Mike and Keyna joined us...the faster men leading the way and Keyna and I taking hundreds of photos and ooohing and aaahing along behind them.

The hike topped out at 7,280 feet but the elevation gain over the first 7.6 miles was quite gentle and the views were breathtaking. The hardest part was the four mile downhill Loop Trail, which winds through part of the 2003 burn so you are exposed during the hottest part of the day and the slope can be challenging to the knees.

We hiked from East to West and there was some haze in the West, making photos a little challenging...but even so the beauty of this place could not be denied. I'll let the photos tell the story...

Morning clouds cloak the mountain tops.

The first part of the trail hugs the mountainside.
We were shaded at the start and the cool breeze had us bundled up at first.

After the first half mile the trail became greener and flowers were still blooming at this altitude.

At the top of a long switchback, layers of mountains started opening up around us.

The trail continues along the mountainside with stunning views both above and beyond us.

We felt like we were on the edge of the world.

Keyna comes around a corner, backed by the jagged peaks we had just passed.

The trail is a thin line in the hillside, Hans is the tiny white dot at right.

At our lunch stop we admired this marmot with a mouthful of greens.

Granite Park Chalet, perched on the hill at the right, commands an amazing view.

One of the most exciting moments of the day: spotting a mountain goat in a classic pose on a distant ridge.
In the zoom he looks like a big fellow.

You can stay at the Granite Park Chalet, reservations required.

Happy hikers at the chalet: Mike, Keyna, Lisa, Hans.

When we reached the transit stop at The Loop trail head, I took the park shuttle back to Logan Pass to get the truck since two of our group were prone to motion sickness and the road was quite curvy. Unfortunately that meant I missed the excitement when Hans, Mike and Keyna got to see a bear while they waited for my return!

The Loop is a busy parking, trail head and transit center so when the bear showed up it caused quite a stir. He was just munching away in the bushes near the restrooms, right where my fellow hikers were standing! A ranger ended up shooting a rifle with blanks to scare the bear away from all the people.

This was a memorable hike and one we would recommend to anyone who can handle 12 miles. It's best to start early for parking at the trail head, also you need to be aware what time the last shuttle stops at the Loop.

Howe Lake Trail, Glacier National Park

Looking for a relatively short and easy hike, that might have fewer crowds, in Glacier National Park, we came upon the Howe Lake Trail.   Just a few miles down a gravel road near the West entrance to Glacier, the trail is only 2 miles to the lake with just 240 feet of elevation gain.

This trail meanders through forest burned in the devastating 2003 fire. Lots of burnt conifer skeletons still stand and thousands of saplings up to about 10 feet tall are growing. The lake was formed by beaver dam many years ago and the beaver lodge is still visible. Keyna and Mike joined us on this smoke hazed day.

Keyna walking through the 10 year post fire growth.

Downy Woodpecker?

Lower Howe Lake looking moody under a smoke hazy sky.

Old beaver lodge.

After this easy hike it was time for a big view, long hike right in the center of Glacier National Park...stay tuned!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wild Huckleberries and Hanging Out with Friends

It's been a little struggle to find good hiking options outside Glacier National Park, allowing us to explore less crowded trails, with perhaps a bit less driving; oh, and avoid the smokey areas of the valley too. The town of Whitefish, about 15 miles NW of our home base of Columbia Falls, MT is home to the Whitefish Mountain Resort, providing skiing in the winter and hiking and biking in the summer.

Whitefish Lake from the Danny On trail.

We hiked the Danny On trail, a 3.8 mile trail (that can be stretched to 5.6 miles, one way) that climbs over 2,000 feet to the summit of the ski resort. It's mostly a fairly gentle climb that goes in and out of dense forest and across the flowered slopes of the ski runs, offering incredible views. Once you reach the summit the views are 360 degrees, including all the jagged peaks of Waterton Glacier National Park.

SE of Whitefish Mountain smoke haze blanketed the mountains.
It was especially heavy over the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

One neat perk to this trail system, you can take the ski gondola up and/or down (at $6 per person per ride) and so adjust your trail mileage to your own desires/physical abilities. We hiked the full round trip and were glad we started early as it got quite warm by the end of the hike.

The highlight of this hike was picking wild huckleberries! The entire mountainside is covered with huckleberry bushes and at the top we saw many folks with plastic containers who had made the trek or rode the lift specifically to collect berries. Having emptied a container at lunch, we slowly made our way back down the mountain as we stopped frequently to pick (and eat) huckleberries.

We easily filled a sandwich bag with huckleberries in an hour.
They made a delicious sauce over vanilla ice cream that night.

After the hike, we strolled downtown Whitefish. It's a pretty and upscale ski town, with all the fancy stores you'd expect to see.

Fun mosaic in Whitefish, MT.

That night Mike and Keyna rolled in to the RV park. They have been fulltiming one year longer than us and were the very first full timers we met on the Wells, NV last October. These two are hikers as well, so over dinner we planned our trail time together. Keyna is an excellent photographer and got some great shots of our hike.

First off, Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park. This 8.8 mile RT trail climbs 2147 feet, through some pretty dense forest and thick brush to a lovely small lake. The highlights of this trail were seeing a huge, pretty fresh pile of bear scat (!) and a doe with two fawns that really, really wanted to reach the creek we were standing near.

Rocky spires along the Snyder Lake trail.
These spiky shrooms were the size of a thumbnail.
Snyder Lake

The harsh lighting on the mountains made for some beautiful reflections.

The Snyder Lake trail head shared parking with the Lake McDonald Lodge. It's a beautiful, historic lodge set on the banks of the lake.

Lake McDonald Lodge is a classic National Park lodge.
Lake McDonald as seen from the Lodge.

Dinner with Mike and Keyna after a day on the trail. Those sausages came from Perfect Cuts, a wonderful little meat market right behind our RV park.

Cheers to good times!

Our time at Columbia Falls RV Park overlaps with Mike and Keyna for a few more days so we've got a couple more hikes planned together...proving once again how social and fun this RV lifestyle can be!