Northern Rockies: Oh Canada!

We really enjoyed our time in Canada. In Banff National Park, we visited the Upper Hot Springs and hiked the Marsh Loop and continued onto the Sundance Trail. Parks Canada is kind enough to mark there trails as easy (green), intermediate (blue), and advanced (black). However, in some of the intermediate trail descriptions, the elevation gain over the length of the trail calculates to an average 10% grade. If a 10% average grade is considered intermediate, we would hate to see the trail that is marked advanced.

Despite hiking to the Sundance Canyon trail head, we did not hike the canyon due to time constraints. Overall the Marsh Loop was flat and easy walking. Horse tours use this trail, so be prepared to step to the side to allow horses to pass and to dodge road apples as you walk. The Sundance Trail (to the Sundance Canyon trail head) was paved and started out flat. Approximately halfway down the trail, the grade increased and remained consistent for the remainder of the hike to the Canyon. Be cautious of bicyclists coming down from the Canyon.

Hot Springs

  1. Banff Upper Hot Springs: Our favorite hot springs of the trip. The scenery is fantastic and the locker rooms were very well done. There is not cold pool at this location, so that might have reduced the number of people. Come early in the day, the crowds start to pick up around 11 am. Towel rentals are reasonable, just ask for a locker rental when you are purchasing tickets and you will receive a looney for the lockers. Smallest pool we visited, so it has the potential of feeling crowded during peak hours. There is no parking next to the building, just a drop off area. Parking area was close to the Sulphur Peak gondola route; Alex was excited to watch these strange, new contraptions. The Banff Upper Hot Springs had the coldest water temperature. Children under 3 must wear a water proof swim diaper. Swim suit rentals are also available.

    Banff Upper Hot Springs selfie.
    Banff Upper Hot Springs selfie.
  2. Radium Hot Springs: Our second favorite hot spring of the trip. A much larger hot pool, small hot tub, and a cold pool. Heavier usage with less desirable locker room facilities. Unlike Banff Upper Hot Springs, after leaving the locker room, there was a long walk to get to either the hot or cold pool. Admission, towel, and locker fees were the very similar, if not the same, to Banff. Setting was less scenic and there is limited space to place your towel. Added bonus, you are exposed to radon gas. Children under 3 must wear a water proof swim diaper.
  3. Fairmont Hot Springs Resort: Higher admission and towel rental fees. For being a resort, the locker room was looking a bit long in the tooth. Hottest water of the three hot pools. Cold pool with diving board adjacent to hot pool. Alex, despite being unable to swim, wanted to jump off the diving board like the other boys.

Marsh Loop/Sundance Trail Gallery:

Click on a picture to enlarge/begin slide show.

Northern Rockies: Going to the Sun Road

We learned that in Glacier National Park, the ‘crown of the continent’, there is a convergence of plants and animals from diverse environments. The ecosystems of the north (Canada), Maritime (Pacific Northwest), south (Southern Rocky Mountains), and east (prairie species) are found here, the narrowest point of the Rocky Mountain Chain. Water from the park flows to the Pacific Ocean (via the Columbia River), Hudson Bay (Saskatchewan and Nelson Rivers), and the Gulf of Mexico (Missouri and Mississippi Rivers); this convergence of watersheds also promotes the migration and dispersal of plants and animals. This environment is so diverse, all native carnivores – grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and cougars – are able to survive. The abrupt transition from mountain forest to prairie supports a variety of herbivores – elk, deer, big-horn sheep, and mountain goats – which in turn allow the carnivores to survive.

Creek along Trail of the Cedars.

Going to the Sun Road (driven in a rental car because Abby was too long and tall) provided an excellent example of the diversity that abounds in the park. Starting from the Apgar campground on the west side, we moved through areas that were reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, which was exemplified by the Trail of the Cedars (handicap accessible board walk/paved trail). Ferns, under towering cedars, dominated the forest floor. As we climbed to Logan Pass, grass became more dominant and wildflowers (Indian Paint brush, bear grass) were in full bloom. We even saw a mountain goat. Over the pass, we pushed on to St. Mary, and the cedars were replaced by dense stands of pine trees.

In the future, when Alex is older, we will take the shuttle. Many of the lots were full (the Logan Pass visitors center was like the mall parking lot at Christmas time), so if we wanted to hike we would not have been able to due to lack of parking.

Click on the images below from our trip on Going to the Sun Road to enlarge the picture.



Northern Rockies: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

This historic site is located off of I-90 near Deer Lodge, Montana.


Johnny Grant, a Canadian, settled in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana. This area was considered Flathead territory, but it was used as a route to hunting and trading areas by a variety of tribes. Mr. Grant’s marriages to women of several different tribes helped him settle in the valley peacefully.

Conrad Kohrs, a German immigrant, initially came to America in search of gold. He worked as a butcher’s assistant and soon owned butcher shops in many gold camps. (History has shown that very few gold miners got rich, it was the men who ran the supply shops that profited the most.) He partnered with Johnny Grant, who supplied cattle to Mr. Kohrs’ butcher shops. Conrad Kohrs later bought Johnny Grants’ ranch, the latter then returned to Canada.

Due to the large areas of land cattle would roam on the open range, cooperation was required among the ranchers of Montana and resulted in the founding of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Kohrs’ half brother, John Bielenberg, was Kohrs’ business partner and expert cattleman. John Bielenberg managed the cattle empire and worked to improve the breeding of cow ponies and cattle. The cow ponies Mr. Bielenberg bred were famed for stamina.

After the death of Conrad Kohrs (1920) and John Bielenberg (1922), Conrad Warren, grandson of Conrad Kohrs, took over ranch operations in 1932. He worked to honor his family’s ranching legacy and and run the ranch with new methods. At the time Conrad Warren took over the ranch, only 1,000 acres and few hundred head of cattle remained.

The Grant-Kohrs National Historic site opened in 1977. There are blacksmith demonstrations, a chuck wagon to grab a cup of cowboy coffee (black, no cream, no sugar), and an area to practice your cattle roping skills. There are is a guided house tour and a variety of trails to hike.

What we learned

This is a working ranch. There are chickens, cows, and horses.

We were surprised that the time of the open range was only three decades. The Homestead Act was the beginning of the end to ranches relying on open range.


Alex meets Fox, on of the horses on the ranch, at the visitors center.


Northern Rockies: Two Medicine Lake Hike

We enjoyed our hike around Two Medicine Lake, which was approximately 8 miles. If we had gotten an earlier start, we would have tried to make No Name Lake – there were reports of a moose spending the afternoon in the water. There was a boat that we could have taken from the General Store to the west end of the lake. This would have allowed us to hike trails up to the lakes, perhaps even Dawson pass.

The route we took resulted in a more gradual climb up to along the southeast side of the lake. The trail on the northwest side of the lake is not close to the water as one might think. It is actually up the mountain.

Click on the images in the gallery below to start slide show.





Northern Rockies: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument:

The monument is located on the Crow Reservation and is just off of I-90 near Crow Agency, Montana.


The battle of Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass was one of the last armed efforts of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their culture. This battle was also where Custer and the five companies under his leadership, were wiped out.

The Indian encampment along the Little Bighorn River numbered approximately 7,000 people from the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. Of this number, there were approximately 1,500 to 2,000 warriors. The tribes were led by Sitting Bull and they refused to be restricted to a reservation, preferring a nomadic way of life.

Lt. Colonel George Custer’s decisions on the battlefield remain controversial. President Ulysses S. Grant criticized Custer’s actions, saying it was Custer’s folly and hubris that resulted in the massacre. It should be noted that Custer had implicated Grant’s brother in an Army supply price gouging scheme, had arrested Grant’s son for drunkenness, and was writing articles critical of President Grant. Grant, in turn, had Custer arrested and ordered to stand for court martial. Other army leaders blamed the incompetence of Custer’s subordinate officers for the massacre.

To further the complexity of the situation, Custer was believed to have entered a traditional marriage with Mo-nah-se-tah, daughter of Little Rock, a Cheyenne chief. This was rumored marriage was in addition to the marriage he had with Elizabeth Bacon, whom he married in 1864. Custer had also promised Stone Forehead (Medicine Arrows), a Cheyenne chief and Keeper of the Medicine Arrows, that Custer would never fight against Native Americans again. Custer also told his Native American scout, Bloody Knife, that if he was victorious in his last Indian campaign, he would run for president and use the power of the office to protect Native Americans.


How would history be different if Custer had kept his promise to Stone Forehead? If white settlers and the US government could have treated Native Americans with respect? We unfortunately will never know in this universe.


Click on a picture below to enlarge the image and enable the slideshow option.




Northern Rockies: Trip Summary

This trip could have easily been called the ‘Canadian Hot Springs Tour‘, but Northern Rockies was much more inclusive of our trip. This was our first trip since completing our move to Colorado and Abby had been away in storage for the past six weeks. The poor girl was not in travel ready condition. Time was spent Friday night and Saturday morning to get Abby back in fighting form, or at least something that we could pass off as fighting form. We left at 10:30 Saturday morning, August 20th, which was much better than what Jess pessimistically envisioned.

We achieved an exciting first on this trip – Penny, Chewie, and Buster all crossed an international border (Canada) and were allowed re-entry into the United States! Our fuzzy fur creatures did not cause any international incidents while in Canada! Fantastic wins. Canada National Parks also allow dogs on trails, unless restrictions are posted. Penny and Chewie were happy to join us hiking.

Route traveled for our Northern Rockies adventure.

Check out our Going to the Sun Road post.

Mileage and Fuel Consumption:

We discovered how expensive diesel (and gasoline) is in Canada. Charged per liter, we had to multiple the by 3.785 to obtain the per gallon price. So $0.939/L became $3.55/gallon, which was a solid $1.00/gallon more than our most expensive price in the states.

Total days: 12

Total miles: 2800

Total gallons diesel: 175.3

Average miles per gallon: 15.9

Best miles per gallon: 17.6

Worst miles per gallon: 13.2

Our last tank reflected the slog it was driving Abby home down I-25S. We fought a headwind and hills the entire way. Despite the one poor mileage tank, we were very pleased with the mileage for the trip.


For our campground summary post, follow this link.

  1. Dispersed camping, FSR 20, Bighorn National Forest, WY (1)

    View of Bighorn National Forest near our dispersed camping site.
  2. Many Pines Campground, Lewis and Clark National Forest, MT (1)
  3. Two Medicine Campground, Glacier National Park, MT (2); link to hike

    Abby with Rising Wolf Mountain in the background, Two Medicine Campground
    Abby with Rising Wolf Mountain in the background, Two Medicine Campground.
  4. Calgary West Campground, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (1)
  5. Two Jack Main Campground, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (2)
  6. Dry Gulch Provincial Campground, British Columbia, Canada (1)
  7. Apgar Campground, Glacier National Park, MT (2)
  8. Missouri Headwaters State Park, Three Forks, MN (1)

    Abby at campsite number 6 in Missouri Headwaters State Park.
    Abby at campsite number 6 in Missouri Headwaters State Park.
  9. Lake View Campground, Bighorn National Forest, WY (1)


  1. The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, Canmore, Alberta, Canada
  2. Banff Avenue Brewing Company, Banff, Alberta, Canada
  3. Ten Sleep Brewing Company, Ten Sleep, WY

For more detail regarding our brewery visits, check out this post.

National Monuments/Historic Sites:

  1. Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument – click here for more details.
  2. Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site – click here for more details
  3. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

Northern Rockies: Campgrounds

Our favorite and not so favorite campgrounds of the trip. If a campground isn’t summarized in great detail here, don’t worry. It was a good campground that we liked and would go to again, it just didn’t have quite enough to make our trip highlight reel.


  1. View from our dispersed campsite area.
    View from our dispersed campsite area.

    Dispersed camping off of FSR 20 in the Bighorn National Forest, WY: Our first dispersed camping experience on our first night of our Northern Rockies adventure.  Okay, so this wasn’t technically a campground, but it was a great campsite. We found a spot just after a cattle gate (called Texas gates in Alberta) among some trees. There was a lot of cow pies around and we weren’t sure if we were going to wake up surrounded by cattle (didn’t happen). There was a meadow across from our chosen spot with some rock outcroppings that Alex enjoyed climbing on. Road desperately needed a grader to smooth out the washboard and fill in the pot holes, but worth the shaking and rattling. We plan on more dispersed camping in the future.

    Alex climbing on a rock formation that was used as a shelter in the past.
    Alex climbing on a rock formation that was used as a shelter in the past.
  2. 2016NR_2Medicine03
    Alex throwing rocks into Two Medicine Lake.

    Two Medicine Campground at Glacier National Park, MT: There were multiple things to really enjoy about this campground. There was a lake, which was excellent for throwing rocks in. There was Wolf Mountain, that towered over the campground. And then there was the view that was a short walk away from our campsite. There was a plethora of hiking trails that could be accessed from the campgrounds. A quick and relatively flat bike ride away was the general store, boat rentals, and a boat tour (for fast access to the other end of the lake). Really couldn’t ask for a better campground.

    View of Two Medicine Lake.
    View of Two Medicine Lake.

    The downside of this campground is the sites for bigger rigs are down by the lake. The view is beautiful, but the sites go fast and there is more traffic due the day use parking. The other sites are back in the trees, feel more secluded, but some are difficult to level a small rig like Abby in. All that considered, we will be back.

    Campsite: #47, side pitched

    Prime campsites: 95, 96, 94, 97, 93 – very close to the lake and relatively secluded. Looked rather level. Larger rigs check out sites 85 – 91. Sites 1 – 10 may also be able to accommodate larger RV or truck/trailer combinations.

    Wolf Mountain at Two Medicine Lake.
    Wolf Mountain at Two Medicine Lake.

Least Favorites:

  1. Calgary West Campground in  Calgary, Alberta, Canada: The much maligned commercial campground. Nothing truly wrong with this campground, but we prefer national forest, state parks, dispersed camping or national parks. This campground was clean with a decent laundry facility and a pool. Alex had fun on the campground and walking about. As typical of commercial campgrounds, sites were rather close. Roads were gravel and some places needed a grader to come through and level things out. The road into Loop B is a bit steep, and Abby’s front wheels slide on the gravel while backing into our site on the hill. When approaching this campground, the first thing you see is the storage area – don’t panic, the sites are small but not THAT small.
  2. Many Pines Campground in Lewis and Clark National Forest: This is likely on our least favorite list because we really wanted to disperse camp that night, but chose our forest roads poorly. Campground wasn’t bad – sites were well spaced and rather level. Each site had a parking area and then a separate area with picnic table and tent pad. Campground closes in September. Winter comes early in Montana.

One of the winter planning projects is to get maps from the forest service and determine if we can pick out dispersed camping sites. Also, we need to better familiarize ourselves with the rules of each forest regarding dispersed camping.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise:

  1. Lake View Campground in  Bighorn National Forest: Our intent was to disperse camp for our last night on the road, but we saw this as we were headed on US-16E and stopped. We overlooked Meadowlark Lake, not far from a ski lodge of similar name. Sites were well sized and level. Campground was well maintained and the pit toilets were clean and pleasant (!) smelling. The spur that contains sites 1 – 6 runs parallel to the road, but there was little traffic so it wasn’t too disturbing. We camped in site 6, which was the closest to the road; a steep embankment kept Alex away from the road. A trail led down to the lake not too far from the site. While not dispersed camping, we were very happy with this campground.

    View of Meadowlark Lake facing away from Abby.

Northern Rockies: Breweries

We visited three breweries on this trip. Best part of our tasting notes? Done in crayon on the back of the children’s menu/activity sheet.

IMG_20160825_130425913The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company, Canmore, Alberta, Canada: Parking in Canmore is a bit challenging, especially if you have an RV. Made even harder by the the city placing signs directing one to RV parking well after the turn for downtown. Ah well.

We tried Rutting Red Elk, Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat, Powder Hound Pilsner, Big Head Nut Brown, Beaver Tail Raspberry Ale, Rundlestone Session Ale, Big Head Nut Brown, Sleeping Buffalo Stout, and the Evolution IPA. Both the Raspberry and Honey Wheat were well done without the raspberry or honey flavor being overwhelming or the beers being overly sweet. Overall, the beers were well done and were true to the menu descriptions. The Beaver Tail Raspberry Ale was our favorite.

Food was fabulous. Kid’s menu served chicken tenders with a plum sauce. Rather delicious. Shaved prime rib sandwich and elk burger were executed well. The classic poutine was rather tasty.

Take the time to find parking and stop in for food and beer.

Banff Avenue Brewing Company, Banff, Alberta, Canada: This brewery is a little odd to get to – it is on the second floor of a strip mall on Banff Avenue.

We tried Banff Avenue BlondeLower Bankhead Black PilsnerHead Smashed IPAPond Hockey Pale Ale, and Walk a Mile ISA. Unfortunately the Blood Orange Hefenweizen and the Red Ale (supporting the local SPCA) were tapped out. Beers were average, nothing really excited us. We did like the Black Pilsner the best of all the ones we tried.

Food was good. We started with the classic poutine (gravy not too salty) and had the bison burger and venison smokie for lunch.

Check these folks out on a Friday after 4 pm. This is when they tap the cask of the week.

Ten Sleep Brewing Company, Ten Sleep, WY: We found this brewery when we discovered Clear Creek Brewing Company was closed on Wednesday, the day we were passing through. Ten Sleep’s story is intriguing so we decided to give their beers a try. After some questioning of Google Maps’ logic in route selection, we arrived safe and sound.

We tried four beers of the five beers on tap – No Name IPAPack Saddle PorterHuck and Tuck Wheat, and the Outlaw Amber. We enjoyed all the beers but were the most impressed with the IPA and Porter. The IPA was well balance with a lingering, but not unpleasant bitterness. Aroma was citrus with herbal undertones. The Porter was rich and smooth with a roasted and chocolate aromas. We left with a growler of each and discovered later that the Porter pairs very well with s’mores. Porter had a fantastic head, even after two days in a growler bumping around an RV refrigerator.

Definitely worth a visit if are in the approximate area. Owners are friendly and fun to chat with. Small family owned and run place. They also have chickens that served as great entertainment for a toddler. Check out their website, they also host concerts. Favorite brewery of the trip.

Ten Sleep Brewing Company No Name IPA with a charcuterie dinner overlooking Meadowlark Lake.
Ten Sleep Brewing Company No Name IPA with a charcuterie dinner overlooking Meadowlark Lake.

Here is a list of the breweries we wanted to visit, but were out of sync with their days/hours of operation. We will just have to check them out the next time we tour the Northern Rockies.

  1. Clear Creek Brewing Company, Buffalo, WY
  2. Flathead Lake Brewing Company, Bigfork, MT
  3. Missoula Brewing Company, Missoula, MT