Denver > Grand Teton National Park > Yellowstone National Park > Missoula, Montana > Portland, Oregon > Seattle, Washington > Vancouver, BC, Canada > Whistler > Banff National Park > Glacier National Park
On my 2 month trip away from home in Thailand, I wanted to explore a bit of Canada. The idea of the trip was two-fold – in part I wanted to get out into nature, and in part I wanted to explore Canada, which I’d only seen in pictures. After a bit of planning, my friend Richard and I decided to road trip from Denver, through Yellowstone, and eventually into Canada and Banff, with a timetable of about 4 weeks.
We left on July 13th from Denver to the Yellowstone area. We drove for a good 8+ hours, and in the later afternoon we camped our first night in Bridger-Teton National Park just outside of Grand Teton National Park. The drive from Denver through Wyoming north is pretty bland, but when you get to north western Wyoming, mountains seem to just appear out of no where. It’s fascinating.
It took us a bit of looking to find a camping spot in Bridger-Teton as some areas only allowed RV camping which was frustrating. We spent the night cooking, flying my drone, and playing the guitar, calling it an early night after a long day of driving. The following day we woke, drove into Teton and stopped at the visitor center to get some information on backcountry camping. We then did a 3 hour hike to a lookout point of the Tetons in the morning, and then drove into Yellowstone and to a visitor center there. Once there, we acquired some backcountry permits for 4 nights in 2 different locations.
The rangers there weren’t particularly friendly, but we were able to get the permits without issue. After getting the permits, we drove to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which was spectacular.
Afterward, we slowly drove around looking at the wildlife, caught in the traffic jams of the summer rush and the natural beauty. Our destination was an hour or so north toward the parking of Grebe Lake, where we made some lunch and packed our bags. We then hiked in for about 1.5 hours to the lake, and setup camp. The hike to the lake was a bit depressing, which dead and fallen trees everywhere from a forest fire 20 years prior. However, as we got closer to the lake it turned into a more nature forest and made the lake absolutely gorgeous.
The following day we took some psilocybin via mushrooms we had brought, which made the day quite adventurous. The beautiful lake next to our campsite was nearly perfect. We spent much of the day listening to music and chatting about life, like we always do, taking in the beauty of the natural world.
After 2 nights there, we hiked out and drove toward the main town near Old Faithful to buy some snacks and fill up our water jugs. On the way we stopped to bathe in a hot spring runoff into the river along the road, which was quite pleasant. After a bit of shopping, we headed to the trailhead to Mallard Lake, which can be accessed from 2 different spots (Mallard Lake trailhead and from the parking lot at Old Faithful). At the trailhead we made an awesome lunch with cheddarbrauts, avocado, and sautéed veggies.
The ranger recommended hiking from the west in as opposed to from the Old Faithful parking lot. We later found out that the hike he recommended was about 1 mile longer and mostly uphill while the other trail was much easier – still unsure why he recommended that. It was a decent hike nonetheless.
We arrived at our campsite in the later afternoon, around 5pm. After setting up tent, we collected firewood and made a fire, chatted, and snacked.
The following day we walked around the lake, meditated, solved some puzzles, and listened to some podcasts. It was a relaxing day and a beautiful view. There were frogs near the lake, leeches in the water, and we saw a snake in the water. There were also lots of footprints from many animals all over.
We hiked out the next morning, getting back to the car by 11am or so. We then drove to Old Faithful to checkout the visitor center, top up on gas and to fill up water again, and to watch the infamous Old Faithful Geyser erupt. We waited around 70 minutes – apparently their “next eruption” signs are off. In my opinion it was severely overrated and probably wasn’t even worth the wait.
Afterwards we hit the road north into Montana where we would camp for the night. We made it to Missoula and camped in Lolo National Forest along Fish Creek at a campground there. It was right along the creek, and we flew the drone, cooked up some chili, and played the guitar. It was excellent. We also bathed in the river, which was nice after nearly of week without a body rinse.
We decided the following day to drive to Portland as it was a place we both wanted to see and was along the way toward Vancouver. Upon arriving, we stopped at a Starbucks to use the internet, find a place to sleep, and download a map. We then headed to the cheapest decent hotel we could find, only to find it full and quite rundown. We checked with a few others but they weren’t worthy. I then ran into a Hampton Inn to check, which was also full, and when I inquired about pricing he mentioned $200+/night. It was an average hotel at best. Portland seemed to be like San Francisco price-wise.
From there we headed to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner, which was excellent, though not as good as I remember (prices up and quality down). While there we came up with the bright idea to get a 24 free-pass to 24 Hour Fitness, which would allow us to get a workout in, use the hot tub, and take a shower – something we had yet done since leaving Denver. It was refreshing. We ended up sleeping in the car that night in a Walmart parking lot, which was actually quite comfortable and convenient – something I would definitely do again.
The following day we drove to central downtown Portland, found a parking spot, and walked to Voodoo Donuts to checkout this famous place. I’d later find out there is one in Denver, and it is well overrated and overpriced. Afterward we went to the largest independent bookstore in the world to browse their language and travel books.
From there we headed back to the car and drove to the Pittlock Mansion in the middle of a forest near downtown. It was a beautiful building with great views of the city and of Mt. Hood in the distance. We spent a couple hours hiking around the forest, and chatting with some women painting near the mansion. Afterward we went to the Oregon Zoo, which was pretty cool but not as awesome as it seemed as a child. For dinner, Richard wanted Thai food and he found a place called “Nong’s Khao Man Gai”, a classic Thai dish. So we drove to a little restaurant and had some food there – she apparently has several restaurants open and a food truck – awesome!
We drove to Seattle the next day. On short notice, we wrote our friend Andrea who we met in Bangkok a couple years prior, with the fat chance that she was home in Seattle (she lives abroad and rarely is home). Luckily, she was in town so we me tup on some beach near central Seattle with a few of her friends. We drank some beer, played some football, and took in the view until sunset. Her friend and her husband offered us over to their house, so we all drove an hour or so north there. They offered us a shower, cooked some pizzas, invited other friends, and had a big party there. We played beer pong late into the night, and even brought out their pet tortoise – a pet I’ve considered getting – it was great to see it. They let us stay the night there and do laundry, which was very generous and we’re ever grateful for.
The following morning we headed into downtown Seattle, found parking after 30 minutes of searching, and went to the top of the Columbia Tower, which we were told has great views of the city and a Starbucks. We sat there is cubed for an hour, drank a lot of coffee, and took in the view. From there we walked around central Seattle, to a farmers market for lunch, and then a did a bit of shopping. After a full day of walking, we drove an hour or so north and called it a night in a Walmart parking lot.
On the drive to Canada the following day, we stopped at a casino for a bit of gambling. We don’t gamble much but decided to stop for some blackjack and craps for an hour. I ended up leaving roughly even, but we both agreed it was probably not worth the stop. Hey, once in Washington, why not.
Crossing the border into Canada was a breeze – while it was somewhat slow, it was efficient. When we got to Vancouver we parked in a neighborhood and found a good place for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Using the wifi there, I got in touch with my friend Matt (and old friend of my brother) who told us the bar he was at with his girlfriend and when to meet. After lunch we drove through central Vancouver to meet him on the east side of town.
We met Matt and his girlfriend for a couple drinks at a local bar with excellent craft beer, and afterward they took us on a little tour of the city to show us the best places to checkout. They went to a concert later that night, and we spent the evening roaming around Vancouver, including checking out the Tesla store there. In the evening we drove to a Walmart on the other side of the water and called it a night.
The following day we drove to a place that had an Indian buffet, and noticed there was a big farmers market out front. So we walked around there, walked along the nearby coastline, bought some kombucha from the market, and then had some excellent Indian food.
By early afternoon we were on the road toward Black Tusk, a recommended spot. The views along the highway were incredible – a picture wouldn’t do it justice. We first drove to the trailhead of Black Tusk to perhaps hike in and camp, but without a reservation we were unable to so headed back a few miles to the closest town and crashed there. On the back side of the small shopping center were Tesla charging stations, the first I had ever seen. Great to see.
Early the next morning we drove back to the trailhead, which was much less crowded than the evening before, and began hiking. We didn’t see many people on the way up until we almost reached the top, and once at the top, the view was spectacular (see above). We spent probably an hour or so chatting with others and taking in the amazing view – a dark royal blue lake embedded into the snowy mountains.
On the way down we chatted with some others who were heading up. There are many people coming up as we were going down, probably in total 50+ people. Most people just hike to the lake and not to the Black Tusk, so they start later in the day, or they hike in and camp overnight.
After hiking down and getting back to the car, we drove a few hours to Whistler, where we planned to stay the night. On the way we stopped at Joffre Lakes, as recommended by Matt. We walked in for 5 minutes to the lower lake, took in the view, and then continued on.
Upon arriving in Whisler, we changed our mind about staying there and decided to continue heading east. We ended up in a small town called Peddleton, nestled next to some giant mountains. We cooked some dinner, took in the views, flew the drone a bit, and called it a night.
We continued west the following day, July 26th, through Komloops to Rivelstone. Along the way we stopped along a big canyon with a lake filling part of it and made an excellent lunch, and played the guitar. We stopped at a Tim Hortons to grab coffee and use the internet, and then continued on the road. Rivelstone reminded me of my old home of Alamosa – it was small and along the highway. We played frisbee in the park for a bit, though the misquotes were thick. We parked the car in a neighborhood and passed out in the car.
Leaving Rivelstone, we drove to Banff, the ultimate destination. I had seen pictures in the past, but it was remarkable – perhaps the most beautiful mountains that I’ve ever seen. When we arrived, we firstly drove toward Lake Louise, only to find it full of cars for the closest 2 miles. After driving around, we headed to the visitors center to get more info on the area and to acquire some backcountry camping permits. We were able to do so quite easily, though it was expensive – around 90 Canadian dollars for 2 nights, and 2 park passes for 2 days. After leaving the visitors center, we headed to park, and then decided to get a little exercise and run up to Lake Louise.
The lake is incredible, a glowing light blue color. There is a hotel on one end, and steep sharp, snow-capped mountains on the other. Near those mountains were dark clouds, which contrasted with the blue sky in an interesting way. Richard decided to swim, which he found relieving. Afterward, we hiked to a lookout point for some views, and then headed back to the car.
We drove through the town of Banff (yes, a city in the national park), and then to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to relax. It was super crowded, and quite small, but overall enjoyable. We then drove toward the trailhead to where we’d camp, but upon arriving quite late we decided it was best not to hike in and decided to just sleep in the parking lot in the car. While backcountry camping is fun, it requires hauling in 2 days worth of food, water, and gear, and we decided we’d save the time by crashing in the car and then doing a morning hike instead.
At the parking lot it was misty, and raining a bit. We cooked some dinner, listened to some music, and cubed. Once the rain stopped we went for drive around Two Jack Lake and Lake Minnewanka before calling it a night. Each night before sleeping we’d either solve puzzles and/or read for an hour. It was a relaxing way to wind down the evenings.
The following day we woke near the trailhead of Cascade Mountain, and decided to do a hike up. After about 3 hours we got to a point where we thought the trail ended. However, 2 women hiking said it kept going, so we hiked another hour or so up to an amazing lookout point over Lake Minnewanka, which from above was a dark royal blue.
At the top we relaxed for an hour or so, chatting to the 2 women – 2 sisters, 1 was a former Marine and the other had a son who went to the same university as me. Both were enjoyable to talk to as we shared stories about life. It’s always interesting hearing people’s stories. They had seen several grizzly bears recently, and we hadn’t seen any the entire trip even though there were warnings on every hike we did since Yellowstone.
After hiking down, we made chili and ate that by the car at a picnic area, and then headed to Banff to a Starbucks for wifi and coffee, Richard’s favorite. By the time we finished there, it was mid-afternoon, and I wanted to fly the drone somewhere. We headed to Two Jack Lake, where loads of people were listening to music, playing games, and picnicking. We found a table a bit away from them, put on our own music, and did some cubing races. It was a gorgeous view.
After droning for about 15 minutes, I put everything away and we solved some more puzzles. A police officer then came up and asked if it was me flying to drone, which I showed to him. He asked if I filmed anything which I showed him and he watched (probably 10 minutes worth of video). He said someone had called the police reporting privacy concerns and didn’t want their face being filmed, which is what he was looking for in the video. Because I was flying at 200 ft. or so, there was no way you could see faces. I was sure he’d write me a ticket, but he let me go with a warning. Apparently you can’t fly anywhere in national parks. I was a bit disappointed knowing that someone in humanity called the police on me for this, when people with cameras on their phones surely capture more faces in selfies each day.
After leaving there, we headed to Lake Minnewanka to rest, and eat more chili. Several mountain goats walked by while we ate, and it started raining, but nothing too major that disrupted the experience. When we finished, we decided to head east of the park to rest so we could leave early in the morning toward Calgary.
Early the next day we grabbed coffee at a nearby Tim Hortons (the Starbucks of Canada), and then made our way through Calgary, and south back into the US. We had to wait an hour and half at the border as the border didn’t have enough people working so everyone had to wait – it was frustrating. Once we got through we drove to Glacier National Park in northern Montana. We checked out the visitor center, and headed into the park to make dinner, sit by the lake and play the guitar. We met a hippy, Sandy, who joined us for dinner, offered us a joint, and told us some great stories – she came over to us after hearing Richard play “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, a fitting song for the time.
In the evening we decided to exit the park and sleep in the car as all the campsites were taken. In the middle of the night, however, we were awoken to someone knocking on the window telling us to leave. It was annoying, as the parking lot had plenty of spaces, and we weren’t harming anyone or anything. So we drove a mile down the road and passed out there.
The following day we got started early and drove to the trailhead of Many Glacier. We hiked for several hours up the trail, passing probably 40 people along the way. It was a beautiful hike, with stunning views of the lakes below and the rigid mountains in front of us. The Rocky Mountain further north of Colorado looked much different than the ones in Colorado, perhaps even more beautiful, though I may be biased as I grew up in Colorado.
We got to the glacier around mid-day. Apparently there used to be 200+ glaciers in the park, but now less than 10 remain, and by 2020 all of them will be gone. It was good to see one of the remaining ones left, and the blue iced lake at the top was stunning – Richard even decided to take a dip.
In the later half of the hike down, my shoes started falling apart, and by the time I got to the car the entire sole had fallen off, so I retired those shoes. We got back to the car early afternoon and made some lunch, packed up, and headed out. We drove to Great Falls for dinner, had Richards favorite Taco Bell, and then continued another hour or so south to a truck stop called Eddies Corner, which was in Montana but only about 8 hours from Denver. There we called it a night, and had an amazing sunset to watch on our final night of the trip.
The following day we drove back to Denver, hitting traffic in southern Wyoming because of a stampede and then in Ft. Collins because of an accident.
The trip was incredible – everything I wanted and more out of it. The goal was to get out into nature and isolation and relax, hike, and explore. Yellowstone was a place I’ve always wanted to go, and it didn’t disappoint. Seattle and Portland were 2 of the coolest cities I’ve been to, and the wilderness of British Columbia was some of the best I’ve ever seen – it blew my expectations away. There was so much beauty you almost get used to it and can’t truly take in how amazing it really is after seeing it for 2 weeks straight.
Nature is food for the soul. Living in Bangkok, a concrete jungle, has lots of benefits in the sense that there are good people, good food, and a good lifestyle – the things that generally make up a good quality of life. However, it is easy to get comfortable in it and not realize what you’re missing. Being out in nature really makes you realize how important it is to step away and spend time in the woods. I felt more relaxed, more motivated, more open-minded, and more creative. I’ve made an effort and will continue to make an effort getting out in nature on a regular basis, and perhaps in the future live in nature.
Spending time with Richard is always fun, as his company is always thought provoking. He’s also interested in much of the same, and one of the few people I know who is willing to do go on these adventures with me..
It is a trip I won’t forget, and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed. Next trip perhaps will be to eastern Canada or a drive up to Alaska. The world is such a big place.