Tag Archives: roadtrip2016

Places: Driving East

After our exciting night at Dinosaur Provincial Park, we continued east through Southern Alberta and since we had such an early start, enjoyed a nice part of the day in Medicine Hat relaxing at their man-made beach at Echo Dale Park and letting our gear dry out.

From there, we headed to a place that few do – but a spot that had really captured my imagination in Val Marie, SK and Grasslands National Park. This National Park, only founded in 1981, is one of the least-visited national parks in Canada with just over 10,000 visitors annually. The reasons why aren’t hard to figure out – it is tucked away in southwestern Saskatchewan on the U.S. border and admittedly it is harder to sell people on the idea of viewing prairie rather than mountains. However, to me, the scenery was equally as beautiful and since one of the ideas of this trip was to show the kids the multitude of landscapes that make up this country, it fit the bill perfectly.

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Grasslands National Park

After the night before, it was great to relax in one of Parks Canada’s Otentiks and enjoy the beautiful views.

After enjoying the tranquility of Grasslands, it was time to cover some ground if we were ever going to get home. We took off the next morning and after a twenty minute conversation with the Homeland Security border guards where I thought they might invite us in for lunch because they were so bored and lonely at their remote outpost, we cut through rural Montana and entered North Dakota.

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Montana traffic

While flying across Highway 2 to Minot, another one of those funny road trip moments happened that you end up remembering as much as the trip itself. All along this stretch there were roadrunners along the highway and they would typically zip into the ditch as we approached. However, there was one guy who made a bad decision and zigged when he should have zagged and he hit the front of the van full-on. After bouncing off the bumper, and then the windshield he catapulted high above the van and I could see his bowling ball of a body land in my rear-view mirror as I tried to process what had happened. As I got out to check the van I was happy to see that there was no damage beyond the roadrunner legs stuck in our front grille and the giant streak of red blood that extended from the front of the hood to the top of the windshield that would stay there the rest of the trip. For the rest of the trip, the kids could not stop talking about this and Noah would check at each stop whether the legs were still hanging out  the front of the car.

Our time in Minot and through northern Minnesota was fairly uneventful – we stayed at a beautiful campground about an hour out of Minneapolis but our next stop in Wausau, Wisconsin also proved to be exciting for the kids. We have never taken on one of the Great Wolf Lodge waterpark hotels but when looking for hotels in appropriate places, a smaller version had popped up in Wausau that seemed as good as anything else so we gave it a shot. The kids had an absolute blast from the time we got there in the waterpark – playing for hours and Ella surprising me with her bravery going down every one of the slides.

Downtown Wausau also proved to be a pleasant surprise as we had a great meal at the locally-famous Mint Cafe.

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While in Wausau, I realized that Green Bay was only about a half-hour detour from our route the next day as we planned to get back into Canada to spend the night in Sault-Ste-Marie. The chance to visit Lambeau Field proved too great a draw and we spent a good part of the day in Green Bay taking a tour of the field and eating at famed fast-food restaurant Culver’s. (the In n’ Out of the Midwest!) It turned out that we were also there for the first day of training camp which added to the excitement and the crowds. img_2376

Although we had hoped to camp one more night on our trip, we could not find anywhere to stay through northern Michigan and so we landed back in the Soo before our drive home. From the Soo, it was familiar territory until we pulled into our driveway just short of 9000km travelled and with some great memories of a very special vacation.

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Places: Banff, Alberta

When growing up in Alberta, it was easy to take the Rocky Mountains for granted. They are always there, they aren’t going anywhere, and as a kid it was easy to downplay their sheer magnitude and beauty as we would drive through a couple of times a year on our way to Victoria or another destination. Moving out East, unless people have been, there is a general sense that the Rockies must be pretty impressive but that they can’t be too much different than the ‘mountains’ out here.

I was reminded this summer of how false that is and how truly amazing the Rocky Mountains are. As part of our prolonged driving trip, we tacked on three days to do a loop through Banff and up highway 93 toward Jasper. For sheer scenery, I would put this up against anywhere. The fact we had beautiful weather to enjoy it made it even better.

Banff, and the Rockies, is all about being outdoors so camping is the ideal way to visit. It is also much, much cheaper than the overpriced accommodation that abounds in the summer. We were very fortunate to score a beautiful site in the Two Jack Lakeside campground that is run by Parks Canada. This is a relatively small campsite that is located about 10 minutes outside of Banff. Booking for these sites starts in January for the whole summer and we were lucky to find a cancellation that allowed us to stay. For reference, we stayed on site #8 and if you do have the luxury of being picky, I would suggest staying on that side of the campground as sites have a bit more privacy and are located a little further apart.

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Site #8 – Two Jack Lakeside Campground

As we checked in to our site, we were provide of warnings of both bears and wolves in the area. Although a bear warning is pretty standard in the Rockies, I think this is the first time I have stayed in a campsite that was having a problem with wolves. Although we had no issues, the campground was subsequently shut down to tent campers about a week after we left because of persistent problems with one wolf.

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The view out our backdoor….ridiculous

We enjoyed our location on our first afternoon, hiking around Two Jack Lake and relaxing at our fire while a bunch of deer filled in behind our site. dscf5571

The next morning, we headed into Banff and although it is a pretty touristy, there were still many things we wanted to show the kids that I had experienced as a kid myself. We did a loop around the golf course before visiting the famous Banff Springs Hotel and having a picnic lunch on the grounds there. In the afternoon, we visited the Cave and Basin Historic Site and wandered some of the shops of the main street before heading up to the Banff Upper Hot Springs to relax in the warming, mineral-rich waters. For dinner, we visited a Banff institution, the Grizzly House Fondue Restaurant. This place has not changed since I visited as a child, and probably since many years before that but it was great and lots of fun.

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Banff Springs Hotel terrace

On our third day, we had to pack up our gear and head for home, or my parent’s place at least, but we chose to do so via Highway 93 which runs north towards Jasper. This highway is amazing with beautiful views everywhere you look. After a great roadside picnic lunch, we were greeted by a black bear in the ditch – who was in turn greeted by crazy tourists that were trying to take a selfie with it. Although that aspect does seem a bit like a theme park, there is still something really cool about spotting a bear in their natural habitat.

Our quick trip to Banff and the Rockies reminded me of how much I miss it, and will certainly ensure that we concentrate on making the effort to get there more often.

Places: Driving West

After returning from our epic four-province, five-state, 8800km roadtrip I’ve struggled with how to break this up into manageable posts but I will do my best and start with our journey out to Edmonton, Alberta.

Heading out in the pouring rain, we made it to just east of Sault Ste. Marie on our first day. Before our first campground we stopped at a great Canadian icon, the giant nickel of Sudbury. Somehow, this is still as impressive as it was when I was a kid and it was fun to revisit it with my own kids who were equally as impressed.img_1532

We spent our first night at Chutes Provincial Park and once set up had a fun evening doing their scavenger hunt, eating dinner at our site and making marshmallows over our campfire. Despite the bear warnings, we managed to avoid those.

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Starting the day right with a cup of coffee

Heading north through Ontario, we knew we had to be a bit more strategic about where we stopped since campgrounds are few and far between. The weather seemed more unsettled further north so we decided to make it a short day and stay about an hour north of Sault Ste. Marie at the beautiful Pancake Bay for our second night. Before we did though, we took our time in the Soo, checking out the locks and the highly recommended Pino’s grocery. At our beautiful site on Pancake Bay, Ella and I hit the lake for a swim. After that experience, all cold water will now be compared to the glacial waters of Lake Superior.

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Pancake Bay
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No trip across Canada is complete without a stop at the Wawa Goose

Our third night was spent in Thunder Bay after driving over the top of Lake Superior and the next morning we didn’t drive far before checking out the impressive Kakabeka Fallsimg_1594

After all that time on the road, we took a break in Winnipeg, settling down at the Fort Garry hotel for a couple of nights. The hotel, in the style of old CP hotels was a pleasant break from the road and we really enjoyed our time in the city. Highlights included hitting the Bridge Drive-In on the way into town, touring the Legislature Building, visiting the Canadian Human Rights Museum and eating dinner at the new Forks Market.

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From Winnipeg, we continued west to my birthplace, Saskatoon. This city is such a beautiful one in the summer with the river valley and the sunset that doesn’t start until 10:30. Even though we didn’t roll into the Gordie Howe Campground (a classic that I last stayed in 20 years ago) until about dinner time we had plenty of time to tour the University, eat a delicious dinner at Primal and enjoy the beautiful views over the river valley. img_1747

Finally, from Saskatoon we made the final push to Edmonton, a quick five-hour jaunt over the beautiful prairie. Despite the length of this overall journey, our impression was that it didn’t feel overly long – our longest day was from Winnipeg to Saskatoon which took a little over 9 hours and this was slowed down by construction outside of Winnipeg. Most other days we were able to limit our driving to about 7 hours at the most and this made for a pretty comfortable pace. img_1755

Places: Summer 2016 Roadtrip

On Saturday, we will leave for our most ambitious roadtrip yet. Last year we tackled Eastern Canada, which you can check out here, but this year we will head west and the 4000km we travelled last year looks pretty easy compared to this year’s task.

Through to Alberta we pretty much have our route set; although the Google Map above doesn’t reflect it, we will actually head through Sault Ste. Marie and follow Lake Superior up to Thunder Bay before passing through Winnipeg, Saskatoon and to Edmonton. On the way back, we are a little undecided as to what route we will take and whether we want to include a large city such as Chicago – this may need to be something we decide as we go.

Although I have done the drive many years ago, I am excited to show the kids the great diversity of landscapes in Canada and I hope we will be able to do that by travelling through the Canadian Shield, the Prairies, the Rockies and the Badlands. I also expect they will gain a new appreciation of the enormity of our great country. The four-hour flight to Edmonton doesn’t translate in the same way.

If anyone has suggestions for ‘must-see’ spots, or ‘must-eat’ restaurants, we’d certainly appreciate your ideas and hopefully we can add to them when we return. If you’d like, follow along with our adventure on Instagram with @uhrblock or on the sidebar of this site.