The 5799.6 mile loop is complete! Part 4, our Journey Home from Banff

Part 4 of 4

Our final morning in Banff National Park was cold (29 degrees)and frosty, but beautiful.  We walked down to Two Jack Lake for a farewell view…sad to be leaving such an amazing location, but a bit excited about new adventures on the trip home.

We drove east through the Kananaskis area, just to get a different perspective on this section of the Canadian Rockies. We thought about taking a short hike, but when we got to the trailhead, it was quite crowded, since it was a beautiful sunny Saturday. So eastward we went, towards Medicine Hat. We had no reservations for camping on the trip home, as our schedule was a bit less pre-determined.  Our plans included a few paddling stops, so we had earmarked possible camping spots along the way.  We enjoyed the sunny driving weather, and were a bit dismayed that we had not had such glorious weather during our previous week!  We spotted many antelope, and coyotes along the way, and arrived earlier than planned in Medicine Hat. So we decided to head further along our route into southeastern Alberta, toward Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. We arrived at the nearly empty campground late afternoon, and had plenty of time to set up the GO, and explore the lakeshore and hiking trails.

The night in Cypress was windy, and cool ( down to 36 degrees) , but we awoke to a beautiful sunrise. Our next border crossing awaited us, in Wild Horse , where we would cross back into the states into Montana.  Our timing was good, since that crossing is not a 24 our serviced border crossing; we arrived at the rather desolate station a short while after they had opened for the day.

Into Montana we went! I was excited to make note of more birds and animals, some of which I had never before seen. A Golden Eagle was had been perched in the dense fog that morning, and we also saw Western Grebes, Western Meadowlarks, Mule deer, white-tailed deer, and Partridge.  What we did not see was very many other vehicles! We stopped in a few small Montana towns for food and gas ( had to get the dogs a creemee at DQ!), and encountered another boat inspection station near the humongous Fort Peck Dam.

The drive south from Fort Peck, towards Makashika State Park was about as desolate as any stretch on our trip! The moon-like landscape, huge expanses of rock formations, hills, and hoodoos admittedly made me a bit nervous….we were fortunate to have no mechanical issues, but having such in this area would have been frightful. No cell coverage, of course, and we rarely saw another vehicle . That 90 minute drive was almost as nerve-wracking as driving through heavy city traffic.

Makashika State Park was beautiful, and certainly unlike any campground we had previously visited. We arrived late in the afternoon, and self-selected a nice easily accessible site. The terrain was fascinating, but we really did not have much time to explore.  The dogs did make note of the hundreds of rabbits in the area!

We headed into town for a great Pizza, to recognize our achievement for surviving a very long travel day. The night was peaceful and calm, with a full starry sky above us.

It was “load and go” in the morning, as we were off to transverse North Dakota that day, targeting a campsite in Minnesota for the evening. We were not sure of our exact destination, but we wanted to be near the Tamarac National Wildlife refuge in Rochert, MN. If the weather was good, we hoped to paddle in one of the refuge ‘s  ponds.

Buffalo. We encountered so many different camping areas with this name. Buffalo Pound , Buffalo Lake, and Buffalo River were some of our options. In Minnesota, we selected Buffalo River State Park, and we arrived to find it seemingly deserted. Well, this self-registration policy required us to call the Minnesota Department of Parks, and choose a site and pay by phone. There were actually a few other campers in this lovely park, and we were situated in a nice flat wooded spot, adjacent to their trail network. It was nice to get the dogs out for some hiking.

 

We did answer quite a few questions about the GO, and provide a tour to one family. Most of the 5 camping groups were quiet and respectful. There was one camper who let his dog run loose, despite posted rules prohibiting it. I did nicely ask him if he had seen the signs, and he indicate yes, but he just chose to ignore them. One of only a small number of rude people we met in the entire 3 weeks. And he was a New Englander, too (from Maine)!

A gorgeous sleeping night, 50 degrees and windy!  We were up early, to head over to the Wildlife Refuge, but as we drove easterly, the rain and wind began. A few missed turns, and we arrived at the Refuge; the wind was still blowing pretty gustily, and we noted whitecaps on many of the lakes alongside the road. At last the rain had stopped, so we were able to have a nice drive through the refuge. What a beautiful spot, and what great birdwatching! We saw Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Pie-billed grebes, and an assortment of ducks and cormorants.  We opted not to paddle, since the wind was pretty strong, and the access area was very mucky..and of course, rain was in the forecast!

So our trip was now to take us back towards Wisconsin and Michigan, for one of the few “repeat” sections from our trip west. We wanted to get back into Ontario, to head down to Algonquin Provincial Park. We had not paddled there in nearly 25 years, and how can you do a cross-Canada canoe trip without at least putting your boats into the Algonquin waters?

So easterly we drove, along the Lake Superior shoreline once more. Our calculations allowed us to plan ahead, and we made a reservation for one night in Algonquin, at one of the campgrounds with late vacancies.  Our stop in Ashland ,Wisconsin was brief, but permitted us a nice relaxing stop at a small city campground. For the first time ever, our GO was set up on pavement! There as quite the T-storm during the night, so Griff and I went to the car for a few hours, since he tends to get nervous, and want to pace during storms.  But we survived. One nice benefit of camping in a city? It allowed us to re-stock our cooler and food boxes for the long days ahead.

 

Our goal for the next day was to travel as far east as our backsides, and the dogs’ patience, would allow. The closer to Algonquin we could go, the more time we would have to paddle there!

Back to EDT time, and we settled on Serpent River Campground in Spragge, Ontario. Mostly an RV campground, we were permitted to camp in the back fields, alongside the river…no other campers in sight. It was a bit buggy, and we had another T-storm,  but it was a relaxing stop, with a great sunset and sunrise. And they had a laundry! We were able to finally get all our wet towels dry!

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Next stop,  Algonquin Provincial Park.  Since we had a campsite reservation, we could take a relaxing drive, enjoying the fall foliage, and making a few stops along the way.  We entered the park area from the west, and stopped first at Algonquin Outfitters. Everything you could ever want for paddling or camping is here! We hoped to speak with the person who maintains their social media sites…our postings often get positive feedback and comments from them,  and we certainly appreciate that. The fellow, Randy, was not in that particular store, so we left him a nice note on a Vermont Paddle Pups sticker. The Swift Canoe folks are located adjacent to Algonquin Outfitters; Scott Way of Swift has been very helpful over the past few years, but he was not in that day. We did have a nice chat with Jeff, who suggested some canoe routes for our quick stopover. A sticker and note were also left for Scott, who subsequently sent us a photo of it applied to a Swift canoe!

We did not have time to complete the suggested Smoke/Tea/Canoe Lake loop, but we did get out onto Smoke Lake.  There was some pretty foliage appearing, and we were glad that we were there on a weekday, avoiding the massive weekend crowds. Our paddling was a bit different from in Banff…air temperature was in the high 80’s,and water temp was 72!

 

After a stop at Canoe Lake to get ice cream, for all of us, we checked in at the Canisbay Lake campground. Though we did not have a waterfront site, the canoe access was a short, easy drive from our site. After setting up the GO, it was time for Griff and I to get out for some early evening paddling on Cansibay Lake. Peaceful, calm, and beautiful!

 

The campground was nearly full, but it was very tolerable for our one night quickie trip. There were LOTS of dogs, some more quiet than others, but all in all, a very nice spot. There were a few bugs, not a surprise given the temperature, but it was a lovely evening to sit by the fire. Our plan? Up for a sunrise paddle, before we hit the road for the final stretch home.

A spectacular morning, with some fun bird sightings, too!

We had a lovely, if brief stay at the iconic Algonquin Park. We know there are other fantastic paddling destinations among the Ontario Provincial Parks, and maybe some day, we will get to check them out!

 

After paddling, we stopped at the Visitor Center, and checked out the exhibit of painted canoe paddles. These paddles were painted to raise funds for a charity online auction, and wow, there were some amazing works of art! A quite nice visitor center, but we were glad to head out just as the throngs of buses began to arrive.

We were approximately 420 miles from home. We knew we could stop along the way for an overnight, to break up the trip, but we opted to play it by ear, and see how the travel went. Road conditions and weather were favorable, so we just kept on plugging along. At our final ( 6th of 6) border crossing, I had a bit of trouble sorting out my answer to the border agent’s  question  “ so how long have you been in Canada?”.  He seemed very understanding, and waved us through quickly!

At 5:25 pm we were back in Vermont, and in 90 minutes, home in our own driveway. The dogs were sooo excited to get out and run into their yard. Edgar quickly raided his toy box for all his familiar favorites, and Griff immediately went to the dog food bin. They then settled in as if they had never been away. Home, home safe and sound….what a trip it had been! Unpacking? That waited until the next day. Thank you all for following along on our journey. Who knows what 2018 has in store?

griff on couch 2

 

BANFF part 3: “If I wished to see a mountain or other scenery under the most favorable auspices, I would go to it in foul weather so as to be there when it cleared up.” Henry D. Thoreau

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Part 3 of 4

Well, apparently Thoreau would have enjoyed our time in Banff, since we saw some amazing peaks ,often obscured or veiled by clouds, but also were privileged to see them as the skies cleared, and the sunlight shone brightly on their sharp rocky surfaces.

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The mid-point of our three week trip! After our morning of tourist shopping, wandering, and getting laundry finished, we headed off to the Two Jack Lakeside campground.  Social media contacts who frequent the Banff NP area had suggested this as probably the best campground in the area…IF you can get a site. My efforts of last January to get to the front of the computer line for campground reservations definitely paid off. This is an amazing location, and even though it was reported to be “full”, the weather apparently had discouraged folks from showing up, so we enjoyed a very non-crowded few days.

Our site was located adjacent to a short path leading right down to the lake, and an easy canoe access point.  The turquoise water was visible from our spot, though we initially did not appreciate that, since it was raining as we set up the GO.   The weather precluded our paddling that afternoon, but when the precipitation lightened, we were able to hike around the lake area. Our tent trailer was close to the water, but here are some incredible tent sites practically on the shoreline. We certainly received some great advice from Karen Ung (http://www.playoutsideguide.com/) and Tyler Dixon (http://getmeoutdoors.blogspot.ca/)  !


 

The next day arrived with some improved weather conditions (some clouds, mist, cool temperatures, but no rain), so we hauled the boats down to the access area. What a spot!

Given the water temperatures, and  the variable conditions, I decided that wearing the dry suit would be wise…we made an incorrect assumptions about how cold the water would be, so we also put the dogs in their neoprene vests under their life jackets. The water actually was warmer than Lake Louise (50-52 degrees), but given the low air temperature,  it was probably wise to err on the side of caution.

We had a beautiful paddle that morning, and I can say that I really enjoyed this lake. We rarely saw anyone else on the water, and the shoreline is mostly undeveloped ( you can see some campsites, and a tourist parking area).  We saw osprey, and lots of ducks!

 

My husband took a photo of me, in which it can clearly be seen that I am wearing a dry suit.  Since it was taken with his iPhone, we could post it to social media that day. I had tagged Mythic Gear (the great dry suit folks) in the photo. We soon received an email from Bob Holtzman of Mythic, asking if he could use the photo for a meme…sure, we said!  After all, we are dedicated to sharing practices for safe canoeing with dogs, and what a great example!

That afternoon, we returned to the town of Banff, for some “tourist time”. The rain had stopped, so we were able to take the dogs for a nice walk around the town and along the river.  They were so well behaved, walking among all the other people, in an environment that is very strange for them. We checked out a few interesting museums, and of course, picked up a few souvenirs.

 

I don’t think those are TUBBS snowshoes!

We returned to the campground, and went out for another beautiful  paddle.  We had hoped to paddle in Johnson Lake (near the campground), but the entire lake was closed for treatment of an invasive aquatic species. During our trip planning, Parcs Canada had advised us that the lake was planned to be open by September, but apparently the need to eradicate the organism that causes  “whirling disease”  required extended time.

 

We made delicious quesadillas for dinner ( warm meals on a rainy,cold night), and wished we could have made a campfire. The Campfire Ban was critical, though, due to fire risk, so we accepted it as just another glitch in our plans.  We did actually see some sun late in the day, so our level of optimism increased for the next day’s plans. The overnight was very cold, and very wet, but we kept cozy in the GO. A neighboring camper was not so fortunate. The poor fellow and his girlfriend had ended up sleeping in their compact car, after they became too cold and wet in their small pup tent.  We consoled him by giving him a small bottle of Vermont Maple Syrup, telling him he will feel better if he puts it on his pancakes!

And then suddenly, we were in our last full day in Banff NP…despite the sometimes sketchy weather, we had manage to accomplish quite a bit of what we had planned. This day we were heading out to Vermillion Lakes, though we were not sure which of the three lakes we would end up paddling.

We drove along Vermillion Lake Drive, and of course, it started to rain! So we made a scouting trip out of it…determined that First Lake was very shallow ( 6 inches of water or less)for at least 100 years from shore. Second Lake was not much better, though the hundreds of shore birds ( Wilson’ snipe? )    thought that the conditions were ideal. Ah, Third Lake, smallest of the three looked promising! We decided to wait out the showers in town, at Timmy’s, and within an hour or so, the rain had stopped.

The Vermillion Lakes were wonderful. We saw elk along the shoreline, and eagles flying overhead, and herons and ducks in the marshy areas. No one else was on the water ,so we enjoyed a bit of solitude. There was a bit of wind blowing about, but on this small lake it was not a deterrent.  Mt. Rundle was partly obscured, but we had great views of what we believe is the Sundance Range.

 

We saw, and heard, many trains on this trip…including while we paddled on Vermilion Third Lake.

 

After lunch, we decided that the dog really needed to get out and hike for a bit. The weather had cleared up nicely, so conditions were favorable for a change. We knew of many local hikes, but also knew that many of them are magnets for large groups of tourists.  During our stay in Banff, we had been admiring the impressive falls down Cascade Mountain; a little research and we learned that there is a short ( I mile or so) trail up to the base of the cascade. This turned out to be a great little uphill hike, which afforded some nice views and it was not until we were leaving that we saw other hikers heading up.  We practiced our Bear Smart practices, just in case…the dogs were alert and focused, and we had no issues.

 

Taking advantage of the sunny skies, we drove west on the Bow Valley Parkway. No wildlife sightings, but it was great to actually see some of the mountain tops. We also decided that if we have to wait for an electric sign to tell us if there are parking spaces at a trailhead, that is probably not our kind of hiking trail!

 

The sun remained shining until we returned to the campsite…and continued to brighten the afternoon. So, once more into Two Jack Lake!

 

And news! On our final night in Banff NP, the Campfire Ban was lifted!  The firewood pile was located very near our site, and it was “help yourself”, so we did!  A warm, relaxing fire…the perfect way to end our stay.

 

We awoke on “move-out day” to 29 degree temperatures, and frost…the elevating poles on the GO, which had become wet from all the rain, were frozen. However, with a little warmth from hands and breath, we were able to solve that mini-crisis easily.  We departed the campground to see the sun rising over peaks freshly frosted with new snow. The sun was shining as we headed east, through the Kananaskis area, and homeward bound. That part of the trip became quite the adventure, too..more to come!