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!

ptb homeward 1

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

 

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