Monthly Archives: July 2017

Glacier/Waterton Lakes Loop – Scenic, hilly and wonderful – (434 Miles, 21884 ft. elev. gain)

Entering West Glacier

Cycling Glacier and Waterton Lakes is very popular for cyclists and I understand why. Great scenery, interesting wildlife, challenging hills, good historical sites, and the camaraderie of meeting many cyclists make this loop a “must do.”

Day 1 – Columbia Falls to Avalanche Campground, Glacier (37 miles, 1675 ft. elev. gain)

After a good coffee, quiche and French toast at the Montana Coffee Company  we took the North Fork Road 486 to Blankenship Road to Belton Stage Coach road to a cycle path parallel to Highway 2 thus avoiding all traffic to West Yellowstone.

A beautiful cycle path from West Glacier to Apgar.

We ate picnic lunch in Apgar on the shore of Lake McDonald and swam to cool off while killing time until 4:00 pm when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is again open to cyclists. (Note- Cyclists may only use Going-to-the-Sun Road before 11:00 am and after 4:00 pm.)

At exactly 4:00 pm we cycled to  Avalanche Campground where we shared the hiker/biker space with 7 other tents.  We chose this campground because it’s the closest to Logan Pass on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The crowded campsite made for a  fun evening with good conversation. My only regret is that we did not stop at the Lake McDonald lodge for dinner. before setting up camp. I hear it’s good food in a beautiful lodge.

Day 2 – Avalanche Campground to St. Mary’s Campground over Going-to-the-Sun Road. (35 miles and 3717 ft. elev. gain)

We can thank the many joyful songbirds birds for our early start at 5:30 am. Cliff bars and a shared can of Starbucks espresso constituted breakfast, functional but not enjoyable.

The start of our climb up Going-to-the-Sun Road at 6:00 am.

What can I say about Going-to-the-Sun Road?! It is beautiful with glimpses of tall glaciers on three sides and a view to McDonald creek in the valley.

Eric is the tiny yellow dot near the granite rock face after the tunnel.

The winding road built in 1929 shares all of the typical National Park Service early construction projects including narrow lanes, tunnels, stone retaining walls, sharp curves, and splendor. This ride is 11 miles of steady 6% grade with plenty of pull-outs to stop, take pictures, and allow the many cars to pass. Even with our early start there was plenty of traffic.

Using a pull-out to let the cars pass.
The road had only been open for a week before we arrived.

We spent almost two hours at Logan Pass – enjoyed a hike through the snow, a great view of a mountain goat, and a picnic lunch. There were many skiers hiking up to do some glacier skiing.

There was a line of about 20 cyclists to snap photos at this sign.


The hiking was wet and slow. The AT skiers had the right idea.


One of many Glacier mountain goats we saw.


A glacier view on the Rising Sun side of Logan Pass.

The ride down was fast until just before Rising Sun where it got very hot and hilly. We dragged ourselves into the Two Dog Restaurant and enjoyed the air-conditioning almost more than lunch.

We rolled into the St. Mary’s campground around 2:00. After setting up camp we cycled to the visitor’s center and took a nap in the air-conditioned auditorium while a 15 minute film about Glacier played.

Cooling of and reading in the St. Mary River.

We rinsed off the sweat and did laundry in the freezing cold St. Mary River near our campsite and then ate dinner in St. Mary’s. It was probably a good thing that, due to a Blackfoot Native American Festival, no alcohol was served. As much as we wanted a beer, the four glasses of lemonade we gulped down were probably a better solution for our dehydration.

The dinner was surprisingly delicious:  salmon with huckleberries, a salad with huckleberry vinaigrette, and huckleberry crumble with ice cream for dessert.

A “small-world” kind of moment was when we met our camp neighbors and one of the women happened to be from Grand Junction 10 miles from Fruita.

Day 3 – St. Mary Campground, USA to Waterton Town Campground in Waterton, Canada. (50 miles, 3000 ft. Elev. gain)

Eric liked these roads.

Today was Eric’s favorite road. Once we turned north onto Highway 17 and entered Canada at Chief Mountain, the traffic dropped off significantly, the shoulder got wider, the pavement smoother, and the scenery became equally spectacular to the Glacier side.

The border at Chief Mountain

To make the day even more enjoyable we crossed paths with many cyclists – a group BAC (Bicycle Adventure Club) with about 24 riders going from Missoula to Fernie. We also met a German from Bingen (near Frankfurt) and saw some additional bike packers.

Canadian National Parks are a little different from American National Parks in that they don’t reserve hiker/biker campsites. I was a little nervous as we approached the Waterton Lakes park entrance. But two good things happened. First there was no park entrance fee. All Canadian parks are free in celebration of Canada 150 (150 years of being a country). Second, the ranger at the entrance booth called ahead to the Waterton Townsite Campground and reserved one of the few remaining spots for us.

View from Waterton Lakes Township campground.

This Townsite campsite is bucolic. Located less than 100 yards from the shore of Lake Waterton and surrounded by Glaciers, this clean campsite includes  covered cooking pavilions and REALLY hot, really beautiful showers!!!

Some of our fellow campers.

A cold pint of Canadian pilsner, a tasty pizza and salad, and a huge bowl of ice cream revived us enough to cycle up the hill to the historic Prince of Whales Hotel overlooking Waterton Lake. Built by an American railroad tycoon who recognized the idyllic location suspected thirsty Americans would cross the border during Prohibition for a drink with a stunning view. What a visionary!

The Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes.


View from the hotel lobby.

Day 4 – Waterton to Pincher Creek – (36 miles 1200 ft. Elev.) – Rolling hills and hot. 

We took advantage of camping in a hip, touristy place by cycling to breakfast before packing up. Nothing like a good cup of coffee and a dry tent to start the day off right.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Welch’s Pie and Candy shop and had a lovely chat with the owner who is the most upbeat grandma and positive salesperson I’ve met in ages. We ended up with a delicious chunk of maple fudge and a slice of Saskatoon berry pie that we proceed to enjoy at the top of a very long hill climb.

Saskatoon Pie with a view of Waterton Lakes

When we arrived for the night in Pincher Creek we joined a “happy hour” with  the group of  24 cyclists  we kept passing or being passed on a supported tour with Bicycle Adventure Club (BAC). BAC seems like a nice combination of a supported tour with volunteer leaders sot he price is reasonable.

Day 5 – Pincher Creek to Blainemore (Crowsnest Pass Area)- 36 miles 1500 feet – Much cooler and a tail wind when we needed it.

Today was one of my favorite days because it included a lot of history.

Hutterite farms.

In addition to the Hutterite farm lands just outside of Pincher Creek, we found the Leitch Collieries (the Scottish name for coal mines) which was a great history park explaining the mining operation in 1903 to about 1914 (just before WWI),

Leitch Collieries

and the Frank Landslide exhibit which showed the largest landslide in North Americam occurring  at 4:10 am on May 29, 1903 and lasted exactly 100 seconds, completely covering the train tracks, half of the town of Frank, and the road.

Frank Landslide

We also learned about the Hillcrest mine disaster in which over 180 miners died and was (and still is ) the worst mining disaster in Canada.

Although some of the history was quite sad, we found the lovely Lost Lemon Campground along a river.

View from our campsite before the rain started.

Unfortunately, we were mostly stuck inside our tent trying to stay dry from the rain and hail and hoping  lightening did not strike our tent for most of the night.

Day 6 – Blairemore to Fernie (50 miles 900 feet ascent, mostly descent)

Cool, after-rain, ride to breakfast.

The day started at 6 am with a hard rain so we packed up a wet tent. (Extra But our spirits we not dampened because we’d heard about an amazing bakery in Coleman called Cinnabears. We cycled the 2.5 miles to Coleman along a beautiful cycle path only to find three other cyclists looking longingly through the windows of a closed storefront. Advice to future cyclists…plan your trip to Coleman so that you don’t arrive on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the days this famous bakery is closed.

Knowing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we cycled back 2.5 miles to Tim Horton’s before heading out.

The heavy rain accomplished two things. First it cleared the air and made for beautiful picture taking. Second, it brought all the glass to the road surface where I picked up a nice, big sliver resulting in a flat tired.

The largest truck in the world located in Sparwood BC

Fifteen minutes later we were back on the road with traffic, headwinds, and varying degrees of potholes and rough shoulders. Aside from a stop at the biggest truck in the world, the rest of the ride was uneventful and noisy.

We celebrated our arrival in Fernie with two pints of Project 9, a pilsner brewed in Fernie.

Excited for a few days rest.

Impulsively we went to the local movie theater and watcher Spiderman 3 in 3D. The best part of the movie was the popcorn and cold bottle of water.

Days 7 and 8 – Rest Days in Fernie

Don’t underestimate the rejuvenating power of rest days. Being in one place, leaving panniers behind, and a more relaxed schedule are great for the soul.

Because Fernie is a VERY popular mountain biking town, we felt it deserved exploring by bicycle and hiking. Hindsight is 20-20 and we probably should have rented mountain bikes. Most of the trails around town are gravel but smooth enough for skinny tires. Where we struggled a bit was on the Lazy LIzzard Trail heading towards Island Lake Lodge. I was still carrying one rear pannier remnants of a trip to the laundry and Eric still had both front loaded front panniers, indications that we’d left our hotel room with no idea about how much Fernie is a mountain bike town.

The Lazy Lizard Trail was a misnomer.

On our second “rest” day we enjoyed a lovely hike and picnic to Fairy Falls.

The beautiful Fairy Falls.

We also ate lots of delicious food – tacos at Nevado, sushi at Yamagoya, and Indian at Tandoor and Grill – all worth trying.

Day 9 – Fernie, BC to Eureka, Montana (54 miles, 3084 ft. ascent)

Our cycling group for two days.

The next three days were highlights for me because 1) we cycled with some Canadians who knew the scenic backroads, 2) we also cycled with some Italians who had a great sense of humor and 3) we were on very little paved road.

Leaving Fernie and using Cokato Road to Elko we avoided the busy highway 3 and enjoyed spectacular scenery and lots of shade. We joined highway 93 and crossed the US/Canadian Border at Rooseville after which we took a sharp right on airport road and, again, had a peaceful, traffic-free ride into Eureka where we spent the night.

Day 10 – Eureka to Polebridge, MT (57 miles, 1365 ft. ascent)

JAX in Eureka, MT is a great breakfast spot.

After a delicious breakfast at JAX in downtown Eureka we headed out of town US 93 at a long, rainy steady climb to Grave Creek Road where we again exited the highway. We then took NF 114 to Trail Creek Road and continued on towards Polebridge. Several parts of the road were rough and narrow, more appropriate for a 4-wheel drive but they were manageable with our slightly bigger tires.

We stopped to let this moose pass.

This route actually follows part of the Great Divide Trail which inspired me to put that ride on my bucket list. We had a little bit of rain which made for good pictures and greatly appreciated much cooler temperatures.

I’d never seen bear grass before.

We arrived at Polebridge, MT just in time for cold beers and prime rib at the Northern Lights Saloon. I could write an entire blog post on Polebridge but suffice it to say, it’s totally worth an overnight visit to experience the saloon at night and the mercantile and bakery for breakfast!

Ready for cold beers at the Northern Lights Saloon in Polebridge, MT.

Another fun note about this place is that REI was filming ads for their website and they needed some ladies biking gloves. Be sure to check out REI’s fall website and see my “famous” well-worn cycling gloves.

We camped on the lawn in front of the Polebridge Hostel and enjoyed meeting hostel owner Oliver who also works as a part-time Forest Ranger at the Polebridge Ranger Station. j

Day 11 – Polebridge, MT to West Glacier and then back to Columbia Falls (52 miles, 2667 ft. ascent)

The pile of pastries and espresso for breakfast did not quite prepare me for the difficulty of today’s ride. We too the Inside NorthFork Road which is closed to cars about 7 miles south of the Polebridge Ranger station.

This is where the fun/hardwork began.

The good parts of this experience are that there was very little traffic, great scenery, and the road ends at Lake McDonald in West Glacier.

Washed out road and bridge.

The less-than-ideal part of this experience is that the road is in very bad condition – bridges washed out, steep inclines, sharp rock piles to navigate. With a little maintenance, this would be a PERFECT cycling trail.

The guys deciding that the tree was too big to move and too time-consuming to cut.

As it stand, the road gradually reverting back to wilderness. Luckily a refreshing dip in Lake McDonald revived me so I could appreciate that we’d completed such a great ride.

I’d been pushing my bike a long time before Eric had to – steep and rocky.

A picnic lunch, a double scoop of moose tracks ice cream and several liters of water later, we said “good-bye and thank you” to our Canadian Friends for showing us a beautiful ride.

Our great Canadian tour guides, Blaine and Dave.


This sign shows how we’d come full circle.

We then cycled our last 20 miles into Columbia Falls where we met back up with old friends from Washington and enjoyed more food, beer, a hot shower and a good bed for the first time in several days.

This is another trip I highly recommend!













Cycling Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – Seven Days (292 miles, 11,206 ft. Elev. Gain) of Fun

My first time to Yellowstone National Park.

After cycle touring in many other countries and regions of the world, it was time to explore the beautiful national parks just outside our back door. Seeing Yellowstone has always been on my bucket list and what better way to spend see it than by my favorite mode of transportation –  bicycle.

To save time we decided to create two loop trips: Loop 1 – Yellowstone and Grand Teton and Loop 2 – Glacier and Waterton Lakes. This post will give information about Loop 1 – Yellowstone/GrandTeton and a future post will give information about Loop 2 – Glacier/Waterton Lakes.

A few notes about the trip – We cycled in late June/early July so the weather was a beautiful 60-70 degrees. After two brief rain/hail storms we had sunshine, blue skies and coolish temperatures. Perfect for cycling.

We tried to take some dirt paths and scenic by-ways whenever possible to get off the busy, main road.

Although there was a lot of traffic in Yellowstone, we felt it was manageable because it was fairly  slow and we had a pretty good shoulder.

Yellowstone National Parks reserves several hiker/biker walk-up campsites so we always found a place to pitch our tent. Avalanche Campsite was pretty full with 6 tents but found room to pitch our and we had the opportunity to meet some nice people.

We used a combination of motels and campsites but it would be easy to camp for the entire trip if you wanted to save money.

There are plenty of places to buy food and/or provisions along the way EXCEPT there is no food at the top of Logan Pass. Carry lots of snacks that day.

Bring a swim suit because a cool dip in the beautiful lakes is very refreshing.

Day 1 – Driggs, ID to Warm River Campground about 7 miles NW of Ashton (49 miles 1328 ascent 2263 descent…)

This was our first day of cycle touring in almost 2 years. We were out of practice and had forgotten some of our routine but after about 10 miles it all came back including the fact that we forgot to check the weather. We got caught in a cold downpour, but came across a closed saloon with a covered front porch in Drummond where we waited out the storm and ate lunch.

Escaping the rain and hail.

Our original plan was to stay in Ashton, but after arriving at 12:30 and spinning through the entire town and finding not a lot to do, we decided to hang out in a coffee shop until the rain passed.

The coffee shop was a big help. Not only did it provide a respite from the rain, but the chatty owner called some of her friends to help us with our route  planning to West Yellowstone.

When the rain let up, we cycling  7 miles mostly downhill from Ashton to the Warm Rivers Campground. I highly recommend this spot. We had a spot right on the river and was one of my favorite campsites of the entire trip. Well enjoyed a competitive game of horseshoes and a good night’s sleep.

A beautiful spot next to Warm River.

Day 2 – Warm Rivers Campground to Mack Inn along the West Yellowstone Branch Trail (30 miles)

The first 10 miles of the rail trail were beautiful and rideable. The quality deteriorated after that.

We cycled directly from the campground to the Yellowstone Branch Trail skipping the very busy Highway 20. The Yellowstone Branch Trail is an old rail line that used to carry passengers to Yellowstone Park.

The rail trail near the campground.

This trail could be a magnificent alternative to the highway with some grading, rolling, compacting and bridge repair. As it stands, it’s more of a mountain bike track with lots of sand and gravel that we found very difficult to navigate. We both fell off our bikes several times into soft volcanic gravel, and I often found it easier to walk.

Don’t be deceived. The surface looks good but it’s very soft and pulled us over several times.

After 26 miles at a slow slog and knowing that we still had 24 miles to West Yellowstone with limited water and supplies we took a detour to the Mack Inn on the north fork of the Snake River for food and water.  While waiting for a pizza, the heavens opened up with hail and freezing rain. Eric made the executive decision to book a room at the Mack Inn and call it a day.

Day 3 – Mack In to West Yellowstone (26 miles)

I knew this morning was going to be chilly because the hotel owners had put plastic over all of their planters the night before. Wearing my rain coat, down coat, yellow jacket, gloves, wool shirts and gloves, we started pedaling slowly to not create too much wind resistance on the mostly downhill ride on the Big Springs Loop Road to Big Springs to reconnect with the West Yellowstone Branch Trail.

Big Springs heading towards West Yellowstone.

After visiting the springs we turned north on the “railroad grade” towards West Yellowstone. If possible the sand was slower going than yesterday. Eric noticed a parallel road called Black Canyon Road that we decided to try instead. This road is definitely the better option but it is still slow going with steep, rocky climbs, lots of puddles and some sandy areas. But, the ride was lovely with pink, purple and blue wildflowers dotting the side of the road, large groves of aspen and pines, and views to the Madison River below.

The trail becoming a 4-wheel drive track.

At the Idaho/Montana border the road becomes Forest Service Road 478/S. Fork Road. It now is more of a scenic, 4-wheel-drive road but still manageable. I did have a slight worry about bears so I rang my bike bell before turning every corner. After about 20 miles the road becomes the Old Airport Road which leads directly into West Yellowstone.

There were good signs marking the roads in Montana.

Our afternoon was spent being tourists. We loved the Yellowstone Museum at the old Union Pacific Train Station. The photos about train travel to Yellowstone were even more memorable because we just cycled the West Yellowstone Line.

When these busses were used speed was limited to 6mph. That’s about our speed by bicycle.

We really enjoyed a movie  Dr. Jackson,  the first man to drive across the United States in 1903 in an automobile.  Driving a Winton through small towns in the USA that had never seen or heard of an automobile  had to be as strange as Eric and I felt traveling some of the small roads in SE Asia.

I loved this picture of the trail we’d just ridden being used by the train in winter..

Whiles our clothes were washing at the local laundromat we enjoyed a beer at the Otter Saloon and talked to a man who comes to West Yellowstone every year for world class fly fishing. I joked that we should find a small, portable pole and try our luck while cycling. We then cycled to the Buffalo Bar where we met some other cyclists from Pennsylvania doing the Trans Am from east to west. It was fun to share stories.

Day 4 – West Yellowstone to Grant Village in Yellowstone (41 miles)

Nothing like starting the day with a delicious breakfast. The place is Euro Cafe in West Yellowstone. By the time we had left there were 4 additional cycle tourists who, too,  were starting their day with plenty of delicious carbs.

The first 14 miles to Madison in Yellowstone literally flew by. The scenery along the Madison River was stunning. I got the biggest kick out of watching an antique car group from Boise. The  only way better than seeing the park by bicycle might be from the rumble seat of an antique Model T Ford.

Many people visit Yellowstone with antique cars.

Taking the one-way, no-trucks-or-campers-allowed,  Firehole Canyon Drive took us to the edge of the caldera with views of ancient lava flows, rapids and waterfalls.

A view from Firehole Canyon Drive.

Cycling on Fountain Flat Drive gave us great, up close, views of  many bubbling hot springs.

We arrvied at Old Faithful at 12:45 just in time to grab a seat and wait for her 1:10 +/- 10 eruption. She was right on time and gave us a 6 minute display of her grandeur and power.

This looks like hot lava to me but it’s just the color of the rocks.

The next 20 miles of our ride were slow as we  climbed Craig Pass and crossed the Continental Divide two times. But, the reward of a fast downhill and a great visit of Yellowstone Lake just before we arrived at Grant Village for the night.

We crossed the Continental Divide several times.

We shared a hiker/biker  group camp site with 4 cyclists are doing the Trans Am Trail – a couple on a tandem and two gentleman on individual bikes.

Another cool thing that happened tonight was the free showers. When we went to pay, the cashier said that he thought it was horrible that showers did not come with our camp site so he shared some showers from his punch card. It was such a thoughtful gesture that made that  shower that best I’ve ever had.

A view of Yellowstone Lake from the restaurant.

We cycled to the Lakeside Restaurant and enjoyed a delicious trout dinner while overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Then we cycled up to the full-service restaurant and ordered dessert – huckleberry ice cream with crumb cake and fresh huckleberries with a glass on port for good measure and to help us sleep.

Day 5 – Grant Village to Coulter Bay (42 miles)

After seeing the cyclists climbing highway 191 towards Grand Village and seeing how beautiful our ride was downhill towards Jackson, WY  on the same road, I think it is better to do the Yellowstone Loop in a clockwise manner. There is no shoulder from Grant Village to the Rockefeller Highway in Grand Teton National Park so the cycle uphill seemed scary.

We had a beautiful picnic lunch at a lovely spot at the very northern tip of Jackson Lake. The Tetons stand majestically at the west side of the lake making it appear as if the edge of the lake goes right to the base of the mountains. The wildflowers in every shape, size and color are in bloom.

The view of the Tetons from our picnic table.

As soon as we entered Coulter Bay, we knew we should set up camp, enjoy a polar bear plunge in the crystal clear water, and snooze on the sunny beach.

Eric took the plunge in Jackson Lake.

We swam, read, took a walk along the shoreline, cooked a dinner at our campsite, relaxed by the fire and I practice my harmonica (I’m getting better by the way).

Day 6 – Coulter Bay to Jackson, WY (43 miles)

The Grand Tetons were always in our foreground making the ride so pleasant.

Another reason to cycle this trip clockwise is because of the amazing view coming down from Yellowstone. For the past two days we’ve have views of the Tetons in our foreground so close it appears that we can touch them. The best view of Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake is looking over our right shoulder so we didn’t have to worry about looking across traffic.

Another big bonus of today’s ride was the 20 miles of beautifully paved cycle path from Jenny Lake into Jackson. Although the path is parallel to the highway most of the way,  not as scenic as earlier in the day, and had a fairly strong headwind, just not having to worry about the traffic made the remaining 20 miles into Jackson a breeze. Pun intended.

We appreciated the 20-mile long paved path from Jenny Lake to Jackson, WY

We found a lovely, inexpensive motel  considering it was the 4th of July weekend and enjoyed a delicious buffalo burger at Local (so named because they raise all their meat locally).

Day 7 – Jackson, WY to Driggs, ID (43 miles)

Jackson, WY has a great network of trails.

Cycling the Old Teton Pass road was probably the hardest pass I’ve ever cycled. As a matter of fact, this day ranks up there as one of our hardest cycling days. The ride would be more aptly called a “hike with a bike” or a push of 100 pounds up an 11% grade for 5 hours.

Old Teton Pass Road is located to the south of Teton Pass. It’s steeper than the highway but has no traffic.

The two positives to the day were 1) there were no cars on the road and 2) the scenery was beautiful.

We took a long rest here at Glacier Lake before continuing the climb.

Wildflowers, switchbacks, birds chirping, mountain bikers, and refreshing glacier lakes kept my mind off the extremely difficult climb.

Usually switchbacks take off some of the grade, but these were still very steep.

Also, knowing this was our last day of Loop 1 and two rest days were ahead helped keep the difficulty in check.

I’ve never been so tired.
The view from the top of Teton Pass was worth the effort.

I can check Yellowstone off my bucket list, but I  also highly suggest you add this ride to yours.