Alaska Road trip-Homeward bound




It was the final few days of this amazing trip and we had spent the morning exploring Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in Banff National NP.  We headed west to Yoho NP.  There is a pass you travel over called Kicking Horse Pass.   James Hector, a Scottish geologist was part of the Palliser Exhibition that was commissioned to survey the area to find a suitable route for the Canadian Pacific railway.  Hector was kicked in the chest by his horse and knocked unconscious.  When the other members of the expedition were unable to awaken, they presumed he had died and they dug a grave to bury him.  During the burial, Mr. Hector awoke, much to the astonishment of the group.  Thus the name…

In this same area, are the Spiral Tunnels, which is a Canadian National Historic Site.  When the railway route was chosen, Kicking Horse Pass presented a unique challenge due to it’s steep grade.  A gradual descent could not be easily carved, so a 4.5% grade was built.  The first train to attempt the hill in 1884, derailed and 3 workers were killed.  Various solutions, such switch spurs, runaway spur lines, and rear pushers were used.  The rail section on became known as the the Big Hill grade.  All these solutions were met  with limited success.  In 1909, the Spiral Tunnels were completed.  This was a design by J.E. Schwitzer who modeled it after one in use in Switzerland. With a gentler grade, the descents became safer and slower.





Yoho National Park was created on October 10, 1886, following a trip by Prime Minister John A. MacDonald on the newly completed railway line.  He was so impressed with the area, that upon his return to Ottawa, he declared the area a national park.  Jerie, had finished an internship at Disney World last year, so she thought it was funny to be called Yoho and reminded her of the ride of Pirates of the Caribbean, so we tried to be pirates.


Takakkaw Falls is a bit of a drive to get to.  There are some switchbacks so no trailers are allowed.  It is the 2nd highest falls in Canada at 1250 feet or 380 meters.  Since it was fall it was low water, would be very impressive in the spring.  The waterfalls is fed by the Daly Glacier  and then forms the Yoho River.


On the highway, near the entrance to Takakkaw Falls, is a glacier with an avalanche shoot.  It must happen quite often and with great force, as at the bottom is a cement tunnel to cover the train tracks.


As we continued our westward journey, we stopped to admire Natural Bridge. The bridge itself collapsed, but it a very pretty sight.  We can’t get over the blue water color.  It comes from the rock flour (rock that has been ground to powder by the movement of a glacier).  Even though we have seen it numerous times on this trip, it still is amazing.


The area of the road called 10 mile hill is a beast to drive, so it is easy to see why the railroad had such a difficult time along this route.  This is just one example of the highway cuts that had to be made.


At Golden we turned south…the area is agricultural but still mountainous.  Along the drive, we spotted 2 mule deer and 2 elk.


We stopped for the night at Redstreak Campground which is part of the national park, but sits on a hill above the village of Radium Hot Springs.  There were only 2 other campers in our loop.  Very nice facility, except we could hear a nearby lumber mill all night…


The next morning we drove down the hill and drove into Kootenay National Park through a small gap in the rocks.  It was established in 1920 as part of agreement to build a road through the area in exchange for a strip of land 5 miles wide on each side of the road for a national park.  Originally it was called Kootenay Dominion Park.


We stopped at Valley View Point.  The area is known as “lightening valley”.  It’s unique topography make it a frequent spot for lightening strikes.


If we were to continue through the park we would be back in Banff so we turned around and headed back towards Radium Springs.  We stopped at Olive Lake and walked the boardwalk, to the spring.  Along the way we briefly saw a deer. Near Olive Lake is Radium Hot springs, which is very popular to the nearby resort visitors.


We drove back to the village of Radium Hot Springs and turned south.  We passed Canal Flats which is the source of the Columbia River.  From Canal Flats, the river heads north, and then turns and flows south into the state of Washington.  We had briefly thought about continuing west to Revelstoke NP, but we would have to cross a ferry on the Columbia and we weren’t sure we would make the crossing time, as we had been stopping so much to enjoy the scenery.  We can see another trip of exploration!!!!  We stopped for our final “dehydrated” meal.  They had been very good, very easy, and relatively inexpensive.


The drive between Cranbrook and the US border was very pretty.  At the border there were information signs as to how the 49th parallel became the dividing line between the US and Canada.


We entered the US near Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  This section of highway is known as the Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway.


However, the first thing we saw was wild turkeys.


Cindy and Jerie had never been to Lake Pend Oreille.  It is the remnant of a great lake during the last ice age.  A very beautiful lake and nice marinas. It was also a naval submarine training area during World War II called Farragut Naval Training Station.  There is a small but active acoustic submarine research still being conducted in the lake.


We arrived at the outlet of the lake at the Pend Oreille River.  They have converted the old bridge into a pedestrian bridge.


We had a decision, we could re-trace our steps and go back around the lake or we could take a dirt “short-cut” to Coeur d’Alene .  We opted for the dirt road.


It was very beautiful, but, we wandered on that dirt road for over 4 hours.


We did get great sunset views of the lake….


As we drove the colors became more intense…


We wanted to watch and hold on to that last bit of light, as it meant our trip was soon coming to an end.  Tis would be our last night on our Alaska Road trip.


Once the sun went down, we just wanted to see pavement and get to Highway 93.  It had taken us 4 1/2 hours to go 50 miles.  There had been beautiful scenery, wildlife, logging operations and what looked like a “Deliverance” campsite….


For our last night we stayed in a hotel in Coeur d’Alene and ate at a Chipotle.  We were still 500 miles from home.  It was an exciting feeling but sad as well.  We arrived in Idaho Falls the following afternoon, exhausted, excited, and already planning our next adventure.   So here are the trip figures and final thoughts….IMG_20170927_184038752 (1)

33 days, 9300 miles, 5 Canadian National Parks, 3 US National Parks, 6 border crossings, a walk in the Arctic Ocean, pictures at the Arctic Circle, the 75th anniversary of the Alaska Highway, 125th anniversary of Denali NP, and 150th anniversary of Canada.  We had learned history, cultural, and witnessed incredible scenery.  Even though we went late in the season, we missed the large summer crowds.  We had been warned about the driving conditions of the Deh Cho, Dalton, and the Alaska highways, but didn’t experience any roads worse than we have in Idaho.  We get asked “was it worth it”.  YES, YES, YES!!  Since we went so late in the season, we didn’t need a reservation at any of the camping spots, however, earlier in the year, you definitely need to plan ahead.  It was great that we had only a few plans and we could “wander” as we pleased.  We had just a few mechanical “scares” and no major issues at home.  As far as we were concerned, it was a HUGE success.

It was a trip of a lifetime, in a lifetime of trips!!!