The end of summer is always bittersweet: I love the cooler temperatures and being able to go outside without being decimated by mosquitos but the approaching cold means the adventures are coming to an end. That’s part of the reason why I take an extended vacation: to get the last bit of adventuring out of my system. Oh and to visit family. We just take the scenic route to get there.
I packed the car as much as I could the night before we left, dodging around excited dogs in the many trips from the house to the car. My Tetris game must been on point because I actually had some space left in the trunk. That always makes me nervous and I had to go over my checklist several times to make sure I didn’t miss any thing. Yes after all these years I still use a checklist.
The Standard Road Trip Rules would apply and the Road Trip Bottle was Northern Keep vodka.
Shortly after 7:00 am, and after packing up the last of our gear, we headed out into morning light. Our first stop was at Mark IV Brothers for coffee in Orillia. I had never been there but wanted to try something different from our usual stop at Mariposa. I had a lovely red eye and almond croissant. A red eye is a coffee with a shot of espresso and here they use a pour-over for the coffee so it wrings every last molecule of caffeine from the beans. Let’s just say it did the trick. The almond danish was good as well and it tied me over until our next stop.
Naturally our next stop was Salute Coffee in Sudbury and rather than stand in line inside, I made a rare trip through the drive thru. There was next to no shade and after I saw a few people go in and none come out, the last thing I wanted to do was leave the dogs in the car. As it turns out, the drive thru was perfect because I saw that they had puppacinos on the menu! It was a delicate balancing act with three small cups of whipped cream complete with dog cookies (which is just proper) along with a large coffee and meatball sandwich for me. We sat on some rocks on the side of the lot and the dogs got their treats. Did I mention that we left on King’s birthday? He was going to get a special meal later on but it was only fair that he got a little something on his big day itself. He didn’t seem to care about that: he was more interested in my sandwich. And it was a good sandwich that left me nice and full.
Once we had eaten and stretched our legs (and the dogs put on a show playing for the people in the drive thru), we continued north and west along the Trans-Canada Highway. I had booked a site for the night at Pancake Bay Provincial Park and wanted to get there as early as we could so that we would have more time to explore.
Having never stayed in Pancake Bay I was not quite sure what to expect. We drove in past legions of trailers and campers and kids scampering across the road but as soon as we turned to Hilltop Campground, it calmed right down. Our site was spacious and best of all, no one was immediately around us. Unfortunately we did have some rather brazen squirrels that had no problem taunting Lilly while I was trying to set up. I’m sure half the campground thought she was being torn limb from limb with that beagle voice turned up to 11.
Once I had gotten our tent set up, we went for a walk down to the dog beach. After the dogs waded out into Lake Superior, and Leo rolled, we hiked the Nature Trail, a 3.5 km trail that follows the shore before turning inland over forested ridges, through a wetland, and along a creek. This is an easy trail but I would not suggest it if you need mobility devices as the ground can be uneven with roots and rocks.
By the time we made it back to the site, the dogs were content to have a snack before King started pawing at the tent to go inside. I was happy to crawl in with them after the early morning and long day. The Weather Network was calling for rain all the next day so I decided that we were going to have a long driving day and cover as much ground as we could. While I booked our site for the next night, the dogs curled up on piles of blankets and were asleep by the time I turned off the lantern.
We got up early to pack our gear before the rain came. Rather, I got up early, packed everything I could, and then had to nudge the dogs out of bed and into the car. With the car loaded, we drove to the dog beach for one more splash in the water (and Leo’s roll) before we turned back onto the Trans-Canada Highway.
Lake Superior Provincial Park is a short distance north of Pancake Bay and I was very tempted to stop for a hike but I was able to fight the urge until we got to Old Woman Bay at the north end of the park. How could I deny the dogs a chance to go for another swim? While Lilly and King wrestled, Leo rolled his way along the beach. When they all stopped and stared at me, I took the hint and loaded everyone back in the car. The dark clouds rolling in had me positive that we were going to be in for a deluge soon.
Wawa, famous for the giant statue of a Canada Goose, is a short drive north of the park and not only did I need gas, but I had heard that there are fine pickles to be had at Young’s General Store. Back in the day, as in pre-Covid, the pickles were kept in an old school barrel by the front door. Now you tell the staff your order and you get pickles in a bag. I ordered a summer sausage and two pickles to go and left holding a bag of green liquid and pickles like some sort of bizarre goldfish.
With my cargo safely stowed we continued westward. That is, until we stopped in Schreiber at The Golden Rail food truck for a Morgenator burger and some onion rings. The dogs made friends with everyone sitting in the patio area and then were only too happy to help me with my burger. More road to cover…back in the car.
It wasn’t until I stopped in Thunder Bay for gas, and a quick stop at Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. for some beverages, that the wind started to pick up. After driving all day long, after pushing all day long to get to a campsite because I expected it to be a wasted day, it wasn’t until we were well past Thunder Bay that the rain finally started to fall. In fact, we were halfway between Thunder Bay and Ignace before the rain started to come down. In a bizarre coincidence, my brother and I ended up passing each other in the rain as he drove back home after visiting family.
When we got to our site in Sandbar Lake Provincial Park, the rain was falling steadily and I was tempted to just sleep in the car. The rain was supposed to stop overnight and I found a spot that had good tree cover so I thought I could get the tent up quickly enough to avoid getting drenched. I was partially right. Because the base was sand, I used the tent’s footprint to try and keep some of the sand out. The footprint has a section that extends into one of the vestibules and acts like a floor. This is great for cutting down on the sand that a dozen paws track inside. It’s not so great if you don’t take the slope of the ground into account (more on this later).
As soon as I had everything in the tent, I went to the car and was practically dragged back to the tent by the dogs. I had to almost force them to go for a pee before we went in for the night. Eventually they got the hint, did their business, and clamoured inside. King went right for my sleeping bag and was sprawled out before I could finish zipping the doors closed. Lilly was right there with him. I had bought Leo a new fleece for sleeping and I thought that this would be a good time to put it on him so he didn’t get chilled overnight. At first he almost looked embarrassed but once he curled up to sleep, he looked much more content as he dozed off. Once I reclaimed my sleeping bag, I fell asleep listening to the rain on the tent.
Luckily the rain did stop falling at some point overnight. Not so luckily, I had a bit of water in the tent. Remember how I had mentioned the slope of the ground? Well there was a small dip that allowed water to collect in the footprint and that soaked through the base of the tent. It wasn’t too bad and thankfully it was only a few of the dog blankets that got wet.
Not nearly as wet as I got as I stuffed the tent away. The air was muggy and felt as though another bout of rain was about to fall so I broke camp almost as quickly as we had set up the night before. By the time we were ready to go, I was covered in dirt and pine needles. With our gear packed away, I took the dogs for a quick walk and then we were back on the road. To read more about Sandbar Lake Provincial Park, you can read more in this post from the last time we stayed there.
The food selection west of Ignace is pretty slim unless you want Tim Horton’s or other fast food. Which I did not so we didn’t stop until we reached Kenora. In desperate need of caffeine, we popped into HoJoe’s Coffee & Eatery where I ordered a large red eye and the Godfather sandwich: prosciutto, mozza, salami, basil pesto, and cream cheese on French bread. They even warmed the sandwich up for me. Needing a place to eat with decent scenery, we drove to the waterfront where I had to stare at begging puppy eyes while I ate. We took a short stroll around the lot but since it was technically a paid parking area (shhhhhhhhh) we didn’t stay long. Besides, that’s not our kind of walking.
There were some brief bouts of rain but by the time were were into Manitoba, we were staring at blue skies. We made a quick stop in Winnipeg so my grandma could meet Lilly, and watch King get mauled by her, and then we were back on the road. The Trans-Canada branches off into two highways past Winnipeg: Highway 1 is the main highway and continues west and Highway 16, or Yellowhead Highway, which goes north before then heading west. My plan had initially been to camp at a park just off the Yellowhead near the city of Brandon but by the time I looked at the map, all of the sites had been reserved and I wasn’t sure of we would make it before the walk-in sites were taken. There was one campground that had tons of available sites and I still had a little bit of unfinished business there.
We drove south from Winnipeg to Spruce Woods Provincial Park. We had just been there last year and there was one thing that I didn’t do on our last visit that I was going to rectify.
We ended up getting a site almost directly across from the one we had last year and while this one had more privacy from the road, I didn’t notice the path that went directly behind our site. Whoops. Luckily it was mostly a non-issue as there were very few people in that section of the park and there was a nice view of Kiche Manitou Lake. Which was a good thing because I decided to stay for two nights so that our gear could dry. There was also less poison ivy around it although it was still around most of the site. This is not the place to go if you have severe reactions to poison ivy. It also made tying the dogs a bit more of a challenge because they wanted to go into the ivy and I did not want that to happen. I had a nightmare image in my head of Leo rolling in it and then wanting to snuggle.
If you’ve never dealt with poison ivy, it has a sticky oily resin that will attach itself to anything it touches. This resin then causes an allergic reaction that can be very severe for some people. While I’ve never had the rash from poison ivy, I have had reactions to stinging nettle and that is very unpleasant. Stinging nettle resolves faster so I don’t want to push my luck with poison ivy. And stinging nettle often grows with a plant called jewelweed that can help ease the sting. While it can help with poison ivy, they don’t always grow together.
I set up my sodden tent and once I had some space in the trunk, went back to get some firewood. Unlike last year when the wood was free and you could load up as much as you wanted, this year you had to do the usual buy-a-bag. The wood was being sold next to the snack hut…hmmmmmm yes a snack is in order. I bought a burger and a flurry to wash it down. Or rather I ordered a flurry as an appetizer while I waited for the burger.
With my mostly eaten flurry and burger in one hand and a bag of firewood in the other, I walked back to the car. Since it was a slow and short drive, I hadn’t put the dogs in the their harnesses so King was sitting in the front seat. Not thinking, I sat down to eat the burger before the bun got soggy (gross) with the flurry in the cupholder. I broke off teeny pieces of patty to give to the dogs and when we were done, I told King to get in the back. This is a normal thing that we do and normally he begrudgingly climbs over the centre console and into the backseat. This time though, as he started over the console he suddenly freaked out and launched himself into the back. I was confused. What just happened? Did he hurt himself and panic? That was when I noticed the white smears on my pants. He had stepped in my flurry and freaked himself out. There was ice cream EVERYWHERE! I could not stop laughing, especially when I saw the almost perfect paw print in my ice cream. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t even get a photo. He looked so guilty at first it made me feel guilty for laughing. I still couldn't stop.
We went back to the site with enough daylight left to walk the trail that ran behind us. The trail followed the lake and then connected with the Trans Canada Trail. We wandered around other parts of the campground, partially to give King a chance to wear all the ice cream off his foot and partially to make up for the lack of real exercise during the day. It must have worked because when we got back to the site, they had a brief play and then King was waiting to be let in the tent with Leo not far behind him. Lilly and I sat outside for a little bit longer before we also climbed into the tent and fell asleep.
With one day full day at Spruce Woods, I wanted to make it count so we were up fairly early; well early for me anyway. Even when we’re camping, we usually go for a walk before we eat so they were not interested in the food I put out for them when we emerged into the light. OK then, we’ll get going.
I wanted to visit the Spirit Sands one more time and it had to be early in the day before the sand got too hot for little feet. Lilly and Leo were in heaven with Leo rolling more than he walked and Lilly having a severe case of the zoomies. Even when I stopped to pour water for them, they were more interested in walking than resting.
While there are maps for the Spirit Sands, there are so many side trails that you can literally weave your way through there. The way we went took us through some gorgeous trees until we stood staring up at a steep sand hill. I tried to backtrack to find a way that would be a little easier but nope. At least the slope had some logs to help stabilize it but it's still a slog. Thankfully the view once you reach the top makes it all worthwhile. Once we finally got to the sands proper, I was able to take care of that unfinished business.
When we camped here last year, we hiked the Spirit Sands and I was completely fascinated by some grasses that I have never seen before. They were shocking (to me anyway) with their bright multi-coloured stems. I had wanted to take photos but in some places they were so thick that I figured it would be found everywhere. Then by the time we were done hiking, I had two tired and hot puppies that I was not going to make walk back over dunes just for some photos. Obviously I did not make that same mistake again and I took photos of any interesting vegetation when I saw it. Heck it’s a digital camera: I can delete the extras.
I’m not sure how to rank the difficulty of hiking in the Spirit Sands: technically it is easy because the terrain is not that challenging but hiking in dry sand is challenging in its own way. Not to mention the fact that for the most part it is completely exposed to the sun. Let’s call it easy but tiring. The hike to Devil’s Punchbowl is far easier with more places for shade.
It was getting warm and the last thing I wanted was worn out and sandblasted puppies so we went back to our site for some breakfast; they had kibble and I had oatmeal and coffee. Once we had rested, we loaded back into the car and drove to Isputinaw Interpretive Trail. I really enjoyed this trail the last time so of course I had to do it again. The 1.5 km trail starts with a boardwalk over wetlands before a climb up a steep hill. Luckily there are benches at the top which give a perfect place to rest and catch the view. And what a view it is! Then you skirt the side of the hill before returning to the boardwalk. Even with the steep climb, I would rank this as an easy trail but not one for the use of mobility aids or strollers.
Wanting to explore some new areas, we drove through the park and when I saw signs for Steels Ferry Overlook, I thought that might be an interesting place to check out. So we drove until we came to what looked like a farmer’s field with a road track and sign for the Overlook. Perfect. It looked like most of the traffic came from all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks rather than Corollas but I’m a farm girl and I know how to off-road. No problem. Just following the track. Following the track…ummmmm…following the track into a forest. OK no problem. Just going to keep following the track as it goes to a hill. As the track starts to get a little more uneven. I’m not so sure about this. I stopped and hopped out to see what happens around a bend in the trail and said “that’s a big old nope” as I saw the track lean a little bit too much in a downhill direction. So there I was, in the middle of this forest, in a Corolla, after off-roading through a field, to the top of a hill, and now have to execute a 98-point turn in order to go back. I was a little disappointed but at the same time it struck me as the funniest thing to happen on this trip since King stepped in my flurry.
Well so much for exploring new areas. We went back the way we came and stopped in the winter recreation area to walk part of the Trans Canada Trail until it started to get late and King and Leo were slowing down. Not that I was complaining; I was so tired that by the time we got back to the site, all I wanted to do was start a fire and stare at it.
The dogs ate and rested while I got the fire going, trying to decide what to make for dinner. Finally I came up with an idea: I sliced cheddar cheese and some of the sausage that I picked up in Wawa. Then I took some whole grain sourdough bread that I had brought from home and laid it on the grill over the fire. When the bread was toasted on both sides, I sliced it across the diagonal and laid it out on the cutting board with the cheese and sausage. Camping charcuterie! While I didn’t have wine, I did have a lovely beer from Sleeping Giant Brewing Co., aptly named Quittin’ Time. The dogs helped me with a few poorly sliced pieces of cheese so that I didn’t ruin the aesthetic.
With an oddly satisfying meal and a roaring fire, we sat and enjoyed the feeling of the day cooling off. That was until King decided it was bed time and when he says it’s bedtime, there’s no point in arguing with him. He will paw at the tent, bark at me, or even try to burrow under the fly until I let him in. Bedtime is usually 8:00 pm our time and he’s content to sleep all night long.
Leo ducked in before King, probably so he could claim my sleeping bag before the meathead did. Lilly and her serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) will not let me be by myself so she sat with me until the fire burned out then tried to wiggle into my sleeping bag with me.
The dogs were in no rush to get up. Even Lilly needed a few nudges to get up but eventually I was able to rouse the dogs enough to go for a short walk along the trail and through the campground. Then they watched me break camp and fill in all the holes that Leo and Lilly had made in the sand before jumping into the car. Before we left the park completely, we stopped for a hike at the Yellow Quill Trails just off P.T.H. 5 (Provincial Trunk Highway 5). There are three connected trails here: Ojibwa (1.8 km), Cree (5.1 km), and Assiniboine (Assiniboine 5.8). We walked Ojibwa as it was the shortest of the three. This is an easy trail and suited for all fitness levels. The trail is wide and level and could easily accommodate a stroller or someone using walking poles.
Soon, we were back in the car and heading north to our next destination. Well first we stopped at Farmery Estate Brewing to pick up some of fine offerings and then we continued west and into Saskatchewan along the Yellowhead Highway. We did not make many stops except at rest stops to stretch our legs and to fill up the tank. The dogs were content to sleep the drive away and after the day of hiking before, I thought that was the best thing for them.
We drove until we reached Blackstrap Provincial Park just outside of Saskatoon. The history of the park is quite interesting: Blackstrap Lake was created as a reservoir. A few years later, Mount Blackstrap was created for downhill events in the 1971 Canada Winter Games. Most of the eastern shore of the lake including the mountain later became the provincial park. The park has three campgrounds: Hazlenut, Kevin Misfeldt, and Sunrise Ridge. All of the sites were quite large and I loved the ones at Sunrise where you have spectacular views high over the lake. Unfortunately those views don’t have any privacy and with two reactive dogs, I decided to grab a site in Hazelnut that had us right on the lake. The downside to Hazelnut was the slope. It was steep in some places but I was able to find a less-steep section. At least this time there was no need to guess where the slope was.
We went for a walk through the park, hoping to get to the beach but unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed so we went back to the site. Leo and Lilly wrestled while King and I snuggled for a bit before we all went to bed.
Today was the day we went to see new places! But first, we had to break camp and go for our morning walk. Coulee Ledge was a great place to wander and we had some nice views of the area. The trail is wide and grassy with some areas that are more difficult. The trail has loops so you can go as far as you want without backtracking. When we got back to the car, the dogs had some food and we loaded up to head north.
After a quick stop at Eron Coffee House in Saskatoon, we continued north. I was happily driving along until my phone had me turn off the paved highway and onto gravel road. And then another gravel road. The kind of gravel road that will suck you into the ditch if you’re not careful. By this point I didn’t even know what direction we were going and there was no signal to see if I had entered the wrong destination…again. Then finally I saw a sign. Literally. I saw a sign for our destination: The Crooked Bush.
The Crooked Bush is a small grove of aspen trees that do not grow straight towards the sky but they grow in almost every other direction. It’s like an entire forest of life-size bonzai trees. What’s really bizarre is that the trees a short distance away grow perfectly normally. This is the kind of place that is right up our alley.
If you’re expecting an area where you can spend the afternoon, this is not that kind of place. When they say a “small grove” they aren’t kidding. It is small. It is very small. But if you don’t mind the drive over gravel roads and have an afternoon with nothing planned, it is a nice place for a picnic. There is a picnic table and a pit toilet and that is it as far as amenities goes. There is a boardwalk but it is rotting away and there are trees growing over it so it’s hard to follow the “stay on the boardwalk” rule. If you need a walker or are trying to push a stroller, I wouldn’t bother. However, it is short enough that if you have a little one or are capable of walking short distances with assistance or small steps up and down, it is doable. You can walk the whole thing in minutes and that’s including stops for certain dogs to pee on almost every other tree (I’m looking at you Leo).
After all that, what’s our verdict? Well I’ll just put some pictures here and let you decide.
Where does a car full of dogs and their person go after that? Well I was feeling bit peckish so why not stop for a snack? I pointed the car west until we got to Glendon, Alberta. Why Glendon? To see the world’s largest perogy of course. Unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed in the park with the perogy so I had to snap a quick picture on the sidewalk which is why it’s not up to our usual standard. Then we stopped at JJ’s Snack Shack next to the perogy and had an order of deepfried perogies. This time I did not share but they did get dog treats.
There was plenty of time after that to stop in St. Paul, Alberta to see the world’s first UFO Landing Pad. The landing pad was built as part of Canada’s centenary celebrations and includes a gift shop and museum. We were there too late for the gift shop but it was still a neat place to stop.
Even though it was starting to get late, we had one more stop to make. A short drive down the road brought us to Vegreville, Alberta, home of the Vegreville Pysanka. Pysanka are Ukrainian Easter eggs and this one is a marvel. According to the Vegreville website, the egg is a jigsaw puzzle that is 25.7 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 31 feet high made of 524-star patterns and 2208 equilateral triangles. It is outside in a park so you can visit it all year long and take puppies for a walk while you do.
When I checked the weather, it was calling for a severe storm to be starting soon so I decided to make the drive towards Edmonton and find a rest stop on the way. I was convinced that it was going to be a really bad storm from the bank of dark clouds over Edmonton. Like “take the ring to Modor” bad. Well I did not find a rest stop because they didn’t have rest stop signs. They had signs that said something else and it wasn't until we had sped past and saw the rows of trucks that I realized we could have stopped. So we ended up staying in the parking lot of a Denny’s. The dogs were content to curl up after a short walk around the lot, drink, and some food. In fact, they slept better than I did, especially when Leo tried to curl up on my belly. I guess I’m not very comfortable because he kept shifting and then gave up, climbing into the front passenger seat with Lilly while King sprawled out across the back seat.
We woke up before dawn. Rather I woke up before dawn and had to wait until breakfast restaurants opened up. I could have just sauntered into the Denny’s but I’m not going to break the “no chain restaurant” rule for Denny’s. Luckily I didn’t have long to wait before Headquarters Restaurant and Bar opened. I left with a farmer bowl and large coffee which almost made up for the less than stellar sleep. We found a school nearby and I took the dogs for a walk around the back field before we were back out on the road. OK that’s not entirely true. I stopped at Morning Brew (192) for another coffee before we left the city. Yes I was nursing two coffees at the same time. You try sleeping in the front seat of a Corolla and tell me you’d wake up wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Oh and remember that rain that was supposed to come storming in all night long? Well it didn’t. Not until after we had left Edmonton. Needless to say we didn’t make many stops. We did however stop in the town of Beaverlodge to see the Giant Beaver Sculpture. The museum is right next to the beaver which gives a good place to use restroom facilities and learn a little bit about the history of the town.
From there, we were back on the road and into the last of the rain as we drove into the Rockies and Jasper National Park. Because we had arrived a few days before Labour Day, it was going to be a long weekend and the last long weekend of the summer. I figured that if we were able to get a site, we would stay for the entire long weekend and really explore rather than risk not being able to find a place to stay later.
I spoke to the gentleman working at the entrance to the park about the availability of sites. He told me there were plenty of sites but many of the campgrounds had been cleared of trees to help control the spread of pine beetles. He told me if I was after privacy (which I was) my best chance would be at Snaring Campground. It was a self-registering campground so I would be able to pick a site when I got there.
I’ve said it before: talk to the staff! They know what they’re talking about. When we drove by some of the other campgrounds, they looked like they had been clearcut. Snaring on the other hand had large, beautiful trees and great sites. I was able to score a fantastic site with tons of space on either side. It was as far as it possibly could be from the vault toilets but that’s a small price to pay. Especially over the weekend when the entire campground filled up and I didn’t have to worry about people right next to me.
After I had our site set up, we went exploring the campground and found a real treat: the Snaring River provided a great place for the dogs to explore. Not to mention the view!
When the dogs were done sniffing, and peeing on everything, we went back to the site for some dinner. I tried to start a fire but the wood was soaked and eventually I gave up and climbed into the tent with the dogs. I had a much better sleep than I had the night before.
After our morning stroll and a breakfast of peanut butter and jam oatmeal, we set off to begin exploring Jasper National Park. We started with the Maligne Valley. Maligne Road is south of our campground and as we drove down, I was a little shocked at all the snow. Not a light dusting but pretty deep. As I was marvelling at the snow, I caught sight of a moose in the trees. Oh boy. The road has lots of bends so care is needed while driving. The road ends at Maligne Lake which is 48 km from the town of Jasper.
The parking lot at Maligne Lake wasn’t too busy so I brought the dogs out and we set off walking. There is a gift shop, restaurant, and cruise dock near the parking lot. It’s almost like a small town so we veered away from that and set off to hike the Mary Schaffer Trail. We followed it along the lakeshore until it turned inland. We started to follow it but with the slick snow, narrow trail, and a very pully puggle, I decided that it wasn’t worth risking a twisted ankle already. Even with my hiking shoes, the snow made it really slippery so we went back the way we came. Several of the trails around Maligne Lake do not allow dogs so we hopped back in the car and went back up Maligne Road.
As pretty as Maligne Lake is, I don’t think it compares with Medicine Lake. Medicine Lake is on Maligne Road and is 27 km from Jasper. There isn’t much of a trail but the view is incredible and is one of my favourite places in the entire park. As we were standing on the side of the lake, I saw some people on a large rock and thought that I saw a trail through the rock field to get there. We started climbing through the rocks and then I realized, this wasn’t a trail. By that point, we were committed. It actually would have been easy for me to scramble through but I was worried about the dogs so I was really careful.
King LOVED it! Here is a dog that didn’t want to step on shiny floors and was so insecure that he was worried in rough terrain when I first got him to climbing through a karst field. I was so proud of him. Although there were a few times when I tried to direct him and he didn’t want to listen. Then when he got to spot where there was a large gap in the rocks or he couldn’t get through, he’d look at me to guide him through. After a few times, he started taking my advise. Yes he does follow directions. Sometimes. Leo could put a mountain goat to shame he’s so agile and Lilly is not far behind him.
Finally we were able to pick our way to the rock and we sat for a little while to enjoy the sights. Then it was just a matter of climbing back which was not any prettier than it had been going out. It would have been much easier if I could have unhooked their leashes but that was not going to happen so we just took our time and got back to the car a muddy mess.
At the top of Maligne Road, just before it connects back with the Trans-Canada Highway, is the trailhead for Maligne Canyon Trail. Seeing as we have never met a waterfall that we didn’t like and the trail was supposed to have several, this was worth a stop.
The trail is marked as 4.4 km but with several loops, you can make the hike longer or shorter. There were certainly some lovely waterfalls and great scenery. Some parts of the trail are very easy and paved, although there are stairs. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds along the river, you can take some higher trails that go along the side of the canyon. That was an option that we took after getting to the end of the canyon. Especially since we were kind of leapfrogging with a family, some of which made a point of loudly commenting “I’m scared of dogs” and doing that melodramatic gasp and squeeze against the fences or railing. Considering that in many instances we were double digit feet away, I just shook my head and kept walking. And before anyone thinks I'm being insensitive, a few of them looked at us, made sure that their family was paying attention, then did their little performance. It's funny how they weren't scared of the dogs until they had an audience.
By the time we got back to the parking lot, the dogs were wiped out. It was an exciting day for them after all and the first time King and Lilly have been in the mountains. I’m convinced Leo was a mountain goat in his past life from the way he effortlessly moves through the terrain.
While the dogs had their dinner, I cooked mine. I started by chopping some of the sausage from Wawa and sauteed it in a bit of coconut oil. Once the sausage had browned, I added a pouch of Korean BBQ rice with a splash of water. When the rice was almost heated through, I cracked in an egg and stirred it until the egg was cooked. It was good but a little salty.
It was still light when King started demanding he be let in the tent. By 7:00 pm, they were all passed out in the tent while I sat up poring over the park map to plan our adventures for the next day
The dogs did not want to get out of bed in the morning and when I finally got them out of the tent, they were pulling me out of the site for a walk. It took me a little while to clue in: they don’t soil in their site. The more I thought it over, I realized that even Leo rarely pees in the site.
It was so late that I decided against cooking breakfast and figured we would just pop into Jasper on the way through. I stopped at Coco’s Cafe for a red eye and huevos rancheros, both of which were quite tasty.
Here’s the thing with Jasper National Park: the map book that you get at the gate has many of the trails listed but not all of them. When I saw a sign for Wabasso Lake (14 km from Jasper), I decided to stop and I am so glad that I did. The trail is 6.2 km return and I would say that it is moderately difficult. The trail is mostly a level single-track but there are some long and steep sections. The dogs enjoyed a splash in the lake before we turned to go back. We stopped on top of a ridge to take in the sights. While we were stopped, Leo picked a particularly scenic spot for a roll. I don’t think King liked Leo rolling near the edge of a hill and went to stand between Leo and the slope. Lilly waited until Leo was done to pounce on him for a play session.
The next stop was another spontaneous hike at Horseshoe Lake. Why this is not in the guidebook is beyond me. This lake compares to any other one in the park and is absolutely gorgeous! Trails crisscross all around the lake and through a spit of land that juts into the lake. While it can be a quick hike, I highly recommend taking your time at this spot. Bring a snack or even a book and enjoy being there. Definitely bring your swim suit. I even kicked off my shoes and waded in after the puppies. Too bad that’s all they wanted to do and they just stood on the shore watching me standing there watching them. The trails are not difficult but they are narrow and uneven so I would not recommend this spot if you need a walker or have a stroller. However, if you use walking poles and are very careful, you may be able to get to the lake and enjoy a relaxing moment.
While there are high cliffs, jumping from them is exceptionally dangerous and people have been seriously hurt. So just don’t do it.
We piled back in the car and after a short drive, we stopped at the Mount Christie Picnic Area (41 km from Jasper). Not because we wanted a picnic but because it was next to the Athabasca River and just too pretty not to stop. We waded down the cold glacier water until the dogs stopped pulling and then we went back to the car.
The dogs looked ready to pass out before the car was even in drive so we went back to our site. They ate their dinner while I heated up a pouch of beans and lentils and rounded out the meal with some more of the sourdough bread from home. It was a very satisfying meal after a busy day. As I was sitting in my chair with a beer in the cupholder in the arm, King came for some attention and shoved his giant meathead under the beer, tipping it into my lap. I didn’t know I could move that fast; unfortunately it wasn't fast enough to avoid a thigh full of beer. Well it did give me an excuse to wash my pants and the pair that I wore during our muddy hike through the karst field at Medicine Lake.
Once I had my pants hanging from the rope I had used for a shelter tarp, the dogs and I climbed into the tent and off to sleep.
When we emerged from our tent for our morning walk, I was surprised to see that the campground had filled up overnight. It says something about our great site that I didn’t notice until then.
With a belly full of sausage and egg wrap (yummy), we headed out for another full day. We went south again and when I saw Buck Lake, I hoped that it would be another great lake discovery. I was climbing over a tree that had fallen over the trail when Lilly started barking. I looked up and there was a dog trotting towards us with his owner calling after him. I’ve stopped telling people that “my dogs aren’t friendly” and have gone to the more direct “they’ll bite” in the hopes that people will be a bit more motivated to catch the dogs that they can’t control. This dog walked right up to King before one of the owners was finally able to get him. Then they stood by the side of the lake while I had two dogs having a meltdown. It turns out the trail ends at the lake so they didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Then rather than me try to climb back over the tree, the people said they would wait for me to pass and they would go back first. You would think that after their dog proved that he could not be let off leash, I heard them calling for him again not long after they went back to the lot. Maybe I’m just being overly judgemental.
After that stressful walk, we continued to drive south until we reached the parking lot across from the Columbia Icefield Centre (103 km from Jasper) and set out on the Forefield Trail. This 3.6 km (return) trail is a narrow trail that leads over a moraine and connects to the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail and it was a lot of fun to hike. The climbs aren’t too steep and the views are fantastic.
We picked our way across the rocky field and found ourselves at the Toe of the Athabasca Glacier Trail, which is a hike that is 1.4 km return. There’s a bridge over a narrow river next to the parking lot. It’s a metal bridge so dogs will have to either be carried over or splash through the water. The water was so low we were able to easily get across. Well the dogs had no problem splashing through and I was able to step over using some conveniently placed rocks. Another good part of this trail system is that you have a huge field of vision, a bonus when you have reactive dogs. We waited far enough from the trail so that a few other dogs could pass with no drama.
The hike to the glacier is easy with a steep section near the top and we quickly joined the line of people trudging up the slope. Once we got to the top, the trail skirts the bottom edge of the glacier and rejoins the trail to go back down. You can take guided tours onto the glacier which I think would be a fun expedition. Placards are placed around the trail to explain how glaciers are formed and how the glacier has receded over time.
We finished the loop at the top, stopping for photos of course, and made our way back down and to our car.
The dogs seemed to have plenty of energy after such a short hike so we stopped at the next trailhead we found. It happened to be Beauty Creek and it was worth the stop!
Beauty Creek to Stanley Falls is an out and back that is an approximately 4 km round trip. The trailhead is 87 km from Jasper. Like other trails in Jasper National Park, there are many side trails so it is hard to give an exact distance. The trail starts along an old road before it turns to follow the river upstream. The footing becomes more difficult with roots and rocks making the trail uneven but the elevation gain is minimal. If you have little ones with you, keep a very close eye on them: there are steep cliffs to Beauty Creek in some places and it would be very easy for someone to tumble over. I was even nervous about King who seemed to be trying to figure out how to go for a swim. Not to mention Leo’s depth perception is not be what it used to be. There are some places where you can reach the water but with a swift current, caution is needed.
The trail ends at Stanley Falls and was one of my favourite Jasper hikes. If you’re passing through, it is worth the stop. Best of all, I had three very tired dogs with me when we climbed back into the car. I know King is tired when he lays down to eat and this was one of those times. He and Leo went to bed while I heated a pouch of 3-bean chili and bread which I ate while ignoring the guilt-inducing Lilly eyes before we joined the boys for bed.
We woke up to a light drizzle. It was so light that I was able to get out and make another wrap, this time using pepperettes instead of the sausage which I finished yesterday. Today, we went north to Miette Road, stopping briefly on the way for a photo of a full rainbow. Miette Road road is narrow and winding and not suitable for trailers or large motorhomes. After a long, slow drive the road ends at a large parking lot. There are several trails that lead away from the lot but before we started down any of them, I needed to pop into one of the vault toilets. I stepped around the side of one and there, next to a bunch of picnic tables, was a bighorn sheep just hanging out. I was really glad I had left the dogs in the car when I saw her. She wasn’t there when I stepped out less than a minute later. You want to know where she was? Next to my car. As in directly next to a car full of barking dogs and she did not care one bit.
I went to the car and opened the door a little while we waited for the sheep to leave. Let me tell you, she was in no rush to go anywhere. Finally the way was clear and we started out. I was tempted to try and tackle the Sulphur Skyline Trail but at 8.8 km and with a rating of difficult, I thought that may be pushing the dogs too hard after all the other hiking we’ve done. So we settled on Utopia Pass instead: a 6 km round trip with an elevation gain of 378 metres. A bit of a challenge but not too bad. The trail starts with the Source of the Springs Trail which is as easy as a trail in Jasper can be.
The Source of the Springs Trail is a paved trail with minimal elevation gain and is a 1.6 km round trip. It leads past the ruins of the old Miette Aquacourt then continues to where the hot water pours out of the rock. You’ll know you’re getting close by the smell of sulphur.
The trail continues past the Source of the Springs to a narrow bridge over the river. From there, the trail becomes less well-marked and steeper. The trail becomes even fainter as you continue to climb and trail markers are few and far between. At one point, the trail crosses a small creek and splays out as people have tried to avoid the water. This leads to several false trails. I was trying to figure out which trail to take and King kept pulling me in one direction. I looked and just saw a run-off creek so in my infinite wisdom, I took another trail. Everything seemed fine until we ended up picking our way over fallen trees which isn't bad if you don't have three leashes to deal with. It was pretty though with all of the trees covered with hanging lichen. Sure enough, we turned around and saw a better trail on the way down. And of course, it turned out to be the trail that King had tried to pull us up. OK big man. You win this one. Leo and Lilly are so small they can go anywhere they want so they don’t have to be as trail-minded as King and I.
I noticed that the trail looked much more well-worn so I thought that we could follow that one; back uphill we went. I think we found Utopia Pass: there was a massive wall that rose up over us that looked like part of a mountain pass but with no signs, I wasn’t sure. Then we met a couple that were approaching us from up ahead. They had been hiking Sulphur Skyline and had become lost. So there we are were, none of us sure of where we were going. When they told me that there was snow more than halfway up their calves ahead, I decided that we had gone far enough and turned around.
We were able to stay on the proper trail this time (thanks King) and made it back to the bridge across the river. There was a group of people that looked like they were setting up for a video shoot. I apologized for ruining their shot and was happily told that we made it better and then the inevitable “Can we meet your dogs?” Well of course you can. The littles were so happy to meet new friends and King just leaned against some legs, almost knocking one person off balance. With the loving out of the way, we kept going down the trail.
We stopped at the Miette Aquacourt to wait for some people come up the stairs so we could go down and Lilly started dragging me towards the ruins. A chainlink fence keeps people out but she was trying her hardest to get in. I heard so many people say that it looked haunted that I kind of wanted to believe that I had a ghost hunting puggle but it’s more that animals are staying in there where it’s safe and the Beagle in her was smelling them. Or she's a ghost hunting puggle.
Finally we were able to get to the car, thankfully without anymore wildlife,, and started the slow drive back towards camp. The trailhead for the Upper and Lower Pocahontas Mine Trails are near the top of Miette Road so we stopped for another quick hike. The Lower Pocahontas Mine Trail is an easy loop that is less than a kilometre long and is an old mine site. Upper Pocahontas Mine Trail is a 1.7 km loop and while it is rated as moderate, it had the worst climb of all the hiking we did during our entire trip. It seemed as though we were walking straight up a mountain. Even the dogs stopped pulling me up and ducked in behind me. I will say that the view from the top is a pretty good one. Too bad I forgot to take a picture. That was probably due to the lack of oxygen from walking straight up. We then went to follow the trail, only to find that, yet again, there was a mesh of trails that went down. Too tired to try and figure it out, we turned to go back the way we came. We were about to go back down the climb that we had just conquered when I saw a sign giving the direction for the nearby campground. From the depths of my exhausted brain, I remembered seeing on a sign back at the trailhead that Punchbowl Falls was near the campground. Never one to turn away from a waterfall, we followed the sign to Punchbowl Falls. It was hard to see the falls and it was kind of underwhelming but after all of the other spectacular falls, it may just be hard to impress us.
The climb back up the the trail from the falls was steep but with switchbacks it was passable. Then we stood at the top of that monster climb and looked down the slope before finally taking a deep breath and picking our way down. I think the dogs wanted to run down but there was no way my ankles could handle that.
Finally back on level ground, we made our way to the car and this was where I had a bit of a dilemma: I was in need of gas and could either go back to the town of Hinton to fill up or top up the next time we passed through the town of Jasper. Well one look at gas prices had me driving to Hinton. Yes I know that sounds kind of silly but we were close to Hinton and there was a brewery that I wanted to investigate so it really did make sense.
After filling up the gas tank, we were driving back towards Jasper when I saw Mr. Mike’s Steakhouse Casual. Having never seen one before, I decided to stop. When I mentioned that I needed food to go because I had dogs in the car, I was told that the patio is dog-friendly. NO WAY!!! I literally started hopping from food to foot then turned to go back to the car, turning back to make sure that there weren’t any other dogs outside. I think I gave myself whiplash when I turned again to go back to the car. The dogs were even more excited than I was and they practically pranced their way through the dining room to the patio. We took a table in the corner as far as we could from everyone else and ordered a bacon mikeburger. It was a good burger and the dogs were only too happy to help me with the patty and some little bits of fries. It wasn’t until later (much later) that I realized it was a chain. Facepalm. I didn’t remember ever having seen one before. Of course after that, I saw them everywhere.
On the way back to Jasper, we stopped at Folding Mountain Brewing. The place was packed so I was glad that we stopped on the way back rather than try to come here first. I bought almost every beer they had, and an enamel mug because they were out of glasses, then asked if dogs were allowed. Indeed they are allowed on the patio. That’s good to know for the next time we pass by, hopefully once we’ve got the reactivity under control. I squeezed my flat of beer into the trunk and we were asleep almost as soon as we got back to the site.
This was going to be our last full day in Jasper so we needed to make the most of it. After another breakfast wrap, we stopped in Jasper for a photo with Jasper the Bear and just happened to see an elk that decided to model for us, then drove down Highway 93A. This was one of the last roads in the park that we had left to drive and when I saw Moab Lake, well I though it was worth a stop. Was. It. Ever.
The trail to Moab Lake is an old fire road so it is a wide and level trail. The lake is a one-kilometre round trip from the trailhead with no real elevation gain, a nice change from the day before. Lilly was fascinated with an old boat that we found while King and Leo were more interested in the water. From there, we continued down the trail, stopping at Whirlpool campground. Whirlpool campground is a 17.2 km return hike along the Whirlpool River. While we did not see any whirlpools, we were met by an amazing view from the campground. If I wanted to induce someone or a group to backcountry camping, this is where I would take them. The campground had four tent pads and picnic tables, a comfortable fire circle, and the nicest outdoor toilet I have ever seen, complete with a rope to pull across the trail to signal that it was in use. We sat there for a long time looking out over the water and taking in the mountains. I can think of no better hike to finish off our time in Jasper.
Reluctantly we had to go back to the car. Had we continued on down the trail, and with more preparation, we could hike to Athabasca Pass. This is a hike that would require considerably more planning as it is a 98.2 km return hike and while we can move at a good clip, almost 100 km in one day is a bit much for us. Maybe next time…
The campground had started to empty by the time we made it back and we enjoyed the quiet. I fried up some tofu and then added it to a bowl of ramen. The dogs watched as I prepared as much as I could for our departure in the morning. It’s amazing how cluttered the trunk had become when I wasn’t in it all the time. I rearranged everything, packed away the tarp and ropes, and tried to figure out where to put the newly acquired flat of beer. Eventually I finished and snuggled in with the dogs. By this time, Leo had become quite fond of his fleece and when he went into the tent, he would stand on it until I switched out his outside coat for his inside fleece. The fact that it made him look so adorable is a nice bonus.
After one last walk by the river, we packed up our gear and said goodbye to the site that had been home for the past six nights.
Since it was relatively early, we stopped at Sunwapta Falls (54 km from Jasper). We had checked the lot when we drove past before but it was overflowing. This time though, it did not seem to be too bad. I had just parked the car when I heard a man a few spots over trying to shoo something. I looked over to see a chipmunk in his car and it did not want to leave. He had all of his doors open and was chasing this chipmunk around the car, much to the amusement of everyone around him. I kind of felt bad for him then had an idea: “I wonder if Lilly could help?” Obviously I would keep her on leash and would just help to give the chipmunk some motivation to leave. Luckily, it decided to leave on its own.
It’s easy to see why this trail is so popular: the waterfalls are beautiful. If you want a place with fewer people the Lower Sunwapta Falls Trail is a 2.8 km return hike. The trail isn’t difficult but there are some climbs to deal with. It’s not the best place if you need to scramble away from other dogs; thankfully there weren’t many of those that we had to deal with.
Back in the car and we continued south, soon crossing into Banff National Park. It’s remarkable how much more traffic there is in Banff with almost every lot full of cars. Don’t get me wrong: Banff is a beautiful place but it shares a boundary with Jasper. Not that I’m complaining. Everyone can stay in Banff and we’ll keep Jasper to ourselves. You can be in on our little secret 😉
When Highway 93 reaches Lake Louise, it meets up with the southern branch of the TransCanada Highway, Highway 1. From there, we turned west and into Yoho National Park.
Because this was Lilly and King’s first trip out here, I wanted to get some pictures of them with some of the more well-known landmarks including Takakkaw Falls. So we drove up the perilous road with it’s series of tight switchbacks and didn’t even make it to the parking lot. There were cars parked out of the lot and down the road. Not wanting to wade my way through hordes of people, and likely many dogs, we turned back around and went back down the mountain.
Our next stop was the Natural Bridge. I hadn’t stopped here before and we were overdue for a walk. The bridge is a rock formation with water rushing underneath. You cannot walk on the rock itself but there is a convenient viewing area. We walked along the river downstream and was exploring the water’s edge when I looked down to one side and saw a bunch of used needles thrown on the ground. Well that’s just great. I gathered the dogs to me with my eyes glued to the ground and climbed back up to the parking lot.
I noticed a small trail that went to the upstream part of the river so thought that might be a better place for the dogs to play in the water. Well I lost traction in the fine soil and promptly slid down, almost impaling my arm on a branch. The dogs didn’t pull me; I did that all by myself. I quickly bounced up and did the old look around to see if anyone witnessed this prime example of my cat-like reflexes (or lack thereof), and casually walked out to the river.
There was a small bridal shoot upstream and both King and Lilly were intently watching the action, especially when they came closer to us. I half wonder if King was waiting to be asked to join in, his little stump slowly wagging. Leo was too busy trying to find a place to roll.
Finally it was time to move on. I briefly debated going to Emerald Lake which is another stunning place but I knew that it would be way too busy, so we went back into the town of Field to stop at the visitor centre. I was hoping that there would be a site available and the staff told me that the nicest ones would be in Kicking Horse campground. Back the way we came. Off Yoho Valley Road. Where we had been to try and see Takakkaw Falls. So that was where we went.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for the car ahead of us to get booked in, to the point where I turned my car off, we finally got ourselves a site. It was a good site directly across from the water tap and with no one next to us. I was glad that I hadn’t bought a bag of firewood because the previous occupants left us plenty.
With the tent up and bedding ready, we went to explore a trail that circled the campground. We had to walk back to the entrance and cross a bridge to find the trail. Some parts of it were narrow and on a hill but it was a nice place for a hike that was short and not too demanding. One thing to keep in mind is that you have to walk onto a bridge in order to get back onto the trail. I don’t think it’s a busy road but it’s got limited sight lines so someone could come around the corner and not see you.
The trail ended in the section of the park for trailers and as we made our way through, a dog started barking at us. I didn’t see it but I certainly heard it. I was happy my the dogs almost completely ignored it. Unfortunately, that was not the case when we got back to our site and saw that a gentleman had gotten the site next to us. The dogs did not like his German Shepard puppy. It was actually embarrassing because it was such a young puppy.
Since it was a little too early for bed, I took advantage of the pile of wood and soon had a decent fire going. I wasn’t too sure what to make for dinner until I went through the list of supplies in my head and came up with an idea. I thinly sliced some pepperettes and cheddar cheese and placed them on one half of a tortilla. I folded the other half over and placed it in my cast iron skillet. Camping quesadilla. And you know what? It was really good and was a perfect end of the day meal.
After a short walk around the campground, and getting barked at by the same dog again, we broke camp and loaded up the car. I took advantage of what looked like a brand new comfort station for a shower. I think these were the nicest showers in a park I have ever seen. They even had charging stations for devices.
When we passed through Golden, I made a quick stop at Bluebird Cafe for a brekkie burrito and a shot in the dark which is what they call a red eye. It was really good and I probably could have ordered a second one. I know that the dogs would have helped me if I had trouble finishing it.
It started to rain as we were approaching Glacier National Park and it seems that most of the times we’ve driven through, it has been raining. It did stop long enough for us to hike Rockgarden Trail. This is a short loop trail that starts with a boardwalk then a bare trail before you get to the rockgarden. The path through the rocks can be slick and you have to pick your way through. The sign at the entrance says that it is not recommended for pets but it was nothing compared to some of the hikes we had just done. Keep your eyes open for carved rock tiles that had been attached to the rocks. We made it back to the car just in time to beat the rain which continued off and on throughout the day.
Luckily the rain stopped while we were in Merritt. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Kekuli Cafe, one of which is in Merritt. I wasn’t sure what I was going to have but when I saw Pow Wow Frybread Taco on the menu, I knew that was it: chili on chili spiced rice topped with lettuce, pebre, sour cream, and cheddar cheese and with a bannock. And a half dozen of the sweet bannock. Excuse while I wipe the drool. If you’ve never had bannock, it is a kind of fried quick bread. I’ve had many varieties and the ones at Kekuli are my favourite.
With a big bowl of deliciousness in hand, I drove around until I found a good place to eat and decided to stop at Central Park. There were lots of empty picnic tables and I didn’t see any dogs around. I grabbed a table and poured water out for the dogs before I sat down to eat. I sat straddling the bench so that I could get a better view around me while I ate. I had a bannock in one hand and my fork in the other when I heard a bark and twisted around to see what Lilly had barked at. I turned just as she and King lunged. Because I had their leashes wrapped around one wrist, I was pulled completely off balance and dragged right off the picnic bench. I looked over to see a woman with a small white dog a good distance away from where King and Lilly were now barking. Remarkably neither my fork or the bannock were lost in the melee. I got the two under control and finished my meal.
They were still on edge so we had a mini bootcamp and spent some time working on our basic obedience, something that I had let slip. I’ve noticed that when that slides, they seem to almost get anxiety. I knew that they were better when we were able to sit and watch another woman play fetch with her dogs with no issues.
Once the dogs were calm, we set off on the road towards Vancouver. I had tried to find a campsite but nothing close by had spots available. I thought we would just keep driving until we either found a spot or a rest stop.
One thing I had forgotten was that it gets dark earlier in the mountains and soon there was no point in trying to find a campsite. So we spent the night in the Abbotsford Rest Stop.
It is amazing how much moisture collects on the inside of car windows when you have three dogs and a human steaming up the place. I had to wipe the windows down just to be able to see outside. We took a stroll around the lot, soaking my shoes in the dewy grass in the process before we set out down the road. I had a few hours to kill so decided that we would drive the Sea to Sky Highway, a stretch of highway that goes from north Vancouver to Whistler . I thought that there would be lots of places for the dogs to splash in the ocean without having to drive into downtown Vancouver. I looked at the route and was encouraged by how closely it hugged the coast. This was going to be perfect. But first: traffic.
After an eternity of crawling through traffic, we finally had an open road ahead of us. Well I had expected that there would be signs for roads or parks or parking lots or something easy to get us to the water. Nope. Finally, my sleep-deprived brain needed some fuel so we stopped in the Lion’s Bay Cafe where I got a shot in the dark (seems to be the name for red eye here). I asked about a place to get to the beach and as he gave me directions, he mentioned how popular it was. Darn. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we saw a few people with their dogs walking towards the water. Never mind.
This was one of the (many) times when my lack of planning bit me in the rump. It turns out there were plenty of places where we could have stopped but they were not marked by the highway. Or at least not obvious enough for me. Maybe B.C. is more subtle than Ontario. I finally gave up trying to get the dogs to the water and drove on through the towering mountains until we got to Whistler. Or at least until we got to part of Whistler; construction had traffic crawling so I finally turned off the road and into the parking lot for the Whistler Interpretive Forest.
We went for a much needed hike through the forest and it melted almost all of the traffic stress away. I enjoyed reading the placards posted through some of the trails about the plants that grow through the forest. By the time we made it back to the car, I was in a much better mood.
That was until I came to an intersection with the left turn lane controlled by it’s own light. We waited through at least two cycles with that light not changing. So me being me, I decided that the light wasn’t working and turned right, made a U-turn, and waited to go straight across. That was when the left turn light that I thought was broken changed. Facepalm. And the only reason I wanted to turn left was to go to Whistler Brewing Company.
I quickly ran in, grabbed their most popular beers, a glass, and ran out. Dogs are allowed on the patio (good to know) but the patio is tiny and on the sidewalk so anything that walked by that could set them off would set them off. Maybe next time.
Back on the road and back to Vancouver. This time though, we stopped at Murrin Provincial Park for another walk. We walked the trail around Browning Lake, stopping for a brief photo before loading into the car. I usually get King strapped in first and I am SO glad that I did this time. I was getting him settled when a woman drove into the parking lot in her SUV. Now the lot isn’t huge but there were a lot of spots available. Well she parks in the spot right next to me because it was the closest place to the park. I guess the extra 20 feet is asking too much. Not only did she take the spot but she parked so close that she had to hold onto her door to keep it from hitting my car. I was on the opposite side (passenger side) so I didn’t see what was happening until Lilly started barking. I looked at the front of my car and there’s a big dog peeking her head around the front bumper. I looked over at the woman and she just smiles at me and says “Tika wants to say hi.” I could barely choke out a “no”. I was floored. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around this: your dog was not on a leash, your dog approached strange dogs without any warning, and you didn’t even seem concerned when another dog started barking and when Lilly barks, she sounds vicious. How clueless can you possibly be? It makes me shudder to think how bad it could have been if Tika had poked her nose around the bumper while King was standing there.
I wasn’t going to let some (insert insult here) ruin my day. We were going back to Vancouver and we were going to get sushi because it was finally time for King’s birthday meal and Vancouver has some fine sushi. The drive back was considerably less stressful than the drive out and we soon found ourselves at Hakone Sushi. This required a serious feat of cunning because there was no way that I was going to pay for parking to run into a restaurant but the problem was, I could not see the restaurant. It finally dawns on me: it’s inside the building. OK this is the plan: get a parking spot as close as I can in the shade. Check. Look around for parking enforcement. None. Check. Run into the building. GO! I have a good long stride when I need to so I was inside that building in no time, probably looking like a frantic mess. Well I had been camping for a couple of weeks and had spent the night in the car so the “mess” part was entirely accurate. Finally I found the restaurant, I paid for my platter, and practically ran back outside. No parking enforcement. YES! I felt like I had gotten away with something as we merged with traffic. And there, not even half a block away, was parking enforcement walking towards where we had been.
So now that we had the food in hand, the next step was to find a place to eat it. I’ve gotten pretty good at eating in cars over the years but the hardest part is actually finding a place to park. Schools and churches often have the best lots after parks but the only church in the area had the lot closed off. I got tired of driving around in circles and we just stopped in a mall parking lot in the shadiest place I could find. It must have been quite a sight with me feeding pieces of sashimi to a small pack of dogs on the side of a mall parking lot next to a busy road. You know what? I don’t care. King got his birthday treat and I ate way too much sushi. Especially because of our next stop.
One of my best friends sent me to visit his in-law's Korean dessert shop, Snowy Village, the last time I drove through and it was a bit of a disaster. The first time I stopped in I ended up speaking to staff and not his sister-in-law so I had to go back the next day. When I did go by, his mother-in-law made me a coffee even though I declined the offer and left. I didn’t know that she had chased after me until after I had left. Well I was going to make it right.
I found a spot around the corner that was in the shade and even paid for parking just to make sure that the car, and dogs, would still be there. It was just around the corner but with my luck being how it was lately, I didn’t want to take the chance. They must have just opened because there was no one there when I burst through the door announcing that I had been sent and I have to take a selfie to prove it. Yes it was exactly like that. Luckily they were expecting the sasquatch that invaded their restaurant. Even though all I ordered was a green tea bingsu, I ended up walking out the door with a box of taiyaki and a coffee. His sister-in-law asked me if I wanted a coffee and before she could even finish her sentence, her mother had hit the grinder. If you aren’t familiar with Korean desserts, bingsu is shaved milk ice that has sweet toppings added. It is so good and I am totally hooked on it. Taiyaki are fish-shaped cakes that have different fillings in them. Red bean is traditional and I had one of those, along with a nutella, and pizza. I felt kind of bad that I couldn’t stay and even though the windows were open and the car was in the shade and it wasn’t a really hot day and the air conditioning had been on full before I got out of the car, I didn’t want to leave the dogs alone for too long.
They were calmly looking at me when I jumped back in the car and we headed back to the highway to leave the city behind. Technically we were in Coquitlam and not Vancouver proper, but we still had a lot of urban space to traverse to get out of the city and rush hour was approaching. Finally I found a park area to stop and I opened up the bingsu. It made me so happy to eat and with no chances of a dog paw ending up in it. Then I started on the taiyaki. By the time I had finished I was full. I was beyond full; I was so far beyond full I was in pain and that means something coming from me. My coworkers have put me forward as the office competitive eater. On the plus side, I wasn’t going to have to worry about dinner.
I tried to find a place to stay for the night but I was as unsuccessful as I had been the night before and we ended up staying in the Britton Creek rest area. This time though, I had an epiphany: because I use the floor of the back seat to store the dogs sleeping pads and blankets, it actually extends the back seat. So rather than trying to sleep in the driver’s seat, horrible for a side-sleeper like me, why not crawl into the back? I waited until I was sure that no one was looking and ducked into the backseat. King seemed surprised when I opened the door and climbed in next to him. I tried to get him to shift so that I could be the big spoon for once, since he likes to use my head as a pillow at home , but he was not having any of it and kept his stump pointed right at my face. After a little while I think my tiny shiftings bothered him and he turned so that our heads were in the same direction. The problem was that he had his chest in my face. Then Lilly climbed into the back and tucked herself into the crook of my knees. Well there I was wrapped around two dogs. I was kind of envious of Leo, curled up by himself under a blanket in the front seat. By himself, did I mention that?
And I still slept better than I do in the driver’s seat.
We woke up shortly before dawn and headed back out on the road. It wasn’t far down the road that we found Loon Lake rest stop which looked to be a newer rest area and much quieter than Britton Creek. I’ll have to remember this for next time. I had been hoping to fill up our water bottles which were running quite low but, same as Britton Creek, the water was not safe for consumption. Not time to panic yet, as the dogs still had water but I don’t like running low.
I was also concerned as we drove and saw more evidence of wildfires then I remembered seeing on our way out. I knew that the fires had been serious earlier but this time I could smell them as though I was standing in a campfire.
Luckily we were able to stop at the Kelowna visitor centre for water, and a break for me. I commented about how difficult it had been to find campsites in the area and the staff mentioned that many campgrounds were shut down because of the wildfires and even though the fires had been contained, it was too late in the season to open them up. Well that made sense.
We continued on to the other Kekuli Cafe for a bacon breakfast bannock and coffee. Rather than drive around, we stood in the shade at the trunk of the car and ate our breakfast. This time I had King’s leash clipped around my waist so there was no risk of losing any of the much needed brain fuel should a dog walk by.
Then we went monster hunting. Lake Okanagan is famous for a very special resident: Ogopogo. Think of it as Canada’s version of the Loch Ness Monster. And we found him! Or rather a statue of him. I was able to get a few photos and we took the time for a short walk in the nearby park before we were back on the road to Bad Tattoo Brewing Company.
The beer at Bad Tattoo is good and very unique but I think that the cans are the best part. The striking designs are the first thing that everyone comments on when they see them. There are two locations and the Penticton site has a patio that is dog-friendly.
And here friends is where I screwed up huge, even more than normal. I wanted to stop by and visit with our friends from Maxx Trails but didn’t want to go too early. So I thought that I had a route planned out that would have us close before we left. Well I was wrong and somehow ended up on the wrong side of Lake Okanagan and didn’t realize it until we were headed in the wrong direction. That’s what I get for thinking I know where I’m going.
I was still kicking myself when we got to Kootenay National Park. I was hoping that we would be able to find a spot since I had no luck trying to reserve one. It turns out, I didn’t have to worry. There were plenty of self-registration sites at McLeod Meadows and after driving around, we finally picked a good one. I was tempted to get a site that had a little creek through it and you had to walk over a bridge to get from the parking area to the tent pad. With a mountain of dog blankets, that would get really old, really fast so we passed on the mini-moat and settled on a large site away from everyone else.
It was late so we just went for a short walk before it got too dark and then we crawled into the tent for bed.
It was much more comfortable sleeping in the tent than crammed into the back seat of a Corolla and we stayed snuggled in there for a long time. Finally though, it was time to get up. When I saw that there was a trail to Dog Lake almost right behind our site, I knew we had to go.
The Dog Lake Trail is approximately 5.2 km out and back from the Dog Lake Day-Use Area. From there, it cuts through the McLeod Meadows campground and to the Kootenay River. Two bridges take you over the river and from there, the trail is fairly easy as you climb over 135 m elevation gain then down to Dog Lake. The trail at the lake is narrow and muddy. Then you turn around and go back up the way you came. Dog Lake Trail intersects the East Kootenay Trail so you can explore farther if you like. We had other places to go.
After a quick stop at Bighorn Cafe in the town of Radium Hot Springs for coffee, we hiked the Juniper/Sinclair Canyon Trail. The entire trail is 2.8 km each way with 350 m elevation gain but there are three parking lots where you can access the trail. If you use the two southern lots, the walk to the falls is shorter. The trail is easy in that the hardpacked soil provides stable footing and it starts by going down into the canyon from the parking lot. But because the trail is narrow there are few places to step off to let someone go past and since it is on the outskirts of town, there can be a lot of people. Once you reach the canyon floor, a short walk takes you to Sinclair Falls. The falls are a pretty place for some photos, especially if you have some four-legged models. The trail back up is steep but the switchbacks make it easier to hike.
Since Radium Hot Springs is at the southern boundary of the park, we drove north on Highway 93S until we saw a pull-off for Redstreak Creek Trail. This narrow 4.6 km out and back is a nice hike through tall stands of trees and a rather anti-climatic end point with just a sign to tell you that you’ve reached the end. Redstreak Creek is small so don’t plan on using if for a puppy swim.
A short drive north brings you to the parking lot for Kimpton Creek. The trailhead is a short walk south of the parking area. Be very careful when you’re walking because the shoulders are narrow and if you take up a lot of space, like with a small pack of dogs, you do get close to live lanes of traffic. The trail is a narrow single-track with some steep hikes and 450 m of elevation gain. It’s about 4.6 km to where the trail ends at a branch in the creek. While the trail follows the creek, it is sometimes far up a slope which means it is an unreliable source of water for dogs. Even my dogs found some parts of it challenging so bringing water is a must, especially on a warm or humid day. The views are spectacular and worth the effort. The walk back to the car was worse than the walk to the trailhead because the traffic comes behind you, so again be very careful.
As it was later in the day, we made one last stop at Olive Lake Day-Use area. The trail to the lake is short, wide, and level. Best of all, there was next to no one there so we were able to relax and take some photos. I think King realized how clear the water was because he kept staring intently at it. The colour is so unique and the water is so clear, it’s a must visit location.
From there, it was a short drive to our site and a much deserved sleep.
I awoke to the sound of rain falling on the tent so I packed up as much as I could inside, then put the dogs in the car with their breakfast while I broke camp. It was a light drizzle and I finished just in time because it started to pour after we had stopped at Hector Gorge Viewpoint. In fact, I took a photo of the marker for the Continental Divide, at the boundary between Kootenay and Banff, from the car.
I made a quick stop at Whitebark Cafe in Banff for coffee and a scone. I should have just kept driving. The cafe was busy so I was waiting for my coffee which is fine. But then when I saw a few people who had ordered similar items to my scone after me and leaving before me, I stepped forward to ask about it and got the snippy “yeah it’s coming”. It’s a scone; I’ll reach into the case and get it myself. Finally I got my scone and left. Hey I know: hospitality can be rough which is why I try to always be good to the people that work hard and get treated like garbage so when someone talks down to me when I’m just making sure I haven’t been forgotten, it stings a bit.
Well we were going to make up for that in Canmore with a stop at Blondies Cafe. A cowboy wrap, coffee, and break in the rain brightened my mood. There was a grassy area next to Blondies and it was filled with rabbits who did not seem to give a single care to the sounds coming from my car. Lilly was beside herself and we sat in the car until she was able to compose herself long enough to go for a leg stretch.
No stop in Canmore is complete without a visit to The Grizzly Paw Pub & Brewing Company. I stocked up on almost everything they have, joking about how I’m from Ontario. A couple next to me said that they were as well. As it turns out, we live in towns that are 10 minutes away from each other! What are the odds? In a country as massive as Canada that people from two towns with less than a thousand people would be at the same brewery at the same time? Mind blown.
I shoved the beer into the trunk, slamming it closed before anything could shift out of place, and we continued the drive on the Trans-Canada Highway east across Alberta. It was late afternoon when I saw a sign for Tillebrook Provincial Park and decided that we would stop for the night rather than risk not finding a place later. I reserved a site on the back side of one loop which gave a us a nice view over the landscape.
It’s a flat campground and had one trail that skirts the perimeter. We got the tent up and went for a walk to explore. The trail is a mowed path over the ground so it is an easy walk to enjoy, especially at dusk. As we walked, we had the constant sound of warning calls from prairie dogs; they were everywhere! The beagle part of Lilly’s brain went into overdrive. Even King was trying to get at them. Leo just wanted to roll; I don’t think he has a prey drive unless it’s a treat ball.
We made it back to the site to see that someone was just pulling into the site next to us; and they had a dog. Oh boy. Well since I wanted to go grab a bite to eat in the nearby town of Brooks, we can deal with dog issues later.
The woman working in the camp office suggested several places in town but when she said barbecue, I stopped her. We were going for Q and after a short drive, we found ourselves in the parking lot for HomeTime Bar-B-Que and Bakery. I walked in, overwhelmed as I stared at the menu. I asked for a recommendation and the gentleman behind the counter (the owner perhaps) suggested the meat platter with one, two, or three meats. I ordered the three meat plate (ribs, pork butt, and brisket). The plate also came with two sides (I got cornbread and baked beans). He told me that it was a good sized meal and will probably be lunch tomorrow. Challenge accepted sir.
We stopped in a park down the road and sat down with my dinner. It was good. It was very good. And there was nothing left. The dogs had tiny pieces of the pork but everything had sauce so no beef for them.
It was too early to go back to the site so I decided to stop and check out the Brooks Aqueduct. Now a historic site, the aqueduct was started in 1912 as part of an irrigation system to support the farmlands. We wandered around and looked at some of the placards before we climbed back in the car.
When we got back to the site, our neighbours were out with their dog. King and Lilly had a mini-meltdown so we went for a walk around the campground. And another one. And another. By the time we got back, they no longer cared about the dog next door even when that dog started barking at them. Good King and Lilly. It was a good night, until we heard someone on the other side of the campground having a kareoke night. I don’t know how many times I heard them singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, badly I might add, but if I never hear that song again, it’ll be too soon.
We emerged into the morning light to find that we were alone again. I broke camp under the watchful eye of the dogs before we went for one more walk around the campground. After all the mountain hikes, an easy stroll was good for the pups. Not wanting to delay, I decided that we would get breakfast in Brooks and we stopped at The Steaming Cup. With a tasty breakfast croissant and coffee in hand, we headed back out on the road.
Eastern Alberta and Saskatchewan are flat and because we were getting towards the end of our vacation time, we weren’t going to be wandering far from the Trans-Canada. We did stop in Moose Jaw for a quick photo of Mac the Moose, the world’s tallest moose, and the dogs had to pose with one of the Snowbirds before we were back on the road.
Once again, I lost track of time and pulled into Moose Mountain Provincial Park much later than I would have liked. We found a site on Kenosee Lake and I set up by the light of my headlamp. Even Lilly wanted to go into the tent early. It’s not often that I’m the last one up and I had to listen to a lot of unhappy snorts when I tried to reclaim my sleeping bag.
This was one of those mornings when breaking camp went very smoothly and after a short walk, we were back on the highway. When we passed through Moosomin, I realized it was time for some food and we stopped in at Witch’s Brew, mainly because I liked the name. I ordered a red eye, a full breakfast, and a cinnamon roll. With my food in hand, we drove to the nearby sport’s complex to eat and have a walk.
We crossed back into Manitoba, paused in Winnipeg to visit family and take a photo in the longitudinal centre of Canada. Then we had one more family stop for the night. A night in a real bed!
As we all know, all good things must come to an end and the last push home is always the worst. As we passed through Kenora, I stopped at HoJoe’s again, this time for a red eye and breakfast panini.
I was craving another coffee when we came to Vermilion Bay and I was happy to see Comfort Table Bakery open for the first time in a long. It was a quick stop before I left with a large coffee, sticky bun, and a maple butter tart. Because sugar.
It was an uneventful drive to Thunder Bay and we made one more stop at Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. and that was when I noticed the food truck in the parking lot. Hmmmmm I was feeling a bit hungry. Hot Paddle Pizza? Who doesn’t like pizza? I ordered a Hotter Paddle pizza (tomato sauce, spicy genoa, sliced jalapenos, mozzarella cheese, and finished with chili infused honey drizzle)…yes please. The smell was intoxicating as we made the drive to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. I’m not going to say that I ate it all before we got there because that would be wrong… ahem.
After many laps of the campground, we finally settled on a campsite, only to have a bunch of people claim the sites behind us. One of them had a dog that was off-leash and wanted to come for visit. Luckily it never made it over but there’s nothing quite as anxiety-inducing as listening to someone repeatedly calling a dog and the sound of rustling in the bushes that keeps coming closer. Ugh.
We curled up in the tent and drifted off, waking only when rain started to fall on the tent.
Yet again, I packed up the tent in the rain while the dogs had their breakfast in the car. One we were back on the road, I listened to the weather reports and it sounded as though a band of rainy weather was coming along with us. So rather than spend another night in the car or in a wet tent, we were going to make the long push home. This meant stops for food, gas, and pee breaks and that's it.
A stop at The Visitor Room in Terrace Bay resulted in finding a shop that makes all their own bagels on scene. And they make a lot of bagels. The bagels are really good too. I stopped as they were preparing to install their own coffee roaster so you know that’s going to be a stop we’ll make the next time through.
The urge to stop at Lake Superior Provincial Park was strong but the desire to stay dry was stronger. But the urge to stop for fish and chips at Agawa Fish and Chips won. This fish and chip stand is south of Lake Superior Provincial Park and has ample parking on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway. I ordered an extra side of fish so that the dogs could have some (without the breading of course). I was thinking it would just be an extra strip of fish; I was so wrong. There was so much food. The dogs were in heaven.
Then, finally, after more than 10 000 km and 22 days on the road, we pulled into our driveway. Exhausted, we stumbled through the door and looked around: it was good to be home.
Of course unloading the car proved fun. Not a bad selection of souvenirs.