Discovering Wyoming : All over the Place

And then there was this time I made a road trip through Alberta, Montana and Wyoming with Gordon.

After driving through Alberta and Montana we finally made it to Wyoming after passing the Roosevelt Arch. This arch marks the North Entrance of the park and is named after President Roosevelt after he placed one of the corner stones of this arch over a century ago.

We lucked out with the fantastic weather as it is October and the area is at the verge of winter. If we would have arrived 10 days later a lot of the roads would have been closed off already. So make sure you always check the road conditions on the website of the National Park you will visit.

Also, if you visit a couple National Parks on your road trip through the USA and you arrive at your first park, make sure to consider buying an annual pass if you are planning on visiting more than 4 National Parks. It will be cheaper in the long run.

The first big stop we made in the park was Mammoth Hot Springs followed by the Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. Three very impressive stops where every photographer among us can take a million pictures.

Unfortunately the sun was already setting once we made it to the Old Faithful. We were able to still witness an eruption before it went completely dark. Don’t forget to bring a visit to the Old Faithful Inn when you are there.

We exited the park and drive all the way down to Jackson Hole where we had accommodations booked for the next two nights so we could explore Grand Teton National Park and Jackson for a bit.

We stayed at Miller Park Lodge and had a very enjoyable stay. Nice rooms, free parking and located in the center of the touristy town of Jackson Hole. We arrived very late but had no problem checking in.

The next day we got ourselves a good breakfast burrito before we hit the road again. Today would be the highlight of our trip as we were about to go hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

Once we entered the park we made a quick stop at the visitor center for some recommendations about the park. The ranger was awesome and gave us some fun places to do and see. I will share my top 5 of things to see and do in the park in my next post.

At night we grabbed a bite at McPhail’s Burgers where they use fresh ground beef to make their delicious burgers.

Afterwards we visited the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar near the Jackson Town Square. If you want the Western Cowboy Bar you’ve seen in the movies, than this one is your go to place. It even has saddle bar stools inside and the place to have a good time in Jackson.

Into the Wild : Part 2

The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.

The next day I wake up early in the morning, get up and take in the view around me and I continue my drive to Seward along the beautiful ‘Turnagain Arm‘.

I look at the clock and decide to make one of those spontaneous detours. I decide to take the next exit on Highway 1 and that destination turns out to be ‘Hope‘. Hope is a 20 kilometer lonesome road away from the highway. When I arrive in Hope the little town seems to be in a deep sleep. Not a soul in sight. I drive through Main Street and park the car to take some photos.

In the early afternoon I reach Seward. This coast town is located at Resurrection Bay and from the beach you have a magnificent view over the mountains around you. I check in at the Moby Dick Hostel. It’s a basic but decent hostel and decide to spend the remaining two nights of my Alaskan Adventure here.

After I dropped my backpack on my bunk bed I drive to Exit Glacier. As the name says, this is a spot where you see a glacier from real close. You can even hike the entire glacier which takes about six hours.

The next morning is different. I feel it in the air, I can smell it and when I open my eyes I see raindrops splashing against the window in the room.

I join the breakfast table and come to know that the weather won’t get much better for the rest of the day. No worries, I am sure Alaska is still as gorgeous when it pours outside. My e-mails to the home front are overdue anyways so I dedicate my morning to send some messages and Skype with some friends.

When my Polish roommate walks into the room we decide to go visit the Sea Life Center down the road.

On my last day my roommate asks if I could drop him off in Hope. An hour later we arrive in Hope and this time the Sea View Café is open (opens at noon). Inside we find some tables with a the interior that reminds you of your visits to your grandparents. The stove is burning, the smell of soup is spreading through the room and the food tastes delicious.

After a delightful meal I wave my Polish friend farewell and return to Anchorage where I return my car and fly out to Los Angeles.

These five days in the Last Frontier were mind blowing ! Definitely too short and I really hope to come back here one day.

Into The Wild : Part 1

When I was on my flight direction Anchorage I had no clue what I was going to do. I had no plan, no accommodation. Only a plane ticket and a rental car. The greatness of this massive piece of land made me curious and anxious at the same time.

Once I got on board of my flight I tried to close my eyes immediately and catch some sleep. Not much later a mother with a little kid on her lap comes sits next to me. The kid is screaming for dear life and kicks me the first hour of the flight but finds peace eventually. In the meantime the guy in the seat in front of me tilted his chair all the way. I need some sleep !

A few hours later we start our descend into Anchorage.

By now it’s past midnight and most shops are closed already and the car rental office only opens in four hours so I got some time to kill before I can start my journey. These are the cons of a cheap ticket but all worth it. Luckily Anchorage airport has free WIFI and pretty comfy seats to get some sleep.

I close my eyes for a bit and to my pleasant surprise I wake up a couple hours later. I am heading downstairs and pick up the rental and start my drive to Denali National Park.

Once I arrive there I buy myself a ticket for the Shuttle Bus to Wonder Lake the next day. This 11 hour drive gives you a good chance to spot some wildlife and is your only way to get this deep into the park (with a motorized vehicle).

Now I still need a place to sleep for the night.

My travel guide recommends the Denali Morning Hostel nearby the park.

Once I arrive there I ring the bell but there is no one around. I notice a sign that says ‘Come look for us in the back’.

I follow the instructions but all I can find are a death silence and a tree filled with shoes.

When I return to the front office I see another guy looking for a way to check in. Not much later the receptionist is arriving with a van filled with guests who came back from the park.

I check in. Shower. Eat a cup of noodles and drag myself to bed at 7.49 PM …

Tomorrow will be a long day and I have to get up around 4 AM for the tour. Once I’m in bed I start noticing how quickly the temperature drops here once the sun is gone.

My alarm goes off and I started smiling as I was really excited for this tour. I felt well rested thanks to going to bed so early last night. I try to put my clothes on in silence and not wake up my roommates. It is freezing cold outside.

I get to my car and drive to the parking lot where the shuttle bus departs from. I booked a seat on the earliest bus of the day so I am back at a descent hour. As soon as we leave the sun starts to rise and we spot our first animals. A herd of moose cross the road like a New Yorker in Manhattan. This makes you realize that the animals rule the park and we are simply visitors.

Further down the road we also spot bighorn sheep, bears, caribous and a coyote. The bus drive takes you through some jaw dropping parts of Alaska and gives you an idea of how huge this Last Frontier is.

The weather is not bad at all but unfortunately not good enough to see Mount McKinley. The highest mountains of the USA is wrapped up in a bunch of clouds today.

A little after 5 PM the bus arrives back at the parking lot and I have still time to drive to Seward, a little town in the south of Alaska.

On my way I make a stop at the Alaska Veterans Memorial and a ranger walks up to me and asks me if I am planning to spend the night here. Knowing it is illegal to do so I told him I was on my way to Seward but he shakes his head is disbelief. I get confused and I probably look dead tired from the last couple days of intensive traveling. The confusion is complete when he asks me if I am under the influence but I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in days. I have no clue what he is after but this is just plain awkward.

I get back into my car and noticed the ranger followed me. I started to get nervous and agitated at the same time. What is his problem ? Half an hour later he gives up and turns around.

That evening I keep driving until midnight and decide it would be better to get some sleep for a few hours. The next morning I would drive along one of the most scenic routes of Alaska, the Turnagain Arm.

Visit Oregon

Oregon is underrated.

When people talk about US travel destinations they always think about Sunny California, Vibrant New York or Hurricane season in Florida.

But it’s clear to say the US has so much beauty captured in one country each with its own charms.

Oregon is filled with beautiful places.

Visit Corvallis and go strolling through the city center.

Jump into Crater Lake, one of the deepest lakes on earth.

Hike Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain (but be well prepared)

Go try some beers in Portland

Make a stroll along the beach in Cannon Beach

Don’t hesitate – Crawl behind the wheel and take that drive.

You won’t be disappointed.

Just keep in mind that Oregon is one of the two states in the US where it is illegal to pump gas yourself. It’s one of those old laws  where the government decided it was not safe for customers to just get gas themselves.

Friday, Freedom, Fog, Falls … Flat Tire

To embark on the journey towards your goals and dreams requires bravery.

To remain on that path requires courage.

The bridge that merges the two is commitment. 

I saw Raine again at the airport of Seattle on a Thursday night in February.

She left the sunny weather from California behind and exchanged it for a rainy weekend in Washington State and Oregon.

From the airport we picked up our rental car and drove into the night down the Interstate 5 until we reached Vancouver, Washington State, right on the border with Oregon State and Portland. There we checked in to some local low budget hotel right off the interstate with free parking. This way we avoided the high hotel prices from Portland and an additional parking fee. Portland is only a half hour drive from there.

On Friday morning we entered Oregon.

But we didn’t drive to Portland right away.

Instead we decided to drive on one of the most scenic routes of the USA, The Historic Columbia River Highway. The scenic route starts in Troutdale and goes all the way to The Dalles. We were really excited to discover this stretch of awesomeness.

As soon as we left the Highway 30 it started to get foggy.

It was a curse and a blessing. The fog prevented us to look far around us and some lookout points we stopped at were just like we were staring at a blank wall like at Vista House.

But the fog on the empty road and between the woods made the experience so much more fun.

Until we got a flat tire.

We pulled over and evaluated the damage. We had to replace the tire with the spare donut we had underneath the car. After a little investigation and some good help of that one car that passed by and pulled over we got back on the road with only half an hour delay.

We had places to go that day.

Not much later we arrived at Latourell Falls and the fog disappeared for a bit. Latourell Falls is a little less popular then Multnomah Falls but definitely worth a visit. We hiked up to the top of the falls and enjoyed the stunning views along the way.

Not much later we arrived at the famous and marvellous ‘Multnomah Falls‘. Most of the visitors make the little hike up to the Benson Bridge which is pretty close. If you have more time and a little bit of hiking experience you can also continue the trail until the top. The view up there is magnificent and worth the effort, even if it is a series of switchbacks you are about to conquer for the next mile.

We made Multnomah Falls our turnaround point on our scenic drive and drove off to Portland for more adventures where we switched our rental car at one of our rental car offices without any extra charges and a new full tank !

Winner !!

The 101 – The Olympic Peninsula

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. 

Highway 101. Maybe one of the most iconic highways in the USA that runs from Los Angeles in California all the way to Olympia in Washington State, some 2500 km up north.

It’s a very popular road for road trippers from all over the world who want to discover the Pacific Coast. The most popular part might be between Los Angeles and San Francisco but Oregon and Washington have some gems to offer as well.

When you start your journey from North to South then Olympia will be your starting point. From here you make a loop around the mystic Olympic National Park which is surely worth a visit.

Travel tip : If you are on a road trip through the USA and you are planning to visit 4 or more National Parks during your trip, then I would recommend you to buy an annual park pass as this would be more beneficial. Make sure the park you are visiting are National Parks as some regional parks are not included in the pass.

Continue your trip and you will pass along beautiful Lake Ozette, a great place to stretch your legs for a bit.

A little later you will arrive in Forks, the town that got popular because of the ‘twilight’ series. It’s a little town like any other in the area but if you are on your way to Forks you should definitely turn right before you enter the town and drive to La Push, an Indian reservation with pristine beaches.

Make a stop at First Beach and Second Beach and follow the trail through the mystic forest until you reach the beach and get rewarded with stunning views.

Lake Quinalt demands another stop before you make your way further south direction Oregon State.

You will also pass through (or overnight) in Aberdeen, birthplace and hometown of Kurt Cobain.

Squamish (Winter)

It’s being here now that’s important. There is no past and there is no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one. 

I visited Squamish for the very first time on the last day of 2014 and it was definitely one of the best days of the year.

A friend of mine transformed herself into the local guide of the day (once more) and took me to some really great places.

We left in the early morning and the weather was just fantastic ! Blue skies and some decent temperatures for British Columbia for this time of year.

Before we entered Squamish we made a stop at Whytecliff Park. Check this place out if you can ! It’s a perfect spot to chill out for a bit.

By the time we got to Squamish we were already pretty hungry and made a stop at Mag’s 99. It’s that bright yellow building along Highway 99. You can’t miss it unless you are color blind. It’s a great place to get some delicious mexican food ! The restaurant has a funky interior and with the music playing and the sun shining bright through the windows I had a feeling I was having lunch in Guadalajara instead of Squamish. Great experience !

We continued our day trip until we arrived at the new Sea to Sky Gondola. This Gondola ride gives you a great scenic view over the Howe Sound. You also can see the Stawamus Chief which I still need to climb (hopefully this summer).

Once we got to the top we had a hot beverage at the Summit Lodge and I called my parents in Belgium to wish them a Happy New Year. Very odd I must admit when you are looking at the Sky Pilot (mountain) covered with snow on a crystal clear sky afternoon.

After we enjoyed our drinks and the calls were made we crossed the suspension bridge and made a little hike to the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform where we had some more mind blowing views of this beautiful area.

Time flew by and we had to get back to Vancouver to get ready for the New Year’s Eve Party but on our way back we made one short stop at Porteau Cove, another beautiful place to hang out. After we enjoyed our last sunset of the year we set course to Vancouver again. What a fantastic day !

The second time I visited Squamish was the day before my birthday. Seems like Squamish makes a great end of a chapter every time I go. This time we visited the Squamish Estuary and Spit, a great nice look out point and great place for kite surfers.

This summer I am going back to the Squamish Music Festival in August and I hope to climb the Stawamus Chief and explore more of this awesome area.

Vancouver Island

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. 

Skipping Vancouver Island on your trip through Western Canada is like going to Arizona and skipping the Grand Canyon. You would miss out on a tremendous amount of beauty.

From Vancouver you can take the ferry from Tsawassen (Vancouver) to Schwartz Bay (Victoria).

I visited Vancouver Island last October. I must admit, it’s not the best time of year weather wise but if you want to avoid the crowds, this is definitely your travel period. And it’s Vancouver Island after all, so you can except rain any time of year.

Victoria is quite cozy with a bunch of nice places to eat and drink. One of those place is Jam Cafe in Victoria. An awesome breakfast place with delicious food ! Go check it out before you start your stroll through the streets of the capital city of British Columbia.

From Victoria I started a day trip to Port Renfrew. Don’t except a lot of traffic on this Highway 14 once you passed Sooke. That’s where the beautiful and sometimes bumpy road of Vancouver Island begin. We drove all the way until the end of Highway 14 where you will find the Juan de Fuca Trailhead. You can park your car there and make a nice hike to Botanical Beach where some hikers start the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. A 47 km trail between Port Renfrew and China Beach. Unfortunately I only have a few hours left on the clock until I have to be back in Victoria. But no worries, there was time enough to get myself into some trouble.

On the way back through Port Renfrew we made a stop at the Port Renfrew Hotel for lunch. Unfortunately it was raining so we had to eat our lunch inside instead of the nice porch in the back. Once we stepped inside we could definitely separate the tourists from the locals. One of those locals walked up to my friend once we went outside and he told us about this beautiful grove we should check out. The Avatar Grove. The way to get there was kind of descriptive. They only thing missing was a wooden leg and an eyepatch to believe I was on my way to have a great storyline for a new Indiana Jones movie.

After making some snaps at the pier we took our chances and made our way to our next adventure.

It only took us one wrong turn before we found the first handmade sign to the grove. A little further we came across a fork in the road with no sign but made a right turn. From this point on we had to brace ourselves for some serious potholes so keep your eyes open. This bumpy road goes on for a while.

Just when we were almost convinced we took the wrong turn we saw a sign along the road with Avatar Grove. No parking lot, no cars, no other people since we left Port Renfrew. We parked our car along the road and made our way to the entrance.

It rained a little harder now.

We started with the lower trail and stumbled upon a hand drawn map that looked like a circle with a crooked stick and some tree names written on it. After all, the map was pretty accurate but unfortunately we had to turn around after five minutes because the whole trail was flooded.

We turned around and started the upper trail. This part of the trail also contained the Gnarly Tree. We made our way along the like coloured markers through the trees. They made it a lot easier to continue our trail. Due to the rainfall some parts of the trail were under water or washed out a bit. At the end of the Upper Trail you will find the Gnarly Tree, a giant curved tree.

I cannot describe the exhilaration I felt to walk between these massive trees. You feel so small but at the same time you feel one with this incredible place.

Getting soaked is part of the ‘Rainforest Experience’ !

So glad our local guy told my friend about this place.

But it’s time to move on.

From Victoria we left the following day to Ucluelet and Tofino, two awesome beach villages on the west coast of the island.

Our first stop was in Ucluelet where we rested our heads in the ‘Surfs Inn Hostel‘. This hostel has a good location and is a great place to meet other people. I would recommend this place to anyone. A lot of surfers stay here and they also give surf lessons (with a discount) if you stay there. Don’t forget to write your name on one of the surf boards before you leave.

Highlight of Ucluelet was the Wild Pacific Trail. This loop is an easy walk as long as the strong winds are not blowing you right into the ocean. It took me three minutes to get soaking wet. So make sure you bring a lot of clothes to the island because my clothes from the Avatar Grove where still drying on the backseat of my car. Or just bring waterproof clothes.

The drive from Ucluelet to Tofino goes along the Pacific Rim Highway and you are driving along a handful of amazing beaches. Make sure to make some stops here and also stop at Tacofino Cantina for some great food.

Tofino itself is just a paradise for every water sport fanatic and has a very chill vibe and is filled with young people. I absolutely loved it and hope to come back to this area to explore it some more.

And this is only a tip of the iceberg of what Vancouver Island has to offer so give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed !

While in Vancouver : West-Vancouver

The cost of not following your dreams, is spending the rest of your life wishing you had

After exploring Downtown and North Vancouver it’s time to stretch our legs in beautiful West-Vancouver. I visited West-Vancouver only a couple of times during my stay in Vancouver but every visit was memorable.

What I remember from this neighbourhood is a hike in Ambleside Park on Christmas morning with my roommates, a perfect Christmas start if you ask me, especially after that Christmas Breakfast with omelettes and eggnog. Not such a fan of eggnog but if you spike it enough it will be enjoyable at some point.

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On the last day of the year a good friend of mine took me on an adventure. We started the trip with a stop at Whytecliff Park, a popular place for divers and a great place to take some pictures. If you climb around the rock like a little monkey, make sure you pay attention to the slippery rocks ! No lifeguard around here to save your ass. IMG_3541

In my last week I was living in Vancouver I went to West-Vancouver twice. I already told you I am procrastinator and I had a bucket list to check off. And the list was still pretty long. I lucked out and was able to scratch two more things off the list before I left.

The first one was hiking up to the Eagle Bluffs. The hike starts at the Cypress Mountain parking lot. The hike has some switchbacks but once you get up there it’s a fairly easy hike. The hike itself is not the greatest but the view from the Eagle Bluffs is worth all of it.

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On my last day in Vancouver I went to visit Lighthouse park with two sisters from Belgium. I went to school with the oldest sister and didn’t see her for years. Funny to think that sometimes you need to be on the other side of the planet to meet people from your own country again. They showed me around and I absolute loved it, especially with Pippa, the mountain dog as company. There are a bunch of hikes to do in the park so I will definitely go back !

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While in Vancouver : North Vancouver

There are years that ask questions and years that answer

Only a sea bus away from Downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver is quite conveniently located for those who love to ski and stroll along the beach on the same day.

North Vancouver has two of the three ski hills in Vancouver. Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour. The third one is Cypress Mountain and is located in West Vancouver.

My favourites spots in North Vancouver (so far) are :

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

Not as big and spectacular as the Capilano Suspension Bridge but less busy and for free. This bridge is located near the Lynn Canyon parking lot. You can do some easy hikes around here.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The admission for the Capilano Suspension Bridge is not cheap but you do get access to the bridge, the cliff walk and the treetops. All cool adventures to go to with the family. Please note if you a permanent resident from British Columbia you only pay admission once for the whole year.

Make sure you bring a visit to the park during the winter holidays when the ‘Canyon Lights’ season is switched on (somewhere end November till begin January). The whole park is then lit up with thousand of christmas lights.

Capilano Lake and the Cleveland Dam

Very scenic spot to make awesome photos. Also a starting point to do some easy hikes in the area.

Lonsdale Quay 

A nice spot to hang out with friends or to go on a date. Stroll through the indoor market, enjoy the view from the deck or go up the red ‘Q’ staircase and have a great view of downtown Vancouver. Nice restaurants and bars nearby. Definitely give Raglan’s Bistro a try (poutine, burgers, yam fries,…).

Need more food ? 

For a hangover breakfasts (or any other meal) Eighties is your heaven on earth. Trust me, on a Saturday or Sunday morning you won’t be the only one looking hungover. The place is a little bit outdated but the food is great !

For delicious Thai food Krua Thai is always a winner !