2015 Glacier National Park

2015 Trip to Glacier National Park (GNP)

Wow. GNP is the most beautiful park I’ve seen yet.

The main road, and for the most part, the only road, that goes through it is called the Going To The Sun Road (GTTSR). It is only open for a short time each year. From some time in June to some time in September. Since there is no for sure opening date you can point to in June I did not want to go in June. July and August is prime time for families on summer vacation and I usually do my best to avoid peak crowd time. So I decided that early September would be the best bet for finding the road open, for smaller crowds, and to find the cooler weather I love.

Next I had to decide on lodging. From what I read online, the most popular part of the park is called Many Glacier on the east side of the park. Since I like to maximize my time in the park I decided to fly in to Kalispell and stay one night at Lake McDonald Lodge. This would give me a chance, although only one day, to acclimate and hike a couple of easy flat hikes.

Then we drove to the east side to stay at the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn. Unfortunately we had to drive around the park rather than through it since it had snowed right before we arrived and the GTTSR was closed. Swiftcurrent is a little less expensive than the Many Glacier Lodge and it is also very close to several of the trailheads we wanted to do.

We could not have been happier with this plan. We got to see a lot of the park. The trip report is here in a link called 2015 Glacier National Park.

We are considering seeing Alaska in 2016.

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Vacation 2014 Was Great! What’s Next?

We could not have loved our visit to Yosemite, Sequoia, Point Lobos, and Lands End more. We were blessed with great weather and fabulous sights! Everything went smoothly … just as if someone had planned it that way 😉

I have started painting one of the beautiful sights we saw on that trip… Sequoia Trees

Sequoias In The Mist

Photo of Sequoias In The Mist

While the memories and the painting will sustain me for awhile, soon we will be choosing the next destination.

There are so many places and things to see here in our “backyard” (the USA). Which will we choose? Only time… and research will tell.

One thing I know is for sure… We are Planning To Relax.

Sights To See and Things To Do

This week we’re looking at sights to see and things to do.

The way I start on this subject is by reading and looking at a map. I use all the resources available to me so I get a free map from AAA, I keep one eye on the map and use the other one to look up cities along the way on the internet. I could save time by just looking up what other travelers want to see but I’m too afraid I’ll miss some off-the-beaten path sight or event that might be special to me.

So I look up and read about the cities along the route and also look up things that other travelers like to do. I read forums on travel sites and look for information from National and State park websites. I search for festivals on the dates of our travel. I also look for videos on YouTube. I can spend hours doing this. It adds to the anticipation of the trip.

I like art and animals and would like to see every national and state park. I may make the national parks but won’t have time to hit all of the state parks. In college I really enjoyed my geology class, so when I read that Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia had naturally formed stones shaped like crosses I had to put this place on my must-see list! Even though it falls on one of our busiest days.

Also I found that Monticello, President Jefferson’s home, was not far out of the way while driving to Front Royal I had to put that on the list also. I expect that detour will be a welcome stop on a day where the rest of it is spent driving.

Once we reach Front Royal we will spend the night and spend the next day driving Skyline drive through Shenandoah National Park. There are 2 lodges there so those are must-sees for us. Those stops will be a chance to have a snack and look at some souvenirs and make notes about staying there for any future trip we might make. I believe there are 75 overlooks in Shenandoah so we’ll be stopping at most of those. I am hoping we will have time for a couple of hikes. Most people will stay on the main road but I like to make some time for hiking so I can experience more sights, sounds, and smells of the park. I love hiking down a trail and experiencing the peace that it has to offer. When you listen, there may be birds singing, squirrel sounds, you might hear something walking through the brush. I scan the ground, at eye level and up in the trees keeping an eye out for things that get overlooked such as snakes, lizards, a deer, or an owl. Be as quiet as possible and keep an eye out for any motion. It may sound strange but I even appreciate the smell of pine as it adds to the whole sensory experience. Michael got me a gift, a book called “Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park”. So far I’ve only been able to narrow it down to 8 hikes. I picked some throughout the park so whenever the mood strikes we should be near one. I chose hikes 2 miles roundtrip or less so we still have time for our overlooks and other picture taking opportunities. With 75 overlooks in a distance of 105 miles and with a speed limit of 35-40 mph and given all the time we use taking pictures… it will be a full day for sure. Choosing some hikes in advance and knowing where they are is a great way to save precious time.

Next there are the three days on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Choosing what to see and do here were some of the most challenging decisions. I am not accustomed to the twisty turny mountain roads and how much travel time this takes – let alone what sights will interest us most. So I looked up more information on the BRP and found out sights are divided up by mile post markers. Then I started looking at things that looked interesting like a general store where we might be able to buy local apple butter or an orchard where you can pick apples, etc. I listed a few things for each day. As we are driving along depending on how we feel we will choose from that list. If you like wine or music you should be sure to search for information on that too – there are plenty of opportunities there.

Once I had this list for the BRP finished it was time to pick the sights in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP). I did this in a similar manner to Shenandoah by looking at the park website and the top sights to see in the park. Since our big hobby is photography we also look for things we might want to take pictures of. There are structures there (old buildings, ruins, etc) and elk. This is a big park and there are many roads as opposed to the one main road in Shenandoah. Choosing hiking trails will be more challenging. All we can do is choose a few somewhere near the sights we will see for each day and see how it goes.

Friday night we will spend the night in Asheville. Saturday we’ll see the Biltmore Estate. Since I cannot take pictures inside (their rule) I am very interested in seeing the grounds. From what I read there is way too much to see here to cover it in a day but we’ll see what we can do. If you plan on visiting the Estate be sure to read the information on their site. https://www.biltmore.com/visit/default.asp I found out that the day we will be there they are suggesting we make a reservation because the number of visitors is expected to be high.

We plan to drive back to Charlotte the same day. That way Sunday will be a low stress day. We’ll have a nice breakfast and have plenty of time to return the car and get to the airport.

Next week we will look at possible restaurants we would want to try.

Lodging Choices

This week we’re looking at lodging choices.

This can be a tough one because when you are gone for a week or more this category of expenses can really add up quick. You don’t want to stay in a flea-bag, and I have, and if you are like me, you can’t justify the cost of the Ritz Carlton either. So just how much do you have to pay to get a decent room? And you have to decide what type of lodging you like. Do you want a hotel, a cabin, or a bed & breakfast (B&B)?

Hotels allow anonymity and you may find some comfort in knowing what to expect if you always stay in the same hotel chain. If you choose a B&B there will be some socializing with other guests and with the manager or owners. Also some B&Bs will have certain room where you share a bathroom with other rooms (and some have their own bathrooms). You’ll have more privacy if you decide to stay in a cabin or house.

Because we are usually only away for a week and we feel that our time is so precious (we wish we could be gone longer) we don’t often choose a B&B. Many of these start serving breakfast at 8am and because photography is our hobby we may want to be out 2 hours before that to be prepared for first light. When you eat at 8am you may not leave until 8:30 or 9:00 and for a morning person that feels SO late. We did try one we liked in Maine and the first morning we stayed for breakfast. We really enjoyed socializing with the other guests and the breakfast was great. So we recommend trying one if you are so inclined.

I, in particular love the character of a rustic cabin or a lodge. Unfortunately many times I find that they want us to stay more than one night and on a couple of our recent vacations that has not been in our plan. Also, they can be a little pricey. When we go somewhere new we like to cover a lot of territory learning the most we can and hoping to return to our favorite parts for a longer period of time.

So in general, when I can, I book a cabin or lodge and the rest of the time I book a hotel/motel. This trip, I have booked hotels for every night. We will be in Cherokee, NC for 3 nights so that was an opportunity for a cabin but my budget won out because we got a discount on an already good price for staying 3 nights at a hotel. It’s the practical thing to do because we don’t spend enough time in the room to really take advantage of the amenities.

I like to look at reviews by other travelers, such as on TravelAdvisor (and many others), in choosing lodging. Sometimes you find a local, non-chain hotel that people think is really special. After you read enough of these reviews you can kind of get a feel for which ones seem more valid and which ones sound less serious (because some other issue made them angry and now they are on a rant). You can at least get a general vibe about what the issues are. If many people think the place was clean but “outdated” this may be your chance to get in on a bargain if you can overlook that relatively small issue. Also travel forums can be very helpful because you can ask the advice of people who have been there.

You should already have a price in mind that you are willing to pay so that emotion doesn’t take over when you see the fabulous pictures of some great resort. Then you can choose your price point amongst the accommodations that had the reviews you were the happiest with.

Once I’ve chosen a hotel I like, I try to book it through the website of my airline of choice so that I can get frequent flyer points for staying there. I also have memberships at some of the hotel chains and key those in so I can also get credit at the hotel.

By this time I am compiling an itinerary so we can refer to it and keep track of confirmation numbers, etc.
I start a document that looks something like this:

(Date) Thursday, Get into Charlotte 5pm flight confirmation #1234, Pick up car at xyz rental confirm# 789, stay tonight at the Best Western confirmation #3456. Fill in suggestions for sights to see later.

(Date) Friday, stay tonight at La Quinta confirmation #758. Fill in suggestions for sights to see later.

Next week I’ll be looking at choosing sights to see and things to do each day.
Thanks for visiting.
Wishing you blessings,
Sharon

Which airport? And Car Rental…One Way Rental… or not?

As promised this week we decide about renting a car and which airport(s) to use – and if we think we can fit all these sights in and still have time to relax.

I decided we will need at least 3 days to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).  That may be trying to see too much each day, but my goal is to see the whole thing once and then maybe someday we’ll come back and do what we missed.    

That leaves us 3 days for Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) and 1 day for Asheville.

Now we need to decide what airport to fly into and out of and we’ll need a rental car.  If you are considering flying into one city and flying back home from another city, remember to check and see if the rental car company will be charging you a one way return fee.  That can be pretty expensive.  My rental company wasn’t going to charge me a return fee but we decided to fly in and out of the same city, Charlotte, NC, anyway because of other reasons. 

One consideration was flying into Dulles airport in Sterling, VA, but most of the flights take 6 to 7 hours to get there because of the stops they make and we decided we would rather drive to Virginia and see the sights along the way.  We ended up deciding to fly out Thursday afternoon, spend the night just outside of Charlotte and then see Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home) on the way up to Front Royal.   Flights on Thursday were cheaper than those on Friday so it offset the price of the hotel for Thursday night.

 So to recap that’s:

Fly to Charlotte Thursday.

Drive to Front Royal Friday and see Monticello.

Spend Saturday in Shenandoah.

Spend Sunday thru Tuesday driving the BRP

Spend Wednesday thru Friday in GSMNP

Spend Saturday in Ashville

Fly out of Charlotte Sunday

 Next week I’ll be looking at hotel choices.  I’d like to find some comfortable lodging that doesn’t blow the budget!

 

Choosing A Place To Go

We decided to do a leaf peeping trip for 2013.  My research told me that the Blue Ridge Parkway was a good choice for seeing fall color.  My husband Michael has not yet been to Shenandoah National Park so I started looking into the possibility of starting our trip there.  I had the chance to spend a day in Shenandoah a couple of years ago on a business trip and knew this would be a pretty place to start even though everything was still green when I was there in September.  It just wasn’t as fun visiting the park alone as it will be when he is with me.

We have one week to spend on this trip.  Normally we take off Monday through Friday but this year we have also taken the previous Friday off so the entire trip, at the current time, will be 9 days starting on a Friday and flying back home on a Sunday.

Neither of us, but mostly me, is that keen on hiking uphill.  Maybe it’s because we’ve always lived in the flatlands.  This will limit the amount of hiking we will want to do in Shenandoah because once you leave the road, much of the land slopes down from there.  But Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and there are 75 overlooks.  Stopping to enjoy the scenery at those overlooks and visiting the two lodges, Big Meadow and Skyland Lodge will keep us busy all day. Between the two of us we take hundreds of pictures. We can possibly fit in one hike so I will be looking for one that has an easy rating.

The length of the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) is 469 miles.  The BRP starts where Skyline Drive in Shenandoah stops.  And by the time we get to the end of the BRP we’ll be right near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) so we’d want to see that.  And then we’ve always heard Asheville is pretty so we’d like to squeeze that in.

That is a lot of ground to cover so we’ll have to see if this scenario pans out.

Tune in next week to see what we decide about renting a car and which airport(s) to use – and if we think we can fit all this in and still have time to relax.