The Complete guide of our epic American Hiking Trip

7,205 miles or 11,595 kms. That’s how long we’ve driven in our North American journey. The distance is comparable with a flight from Manila to New York, yes it’s that far. There were some days that we drove for 10 hours, with occasional stops of junk-food drive ins and quick hike. The feeling of freedom was unbeatable, it was just me and Bandi and the road, so many stories, so many inside jokes of road-trip games (water tank!), so many out-of-tune singalong to the radio, so many windshields clean up I was actually becoming so good at it, so many cups of coffee, it was indeed the time of our life.

In some point in our life, we shared this amazing invincible feeling together.

There are 2 main purposes on this trip: (1) To hike and (2) to drive the Route 66. The first one happened because of our love to the nature, the second one was because of our adventurous old soul. I will create another post about Route 66 so let’s focus on the hiking part for now.

I am not a good hiker, let’s get that straight. But not good at it doesn’t mean you can’t love it. I usually try to hike the most popular trail in the park, but will limit to 5 miles distance, and if I had extra time and energy, I’d do a couple of short trails with different angle or view of the park. Both in Canada and US, the national parks are well organized so you can plan well for your hikes. My favourite app/web would be Alltrails where you can read other people’s review on the trails and understand whether it’s suitable for you or not. All of the hiking trails I mention in this post will be linked to its details from Alltrails web.

I will write all of the 9 National Park we visited during the trip and some highlights about it. I know usually I wrote details for my travel, but since this is a huge trip, I don’t think it would be comparable to what I usually wrote, I will only write the highlights. If you’re interested in one of the parks and have some questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, I love to share!

Here are the National Parks we’ve visited:

Banff National Park, Alberta (Canada)

This is probably my most favourite place on earth. I’ve decided that I want to retire in Banff. Words can’t describe how beautiful it is… Snowy Rocky Mountains, lush hills to hike on, beautiful wildlife, serene turquoise lakes, this place is out of this world. Please take note that their summer window is quite short compared to the other National Park. I visited on May and some of the lakes were still frozen. So if you want to do water sports, make sure to go on July and August.

Banff Town

Hiking Tunnel Mountain

This beautiful and enjoyable trail is pretty easy to do, there were some steep steps along the way, but nothing extreme. I’ve got to meet so many cute dogs on the trails which was a huge bonus. We arrived at the summit around noon and sat down for 30 minutes to enjoy the sun and ate banana bread.

Taking Cable Car to Sulphur Mountain

We spent almost a day on the top of Sulphur Mountain, learning about the history of how Banff became a famous destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The surrounding Mountains were magnet for curious trekkers and it has such a rich history. The summit has museum which is worth a visit and also the historic Cosmic Ray Station. If you do not want to pay the cable car to go to the Sulphur mountain summit, you can hike up; while taking the cable car down is free. The hike is 7 miles long though. Good luck!

The view from the Cosmic Ray Station is AMAZING. I couldn’t believe I actually lived to see this. It was one of the best view I’ve ever seen in my life. I could literally live there. It was a clear day with blue sky and we saw all the mountains surrounding us. I was falling in love… again and again… with mountains.

Driving the Icefield Parkway

The road from Banff to Jasper via Lake Louise is called The Icefield Parkway and this road turns to be a magical winter wonderland when it’s not summer. When you drive on this road, you wouldn’t believe the view you see. This gotta be the most beautiful road trip one could ever have.

The oh-so-many beautiful lakes

Banff has so many beautiful lakes, I can name a few; Morraine Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Two Jake Lake, just follow the map and when you see lakes, stop over and enjoy it.

Staying in Emerald Lodge with no outside contact

So… we didn’t know what we signed up for, really. We booked 2 nights at the Emerald Lake Lodge without knowing that it means we won’t have internet connection or any connection at all. We even had to burn fire wood to keep us warm in the lodge. The lodge was last refurbished in the 1980’s and is tuck away from the outside world. We even had to park our car about 2 miles away and took the lodge shuttle to the Lake. I enjoyed it, but Bandi was a bit frustrated because he doesn’t have his TV and Internet. After hours of doing nothing, he decided to light up some fire and watch the woods burned. It was a nice moment for us. :)

Yosemite National Park, California

For a huge and majestic place like Yosemite, my 2 days visit couldn’t do any justice. But Yosemite is expensive, and this girl has a long way to go, thus… decision, decision! We maxed out our Yosemite trip by staying in the Yosemite Lodge and saw the Yosemite Falls by going through the lower Fall trail. Unfortunately my foot was hurting the whole time I was in Yosemite, thus I didn’t get to do a lot of hiking. :( And probably we were still jet-lagging too.

Yosemite has million years of rock formation stories and you can learn about it in the visitor centre. The rock formation makes Yosemite so special, thus the beautiful waterfalls too.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

From west, we flew all the way to the very east of USA, Maine. Known for its Seafood and setting for Stephen King’s horror novel, we come to Maine for the nature. It did not disappoint.

If you’re wondering whether the cold should hinder you to visit Maine, then the answer is NO. Yes it is cold, but Maine is such a beautiful place, Acadia National Park to be exact, with Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor as their host towns. Don’t forget about the New England food of Clam Chowder and Lobster Roll, oh the visit will be perfection.

I love Maine, and if I need to single out one highlight from Acadia National Park, it’s the Beehive Trail. It is the most famous trail of Acadia and it’s famous for a reason.

Bar Harbor, a wonderful little town

We drove all the way from Boston to Bar Harbor because it’s the perfect town to stay to explore Acadia National Park. If you ever plan to visit Acadia, I recommend to stay at Bar Harbor Motel, it was the cutest, most comfortable Motel we’ve stayed throughout our US trip. The staffs were super friendly too! Bar Harbor is a charming little town, one which you secretly wish to live in.

Beehive Trail, a must do in Acadia

This wonderful and fun trail is not very long, but… it is difficult. There were times where I had to climed vertically, with no harness, just railing to grab on. It was horrifying, but exciting, and the view from the top was rewarding. If you plan to go, please read the reviews from Alltrails so you get to understand more of the trails before you actually decide to take it. Once you reach certain height, it’s not advisable to go down. Going up is still safer than going down. This trail is a loop, so once you reach the summit, you need to continue going down in the longer route to the beginning of the trail.

Another great thing about this trail is that you can combine it with so many other trails. We continued to The Bowl from the intersection and it became a very fruitful hike! A bowl of Shrimp Chowder waited for me as a reward. :)

The food!

We didn’t expect the food in Maine to be this good, we enjoyed every meal we had in Maine! Lobster Roll and clam chowders are available in almost every diner and we’ve had them in every meal. Our cholesterol level definitely hiked up! We crowned Maine as the Best State for the food.

Cadillac Mountain

I want to remember the moment when Bandi and I went to Cadillac Mountain. I want to remember the feeling… We loved it so much and the sky was clear so we decided to come back again at night to stargaze. It was crazy cold, we stayed in the car and watch the stars. It was one of the moment in your life that you just know… that it will stay forever. It’s impossible not to question life, when the stars seem so near, the things that are so out of reach suddenly touch our life. If there are lives in the earth, there might be lives in other planets too… Our milky way is just one of millions galaxies out there… What is life? Where do we go after we die? It was the same question when Hubble discovered another galaxy hundred years ago, and it is still the question now.

Bandi and I didn’t get to find the answer that night (of course), but we bonded over our curiosity and our humbleness to this huge universe. We are nothing compare to the stars… We are merely a dot.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Fast forward to Colorado!!! (Between Maine and Colorado we spent so much time in the cities, either visiting museums, friends or driving on the route 66).

We didn’t plan to come here, we didn’t even know that Colorado has sand dunes; we were driving from Albuquerque to Denver when we stumbled upon the sand dunes in the map and decided to give it a visit.

It was pretty okay, I don’t really fancy sand dunes, I guess it will be more beautiful to view it from the air or from afar; hiking on the sand dunes is pretty painful actually, there were sands on my eyes, hair, socks, panties (didn’t know how it got there).

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We only hiked for about an hour and went back to the car when we saw sheriff arresting somebody. (If only we came back a little earlier to witness some American Drama!)

Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado

This is crowned as my most favourite National Park in USA. I can tell you hundred of reasons why, but due to limited time and space, let me just say… the mountains are so maginifcent, it will blow you away.

Trail Ridge Road

I love mountains, so that one reason only has eaten up the quotas of making reasons. The park is so huge, 3 days were definitely not enough. There are 2 towns that can host you while exploring the park: Estes Park and Grand Lake. The first one is bigger and more touristy than the later. These two towns are connected by Trail Ridge Road, the highest elevated road in North America; but this road is not always open because of the unpredicted snowstorm.

We decided to stay in both Estes Park and Grand Lake; if the Trail Ridge Road wasn’t open, we had to detour for 4 hours (while the Trail Ridge will only takes 1 hour and 45 mins, and it was the drive of our life!!!) Even though you don’t need to go to Grand Lake, I would still suggest for you to drive to the Trail Ridge Road, it was so crazy beautiful up there! It is a must-do scenic drive in your lifetime!

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The wildlife

We hiked to the Bear Trail and even though at the end of the trail we got hit by snowstrom, we had fun and met some wildlife, fox and bears. Yes, we met bears, and they were cute and actually were afraid of humans. It was still pretty cold when we visited (end of May) and some of the hiking trails were still covered by snow, some were 1 meter high! We went for picnic on one of the days and it was just calming and I felt very happy and peaceful. Here, we also picked up a new hobby, putt putt golf! Oh, I hope we have more putt putt golf in Asia!

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If I had to choose 1 place of all the places we went during our American road trip, Rocky mountains is the one. It’s that special for me. I know, I know, I said that for Banff too, well, let’s just say I can’t choose which rocky mountain I love more, all of them are special.

Arches National Park, Utah

We spent the whole day in Arches and had so much fun. Arches is the one national park where I didn’t have so much expectation but ended up blowing me away. The size of the park wasn’t as big as the other parks we visited, so we practically drove all the available paved roads. Since we only had a day there, we visited the highlights of the park: The Delicate Arch (take a hike there), Balanced Rock (very short hike), fiery furnace (require a permit to hike inside – hoping we’ll do it next time). The other famous trail in Arches is called Devil’s garden, however you’ll need a day to finish the whole round, so probably good to have 2 days 1 night camp in Arches, but the camping ground is limited and fully booked fast during summer, so better plan ahead.

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We hiked to the Delicate Arch during a very dry and hot day and kind of underestimated it by not bringing enough water. We ended up feeling so thirsty, it could be dangerous, I think. So please bring enough water when you hike in the desert during summer.

Zion National Park, Utah

We went to Zion during summer and it was CROWDED. Fortunately the NPS has got it under control. Summer time is the time where everyone hits the park, so no private car is allowed further than the visitor centre areas. We drove there and park our car in the visitor centre, and then take the shuttle bus to different bus stops along the parks. You should come very early to make sure getting a parking spot. We didn’t come early, and it was impossible to find parking spot. However, for the hundredth time, I was helped by my luck, thus we got a spot. :)

We had to queue to ride the park shuttle bus, though the queue was very long, we had no choice but to wait under the sun, 40 minutes later, we were on the bus. We rode the park shuttle bus to the very last stop , which is the entrance for The Narrow. There are 2 most famous hiking trails in Zion: Angel’s Landing and The Narrow. Angel’s Landing is shorter but steeper, the trail ends in quite high elevation and stories said it’s an amazing view. We chose The Narrow, which is a very long and wet trails, most of the trails are in the river, so it’s more like wading than walking.

We were well prepared for The Narrow, wearing a lightweight pants and bringing extra shirt. After 2 hours of wading, there was nowhere near the end, we asked some people who walked back if they saw the end, they didn’t, we learned afterwards that the river runs through Colorado River, so I guess you can go as far as you can. But the further you go, the less crowded it is, and the deeper too!

Bandi and I had fun the The Narrow, it was a refreshing hike in the water during a super hot and dry summer day, and very much different from our normal hike.

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Wet shoes go on the top of the car. LOL

Guess what we did after the tiring day in The Narrow? Binging on Pizza!!! :D

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

I am guilty. My crime is not spending more time in Grand Canyon. We pratically just ‘passed by’ Grand Canyon, we didn’t spend the night there. Even though we spent almost the whole day in Grand Canyon, it felt like touch and go because of the size of Grand Canyon, it’s HUUUGE! We visited from the North Rim entrance which is the less crowded and less touristy.

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Once we passed by the entrance, we were greeted by loads of American Bisons! Aren’t they cute? We then just kept driving up to the vantage point, where we were stunned by how grand the grand canyon is, thus the name of grand canyon. :p

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Obviously this won’t be our last time here. There’s a challenge to hike Grand Canyon from North Rim to South Rim, that’ll take 2 days 1 night, but it would be an experience of a lifetime, worth to think about. :)

Bonus: Antelope Canyon, Arizona

This magnificent nature’s creation is famous for a reason, its beauty that will leave you speechless. I was contemplating whether I wanted to give Antelope Canyon a visit because I was afraid it would be overrated and it was so expensive; thankfully I chose to take a leap of faith and went!

The operator that we went with is called Ken’s tour and it’s from the Lower Antelope canyon. You may find them in Tripadvisor or their website and book via email. It costs US$50 per person, yes it’s expensive, but the other tours cost about the same.

Side trip to Horseshoe Bend!

Once you’re done with Antelope Canyon, don’t forget to give Horseshoe Bend a visit, it’s just 10 mins drive away, you may park your car in the car park and hike up about 15 mins.

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The magical Colorado River flows through.

End Notes

The most important things to plan a hiking trip is to understand the size of the park you’re visiting and allocate enough time. We spent five days in Banff and spent only 1 day in Zion. Hunestly both are not enough, but you get the point, lol. Anyway I think it’s just my problem, nothing is long enough for me to explore the park. But normally 3 days would be fine, of course if the park is huge like Rocky mountains, you can stay there for a week and won’t get bored, but for a much smaller park like Arches, you can spend the 2 days and explored 90% of it. If you’re planning to visit one of the parks I mentioned, don’t hesitate to contact me, I love planning and I love talking about traveling, so it’s win-win. Ha!

Entrance Park Fees VS buying annual pass

Since entrance price to the park could be quite expensive, and we planned to visit lots of them, we bought the annual pass which costed us US$85, applicable for one car with maximum of 4 persons, that’s a steal!

Top 3 hikes

To summarize, here are our top 3 favourite hikes:

  1. The Beehive, Acadia.
  2. The Narrows, Zion.
  3. Delicate Arch, Arches.

Came back smarter and wiser

I always say traveling is an investment for yourself, I usually looked back on what I’ve learned from my travels in the past but this time, I’ll write them down so I won’t forget. Here are some points of my enhanced self after this trip:

  • I am now fluent in Miles, Feet and Fahrenheit, making me bilingual in metrics system, haha!
  • I am now a -much- better driver than I’d ever been
  • I love and appreciate nature more (will it ever be less? No way)
  • I know where to retire
  • I am more motivated to save up for my pension coz I can’t wait to retire, thus making me a better worker.
  • I learned more about Art
  • I learned more about International Space Station
  • I am now able to locate Ursa Major and Cassiopeia in the night sky thanks to stargazing and planetarium sessions.
  • I learned to be more chilled and easy-going like Americans.

We are planning for our 2021 North American Road Trip again with these parks in our mind: Great Smoky Mountain in Tennessee, Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming and probably some side trip to South Carolina and North Carolina. So if you happen to have the same passion like us, let’s go hit the road together, it will be fun! :)

Travel Green

And since we are in nature topic, I just want to remind about the importance to be educated about environment and wildlife. Leave no trace, if you really need to pee in the wild, bring back your tissues, do not step anywhere else beside the trails, it could be restoration area, don’t do so just for the sake of instagram pictures, do not leave any marks, no graffiti shits, nobody wants to see your stupid art, do not feed any wildlife, do not pet them no matter how cute they are (I struggled the most). If you’re not sure with anything, google it! Don’t be ignorant. It’s okay not to know everything, but try to learn more each time. I don’t know anything either, but I’m trying to be more eco-friendly each day, not to leave more carbon footprint.

Travel green is hard. That is for sure. Being eco-friendly is already hard in routine, it’s even harder during travel. From this long trip, I’ve learned a couple of new tricks for being more eco-friendly while travelling, that reminds me to write another post about this. (Oh darn, I owe so many posts.)

I hope this inspires you to travel to the Northwest! Hit me up anytime if you need advice on your travel, you know that’s always been my favourite subject! :)

Cheers,

May, missing Colorado.