Mission Tejas State Park

“We can hear the water! We can hear the water!” the girls yelled out to me and my girl scout co-leader.

The eight girls, including our daughters, were standing on the edge of a creek. The creek originated from a spring and ran under rocks in the hills of the forest.  We were in the middle of our hike in the woods, away from any big cities and no cell service. It was a cooler than normal weekend in Texas and we ran into only a few other hikers.

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Fall colors at the park

We walked up to the girls and could hear the gurgling sound of the water coming up and down the creek.

“It’s the babbling brook,” I exclaimed to my daughter, a reference to Anne of Green Gables. The girls took pictures and ran on ahead up is on the steep trail. The beautiful fall colors surrounded us, we were warmed up from the exertion of the hike, and were happy we decided to spend the weekend camping at Mission Tejas State Park.

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Mission Tejas State Park is located in East Texas, near Crockett. I had never been there before, but when talking to a state park employee on the phone several months prior, he recommended it. It had a group campsite, it wasn’t too far from where we lived but far enough that it would be an adventure for the girls.

The park has an old mission, hence the name, as well as an old family homestead. The weekend we were at the park, they park rangers had organized a music festival. In addition to the festival, they had set out old wooden toys and games that pioneer children would have played with. The rangers taught our girls a few of these games, and they enthusiastically joined in and played for over a half an hour. They would have played longer but the November days were short and we wanted to get some hiking in.

The park rangers were friendly and helpful and the bathrooms were clean. With the shorter days, we didn’t have much time to hike, but it was perfect for the troop. As I mentioned, it was beautiful site and the girls were busy looking into logs and checking out wild flowers and exotic looking fungi.

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The next morning, one of the girls yelled out, “Can you believe we’ve spent almost an entire day outside?”

Yes, we have taken them camping before.

The girls told us they wanted to come back to this park and hike some of the other trails. The ranger told us they are planning on hosting a festival in the fourth week of April.

I’d definitely like to come back here to camp.

It’s Out!

Happy election day to everyone! First of all, if you haven’t voted, please go out and vote! If you are reading this blog, that means, you have access to Internet. That means you can look online for your correct voting location as well as research candidates online.

Next, I am excited to announce that my first travel piece was published by Outdoor X4 magazine. It’s a travel essay chronicling our family’s road trip last year through the national parks. I’m grateful to the publisher and editor-in-chief, Frank Ledwell, for taking a chance on me.

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My story is the National Park Adventure!

My day job for years has been working as a reporter covering everything from power markets in theMidwest to the Louisiana legislature. But outside this blog, I haven’t done much writing on the outdoors. I truly love be outdoors, and I hope to share that love with others and inspire them. I didn’t grow up going camping (though we did a ton a road trips and went on picnics and fishing trips), so the first time was overwhelming. But camping is something almost anyone can enjoy. It’s only by immersing ourselves in the outdoors can we appreciate how important these places are.

 

My Picks for Park/Camping Books

I can’t think of a better way pass the time between outdoors adventures than reading about the great outdoors.

A while a good travel memoir can get you in the mood, research is an invaluable tool to help ensure you have a memorable trip (memorable in a positive sense). There are a lot of online blogs and sites that can help you, but I have some books I like as well.

Why books?

I like books because I am better an processing information when I have it in a book than when I am reading something online. Often, when I am traveling, I am visiting places that don’t internet. Having a book on hand helps. I can tear out pages I need, highlight and make notes in the margin.

There are a lot of books out there, but here are my recommendations. I’ve included my all time favorite book for planning a national parks trip, plus a few other good ones. I’ve also included a couple of books I like on camping in general.

  1. Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 58 National Parks. by Michael Joseph Oswald. This books is a rundown of the 58 park, organized by region. Oswald gives readers a background on the park, maps, best hiking trails, and other activities and information. My favorite part was the suggested itineraries for each park. I’ve looked through a lot of National Park books and this was the most comprehensive. When we went on our epic road trip, I took my book apart and carried the sections of the parks we were visiting. Always double check information in this book or any guide book with the park website in case of closures. Pros: hike recommendations based on difficulty, maps, and suggested itineraries. Cons: book only covers national parks and doesn’t include info on sites in the national park system like national monuments and national historic sites. books1
  2. The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges. by David L. Scott and Kay W. Scott. I received this book as a birthday present. As I read through vivid descriptions of the lodges in Yellowstone, I began to picture myself there. It visuals sparked my imagination and prompted me to plan our Epic family road trip. The couple that wrote this book describe lodges, cabins and hotels that are located within National Park Boundaries. If a park doesn’t have lodging within it’s boundary, you won’t find it in this book. They also did a good job of discussing pros and cons of various hotels in the park in a practical tone and recommend not only which hotels they like, but even which rooms they like. Pros: If you want to stay within the park boundary in a hotel, this book is a must read to decide where to stay. The descriptions will awaken your imagination to your own trip. Cons: The book sticks to buildings within camp boundaries. If you want to tent camp or stay right outside the park, you’ll have to get advice from somewhere else. lodge book
  3. Various National Park Guides published by National Geographic. National Geographic publishes a number of guide books to the National Geographic, including one aimed kids. The books have interesting facts about each park as well as beautiful pictures (nothing less than what you would expect from National Geographic). These are nice books to look at and get an overview or flavor of  park, but they aren’t designed to help you plan a trip or itinerary to a park. Pros: Gives good overview and facts about each park as well as great photos. Cons: Not as in-depth for planning purposes. national geographic

While I blog mostly about National Parks, I wanted to include a couple of books on camping in general. The idea of camping for those who have never gone seems overwhelming. Why do it? Because when you camp, you can experience some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes not matter what your income bracket. For example, a room Jenny Lake Lodge in Grand Teton (probably the most expensive National Park property), is a little under $600 a night. We camped at Jenny Lake, woke up to the same amazing view, for $18 a night. We spent the money we saved on ice cream and a hearty breakfast at Jackson Lodge.  Here are a couple of books I like to recommend on camping.

  1. The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping With Kids by Helen Olsson. This book is a great resource for those who never have been camping before. It gives you an overview of things to plan. I especially like all the lists she has in the back to help you plan what to take. Some of the things might not be useful for your trip, but it’s a really good introduction to camping.

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2. Camp Out! by Lynn Brunelle. This is a great book for kids. My five-year-old found this book at our local library ahead of our Epic family road trip in 2017. I ended up buying a copy. He’s a planner like me and liked the lists in the book. But it also has interesting nature facts on things like animal tracks and stargazing, fun recipes, crafts and recipes. It’s a great way to get kids excited about their first camping trip.

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If you do buy a camping book, if especially one about national or state parks, be sure to make sure you get the latest edition and always remember to double check info with the park to make sure you have most up-to-date information.

Climate Change and the National Parks System

Climate change is affecting our national parks and if you visit the national parks system. Last week, a group of scientists released a report on climate change and it’s effect on the parks. Climate change affected the parks disproportionately, the report said.

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Picture of brochure I picked up in Alaska. Publication date is October 2016.

When we went on our national parks road trip last year, there was literature on climate change’s effect on the parks at the parks we visited, from Mesa Verde to Glacier. In fact, the effects of climate change in Glacier is very striking. The lobby of Many Glacier hotel are lined with photos of the glaciers going back over 100 years. You can see how much the glaciers have receded in the park. Scientists predict by 2030, there will be no more glaciers at Glacier National park. Years ago, people would hike up to Grinnell Glacier and walk on the glacier. Now, it’s a hike to a view area of the glacier. There’s a pool of icy water in front of it and you can’t walk onto it anymore.

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At the end of Grinnell Glacier trail. Rangers used to take hikers out onto the glacier, now it’s more of a viewing area since you can’t walk out onto it anymore.

When we went to Glacier Bay National Park this summer in Alaska, a ranger talked about climate change. It’s true that glaciers naturally recede and grow, but currently they are receding at a faster rate than they are growing. There are charts that show the park’s glaciers and which glaciers are receding and which are growing. When we went on our boat trip, there was a lady with us that had taken the same trip in 2015. She had photos from that trip. You could see the difference in her photos with the glaciers we saw only three years later. Where once was beautiful blue ice we could see what looked like “dirty” ice and you could see on the sides where rock was beginning to show.

This was not new information. I know climate change is real, but seeing the impacts first hand in such a dramatic way put it all in perspective. Besides the impact this will have on us and our way of life, it’s also sad to look at our parks and realize how we take them for granted. I used to assume they will be there for my children, but now I realize how that may not be true. Or they will be different than how we experience them now. That’s why every hike I take in the parks with my kids is special.

But the ranger talk also sparked my curiosity about the direction of the parks under the current administration. I went up to the ranger asked about the talk. With the current administration’s view on climate change, has there been any pressure to change the talking points. (I’m guessing the displays I read on climate change in summer of 2017 in the parks were from the previous administration. The pamphlet on climate change in the parks was published in 2016).

The ranger told me that the direction from their boss in Alaska was to speak about climate change in very specific ways. So they use a lot of data, charts, etc. to take specifically what’s happening in their parks. It was clear that park staff and scientists wanted to continue to talk to people on the impacts of climate change but were being cautious on how they presented it. I spoke to only one ranger specifically about this but throughout my trips, rangers talked about both conservation in general, as well as climate change.

I hope the rangers keep talking to people about climate change, and I hope people continue to visit the parks. It’s only by knowing what we have to lose, will we have the urgency to try and save it.

 

How Hard is that Hike?

Even though my family and I have gone hiking to many different parks, I still have a hard time deciphering how difficult a trail might be to hike. My guess is that this is a common conundrum.

Guidebooks and brochures usually divide hiking trails into three categories, easy, moderate and difficult. Those terms are subjective and it’s often difficult to determine whether a trail is doable or if we should pick another option.

Why does this matter? Because, sometimes the payoff of doing a more difficult trail is immense. My favorite National Park guidebook lists Highline Trail as difficult (strenuous). It doesn’t matter how much of this 20 mile trail you walk, it is the most breathe taking scenery I have ever seen. Everyone should try and walk at least some of this trail for a truly spiritual experience.

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On the Highline Trail. Teenager and young son holding onto a rope on the trail. We didn’t hike the entire 20 miles. Instead, we walked 30 minutes down the trail and 30 minutes back.

On the other hand, if you go on a hike, especially one that is guided, and it’s too difficult for you and/or your children, you’ll end up disappointed and frustrated. It is especially true if you are signing up for a paid guided tour, like a cave tour in Wind Cave or a cliff dwelling tour at Mesa Verde National Park. You can’t just leave the tours (unlike a ranger led hike). You might have to cajole a preschooler through a tour that’s too long and difficult for them.

Our family includes fit teenagers to a tenacious young elementary school child, plus two almost middle-aged parents. I’m not an elite athlete, but I’ve hiked enough and I have the endurance to go on pretty long hikes, though I’m slow. My teenager is a lot faster than us, but he also likes to take photos. If it’s a busy trail, I’ll let him go on ahead of us (as long as he stays on the trail). He usually stops along the way to take nature photos and we’ll catch up.

Our youngest is the most challenging. He gets tired and/or bored. Sometimes, a trail that is easy for me, is just plain boring for him and he won’t want to go any further. A difficult  trail, like the one at Lost Maples State Park in Texas, is easier to take him on because he enjoys scrambling up the rocks.

Here are my tips for deciding if a hike is right for you:

  1. Talk to a ranger about the trail: What makes the trail strenuous? Sometimes, a trail isn’t too long but requires you to climb stairs or a ladder. If that’s the case, how many steps is it? An uphill trail might have a lot of switchbacks or be steep. That might be a problem if you have knee issues. Also ask if it’s rocky or flat. An uphill climb can be even more difficult if the path is rocky instead of smooth. You know what your issues are, so the more info you get, the better decision you can make.
  2. Watch a video. I dreamed of doing the Grinnell Glacier trail. It was listed in my guidebook as moderate, so I wasn’t sure if I could do it with my kids. There are Youtube videos of the hike. Seeing it helped me decide. I ended up taking my two older kids, while my husband took the younger one on a shorter hike. It was definitely more challenging than I would have thought, but I also knew what was coming up and new there wouldn’t be anything too crazy.
  3. Go on message boards, blogs, guidebooks. Just like talking to a ranger, these resources will give you added information. Message boards and blogs also give you other people’s experiences, especially hiking on trails with kids. But remember, every child is different. Your child might not have the same tolerance as someone else’s child.
  4. Don’t hike the entire trail. Remember, you can always turn around. If you get to a part that seems too difficult, then don’t go any further. Sometimes, you think you can do a 6 mile hike, but then realize, you can’t. We didn’t do all of the Highline Trail, but we loved the parts we did do.
  5. Take the proper tools: If you carry too much, you’ll get really tired. These tips are for “short” hikes, not overnight hikes. I would take a light pack to carry water, a snack and poncho. Hats are good. Walking sticks for the entire family can really be a lifesaver (knee-saver). Finally, please invest in proper footwear. My biggest pet peeve is seeing improper footwear on trails!
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A magnificent view walking the trail to Grinnell Glacier.

For me, hiking is all about enjoying the scenery and company during the journey as well as an interesting/ spectacular destination! Sometimes, you have to push yourself a little to achieve that. You also don’t want to risk injury or a full blown tantrum five miles away from your car (been there). Hopefully, these tips will help you decide your next hiking trip.

Gateway Arch: A Pleasant Surprise

St. Louis’s Gateway Arch isn’t a place I would have planned to visit on my own, but a trip to this city and the park ended up being quite enjoyable to spend a long weekend.

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View from below!

We drove up to St. Louis this summer over Fourth of July weekend to attend a family event. In addition to the event, we had time to visit the city and it ended up being a very enjoyable trip.

We visited the Arch on a Friday afternoon after our event was done. Unlike most of my visits to national parks areas, this was spur of the moment and pretty much unplanned. This year, the museum had reopened after being closed for several years for a redesign.

One thing I never knew is that people can actually ride up to the top of the arch. Once at the top, you can take in the view from the top. Unfortunately, because the park had just reopened, it seems that the entire city of St. Louis was visiting the arch and tickets were sold out. My youngest was the most disappointed.

full arch

BUT… Where there is a national park, there’s a junior ranger badge. So while, we were not able to buy tickets to the tram up to the arch, ($13 for adults currently, $10 for kids. If you have a National Park pass, adults tickets are knocked down to $10) we were able to visit the museum which is free.

museum

The idea of the arch is kinda overrated. It’s another, “if we build it, they will come,” attraction/ploy. I guess Mt. Rushmore is kind of like that too. BUT…. the museum is really cool. It explores westward expansion and the exhibits are really interesting and well done. If you have seen exhibits at the Smithsonian, its similar to that, yet it’s not too big. You can go through it in a couple of hours in the afternoon.

It was an enjoyable afternoon. My little one was still pouting about the arch but was happy to add to his collection of junior ranger badges. Speaking of the Arch, the museum includes an exhibit on the engineering of the arch and how they defined the cars that go up the structure. That was cool and made us wish we had been able to get tickets.

Across from the Arch, also a part of the park, is the Old Courthouse, which is famous for the Dred Scott decision. We didn’t get a chance to go in there, but that would be another interesting building to visit and learn about an important part of U.S. history.

court house

I want to mention that leading up to the trip, my teenage son did not want to accompany us. He felt that a trip to St. Louis would be boring and begged us to leave him home with his grandparents. By the end of the weekend, he said he really enjoyed the city.  In addition to the Arch, he visited the Blues Museum and a bird sanctuary.

We also visited the city’s Forest Park (which is larger than New York’s Central Park and is home to a number of the city’s museums, all free).

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You can rent canoes and paddleboats at the park. We rented a couple of canoes and really enjoyed it.

We drove by Washington University and ate at a restaurant off of Delmar Blvd. We also enjoyed root beer floats at Fitz’s as well. We had one full day, so we didn’t have time to visit the City Museum, which is also supposed to be a great place to visit.

When, we left the city, we all agreed that St. Louis was a great city to visit and we enjoyed the little time we spent there.

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a float from Fitz’s was a perfect way to end the day. These things are huge, so you can ask them to split them. This is only one half of a float!

Banff and Lake Louise

When I was in junior high, my family took a family trip to Banff National park. Ever since that trip, I concluded that Banff was the most beautiful place on earth.

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Lake Louise, June, 2018

After our Alaska adventure this summer, we made a pitstop in Canada to visit family before coming home. We had one day to sightsee and I already knew I wanted to spend it  in Banff.

It had been over 20 years since I visited Banff National Park. Since my trip to Banff, I’ve visited other places. Glacier National Park reminded me of the beauty of Banff. Would I feel differently about the place now that I’ve been to other equally beautiful places. Definitely not.

Banff and the surrounding areas are still exquisite. Even with the crowds, it is was an enjoyable visit. The day started out raining and we were worried we’d be stuck with thunderstorms the entire day.

We drove to Banff from Calgary. I wanted to leave our hotel at 6:30, but we ended up leaving closer to 7:30 am. Since it was raining, the crowds at the park were still thin when we arrived closer to 9am.

We drove straight to the gondola that takes visitors up Sulphur Mountain. This little ride was nostalgic for me. I have a vivid memory of going up Sulphur Mountain as a child. It wasn’t an ideal day for the gondola ride because of the cloud cover.

gondola

This is the only day we’d be here and I felt the experience would still be fun for the kids. On the plus side, there was no wait and we got special early bird pricing. Despite the clouds, the ride up was beautiful.  The visitor center was fascinating and we took the walk on the boardwalk up to the weather tower.

It was chilly on the mountain but we really enjoyed it. On a clear day, the views are expansive and amazing, but it’s not too shabby on the cloudy day either.

Afterwards, we warmed up with hot chocolate in the visitor center.

It was still drizzling, so we decided to take a scenic drive on Tunnel Mountain Road and pull up to the Hoodoos Lookout. We spent just a few minutes at the lookout, snapped a few photos and got back into the car and drove to Lake Louise.

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By the time we got to Lake Louise, the sky had cleared up and the crowds had built up. Despite the crowds, Lake Louise was magnificent.

We decided to make the hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House. The trail up to the tea house is a little over 3km. The trail is smooth but its steep. It was nothing for the kids, but it took us for awhile. They ended waiting for us at the top.

Once we got to the top, it was worth it. The tea house was crowded, but we found some tables. Luckily, we knew ahead of time that it was cash only and had brought money with us. It was chilly on the top and we enjoyed a hot pot of tea and sandwiches.

teahouse

After lunch, we took some pictures around the lake and walked back down the trail. We then drove back to Banff. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and ate dinner at pizza place before heading back to Calgary.

I would love to go back to Banff and spend more time there as well as Jasper. It’s on my bucket list.

Glacier Bay National Park: Day 3 Tide Pools

Our last day at Glacier Bay was pretty relaxing. We slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Our goal today was to check out tide pools during low tide.

Bartlett Cove

The schedule for high and low tides is available at the ranger station. For our final morning at the park, the low tide would be in the afternoon, after the shuttle would be leaving for the ferry dock.

We visited the beach before the tide was at it lowest. We still had a great time looking at the tide pools.

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We saw several sea stars in the pools. It was definitely very cool.

The day was clear and as we looked across Bartlett Cove, we could see Mount Fairweather.  As the shuttle drove to the ferry dock, we saw a bear in the forest. The shuttle drive pulled over for a minute so we could all watch the animal.

Unlike the ferry ride up to Glacier Bay, it was sunny and a bit warm on the ride back to Juneau. We spent almost the entire ride on the deck. We spotted some whales and porpoises as well as more sea otters. I think they might be my new favorite animals.

Back at Juneau, we had reservations at the Hangar On the Warf. We also took the opportunity to buy some smoked salmon for friends back home.

Our trip to Alaska was probably one of my favorites. We met some wonderful people. The pace was slower than parks we’ve visited in the lower 48. It’s a real special place and I definitely want to come back.

In addition to the parks I wrote about in these posts, we also visited Glacier Gardens, SEAlaska Heritage Institute, and DIPAC Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. We enjoyed all of these excursions.

 

Glacier Bay National Park: Boat Tour

The highlight of our visit to Glacier Bay National Park was a boat tour.  The full day tour leaves Bartlett Cove and travels 130 miles through Glacier Bay.  A National Park Ranger is   onboard to help spot wildlife, provide commentary and programs to help passengers understand and appreciate Glacier Bay National Park.

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Picture of tour boat. Picture by NPS.

We woke up early and ate our breakfast at the lodge before going down to the dock for the boat tour. They’ll start checking people into the tour around 7:00-7:15 am. Two suggestions. Breakfast at the lodge opens at 6am. We got there a little early and were first in line and soon others began lining up behind us. Service at the restaurant is great but slow. Many people opt for the breakfast buffet, so they can eat quickly and leave. Since we were one of the first people seated, we opted to order a la carte and had enough time to eat our food before making our way down to the dock.

Once we boarded the boat, we found some nice window seats on the second level of the boat. My oldest ended up spending the entire boat ride on the top deck. The younger two split their time, spending time inside and out. The boat came with binoculars for people to use. Even with warm clothes, hats and gloves, the wind can make standing outside for longer periods of time uncomfortable. Luckily, with the window seats, we could enjoy the views from inside.

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View from inside the boat.

Because everyone is so excited about wildlife, our fellow passengers were very nice about letting others hover on their side of the boat when they saw something interesting.

The ranger on our boat, Cate, was amazing! She did a great job narrating and answering everyone’s questions, she kept the kids engaged. Also, if a fellow passenger spotted something, she would announce it on the loudspeaker so others could hear.

We were blessed with great weather during our boat tour.  As we passed by marble island, we saw sea lions, puffins, and sea otters. As the ranger was giving a talk on birds, we saw whales!

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Picture of sea lions as we passed Marble Island.

Later, we saw a wolf walking along the coast. This was especially exciting for us. Last year, we spent a bit of time looking for wolves in Yellowstone, but didn’t have any luck spotting one there. The skinny wolf walked down the coast for a long time, looking for food.

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Wolf walking along coast. Ranger said he should fatten up once salmon come in.

The tour boat also serves chowder mid-morning, then lunch. Around lunchtime, the boat reaches tidewater glaciers. We saw eagles sitting on some ice floating in the water nearby.

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We passed by a number of eagles.

From the boat you can catch a glimpse of Grand Pacific Glacier. The boat took us Margerie Glacier. There we floated for a while. The glacier was magnificent. It is one of the few glaciers in the park that isn’t considered receding, but that might be different now. On the side, you can see where the glacier has darkened. One of our fellow passengers had photos from 2015 trip and the change was obvious.

glacier picture

The boat also took us to see John Hopkins Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier and Reid Glacier. The ranger talked about the effects of climate change on the glaciers.

On the way back, some people took the opportunity to relax, but many folks stayed on the deck, still scouring the coast for wildlife. The kids participated in junior ranger program and got the junior ranger badges. The crew brought out cookies for the passengers to enjoy.

The boat is also used to drop off kayakers. On this particular day, it dropped off a father and son who we’re spending a few days kayaking and camping in the park.

We arrived back at the dock at 3pm. The seven hours had just flown by so quickly.

We walked the Tlingit trail, a short one way trail from the dock along the shoreline. We saw a porcupine walking along the forest by the beach.

porcupine

We also saw park displays including a traditional Tlingit canoe, a complete whale skeleton. We also visited the Huna Tribal House.

Houma house

Here, we attending a ranger program. The park ranger, who is also a member of Tlingit tribe, told us the story of the tribal house. It was fascinating and we left adding an appreciation of what the land meant to the tribes that called the area home as well as their resilience.

We had a 6pm dinner reservation (You’ll need to make reservations for dinner at the lodge; don’t forget since that’s the only restaurant in the park). With an hour to go until dinner, we hiked the Forest Trail. This short, easy trail takes you through the temperate forest. The hike is easy but the views are spectacular! We even saw a moose by the pond!

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Moose sighting by the pond.

After the hike, we enjoyed dinner at the lodge. Afterwards, we looked around at the park visitor center, which is upstairs in the lodge and attended the ranger talk. The ranger spoke about home and how she found her home at Glacier Bay National Park and the animals and plants that also make their home there.

Writing about it now, I’m amazed how much we did in one day. It was an amazing day!

Glacier Bay National Park

People who set foot on Glacier Bay National Park come here with purpose.  No one just ends up here, our kayak guide said.

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Glacier Bay National Park, view from our tour boat

It’s true. Getting to Glacier Bay National Park takes some planning. There are a few large cruise lines that come to the park, but the stay in the bay, and people don’t disembark. There are some small boat cruises that dock at the park, but for the most part, if you want to step foot in the park, you’ll have to the the Alaska Marine Highway ferry or fly in.

In fact only two percent of visitors to the park step foot on the land. This results in a certain vibe in the park that sets it apart from the crowded parks we visited in the lower 48 last year or even Mendenhall Glacier.

The park was quieter than other parks I visited, but it was also more laid back. We all came to take in Glacier Bay National Park.

Our family took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. We really enjoyed it, but it took some planning. The ferry schedule on the website looked a bit like a bus schedule. Though I figured it out, I didn’t feel comfortable purchasing the tickets online. I called the customer service line. The lady on the phone was very helpful and I felt confident that I was purchasing the correct tickets.

The ferry to Gustavus (the closest town to the park) only leaves twice a week, Monday and Wednesday. Because of our schedule, we went on a Monday and came back to Juneau on a Wednesday. Taking a flight gives you more flexibility. We chose not to fly because of the cost. It actually worked out in our favor. Because of fog during the week, a lot of the flights were delayed.

The ferry ride was quite pleasant. The employees were very friendly and the ship was clean. It’s a four hour ferry ride. We had time to walk around the boat, go outside and take pictures. We spotted wildlife such as whales and sea otters. The boat has a cafeteria and dining room. We also chatted with some other travelers.

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View from the ferry pulling away from Juneau. Credit: NPS

Finally, we made it to Gustavus. We were staying the Glacier Bay Lodge, the only lodge within the park. It’s operated by Aramark. There’s a shuttle from the ferry to the lodge.

Once we got there, my husband and you younger kids went fishing with a guide in Gustavus. My eldest and I took an afternoon guided kayak trip.

Guided kayak trips from the lodge are through a third party company, Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. While it was cold on the ferry, by the time we met our guide and got ready for the kayak trip, the sky cleared up and the weather warmed up.

Kayaking along Bartlett Cove was amazing. We saw sea otters and eagles. We saw schools of feeder fish swimming under our boat. We saw harbor porpoise as well. We saw different types of kelp floating in the water.

Our guide was amazing. He was friendly and laid back, but knowledgable as well. While the wildlife viewing was great, even if I hadn’t seen a single animal, the view and the tranquility that came from kayaking along the coast alone would have made the trip worth it.

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My view from the kayak. Sure beats the view from my office.

After our trip we came back and waiting for my husband and younger two kids to return from their fishing trip.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the lodge. We were exhausted by the end of the day. We fell asleep quickly, which was good because we had to wake up early the next day to go on the boat tour.