We spent a lot of time biking on our National Park to Park Highway tour this year, so I feel like I know which parks have good family biking options. Each of these top five picks have dedicated paved trails (pretty flat too) so you don’t have to bike on the road with young kids. Not to mention they’re all beautiful and the bike trails take you to visitor centers, scenic overlooks and fun places to explore.
I know I said Glacier National Park was our last stop on our National Park to Park Highway tour, but the drive from Glacier down to Utah would’ve been incomplete without a victory lap in the Nation’s first National Park – Yellowstone.
Although Yellowstone gets the credit as being the first National Park, Yosemite Valley was actually the first area set aside by the federal government for the protection of the land for the enjoyment of the people.
On our previous visit to Yellowstone we saw Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Prismatic Geyser Basin but we never got to one of my favorite spots – The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It felt poetic to end our National Park to Park Highway trip in the first official National Park.
On our National Park to Park Highway journey we traveled over 7,000 miles in just over six weeks. We traversed mountains, deserts, plains, boring interstates, big cities, remote forests and just about every habitat in between. We endured scorching heat, freezing cold, rain, and wind, but luckily most of our days were sunny. We spent over 200 hours in our truck, the rest of the time in the outdoors (and a few rented rooms).
After seeing the deepest canyon in the world, the deepest lake and tallest sand dune in North America, rare animals, endangered glaciers and more beautiful vistas that we could count, you’d think we’d be hiking to Yellowstone Falls with our fists in the air, We Are the Champions playing on the soundtrack. In actuality, we limped along in our grubbiest clothes, grateful to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
|Me and Baby L hiking in our pajamas – the only cleanish clothes we had left.|
Planning a grand adventure is often more fun than executing it. Don’t get me wrong. I’d travel the National Park to Park Highway again in a heartbeat, but six weeks living on the road with three small children doesn’t count as a vacation in my book. An experience, yes. Vacation, not so much.
“When we get back I’m gonna need some alone time and then we should go on a date,” Mountain Dad said on one of the many long drives between beautiful places. I completely agreed. Being nonstop with our kids meant we were always on. Always within earshot of their tantrums, on guard to keep them safe, preparing food, beds, clothes, and taking them on bathroom runs. I love those little monkeys, but I felt ready for a break.
That’s what makes this trip so wonderful. Now that I’m home I can look back at the photos and remember with awe that we DID that. We accomplished a great family goal – to travel the National Park to Park Highway. My kids got to see the glaciers in Glacier National Park before they all disappeared. Big E had experiences he vowed to tell his grand kids about. Little G learned to ride a bike at the Grand Canyon. Baby L crawled over terrain meant for mountain goats (She took her first steps four days after we returned). We had experiences we would never forget, despite the grubby clothes, extra work and long hours in the car.
We may not have had We Are The Champions playing as we hiked the Yellowstone Falls trail, but there was music in the air when we finally arrived home. The moment we pulled into our driveway, we heard the wafting notes of the finale of the Music Man welcoming us back. Our neighbor, Sundance Mountain Resort, puts on an outdoor summer musical every year and it was just our luck to arrive home as the final overture sounded. It was as if they knew we needed a proper welcome home.
|Each of the National Parks we visited on the National Park to Park Highway tour.|
Now that we’re home, real life is back with a vengeance. School, work, home and real life responsibilities vie for attention. At times I wish it we could just pack into the truck and take off again, leaving all of it behind. I know every adventure takes time and effort, including the adventure of rearing outdoors loving kids.
I doubt the original National Park to Park Highway visitors could imagine Glacier National Park as it is today. In 1920, when the National Park to Park Highway dedication tour came through, the Crown of the Continent was missing it’s most impressive jewel – the Going-to-the-Sun road.
This stunning stretch of road opened over Logan Pass in 1933. Before that, automobile visitors shipped their cars along the Great Northern Railroad from Glacier Park Station on the park’s east side to Belton Station on the west at a cost of $12.50 for automobiles and $1.75 for passengers.
Building the Going-to-the-Sun road was one of the top priorities for Stephen Mather, the nation’s first National Park Service director. In the 1920 National Park Service Annual Report (same year as the National Park to Park Highway Tour) he wrote “The one vital missing link in the Park-to-Park Highway is this transmountain road [in Glacier Park], which will some time become the strong link of the chain.”
In general, I don’t get excited about roads, but the Going-to-the-Sun road is pretty impressive. Nowadays you can drive from one end of the park to the other on a beautiful stretch of road that takes you past Glacier National Park’s most iconic locations. Bordering Lake McDonald on the west and Saint Mary Lake on the east, the road connects over Logan’s pass, now a safe haven for mountain sheep. Along the way you see rivers, forests and waterfalls with a few snowy mountain top glaciers thrown in.
The 1920s automobile enthusiasts on the original National Park to Park Highway tour would have gone ga-ga over the beautiful Going-to-the-Sun scenic drive. The least I could do was enjoy it, but that proved difficult. The scenery was breathtaking, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the thing that Glacier National Park is most known for was in obvious short supply. Glaciers.
According to scientists, all the glaciers in Glacier National Park will melt by 2030. Do that math. My children won’t even be adults by then. That depresses me.
As I think about the wonderful gift our forebears left us in putting aside these lands for public use and enjoyment, I can’t help but think about how we’re maintaining that gift for future generations. I’ve been trying to live greener, recycle more, and produce less trash but to be honest, after visiting Glacier – less National Park, all those efforts seem pointless.
I wonder if the original National Park to Park Highway visitors considered the possibility that the glaciers in Glacier National Park would disappear. In their whirlwind tour, they didn’t have time to hike to any of the Glaciers, but they did visit Lake McDonald Lodge in the Apgar village area. They probably saw the mountain glaciers in the distance, how they covered the towering peaks in white.
|Baby L in Lake McDonald. Glacier-less mountains in the distance.|
We also visited Lake McDonald. The view across the lake is beautiful, but now there is no white to be seen. The glaciers that once covered a significant part of the mountain in those days are gone now.
I’m not going to advocate for a widescale shift away from fossil fuels or a dramatic reduction of personal and industrial waste. Other people have discussed those issues better than I ever could. Not to mention, it would be pretty hypocritical coming from someone who just drove 7,000 miles in a truck with poor gas mileage for pleasure.
Instead I will leave you with this simple promise. I hope you will make it too.
I will do my best to preserve our natural resources for future generations.
My best might not look the same as yours, but if we are all doing the best we can that’s all we can ask for.