North American National Park #27: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

North American National Park #27: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
North American National Park #27: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Grasslands is an extremely overlooked park.

It is not near any major population center, as the nearest major city, Regina, being a four hour drive away. It has no mountains, canyons, waterfalls, lakes and not even many trees.

Nonetheless, Grasslands is a great park and one which everyone should try to visit if you are in the region one one simple reason: it is one of the few places left in North America which is untouched prairie.

Grasslands National Park

Prairie once covered an enormous part of the North American continents. Today, almost all of it has been plowed over to create farmland.

Grasslands National Park is one of the few remaining places in the world where you can see what the original prairie was like.

Once you get there, you will have almost the entire park to yourself. I was there on a Canada Day weekend, which is one of the busiest of the year. I went hours without seeing another person. Only 3 of the approximately 20 campsites were used.

Grasslands National Park

You will easily see bison and prairie dogs in the park and any storms can be seen coming from miles away, which is a sight in itself.

The park is open 24/7. There are no fees or permits required to enter. There is a visitor center in the nearby town of Val Marie, which is about 10km from the park entrance. It does take a bit of effort to get to Grasslands, but it is an experience that you will not find anywhere else.

What to Do at Grasslands National Park

The Grasslands National Park is one of the most unique parks in the world – it is a rare prairie landscape. Hence, tourists who have the chance to visit this park can relish this unique opportunity. This is the only park that represents the Prairie Grasslands Natural Region of Canada.

Grasslands National Park

In order to maximize the geological resources and landscape of the park, you need to explore the numerous attractions and activities at Grasslands National Park. For example, there are self-guided driving tours. You can also explore marked and unmarked hiking trails. In fact, trails are considered as the best way to see the park. The best trails to consider during your visit include the 70-Mile Butte Trail and 11-km Broken Hills trail.

If you want to enjoy the amazing views of the grasslands, you can also try horseback riding. In addition, you will have interpretative programs, campgrounds, and equestrian camping to enjoy.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

North American National Park #26: Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

North American National Park #26: Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba
North American National Park #26: Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba

Until I began my quest to visit all the national parks in the US and Canada, I had never heard of Riding Mountain. I am guessing that most people reading this haven’t heard of riding mountain either.

Many national parks have some big ‘thing’ which is the main attraction. Mountains, canyons, waterfalls, volcanoes and geysers are all attractions which draw people. But that doesn’t mean that you need to have some big, sexy geological feature to be a park.

Riding Mountain lies a boreal forest. There are lots of trees and lots of small lakes. It is also one of the best places to see wildlife native to the region. While I was there I saw a moose, an elk, 15 bears and the herd of bison in the park.

Riding Mountain is also a very recreational friendly park. There are ample spots for camping as well as plenty of locations to land your boat.

Riding Mountain National Park

The name Riding Mountains comes from the large escarpment which the park sits on. If you enter the park from the south, which most people do, you won’t even notice the rise in elevation. If you come in through the north or east, however, you can see just how high up the park actually is.

Riding Mountain is approximately a 3 hour drive from Winnipeg, which is the location of the closest major airport. In addition to camping there are also several cabins and motels located inside the park in the village of Wasagaming.

What to Do

Planning a visit to the Riding Mountain National Park? Here are some ideas to consider for your trip:

Wildlife Viewing: Riding Mountain National Park is rich in wildlife. Therefore, viewing wildlife is a favorite activity among visitors who come to the park. Simply driving around the park will enable you to spot a few of these wildlife species such as elks, mooses, black bears, and lynxes.

Riding Mountain National Park

Camping: You can also immerse yourself with the natural beauty of the park by camping on one of many sites. There are different types of camp sites that will fit your camping experience. There are camping opportunities available for beginners and experienced campers.

Hiking: There is an extensive trail system within Riding Mountain National Park. Therefore, you can explore the park grounds by hiking.

Water Sports: You can try any of these fun water sports activities at the park: fishing, boating, sailing, swimming, canoeing, and kayaking.

Other Activities: In addition to the ones mentioned above, you can also find other activities within the park such as cross-country skiing, birding, horseback riding, and biking.

How to Get Here

Riding Mountain National Park

You can access Riding Mountain National Park via car or bus. The park is unique because this is one of only five national parks set within a resort town. It is not as large as other parks in Canada; however, it is also an incentive to explore most of what the park has to offer.

You can use the city of Winnipeg as a jump-off point. You can drive all the way from there. However, you will need a permit before you are given access to the park. This permit can be paid for at the gate.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

North American National Park #25: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
North American National Park #25: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park shares several things in common with Isle Royale National Park. Both share a similar northwoods ecosystem. Both have water as a major component of the park. Both are the closest national park to each other.

Where as Isle Royale is mostly wilderness, Voyageurs is very much recreational park which allows motorboats and fishing. In fact, there are still several resorts on the lake which are throwbacks to before the park was established in 1975.

Voyageurs is about a 5 hour drive from Minneapolis or a 10-30 minute drive from International Falls, MN, depending on which visitor center you go to.

Voyageurs National Park

The best way to visit the park is probably by kayak or canoe. There are many campsites around the park as well as trails used to portage your canoe.

If you visit the park without a boat, then I highly suggest taking the Kettle Falls tour. This is a 5.5 hour boat tour run by the park service which takes you through the park to Kettle Falls. Kettle Falls is the location of a hotel which was built in the early 1900’s and is one of the few places where you can stand in the US and look south into Canada!

Given the odd nature of the border with the US and Canada in this area, you will almost certainly technically cross into Canada briefly on the way to Kettle Falls.

Voyageurs national park

Unlike the really popular national parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, the visitors here were almost all American. This is truly one of the hidden gems in the national park system.

Activities in Voyageurs National Park

There are plenty of activities to enjoy during your visit to Voyageurs National Park. Whether you visit during the winter or other times of the year, you can explore these ideas:

Voyageurs National Park

Camping: There are plenty of campsites inside the park that are also managed by the National Park Service. However, these campsites are accessible via boat only. These campsites range from tents, day-use, or houseboat sites. Therefore, you can choose according to the type of camping experience that you prefer. All guests are required to obtain a permit before an overnight stay at the park’s campsites.

Boating: Due to the number of lakes within Voyageurs National Park, boating is one of the favorite activities by tourists who visit this area. You can explore the lakes and islands within the park using motorboats, canoes, and kayaks. You can rent these equipment from the park.

Hiking: For a park that is rich in natural resources, Voyageurs National Park is also a haven for hikers. There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails in the park. Most of these trails are located on the mainland. However, there are also hiking trails on the interior peninsula.

Fishing: If you are a fishing enthusiast, this is one activity that you will get to enjoy in Voyageurs National Park. You can explore both the large and small lakes for the opportunity to catch lake trout, bluegill, and largemouth bass.

Snowmobiling: During winter months, this is a popular activity for tourists within the park. There are plenty of snowmobile trails available such as The Voyaguer Trail, The Rainy Lake Trail, The Kettle Falls Trail, and more.

Points of Interest

Voyageurs national park

When planning your itinerary to Voyageurs National Park, you can add these points of interest for the places to see:

  • Anderson Bay
  • Kettle Falls Hotel
  • Rainy Lake City
  • Harry Oveson Fish Camp
  • Surveyor’s Island
  • Camp Marston

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

North American National Park #24: Isle Royale, Michigan
North American National Park #24: Isle Royale, Michigan

A few facts about Isle Royale:

  • It is the least visited national park in the continental United States.
  • It is one of the only national parks in the US which totally closes in the winter, which explains why it gets so few visitors.
  • The average length of stay in the park by visitors is the highest of any US national park: 3.5 days. This is due to the large number of people who go backpacking in the park.
  • 99% of the park is considered wilderness area.
  • It is one of only a small number of US national parks which you cannot drive to, which contributes to the low visitor numbers.

Isle Royale National Park

While Isle Royale isn’t horribly difficult to visit, it does require a bit more planning than most national parks do, as you can’t just drive up to the gate.

You have to travel to Isle Royale by boat or sea plane. Private boats and planes can visit, but the vast majority of visitors arrive via one of the ferries.

The ferries come from three different locations:

  • Grand Portage, Minnesota. This is the closest American port to the park. Ferries here take about 90 minutes. The cost for adults is $60 round trip.
  • Copper Harbor, Michigan. This is a 3 hour ferry ride from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Round trip is $130.
  • Houghton, Michigan. This is a 5-6 hour ferry trip. Fare is $106 round trip for adults.

Isle Royale National Park

Once you are on the island, you only have a few options. A day trip, camp out in the woods or get a room at the one hotel on the island at Rock Harbor. A room at Rock Harbor runs about $250/night.

If you take a day trip (which I did) you will be limited to how much of the island you can see and explore. You will be limited to the walking distance from the visitor center for the time you are on the island, which is about 4-5 hours.

One of the features of the island which grabs people’s attention is the population of wolves and moose. Neither animal lived on the island prior to 1900. Both naturally found their way to the island by swimming (moose) and/or walking when Lake Superior froze over.

Isle Royale National Park

The population of both species goes up and down in an inverse relationship with each other in classic textbook fashion.

It is a very different sort of park, but one which draws those who love the wilderness and remote places.

Why Isle Royale National Park is One of the Least Visited?

This is one of the biggest mysteries for those who have visited Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. Even though it is one of the least visited national parks, it is also one of the most re-visited. Obviously, only those who have been here are able to fully appreciate it.

Isle Royale National Park

The Lake Superior is one of the main features of the park. The island itself has formed out of lava flow that was sculpted by glaciers for thousands of years. Due to the depth, behavior, and the size of the lake, this makes the island highly isolated. It is currently accessible via boat or plane only. The remoteness and wilderness of the park contribute to making it difficult to visit.

Climate is another factor to consider. Isle Royale National Park features the quintessential northern climate. It can be impossible to travel here during winter months. Therefore, it is the only national park managed by the US National Park Services that is closed entirely during winter. When it opens back in May, the national park transforms and comes into life.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

2014 North American Road Trip Update – Week 1

Greetings from Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba!

I’ve been on the trip now for a full week, have driven over 1,300 miles and have visited 3 national parks:

  • Isle Royale, Michigan
  • Voyageurs, Minnesota
  • Riding Mountain, Manitoba

The theme of the first week has been water. Water in the form of Lake Superior, water in the lakes of Voyageurs, water in the flooding the region has experienced and the water in Clear Lake in Riding Mountain NP.

Where there is water in the north, mosquitoes are also not far behind. I made a stop in southern Manitoba near Lake of the Woods where I found the mosquitoes to be the worst I think I have ever experienced, both in size and quantity.
Continue reading “2014 North American Road Trip Update – Week 1”

North American National Park #23: Gwaii Haanas National Park, British Columbia

North American National Park #23: Gwaii Haanas National Park, British Columbia
North American National Park #23: Gwaii Haanas National Park, British Columbia

If there is one park I’ve visited which I would call a ‘hidden gem’, it would have to be Gwaii Haanas National Park. Few people are even aware of its existence, let alone the fact that it is one of the most stunning parks in North America.

Getting to Gwaii Haanas isn’t easy. First, you have to get to Haida Gwaii, which are the islands off the northern coast of British Columbia. Flights aren’t cheap and getting there via car requires a ferry trip from Prince Rupert. The park consists of the southern half of the islands and they can only be accessed by boat. You can’t drive to the park and there is little in the way of hiking trails.

Gwaii Haanas National Park

The effort required to get there is well worth it, however. The views are stunning and you get to experience not only the fantastic islands but also the abundant sea life as well. Gwaii Haanas is also a marine reserve which covers over 5,000 km2. It is one of the few places on Earth which is protected from the tops of the mountains the bottom of the sea.

Here you can spot black bears, humpback whales, sea lions, puffins, and jellyfish.

Even if you visit in the middle of summer, you have to be prepared for cold weather. I traveled for four days on a zodiac and the wind blowing off the water as you travel will chill you quickly.

There is also a large cultural component to the park. This is the homeland to the Haida people who lived in villages located in the park prior to the arrival of Europeans. You can still see the ruins of many of the villages, the last of which were abandoned in the early 20th-Century.

One village in particular, SGang Gwaay, has been given World Heritage status. It is one of the 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada. It is the last place on Earth where you can see original, standing totem poles which were built before the arrival of Europeans.

Ecological Feature of Gwaii Haanas National Park

Gwaii Haanas National Park

There is a wide variety of landscapes and topographical features that make up Gwaii Haanas National Park. These landscapes can range from rugged mountains, deep fjords, sub-alpine tundra, and streams. About 90% of the entire park is made up of forested areas. The other is divided between sub-alpine and alpine tundra, lakes, and wetlands. The water from the mountains spills over to the freshwater lakes within the park. Eventually, the lakes also feed the streams that help spawn salmons.

The extreme level of wind and rain in the park results in boggy and stunted forests. The common types of trees found here are western hemlock, western red cedar trees, and Sitka spruce.

Gwaii Haanas National Park

In addition to the distinctive flora in Gwaii Haanas National Park, it also features a rich fauna. There is a combination of continental, unique, and introduced species that thrive on the island. Some of these fauna species include Sitka deer, beaver, raccoon, squirrel, and ermine.

Planning Your Visit to Gwaii Haanas National Park

Gwaii Haanas National Park is massive. Therefore, it is important to plan your trip ahead of time to ensure that you can get the most out of your stay:

Gwaii Haanas National Park

  • You can access the park via boat or plane only. Hence, it is recommended that you book with a tour operator in advance to ensure that you will be accommodated. Ideally, you should place your reservation days or weeks ahead.
  • There is a limited amount of daily reservations to Gwaii Haanas National Park. There is a fee of $20 for adults and $10 for children.
  • The holders of Parks Canada Season Excursion Pass are waived off the entrance fee.
  • Visitors not on a guided tour are required to attend the free orientation at the park office.
  • A tour company is the most accessible way to travel to Gwaii Haanas National Park. You must get in touch with Parks Canada for a list of tour companies that operate in the park.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

North American National Park #22: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
North American National Park #22: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Technically speaking, Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon. It’s an amphitheater.

That being said, whatever you call it, Bryce Canyon is incredible. It isn’t the biggest national park, but the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater is an incredible thing to experience.

Bryce Canyon National Park

If you visit Bryce Canyon, I’d recommend waking up to watch the sunrise over the amphitheater. Afterwards, you can spend the morning walking along the hoodoos. The area is small enough such that you can easily get a good park experience in a single day.

A visit to Bryce should also be paired with a visit to Zion, which is within driving distance.

What Makes Bryce Canyon National Park Unique?

Bryce Canyon National Park

While there are hoodoos that are found in other continents in the world, the largest collection can be found in this park. Therefore, you should bring your sense of wonder and imagination when you visit this park. Many would refer to it as a forest of stone.

In addition to the geological formations that make Bryce Canyon National Park so unique, it is also known for its ecological value. There are three life zones within the park and are distinguished based on the elevation. The lowest area of the park is where you will find a forest filled with pinyon pine and juniper.

Bryce Canyon National Park

The mid-elevation area consists of Ponderosa pine forests, Douglas fir, and blue spruce. There are other types of trees and shrubs that make up the Paunsaugunt Plateau. And finally, the harshest area in the park is where you will find the Great Basin bristlecone pines, limber pines, and more. These pine trees are believed to be over 1,600 years old.

The forests and meadows that make up Bryce Canyon National Park form a unique habitat for the wildlife species in the park. Three of these wildlife species are considered endangered: California condor, Utah prairie dog, and southwestern willow flycatcher.

Activities in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

There are plenty of recreational activities to enjoy during your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park. Sightseeing at the scenic drive is one of the most popular activities for tourists. There are 13 different viewpoints for the amphitheaters so you can choose accordingly.

There are also marked hiking trails throughout Bryce Canyon National Park. Most of them can be hiked in less than a day such as Mossy Cave, Rim Trail, Bristlecone Loop, and Queens Garden.

If you want to camp in Bryce Canyon National Park, there are two campgrounds available to choose from: Sunset and North Campgrounds. For guests who prefer a more relaxing stay, there is the Bryce Canyon Lodge available to accommodate you.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

Zion National Park, Utah

North American National Park #21: Zion National Park, Utah
North American National Park #21: Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park seems to be a favorite of almost everyone who has visited the park. The heart of the park is Zion Canyon which was cut by the Virgin River. The result is a stunning landscape created by the combination of mountain, valley and river.

One of the things which makes Zion so popular is that it is easily accessible from Las Vegas, which is only a 2 hour drive away. In fact, you could visit Zion on a day trip from Las Vegas and there are several companies which offer such trips.

Zion National Park

I visited Zion as part of my 2011 travel photography tour with G Adventures. We only spent a day in the park and I would love to return to spend more time photographing the Zion Canyon.

Geology and Biology of Zion National Park

The geological formations in Zion National Park make it one of the most popular national parks in Utah. There are 9 known geological formations in the park known as the Grand Staircase. According to experts, this geological formation took about 150 million years to develop.

Zion National Park

In addition to impressive geological features, Zion National Park is also a haven for biological studies. The Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert converge at Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons. This area features a variety of topographical features such as varying soil types, diverse habitat, and canyon-mesa country.

The rocky ledges, canyon bottoms, and overall desert conditions mean that there are mostly prickly pear cactus, rabbitbrush, and sagebrush that grow here. In addition, there are animals that roam in the park during day time such as desert cottontails, gray foxes, jackrabbits, kangaroo rats, pinyon jays, collared lizards, and mule deer.

Where to Stay

Zion National Park

Due to the popularity of Zion National Park, there are plenty of accommodation options available for tourists who wish to stay longer. The Zion Lodge is an example of that – it is located about 3 miles to the north of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It is open all year round.

There are also plenty of dining options such as the Castle Dome Cafe or the Red Rock Grill Dining Room. Both are located in Zion Lodge. There are additional lodging and dining options outside the park itself. Meanwhile, for those who are adventurous enough, there are three campgrounds available within Zion National Park. These campgrounds are open for reservation from March to November.

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.

North American National Park #20: Kluane National Park, Yukon

Kluane National Park
North American National Park #20: Kluane National Park, Yukon

When I tell people about Kluane National Park, I often get a quizzical look. Kluane isn’t well known, even amongst Canadians. I’m guessing this is due to it being in the Yukon which doesn’t have a very large population.

Kluane is located in the southwestern most corner of the Yukon, bordering Wrangle-St. Elias National Park in Canada and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia. Collectively they form the Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kluane National Park

Kluane mostly consists of high mountains which are covered in glaciers year round. As such, most of the park cannot be explored by car or on foot. If you visit Kluane, I’d highly recommend taking a plane flight over the glacier fields. It is unique perspective of something which few people ever get to see.

In addition to the glaciers, you can also see Mt. Logan, which is highest point in Canada.

Kluane is an easy visit if you happen to be driving along the Alaskan Highway in the summer months.

What to See or Do in Kluane National Park

Kluane National Park

Kluane National Park provides endless recreational opportunities for tourists who visit it. There is a day-use area with picnic facilities, campground, and boat launch. It is located in Kathleen Lake. This area is open from May to September.

Another popular activity in Kluane National Park is hiking. You will find numerous hiking trails in Mush Lake Road, St. Elias Lake, King’s Throne, Shorty Creek, Rock Glacier, and many more. There are trails for beginners and advanced hikers; therefore, it is ideal to plan your itinerary ahead of time so you can find a trail that would suit your expertise.

In addition to picnicking and hiking, you can also enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, and rafting in the Kluane National Park. Or, you can go wildlife viewing with many fauna species that inhabit the area such as Dall sheep, wolverine, mountain goat, Alaskan moose, snowshoe hare, arctic ground squirrel, and up to 120 bird species.

Plan Your Trip

Kluane National ParkKluane National Park is located in Yukon, about 160 kilometers from Whitehorse, Canada. The interior of the park is only accessible through flightseeing tour.

The Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Center is the ideal starting point for your exploration of the park. It is located in Da Ku Cultural Centre along Haines Junction. In this visitor center, you can view digital exhibits, HD videos, and hands-on activities to learn more about the park’s features.

A visit to the park is free for anyone aged 17 and below. For adults or anyone aged 18 and above, there are different fees associated with the various features and facilities within the park. It is broken down as follows:

Kathleen Lake Campground: $15.70 per campsite or $4.90 per person
Campfire Permit: $8.80 per site per day
Backcountry Permit: $9.80 per night
Landing Permit: $29.40
Fishing Permit: $9.80 per day
Guided Walk: $4.90 (for 1-2 hours) or $19.60 (for 4-6 hours)

View the complete list of US and Canadian National Parks I have visited.