Hot Springs National Park

As we work our way south towards the Gulf Coast we wanted to cross one more National Park off the list. Hot Springs National Park (HSNP) was along the way and it’s easy to do in a day.

From the beginning, the waters drew those with disabling conditions seeking to ease their pain in the thermal waters. Over time settlers built cabins and lured travelers to the famed springs.  In 1876, the US Supreme Court ruled against private land claims and made the thermal waters available to all. Once the federal government began regulating private bathhouses the building began. By the 1900s, Hot Springs was among the most visited health and wellness resorts in the country. Promoted as a place “where crutches are thrown away,” the area attracted actors, athletes, politicians, and the rich and famous. Notable patients included Will Rogers, Andrew Carnegie, Herbert Hoover, Helen Keller, and Jack Dempsey.

Today only two of the original bathhouses still operate. Others have been transformed for other purposes including the National Park Visitor Center, a cultural center, and a brewery.

We lucked out by getting a full hookup campsite at the park’s Gulpha Gorge Campground. We don’t often drive somewhere without a reservation, but when we arrived, there were several spots available, and we grabbed one. Those who arrived later in the day were not so lucky.

Just behind the campground runs Gulpha Creek, and the park’s 26 hiking trails link together just across the creek. We set out for a nice hike to explore the Hot Springs Mountains, following the Oertel Trail across the mountain and into the historic town of Hot Springs.

The trails were originally established as part of the park’s exercise program and are color-coded based on difficulty. The Grand Promenade runs directly behind Bathhouse Row and served as the most easily accessible of the fitness trails, often prescribed as part of a visit. Our four and a half mile walk through the forest and along the Promenade was a great way to start the day.

The National Park Visitor Center is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse. The 1915 structure has been restored to its original, elegant state. On three floors you can see treatment rooms, the gymnasium, and the parlors that served as “America’s First Resort.” Though the waters held no magical cure, the treatments offered some relief for patients who were suffering and in desperate need of help.

The facilities in Hot Springs at one time rivaled similar bathhouses in Europe. At the Fordyce Bathhouse the men’s bath hall features a large domed skylight containing 8000 pieces of glass arranged to represent Neptune’s daughter, mermaids, dolphins, and fish in swirling water.

In the Hubbard Tub Room non-ambulatory patients were lowered into the tub by the overhead wooden stretcher, allowing for therapies designed to treat polio, arthritis, and paralysis. 

The gymnasium was state of the art for the time and included dumbbells, traveling rings, and parallel bars. These facilities were popular with major league baseball players at the time, including Babe Ruth.

The historic area of Hot Springs is a typical tourist area with souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars. There was a gangster presence here during prohibition, and some of that history is reflected in the area.

We strolled the avenue, browsed a bit, but didn’t indulge in anything but a coffee. While it’s possible to receive spa treatments in two of the historic bathhouses, you must book ahead and we passed on that opportunity.

Hot Springs National Park isn’t one you go out of your way to see and you certainly don’t need days to explore. It is, however, an interesting glimpse into a part of American history. 

Glacier National Park

Wow!  Glacier National Park (GNP) knocked our socks off!  Gratefully we had a full week to enjoy the area and we really only scratched the surface. 

First we explored the surrounding area of West Glacier/Coram, beginning with a visit to the Mooshroom Yurt Retreat and Campground. Five years ago our friend Terri Eckel bought nine acres just a few miles outside of the entrance to the national park and has developed the property into a destination for adventurers and nature lovers.

Her yurts and primitive campsites draw people from around the world. It was fun to catch up and see the little piece of paradise she’s created.

One evening we supported the community effort, Gateway to Glacier, by attending their charity Pints for Paths brewfest. A paved bike path runs from Columbia Falls to West Glacier and connects the local communities to open spaces. We were happy to support the effort by tasting plenty of Montana craft brews.

Midway through our stay we were happy to welcome Steve’s parents, Judy and Larry, to Montana. Together the four of us explored GNP. It was fun to have them with us as we collectively were awed by this part of the world.

The one don’t-miss attraction is the Going to the Sun road. Built between 1921 to 1932, the roadway is a 52-mile engineering marvel, crossing the Continental Divide. Built strictly for sightseeing purposes, the road is the primary way to access the park’s trails and lakes. 

We took our time, stopping at overlooks, waterfalls, and short trails. Using an audio guide from Gypsy Guide, we enjoyed learning about the road, the park, and the ecosystems along the way. Even though we started fairly early and had the required timed-entry ticket, the crowds made it hard to find a parking space at the popular stops. Luckily we weren’t in a hurry and were there just to enjoy the spectacular views. 

Thanks to Judy and Larry, we were able to take a few short little hikes and not worry about Mia and Bob. Here are a few photos from our hike to Baring Falls, which included an encounter with a cute deer we named John. Can you find Steve in the bottom photo of this section?

Another popular day-trip is the drive to Polebridge, a small, remote town on the west side of GNP. The rough road along the North Fork of the Flathead River was an adventure in itself. Once we arrived to Polebridge we went straight to the Mercantile and bought their famous breads and pastries. We had huckleberry bearclaws, cinnamon rolls, and chocolate poppyseed danish. WOW! It was worth the drive just for the yummies.

In Polebridge there’s a short nature trail with interpretive signs that informed us about the family who settled the valley in 1814. It was nice to stretch our legs and work off a little of those pastries.

The saloon in Polebridge still serves drinks from the original settler’s cabin and just outside is a Chinese Elm that was planted in 1814. Talk about history!

We try to find a special place for lunch each day and the Fish Creek Picnic Area on the north shore of Lake McDonald was the perfect place. We enjoyed the cool of the shade and a breeze off the lake and met a nice Arizona family in the process!

One of Glacier’s premier hikes is the Highline Trail, an alpine path that provides out-of-this world views of Glacier’s peaks and valleys. The entire trail is 20+ miles long to the northern reaches of the park. Because we had limited time, we opted for a shorter version, about 5 miles round trip.

Even though we didn’t do the whole enchilada, we got a good feel for why this is considered a “must do.” As in the past, we started early in order to get a parking spot at Logan’s Pass and are grateful that Judy and Larry hung with the dogs while we explored. 

Another popular hike in Glacier is the Avalanche Lake Trail. Every time we passed the trailhead, the parking lot was full. So, once again we got up early and hit the trail by 6:00 a.m. The two mile, one-way trail was all ours, and we were rewarded with 15 minutes of complete solitude at the lake during sunrise. No one else was there!

Three waterfalls in distance, serene water, and complete quiet except for the birds made this one of the most special 15 minutes we’ve had in a long time. By the time we began our hike back to the trailhead there were crowds of people making their way to the lake. We considered ourselves lucky for what we experienced. 

We could have easily spent much more time in GNP, exploring the lakes and trails. Unfortunately our schedule is forcing us to move on to new adventures. Still, we took A LOT of pictures! Here’s a slide show that displays the majesty that is Glacier National Park.

Yellowstone: West and North

We’ve already posted three blogs on our time in Yellowstone National Park, and we still have a bunch to share. We’ll try to fit everything in this posting, since you’re probably tired of hearing about how beautiful Yellowstone is! In this post we’ll share a few of our adventures outside of the park in West Yellowstone, Montana, and we’ll fill you in on our days in the northern part of the park, including the Lamar Valley which has been called the “Serengeti of North America.”

We spent about six days in and around West Yellowstone and the west entrance to the national park. While in the area we strolled the cute shops in the tourist town, and Steve made a few purchases. He’s decided to take up fly fishing so time in the fly shops was included in our explorations. Who knew there was so much to learn about this very-Montana way of fishing?

Cliff Lake

Just before starting this trip we purchased two Botē inflatable kayaks, which we plan to use later this year when we return to the Florida Keys. However, we figured, “why wait?” We scouted out a sweet little mountain lake about 30 minutes outside of West Yellowstone. Cliff Lake was perfect place to launch the kayaks and paddle around. Steve even threw out a line and got a bite.

Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo

After our time at the lake we took in the local rodeo, the Wild West Yellowstone rodeo. It was really a display for tourists, not comparable to Prescott’s Rodeo, but we enjoyed the show from our camp chairs right up on the railing.

Mammoth Hot Springs and the North

After six days of exploration from West Yellowstone, we made our way through the park to a new campsite just outside of Gardiner, MT. We based ourselves at an RV park poised aside the Yellowstone River, which gave us easy access to the north gate and the historic arched entrance.

The north entrance to the national park is anchored by Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs consist of terraces of travertine over which hot spring waters run.

As a result, the springs emit steam and colorful pools that have drawn tourists since the park’s founding in 1872. We toured the springs on a cool evening and enjoyed the walk through the boardwalks.

Animals!

A visit to Yellowstone would not be complete without some extensive wildlife watching. Fortunately we found ourselves in a bear jam at one point during our explorations, and the bear came right up beside the truck! I rolled down the window to get a good picture, and Steve grabbed his bear spray. It was thrilling!

However, the best place to see wildlife is in the expansive Lamar Valley in the northern part of Yellowstone. We headed out on another early morning in search of animals and were not disappointed.

Of course we saw bison…everywhere. The best parts of the bison herds were all the babies that were tagging along with their moms.

In fact, we saw babies of all kinds including baby elk, baby badgers, baby pika, and baby wolves. Yes, we saw wolves but didn’t get photos since they were so far away, and a monocle was necessary to see the den. Thanks to a local guide, we were able to see the mama with her seven puppies. Even from a distance, it was super cool to get a glimpse of these animals that were once wiped from the area.

Of all the places we explored in Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley was the place that most exceeded our expectations. We found a beautiful hike, saw incredible scenery, and met a multitude of Yellowstone’s animal residents. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t miss the Lamar Valley!

We’re now on to parts north and will soon have more adventures to share. Happy Fourth of July!

P.S. Yes, Steve caught his first trout in the Yellowstone River. 🐟