Family Vacation Wrap: 1600 miles in 8 days

June 21, 2013

Remember last year’s crazy driving vacation I took in June with the family? 3000 miles in a little over a week.

I decided to notch it down a bit this year; about half that mileage (1,600 mi) in 8 days.  This time we spent less time on the road, but still saw lots of cool new places and I even have a few tips for you.

DAY1:  Load up the 4Runner and trailer and push out! IMG_0311[1]  Drove from Corbett to Steamboat Rock State Park in north-central Washington.  A good 5-6 hour drive included a great food stop at a Greek monastery near Satus Pass.  Yummy homemade baklava and lots of other foods too.  I had never stopped in.  Then on to Yakima, Ellensburg, and my first time crossing the Columbia River at Vantage on I-90.  This area looks like The Dalles and we climbed up to a bunch of cool horse sculptures on the hill above the freeway, every single one of them vandalized by graffiti…nice. horses

DAY2:  Climb about 800′ up Steamboat Rock, which is surrounded by Banks Lake.

No rattlesnakes, but quite a view!

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The view in the picture is from the top, looking down at the campground.   By the way, here’s tidbit #1…GO CAMPING WHEN MOST KIDS ARE STILL IN SCHOOL IF YOU CAN.  I bet out of 20 sites in our loop, only 3-4 were being used on a Sunday night.  That’s the lake created by pumping out water from Grand Coulee Dam and into the Columbia Basin Reclamation Project.  This is just a few miles from Grand Coulee Dam itself.  I think everyone should visit this massive dam once in their life.  And ONCE is enough too.  We feel like we’ve “seen it and done it” now.  The tour of the dam takes about 45 minutes, and you’re followed by a well-armed security guard.  In fact we were warned that they get real cranky if you take their picture, so I didn’t.  This is what it looks like from the top of the dam looking down on the spillway, which was mostly closed. IMG_0296[1]Doesn’t seem THAT far, but it’s 350’+ down to the water…similar to one of Portland’s tallest buildings!

We went to the nightly laser show, which projects lasers across the face of the dam, kind of cool.  But I thought the best part was the opening of the spillway just before the show.  It’s very dim, but suddenly you see a wall of white descending the face of the dam.  It appears to be slow-motion, but you can hear the roar of the water as it takes a good 5-10 seconds to make it to the bottom, that’s how high it is.

DAY3:  Drive to Athol, Idaho and go to Silverwood Theme Park

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I was pleasantly surprised by this place, and let me point out that no one gave me free tickets so it’s a totally unbiased review.  If you live in the Pacific Northwest and have kids I think you should visit this place once, or even once a year.  It’s a smaller version of Knotts Berry Farm.  Clean, lots of good junk food, a few scary roller coasters, a bunch of other carnival rides mixed in with wide paths and big shady trees…plus a real nice waterpark…all for $37 a day.  And if you purchase two days worth of tickets (as I did at a large boxy store with lots of toilet paper), you can return the unused tickets for a refund.  That was quite a deal because of Tips #2 and #3:  SILVERWOOD THEME PARK WAS A GREAT PLACE TO TAKE YOUR KIDS TO, and, YOU CAN DO THIS PARK IN ONE DAY, INCLUDING THE WATERPARK PORTION.  No need to spend two days on this one, although if you are totally bored it wouldn’t hurt I suppose.  The best part of this place?  Hardly any lines!  On one roller coaster we waited about 5 minutes, but every other ride and waterslide was line-free.  Apparently local Idaho schools were out, but Spokane was still in session.  That probably helped.  I WOULD NOT VISIT THIS PARK ON A WEEKEND IN SUMMER.  I have a feeling the lines would be awful since there are not that many rides and I saw comments to that effect on Tripadvisor.  So go in late May, early June, or in September.

DAY 4:  Camping at Farragut State Park

This was a wonderful and huge state park just a few miles from Silverwood.  Thousands of acres because it used to be a big naval training facility during WWII.  In fact there are tons of bike/hiking trails all over the place with old roads/paths that wander all over the place.  Lake Pend Oreille half surrounds the park and it’s COLD this time of year, I’d guess 55-60 degrees at best.  Other than that, I highly recommend this park for camping if you’re in the area.

DAY 5:  Drive to Two Medicine Lake in eastern Glacier Park

Lots of driving this day, but I’ve never been to Sandpoint or Bonner’s Ferry, ID.  Or to Libby or Kalispell, MT  All beautiful places, although with those first two I have a feeling there is more to those areas culturally than the beautiful view?  Two Medicine Lake camping was cool at 5,000′  The best weather was the afternoon we arrived, partly cloudy and 55 degrees.  Smallish NP campground with no electricity/water hookups.  But what a view!  Mountains all around and a chilly (40) lake nearby.

DAY 6:  Visit the eastern half of Glacier National Park

Mostly cloudy and off/on light showers and 45-50 degrees, think  “an average February day” in Portland.  We drove up to Swiftcurrent Hotel in the Many Glacier area…very cool old hotel.  Here are a few pics:

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Nice lobby eh?  Not an outdoor day so a 15 minute hike up to a waterfall was all the hiking action we got.  That night the wind increased and the rain picked up…not exactly a “summer vacation” I was looking for.  By 11am the next day it was 43 degrees with ice pellets mixed in the showers at times.  That was enough, we decided to come back when the weather is warmer…like August or September.  My wife and I had been to Glacier once before in September and it was great.  This leads to tip #4:  DON’T VISIT GLACIER PARK IN JUNE EXPECTING WARM WEATHER AND LOTS OF HIKING.  Many trails are still snowed in or muddy.  Of course I knew that, but wanted to vacation in June anyway.  Once again, very light usage of campground and visitor facilities in the park since it was early in the season too.

DAY 7:  Drive to Browning, Missoula, Lolo Pass and camp along Lochsa River

I made the (nutty) choice to drive down the east side of the divide…beautiful wide open plains and hills, and lots of crosswind the first 90 miles too.  Not real fun hauling a trailer through that.  At one point I noticed a sign that said ROGERS PASS and realized there was some sort of weather story with this place

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Sure enough, this is the place!…the coldest temperature ever recorded in the continental USA occurred here in 1954…70 degrees below zero!

The day ended crossing Lolo Pass and descending into the longest curving drive I’ve ever done.  In fact the sign was disturbing:

Winding Road Sign, Lolo Pass, Idaho

I already knew this was a longer and very winding route back to Washington, but I’ve done I-90 from Missoula to Spokane several times and it has now bored me.  This is what it looks like for the next 3+ hours on Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to near Kooskia:

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It IS beautiful, and we camped halfway through which broke it up a bit.  But in reality it was 170 miles once you include the following 70 slightly less curvy section from Kooskia to Lewiston.  I don’t need to do that road again anytime soon. Tip #5:  US 12 FROM MISSOULA TO PORTLAND IS NOT A SHORTCUT EVEN THOUGH IT ALMOST LOOKS LIKE IT ON THE MAP.  Yes, I already knew that, but wanted to see what it was like anyway.

DAY 8:  Drive home

A long day of driving again.  I did get to see part of the bike ride I’ll be going on in early August.  Lewiston ID to Dayton, WA is day #4 of a cycling tour.  That first hill out of Lewiston will be brutal, praying that we aren’t in a heatwave weather pattern or I’m a dead man.  Nice driving though on this day.  We hit civilization in Walla Walla when the kids begged to go to Starbucks and get some sort of fatty drink.  Then it was 3.5 hours home!

And that was the trip…I’m thinking maybe next June we’ll do the desert southwest…I need more sun that time of year.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen