Family Vacation Wrap: 1600 miles in 8 days

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!


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


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:



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


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:


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

47 Responses to Family Vacation Wrap: 1600 miles in 8 days

  1. David B. says:

    Do the desert Southwest in September or early October. June is often the hottest month in the Southwest. Don’t go then unless you like lots of 100-degree-plus days.

  2. runrain says:


    Boom, there it is. Boom, there it is. Boom, there it is.

    At least the hot weather often gives us a chance of thunder somewhere during its tenure.

  3. BoringOregon says:

    Well nothing going on out here but the weather channel is saying that the Chicago airport has been closed do to bad storms coming in now. And the northeast is getting bad storms now.

  4. ocpaul says:

    Hurrah!! FINALLY, The days are getting shorter again. As of today,
    15 hours, 39 minutes of daylight.

  5. 0.83″ of rain in the last 24 hours here.

  6. schmit44 says:

    6/23/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:87 at Rye Valley(I-84(2230 ft)
    Low: 66 at JUNIPR(359 ft)

    High:46 at Timberline Lodge(7001 ft)
    Low: 36 at CRANE PRAIRIE (5500 ft ) & MT. HOWARD (7910 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 38 degrees
    Ontario Municipa (87/49 ) (2188 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    1.20″ at BLAZED ALDER(3650ft)
    1.11″ at DW6659 Colton(825ft)
    1.04″ at RED MOUND(1753ft)
    0.94″ at TIDEWATER(2035ft)
    0.93″ at FLYNN PRAIRIE(1543ft)

  7. This blog is TOO SLOW the past couple days when it comes to actual *weather* talk. So I’m ‘a gunna do somethin’ about it by talking DEWPOINTS.

    Currently 61 degree dewpoint and 90% RH at The Dalles, which is very impressive. Do any of you think dewpoints in the 60s are likely to begin the warm stretch later this week?

  8. Kirk(Sandpoint Idaho) says:

    I see you went through my new home town Sandpoint. We love it here!

  9. Lurkyloo says:

    Wow. Big old downpour over here the last 15 min or so. No watering for a day or two …

    (Rose City Park area)

  10. PaulO says:

    Is that the first 100 degrees of the year showing up in the GFS extended on the 18z?

    • Joshua in Lake Oswego says:

      It’s been showing that on and off on the GFS for a few runs now. Please no!

    • pappoose in scappoose says:

      Ya, heat fans!

      244 PM PDT MON JUN 24 2013


    • Sifton says:

      I LOVE THE HEAT!! (& not the NBA team)

  11. snodaze says:

    That was a great dam picture Mark.

  12. Archangel Michael2 says:

    The week after Memorial Break I had two days of half inch rain which is the most this entire year except for a brief wet storm in mid March.

    Pretty pathetic actually but it felt good when it happened.

    Today it’s pretty humid outside and everywhere is packed with people except the video store strangely enough.

  13. runrain says:

    Looks like a pretty good storm coming into Salem right now.

  14. Lurkyloo says:

    Mark, can I borrow your travel trailer? Thanks!

  15. schmit44 says:

    ***July 2013 Weather Frequency Contest Entry Form***
    Entries will close on Monday night July 1st at midnight

  16. runrain says:

    126° in Death Valley by Friday!

    • From the AFD:

      It appears we may
      threaten the all-time record high minimum for June in Las Vegas of
      89 degrees at some point next weekend. As for the extreme heat…125
      or better is expected in Death Valley Friday into next weekend.

    • runrain says:

      I wonder when the marathon is they run through Death Valley in the middle of summer is. Yes, they actually do that. Some runners find their shoes start melt on the pavement. I had to cut my run a couple miles short today just with our humidity. I was drenched after 8 miles!

  17. schmit44 says:

    6/22/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:88 at Celilo, East of( 225 ft)
    Low: 61 at BLALOK(277 ft)

    High:44 at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 23 at FOSTER FLAT (5000 ft ) & DIMLKE (4726 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 55 degrees
    FOSTER FLAT (78/23 ) (5000 ft )

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.28″ at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150ft)
    0.23″ at Grant County Reg(3697ft)

  18. Tyler Mode says:

    Urban heat island anyone? 75 in downtown pdx. 63 here in BG.

  19. Fun times with the kids no doubt! We just got back from a trip down in SE Oregon. Alvord/Steens/Hart mtn. and around that area. Hit some great hot springs which negates the cooler breezes and occasional T-storms.

  20. ArchangelMichael2 says:

    It sounds like a nice trip if you could read it all and not be stuck in frames!

    AHHH THOSE NASSSSSSSSTY FRAMES!!! It’s those nassssssty hobbits!

  21. Yup. Like the road to Hana, Lolo Pass is one of those drives that should come with a “I survived” t-shirt.

  22. chiefWright (Marquam) says:

    Doing the Lochsa/Clearwater is like doing the N.Fork Santiam– except it’s 4 times as long! If you’ve got kids, I’d recommend it on the way out and not the way back when all they’ve got is facebook on their mind.
    Did you find the Lochsa historic ranger station? One of my favorite cultural places on the river; its as if time froze in 1930– the cookhouse with the USFS logo stamped on all the tableware is sublime.

  23. PaulO says:

    Nice! Got to love these kind of trips especially with the kids.

  24. schmit44 says:

    6/21/2013 Oregon (All) Temperature Summary

    High:83 at ILLINOIS VALLEY(1389 ft) & MERLIN SEED ORCH(1144 ft)
    Low: 57 at Portland Interna(20 ft) & JUNIPR(359 ft) & DW4360 Portland(175 ft)

    High:36 at HOWARD Mt Howard(8150 ft)
    Low: 22 at KIRK (4519 ft )

    Largest Diurnal Change: 43 degrees
    Beatty (66/23 ) (4320 ft )
    KIRK (65/22) (4519 ft)

    Heaviest Rainfall:
    0.43″ at Upper Wildhorse(3581ft)
    0.42″ at CASE(3800ft)
    0.36″ at DW5434 Heppner(2600ft)
    0.35″ at TUPPER(4260ft)
    0.34″ at HARL BUTTE(6071ft)
    0.31″ at CW9027 Ukiah(3415ft)

  25. karlbonner1982 says:

    I DEFINITELY need to get outdoors more…that’s one part of my life up to this point that’s been badly lacking, believe it or not.

    I’m definitely all about September for any kind of vacationing…except MAYBE April/May if I’m going to California or the Desert Southwest?

    Bonners Ferry supposedly has a sizable Fundamentalist Mormon community. Sandpoint, on the other hand, is supposed to be like Idaho’s version of Ashland, Oregon culturally speaking – big on music and arts and all that. I know several people from Sandpoint; it’s one of the most liberal towns in the state of Idaho. Unfortunately I’ve never been there but it’s on my to-see list!

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      That’s good to know about Sandpoint. I wasn’t aware of that. But I WAS aware of the happenings up at Bonner’s Ferry. Ruby Ridge was only a few miles from there too.

  26. runrain says:

    Awesome trip, Mark. Thanks for sharing. Driving trips are the best.

    Unrelated, I see the forecast high for Fairbanks Wed next week is 97. Holy cow! I’ve been watching Barrow too and it got up to 55 this week and staying above freezing during th Alaska night.

  27. Very kool Mark. Get the time in b4 they are grown up. 🙂

  28. Josh "The Snowman" From Everett, WA says:

    I’m upset that you went into Walmart.

  29. Awesome! I’m jealous I haven’t been to Glacier in a while. I was up there on opening day of the road a few years back, and closing day of TM campground as well the following year. It’s fun knowing you’re one of the first/last people to be in the area after/before the huge snows hit.

    I took Highway 12 too, just to see what it was like, funny I told people of all the roads not to miss, that’s the one! Beautiful, but windy (I wasn’t pulling a trailer)

  30. Daniel Hein says:

    Mark, did the Lolo Pass trip last September, eastbound. It was so smokey from a large fire that was just south of the river at one point, and visibility to a 1/4 mile.. But still beautiful. Then we did Rogers Pass the next day.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      I suppose going the other way the curves aren’t so bad at first and then tighten up the last 50 miles. At least we had good visibility the days we drove it.

  31. W7ENK says:

    Looks like a great trip! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: