Author Topic: Great Parks North - best timing  (Read 4905 times)

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Offline fs1234

Great Parks North - best timing
« on: March 05, 2017, 09:05:34 pm »
Hi - I am planning to do Great Parks North and would like advice from those who have done this route as to the best timing considering both weather and traffic. I am totally flexible as to when I can start and would plan to complete it over about 3-4 weeks (incl. rest days). Also, any advice as to whether there is a preferred direction (North-South or South-North). I notice the guided ACA trip in 2017 is going South-North starting early July. Any opinions on this timing? I am wondering whether a last week of August start, heading South might be a good option so as possibly hit less busy traffic conditions coming into September?

Offline zzzz

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2017, 09:05:50 am »
Hi: I did the GPN route as a subset of a larger trip in 2013. I started in Jasper on Labor Day weekend heading south and it worked out pretty well. If I was to do it over again and if I had complete control of my schedule I would probably start the Tuesday after Labor Day (which is a Canadian holiday as well) just to minimize the traffic some more. Your late August start date (for a N to S trip) from Jasper would probably be just as good.

The highlights of the route are the Icefields Parkway and Going to the Sun Rd in Glacier NP as well as where you will find the crowds and traffic to be an issue.

I rode the Icefields Parkway again last year when I started my trip in Banff to ride to Alaska but it was on July 30/31 and the traffic was really heavy and persistent. There's a shoulder but there's a lot of big cracks in it and makes for unhappy time. And the scrum for getting something to eat/drink at Columbia Icefields was ridiculous. Traffic/crowds are much lighter in September. Also GTTS Rd is notorious for nose to tail traffic in the summer so getting there in mid-September is better.

A couple things of note. It was sunny and warm in the morning of 8/30 this year but I got hailed on going over Bowman pass and it was cold. Mountain whether is unpredictable, pack accordingly. Also Going to the Sun Rd has truncated hours in which they allow cyclists. You will need to look them up but it's something like 7-11 am and after 4:30. The park service also uses the season after Labor Day and before its closed for the winter to do road work. This worked out in my favor. I left early, like sunrise. The traffic behind me got congregated into little groups in the construction zones and passed me 4-6 cars at a time and then I had the road to yourself for another 20 minutes. It was bliss

It's a great route and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Best of luck.

Pete

Offline fs1234

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2017, 04:13:45 pm »
Thanks Pete. This is really helpful  :)

Offline fs1234

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2017, 04:11:16 am »
Forgot to ask Pete, we will be camping mostly. Did you need to book ahead for national park campsites or, as a biker, could you just show up on your September trip.

Offline zzzz

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2017, 09:17:13 am »
I credit card toured the entire trip so I can't speak specifically to your question. Hopefully someone else will join in here who can.

I can say that the hotels in the towns I stopped at along the way were frequently almost empty. I would guess that less traffic in general probably means less action at the campsites as well. The one place you may want to make reservations at is in Glacier, although I didn't notice any signs up indicating that the campsites were full when I came thru.

I REALLY prefer to plan my trips around September just because of the way the crowds thin out.

My trip continued after Missoula & on to the TransAm and down to Colorado and the only bustling place I came upon was Yellowstone where both the hotels in West Yellowstone & all the campsites in the park were booked. I eventually found a hotel that had a cancelation but it sure looked for awhile like I was going to be spending the night in my emergency bivvy in a parking lot somewhere.

pm






indyfabz

  • Guest
Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2017, 09:36:21 am »
Forgot to ask Pete, we will be camping mostly. Did you need to book ahead for national park campsites or, as a biker, could you just show up on your September trip.
I have ridden in Glacier several times, including in 2009 while doing the Waterton/Glacier Loop from/to Whitefish. I believe all of the campsites in Glacier are first come, first served. I also believe all of them have hiker-biker site. I know Sprague Creek and Apgar do. The former is smaller and has several tent pads in the infield along with bear boxes. It's also within walking distance of Lake McDonald Lodge, where there are a couple of restaurants and a not-so-great for groceries camp store, although that's not as big a deal now that the park offers free shuttle service. Grab a beer and drink it down by the lake, and don't miss the parlor with the fireplace and trophy heads on the walls. The downside to Sprague Creek is that it's pretty close to the road, but traffic dies down in the evening. Definitely check the park's site later in the year for any constructions programs. As noted, after Labor Day they sometimes close the road at time to allow for accelerated constructions work. I am actually scheduled to arrive at the park of June 26th. Due to the heavy snow this winter there is a decent chance that GTS will not be open all the way to Logan Pass by then. Check out the park's site once plowing has begun. They usually include a link to their Flikr site with photos of plowing operations. Pretty impressive undertaking.

As for GTS bike restrictions, you can go up and down the east slope any time of day. Heading east up the west slope, you have to be at Logan Pass by 11 a.m. You can ride west on the west slope anytime of day up to Sprague Creek Campground. Between there and Apgar Village, bike are not allowed between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Believe that restriction takes affect June 15th. Don't know how long into the summer it lasts, but I would bet it's until at least Labor Day.

In AB, I highly recommend going off route a bit to Waterton Village. Nice place for a day off, and there is a great towne campsite in a dramatic setting along the lake. I have never done it, but there is supposed to be a nice boat ride/hike combination you can do if you take a day off there. That campsite does take reservations.


Offline CMajernik

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2017, 11:52:57 am »
Here is what is online on the Great Parks North pages:

Great Parks North
This route should be ridden from early summer to mid-fall. Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is usually closed until early to mid June and has limited hours for cyclists which is noted on the map. Snow can occur at any time during the summer in the Rocky Mountains so be prepared with cold weather gear. Due to changing local conditions, it is difficult to predict any major wind patterns.

Jasper can be reached by rail service from Edmonton, Alberta. Along the entire length of the route, small towns at regular intervals provide ample services, but plan ahead due to crowded tourist conditions, especially in the Canadian Park System and in Glacier National Park. Reservations at both hostels and campgrounds are recommended.
Carla Majernik
Routes and Mapping Program Director

Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring people of all ages to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x218, 406/721-8754 fax
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline zzzz

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2017, 12:31:34 pm »
I'll add this to Carla's post about getting to Jasper.

I found that flying into Calgary was considerably cheeper then flying into Edmonton when I bought my tickets. In 2013 I rented a car one-way for about $150 to drive to Jasper. Last year when I started my trip in Banff I noticed that there was 2 different shuttle companies that operate out of Calgary Airport to get people over to the parks and I used one of them to get to Banff. They keep a very regular schedule although only a couple of the shuttles a day go all the way up to Jasper (most of the runs are just to Canmore and Banff). They had big seats and windows and I considered it to be a nice way to get there.

pm

Offline John Nelson

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2017, 12:48:03 pm »
Forgot to ask Pete, we will be camping mostly. Did you need to book ahead for national park campsites or, as a biker, could you just show up on your September trip.
I'll give you an answer about camping in National Parks in general. The general answer is that there is no general answer. You have to check the individual park, and the individual campground within the park. Many National Parks have hiker/biker sites, which cannot be reserved but guarantee you a spot. Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier and Redwood are like that. In Rocky Mountain National Park, some of the campgrounds have H/B sites and some don't, so it can vary by campground in the same park. Theodore Roosevelt and Mammoth Cave NPs have no H/B sites.

Having said that, I will note that even parks without H/B sites will usually find room for you even when the campground is full. That's not a guarantee of course, but it works most of the time.

H/B sites are usually (a lot) less expensive than regular sites. Regular sites can be reserved, but it'll cost you. If you have a vehicle accompanying you, you must reserve a regular site. If traveling with a group, it might, depending on group size, be less expensive to reserve a regular site, since H/B sites charge by the person and regular sites charge by the site.

Check individual campground closing dates. Most campgrounds are still open in September, but that is about when they start closing, so don't get surprised.

When traveling solo, I never reserve.

Offline jwrushman

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2017, 12:53:45 pm »
Indyfabz, thanks for your input.  I just read the bicycling restrictions at the Glacier NP website.  I'll have to re-check it when I'm near the park.

I'm going east-to-west and was planning to camp at the Rising Sun Campground.  I don't think I'll make it from Rising Sun to Sprague Creek Campground by 11 am.   It looks to be a challenging 34 miles, and I don't want to rush it because I know how beautiful that stretch is.   I had planned to end up the day in Columbia Falls, but maybe I'll just hang out at Sprague Creek Campground or Lake McDonald Lodge and pedal the last hour down to West Glacier after the road re-opens at 4 pm.

indyfabz

  • Guest
Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2017, 02:09:33 pm »
I'm going east-to-west and was planning to camp at the Rising Sun Campground.  I don't think I'll make it from Rising Sun to Sprague Creek Campground by 11 am.   It looks to be a challenging 34 miles, and I don't want to rush it because I know how beautiful that stretch is.   I had planned to end up the day in Columbia Falls, but maybe I'll just hang out at Sprague Creek Campground or Lake McDonald Lodge and pedal the last hour down to West Glacier after the road re-opens at 4 pm.
That sounds like a plan. Rising Sun is a good place to start from. IIRC, it's only 2000' of climbing from there to Logan Pass. Then it's all down hill. That's what we planned to do in '09, but when we got to St. Mary we were told the pass would not be crossable the next day. We had a fixed flight home, so in order to see at least some of the west side, we stayed at St. Mary and then rode nearly 100 miles around the park, via Looking Glass Hill and Marias Pass, to Sprague Creek. The next day they opened the west side all the way to the pass so we got to go up and back down.

If enough snow has melted, I recommend taking the relatively short hike to the viewing platform overlooking Hidden Lake that starts behind the Logan Pass visitor center.

Sprague Creek is along the lake and has a day use picnic area. This place in W. Glacier offers hiker/biker camping in an open area for only $10:

http://www.glaciercampground.com/

Stayed there before the start of a backpack trip. Nice for $10, and it's set back from the road so it's quiet.
The market in W. Glacier, while not huge, has a decent grocery supply if you will be cooking. The pancakes at the Glacier Highland Restaurant on U.S. just east of GTS Road were pretty darn good.

Definitely follow the map proper getting to Columbia Falls due to the shoulderless section of U.S. 2 in/near Hungry Horse. The unpaved portion (Belton Stage/Blankenship) can be washboardy in places, but it's really nice back there, except for the occasional vehicle associated with rafting operations. Keep your eyes peeled for bears!

Offline DarrenBnYYC

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2017, 03:00:20 pm »
A quick note about travelling and camping in the Canadian national parks (Banff, Jasper, Waterton) this summer: 2017 is Canada's 150th year of confederation, and to celebrate, one of the things that the government has done is made it free for all Canadians to enjoy all the national parks this summer. As a result, their camping reservation system has been overloaded, and pretty much all campsites for our mountain parks are now filled for the entire summer. There are some non-reservable sites in certain campgrounds, but there aren't many, and Parks Canada doesn't really have hiker-biker sites, so finding campsites during the peak tourist season will be a challenge this summer. Further, the highways through the parks are going to be FILLED with tourists this year, just because there will be no fees at the gates and because of the celebration activities that are planned, which will draw a lot more people into our parks than normal. I have family that work at Banff National Park, and they are bracing for the worst this summer.

So if you are planning a trip, it would be really advisable to go through the Canadian parks after our Labour Day long weekend (Sept. 4) to avoid the congested campgrounds and roadways in the parks. Mid-September should be good, although there is a distinct possibility of significant snowfall by late September (just be prepared with suitable clothing).

Offline fs1234

Re: Great Parks North - best timing
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2017, 07:36:30 pm »
OP here. Luckily I am planning on going in 2018 (I plan well ahead)! I saw this about the Canadian parks yesterday, so I'm glad I am not going this year.