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This was our first really ambitious winter road trip – several thousand miles, two countries and multiple states, temperatures dropping to below 15F, and quite a few ski resorts. It was wonderful, and has inspired a pattern of Christmas-time travel.

Map View

Day 1-2 (Bay Area to Bend)

Day 1 driving time: 8 hours.

We’ve visited Bend a lot, and find the best way to get there is to just get up early and get the 8 hour drive over with. **Hi-Lo Cafe in Weed is the best midpoint food option we’ve found. A cheap, friendly greasy spoon.

On this trip, we visited Mt. Bachelor for lunch on day 2 – it reminds me of Sugar Bowl at the base, cute and a bit dated. Great runs but highly weather influenced (no skiing on this trip, no visibility at all). About a 25-30 minute drive from either Sunriver or Bend.

More to do in Bend (notes).

Day 3 (Bend to Pendleton via the Painted Hills)

Day 1 driving time: 6.5 hours.

We took the “***Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” and had a wonderful time! The itinerary starts in Antelope and cuts North on 395 just before John Day. The scenery is stunning and very diverse – the “Painted Hills” of Oregon, including Prehistoric fossil beds, mining ghost towns, truly stunning geological sites, and a variety of interesting counter-culture remnants (Rajneeshpuram in Antelope being the most infamous).

Antelope and Spray are both fairly down on their luck – if you can hold on wait to eat in Dayville, which has a better looking cafe. The hiking options at the John Day National Monument – Clarno Unit looked fun, and the **Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is definitely worth a stop.

The goal for the night was Pendleton (I love the brand). We stayed somewhere forgettable (the Best Western, I think?) and were not particularly impressed with the town.

This is a lot of driving, and to make our stop for the night we didn’t have time for Kam Wah Chung Chinese Heritage and Dewitt Museum Depot Park (next time). In summer, check out Ritter Hot Springs. Looks a little rustic but the locals highly recommend it.

Day 4 (Pendleton to Fernie via Spokane and Kootenai Falls)

Day 4 driving time: 8 hours.

This was another long day, crossing Oregon, Idaho, and Montano before reaching Canada, with a quite a bit of vintage roadside memorabilia along the way.

Sites along the way:

  • **Large John Wayne Statue: 1411 6th St, Umatilla, Oregon. Because why not? 
  • *Hallett House Castle: E 623 Lake St, Medical Lake, Washington. Skip this – too run down to be of much interest – but do read the story about it
  • **Country Boy Cafe, Athol, ID: good lunch just off the road.
  • SandPoint, ID: we didn’t stop to explore, but it looks like a gorgeous place to hang out.
  • **Kootenai Falls, MT: so worth it! Very impressive – some of the largest waterfalls in Idaho, and a great road. Near Troy, MT.
  • Tobacco Valley Historical Village (4 Dewey Avenue, Eureka, Montana): We did not make it here before dark, for a future trip.

Day 5 (Skiing in Fernie)

***Fernie is awesome! Great terrain, no crowds, dry and powdery snow. One of my favorite ski resorts in North America. Worth traveling to.

Sourcing lodging was harder than expected – most bookings are run through the Fernie Lodging Company. Stay on the mountain, not in town. We selected **Snow Creek Lodge #209 ($350/night CAN at the time). This was quite nice, right on the slope, good lounge and public spaces, recently renovated rooms.

Dining

  • **Cirque (and the Ice Bar) was the only “fancy” option, and was quite good, reasonably priced. There are several pub style options on the mountain as well.
  • [didn’t try] Blue Toque Diner, 601 1st Avenue (in town): recommended for breakfast. Closed the day we were in town.
  • **Loafers: Very cute and higher end (in town). Reasonably healthy food, nice service, most ingredients made on site. (closed now)

Full Fernie notes here.

Day 6 (Fernie to Emerald Lake via Fort Steele Heritage Town)

Day 6 driving time: 6 hours.

Sites along the way

  • **Fort Steele Heritage Town: This really was great – an open air, “wild west” museum. Free in winter, probably very busy in summer. Well preserved and maintained. We were the only people there, and had two cats as escorts. 
  • *Fairmont Hot Springs Resort: roughly at the midway point on the drive. We had a decent lunch. Not that charming, rather run down. I’d skip. 
  • **The World’s Largest Paddle: 10 miles or so before Golden. Because why not?
  • **Natural Bridge (3 km west of Field, on the the Emerald Lake Road). The Kicking Horse River has carved a natural bridge through solid rock, 1.6 km from the Trans-Canada highway on the Emerald Lake Road. Worth a quick stop.

Our stop for the night – for Christmas eve and Christmas morning – was the ***Emerald Lake Lodge: This place is wonderful and deserves two days. Good hiking around, and on the lake. A major highlight of the trip.

The main lodge, built in 1902 by the railway, has 85 guest rooms in 24 two-story chalets. It’s accessible at the end of a 5 mile road, right on frozen Emerald Lake. The rooms are classic and cozy, the overall impression of remoteness and intimacy. There’s a saloon for cocktail hour, massive warm fireplaces, great food and lovely service.

Day 7 (Emerald Lake via the Icefield Parkway to Jasper)

Day 7 driving time: 4 hours.

The Icefield Parkway in winter is something everyone should experience in their lifetime. Lake Louise is up there as well, though the crowds detract. This was COLD! -12 degrees fahrenheit at points.

Sites along the way:

  • **Lake Louise: drive by to see it, but stay at Emerald Lake instead. It is beautiful, but overrun with tourists, definitely not an intimate experience.
  • ***The Icefields Parkway: my goodness, what a road – 143 miles of glaciers and snow. Closed regularly and with some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. In winter, everything (literally) is closed. No food, hotels, or gas. So, so worth it. Bow Lake is a stunning spot to stop, with an equally attractive hotel (though it may be permanently closed, website has been taken down).

Day 8 (Jasper)

We spent Christmas at *The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge – “the most remote of Canadian Pacific’s grand mountain hotels.” What began in 1915 as the modest “Tent City” three miles east of town on the shores of Lake Beauvert is now practically its own village, with 442 guest rooms and suites in the main lodge, log cabins, and cedar cottages – more than 100 buildings in all. I wouldn’t recommend staying here. It’s fine, but gigantic and quite commercial. 

It would be worth doing a little more research and staying at a smaller place in town (which is quite cute).

In the town of Jasper:

The parkway’s terminus is a quiet railroad town three streets wide in the valley of the Athabasca River. Jasper’s relative inaccessibility shuts the town out of the international-destination market. Do walk around – it’s cute, quite quaint, and has lots of shopping and food options.

**Maligne Canyon Ice Walk: we talked ourselves out of a guided tour ($65, reserve a day ahead, 2.5 hours outside). I think this was the right call – the self-guided walking tour on the way to Maligne Lake was great, fairly vigorous, about an hour with good scenery. 

We did not ski in the area, the -15℉ temp was a show stopper. The car did start without a problem though!

Day 9-10 (Jasper to Revelstoke)

Day 9 driving time: 6 hours.

Another beautiful drive down the Icefields Parkway. We had lunch in Golden, near the wooden bridge, at **Whitetooth Bistro, which was quite good. 

Revelstoke was great – a very different feel from Fernie, more of a “Chamonix” outdoorsy vibe, lots of back country people and less of a resort feel.

We stayed at the **Courthouse Inn: I can’t recommend this place enough, really charming, great food, decent location within walking distance of town.

There are condo options at the ski hill but don’t bother, there isn’t really a village yet (at least as of our visit) and you’ll end up driving into town (which is only 5 minutes away) to eat anyway.

Activities 

  • The **Aquatic Center! It’s really great, complete with saunas, slide, hot tub, lazy river, climbing wall, etc.

Food

  • Emo’s Pizza & Grill was recommended (an institution in town) but looks pretty old in a not-so-good way.
  • **Kawakubo: Japanese Food/Sushi. Quite good and very popular – make reservations.
  • **Woolsey Creek Bistro: Good fine dining with a casual-cozy ambiance

Skiing: North America’s greatest vertical ski area at 1,713 meters.

Day 10-11 (Revelstoke to Rossland)

Day 10 driving time: 4 hours.

**Upper Arrow Lake Ferry: To avoid going back up and around through Golden, you have to take a ferry across Shelter/Galena Bay (no bridge). It’s free, and runs 1x/hour. Very scenic. Check the times in advance, it could be a long wait. Halcyon Hot Springs Resort was just south of the ferry, about an hour from Revelstoke. We stopped by – it’s okay, nothing amazing, but could be a pleasant break on your drive.

Nelson was a lunch stop destination it’s really cute, well preserved, fairly large. Home of Whitewater Ski Resort (which we didn’t see). Seems worth spending some time in. We went to:

  • Baker Street (the main drag, well preserved buildings, about 5 blocks long)
  • **The Library Lounge at Hume Hotel (422 Vernon Street) – great setting in a historical building, good food.
  • Touchstones Museum: for the gift shop. We didn’t tour the museum, but stop here for a free guide to Baker Street (history of the buildings).

Rossland / Red Mountain: The town is really, really tiny and quite adorable. It would be fine to stay in town or at the resort, no strong preference.

Red Mountain was our favorite skiing of the trip. Very diverse terrain, reasonable village.

We stayed at the Sweet Dreams Heritage Inn, which was very nice, great breakfast, excellent location, very affordable. B&B. It looks to have changed hands, now the Wild Turkey Inn.

Food

  • *Flying Steamshovel Inn (and Bar): skip it. Average food and horrible service.
  • **Misty Mountain Pizza: across the street from the above, tiny and cute.

Day 12-13 (Rossland > Tahoe)

A long run home, about 16 hours in all over two days.

Along the way:

  • Mystic Cafe (Lewiston, ID). Not the most appealing town (paper mill/rather run down) but this Cafe was suitably hip.
  • Dog Bark Park Inn: didn’t see it, too dark. But near Grangeville along 95.
  • *Super 8 Motel, Grangeville: nicest Super 8 ever, which isn’t exactly a recommendation. But good if you need a place to stop.
  • **Nez Perce National Historical Park (ID). Sites for several hundred miles along Highway 95. The dramatic vista over White Bird Battlefield is worth stopping at (just south of Grangeville).
  • **River Rock Cafe, Riggins, ID: pretty good greasy spoon in the heart of Fly Fishing Country.
  • Jean Baptiste Charbonneau Grave, which we missed! Pay attention, it flies by fast, out in the middle of nowhere.
  • **Thunder Mountain Monument: Really creepy and great, outsider art: “part sculpture garden, part backyard fort, part Death Valley theme park.” Right off the freeway, worth a stop! 

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