(As usual with these travel posts, this entry is long and heavy on photos. I hope you enjoy the read and the photos I took!)
Every summer since we moved to Hong Kong, we make a trip back to North America, spending time in both California and Canada. We used to fly between San Francisco and Vancouver, but my husband suggested a road trip one summer and the idea stuck. We can now boast to having completed three of these road trips, and the boys look forward to doing one every summer!
I, on the other hand, have a love-hate relationship with the road trip. After going almost a year without driving in Hong Kong, I enjoy getting behind the wheel again. I also like seeing different parts of the US and Canada on our journey. But the road trip also means long days of driving. Usually by the time we go full-circle and get back to San Jose at the end of the road trip, we have had our fill and can’t wait to get back to public transit in Hong Kong!
That all being said, our annual road trip has also meant a lot of quality time together (even though, admittedly, the boys have their eyes on electronic devices for most of drive!). And I do love seeing the beautiful scenery along the way. I never tire of seeing expansive big blue skies, majestic mountains, or agricultural fields that go on for miles and miles.
This year for our 2017 road trip to Canada, we decided we didn’t want to do the same route again and looked for a new one. We wanted a change of scenery…and I also wanted to make it to a US state we hadn’t driven through before! (I had originally thought it would be cool to drive to Boulder, Colorado…until I looked at a map and realized just how far Colorado is from California! It’s FAR…and also very much out of the way from where we needed to go…)
After doing some research, we decided our new stopping points would be Great Falls, Montana and Calgary, Alberta. This new route meant adding an extra day of driving, but we were excited about covering some new territory!
This map shows our entire road trip path, starting and ending in San Jose, California. If you look closely, it says the entire trip is 3,195 miles (about 5141 km)! However, this post is only about the actual road trip itself from San Jose to Kelowna, our intended Canadian destination (and then Vancouver). Stay tuned for upcoming A Day Out In Vancouver and A Day Out In San Jose posts (as well as Where To Eat in each of those cities!)!
On with the Road Trip!
As always, our road trip started in San Jose, California, where we’d been staying for a week already. With the jet lag past us and the van serviced and ready to go, we embarked on our journey one sunny morning and started towards Reno, Nevada. As is part of the California landscape on this particular route, you drive by various crops, vineyards, orchards…
…and cows grazing on grass!
The drive to Reno from San Jose is about four hours. It’s an easy drive, and even though it didn’t make a huge dent in our journey, it was a convenient stopping point. That being said, we ran into a backup on the freeway just before Nevada, due to a brush fire next to the road. As is often the case in the summer in these really dry places, the possibility of brush and forest fires is high. Luckily, despite traffic slowing to a crawl, the section affected wasn’t too long and we were back on our way.
Unfortunately, we ran into another bit of a hiccup when the Check Engine light came on in the van. As per the car manual, the check engine light often indicates an emissions issue and doesn’t affect drivability. However, we wanted to get it checked out anyway, which meant having to delay our departure from Reno. After getting it sorted at a Honda dealership the next morning, we finally got back on the road!
The climate in this part of Nevada is really dry and is almost moon-like. It’s as if we’re on another planet!
Taking Highway Interstate 80, heading northeast out of Reno, you drive by large salt flats. It’s where some Nevada rivers end and the waters spread out and evaporate, thereby leaving the white salt you see.
It was amusing to see this road-side exit sign…
Something tells me this is not the Beverly Hills that everyone is familiar with. I don’t see any luxury shops, hotels, or mansions nearby…or hills, for that matter.
The sun is beginning to set as we near the Reno-Idaho border.
One good thing about leaving Nevada late in the day? I got a really cool photo of our van shadow on the Nevada landscape!
Because of our late start getting out of Reno, we didn’t cross the Nevada-Idaho state border until after 8pm since we also had to stop and eat. And we didn’t arrive at our destination in Burley until after 10pm…a few hours later than what we planned! However, we made it just fine, even though we always prefer to get to our destination before dark. It’s easier to navigate in a new place when visibility is good!
Something I noticed after we crossed the state border was that the landscape seemed to change almost immediately. We went from dry, craggly, almost moon-like Nevada to Idaho crop fields that seemed to go on forever!
Here’s a fun fact…did you know that Idaho is an hour ahead of Nevada? And Idaho is north of Nevada! I didn’t expect that!
And a cool thing with Idaho being an hour ahead? It meant that sunset happens an hour later than Nevada! So these photos were taken about 9pm Idaho time (8pm Nevada time) and it was still quite light out!
Unfortunately, because we got into Idaho in the evening, and because I drove the next day (and my husband is not good about taking photos when I’m driving), I don’t have many photos at all from Idaho at all. However, the few that I got that night we arrived gives you a general idea as to the landscape and how pretty it is, especially at sunset. 😉
After spending one night in Burley, Idaho, off we drove to Great Falls, Montana. Just as the landscape changes from Nevada to Idaho, it does just the same going from Idaho to Montana. The landscape changes from massive farm fields to huge expanses of gentle sloped mountains in the distance.
(I had to tell my husband to take these photos. If I did not, I would have no proof of the beautiful Montana landscape.)
This photo does not do the amazing scenery any justice. But it gives a bit of an idea of the landscape along this route. All I could think as I drove down this freeway was how grateful I was to have the chance to see it. I thought it was incredibly beautiful.
We got to our next stop of Great Falls, Montana, managing to make it there before dinner time and while it was still light out! It was nice to not have such a rush before heading out again the next day.
On the way out of Montana, we were, again, treated to some beautiful landscapes. They don’t call it “Big Sky Country” for nothing. My husband took his turn at driving on this day, so I was able to get a few scenic photos as we made our way toward the US-Canada border.
From Montana, we crossed the US-Canada border and entered Alberta! This modest border crossing is at Sweet Pea, MT on the US side, and Coutts, Alberta on the Canada side. It wasn’t too busy here!
Welcome to Canada!
Just as the landscape between states changed, landscape changed crossing from the US to Canada, too! It went from large expansive dry fields in Montana, to lush, green irrigated fields in Alberta!
Many of the fields you see on this drive into Alberta are canola fields, identifiable by the fields of bright yellow flowers.
We drove by so many fields that just seemed to go on forever.
We made a quick stop in Lethbridge for lunch, then continued on our way to Calgary, the next stop on the journey. Once there, we met up with our friends, Tanya and Bevan Frizzell. My husband and I met the Frizzells randomly while on a trip to Argentina seven years ago. Being fellow Canadians, we found common ground and got along wonderfully.
Tanya and I kept in touch through the years and we finally got to see each other again on this trip! We went to their house where we relaxed and caught up over wine and wonderful food…chicken empanadas, tenderloin steaks, sausages, honeydew salad, chilled grilled sugar snap peas, potato salad, baby tomato salad, and quinoa cakes over baby lettuce greens.
Of course I got photos of the food. 🙂 But do you think I remembered to get any photos of us? Noooooooo…..
As if that isn’t enough food, there were three desserts to choose from – mini carrot cakes, rich chocolate ganache over a coconut crust, and cookies. We were fed incredibly well and undoubtedly, it was the best meal so far on the trip! We were grateful to meet up again after seven years, and to have the chance to catch up. I was also inspired by a few of Tanya’s dishes and can’t wait to test them out on my own before sharing them with you on the blog!
After a wonderful evening with the Frizzells, we were up bright and early the next morning to continue our road trip. We weren’t done yet! The next stop and our ultimate destination in Canada was Kelowna, British Columbia. Kelowna is where my husband is from and where his mother still lives, so we had a few days planned there. But first…
When planning out the route for our road trip, I was excited about driving through the Rockies to get from Alberta to Canada. The last time I was there was years ago, and this would be a first-time experience for the boys!
We had a cloudy morning heading out of Calgary, but as we headed westward, we could see clearer skies ahead.
Our destination, looming in the distance!
Brighter skies ahead!
Unfortunately, due to time constraints and an overload of tourists in the area, we weren’t able to stop during our journey through the Rockies. We drove into the quaint town of Banff, thinking we could grab lunch somewhere. But being July, it was crowded with tourists and we couldn’t find parking. Even if we could, we would probably have a wait at any restaurant.
I also had my hopes on stopping at Lake Louise. Again, there were so many people visiting and we couldn’t even get close enough to attempt to get parking! So we had to bypass that as well. We were disappointed, but we plan to visit again in the future, making sure to actually stay in the area for a couple of days. And perhaps, we’ll visit when it’s not the middle of summer!
Continuing to head west, past Lake Louise, is the BC/Alberta provincial border. We are still technically in the Rockies, so we still get to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery as we head west.
Just like we encountered the brush forest fire when we entered Nevada, we encountered another on this leg as we left the Rockies and headed more into BC. This one did not affect traffic passing through the area, but judging by the amount of smoke, it was probably a big one.
Forest fires aren’t a good thing, but they do make for spectacular photos, especially when the sun is in an optimal location in the sky.
More beautiful mountain shots…
Before we knew it, we were in Kelowna, BC! We made it!
We took 5 days to drive there, and man, they were a long 5 days! Adding an extra day of driving doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it actually wore us out a bit! Aside from long driving days, there is also the unpacking every night and packing up again every morning. That being said, we will probably think twice about having so many days of driving next time, but we also can’t complain about our journey together and the scenery we saw.
We were happy to have finally reached our first major destination where we could stay put for a few days. We visited with my husband’s mom during that time, and also worked in a day out to Myra Canyon for a short hike! (Be sure to read about it!) Be sure to stay tuned for upcoming posts from this summer vacation…A Day Out In Vancouver and A Day Out In San Jose (…and Where To Eat!) are in the works!
I hope you enjoyed reading about our road trip from California to Canada. The photos I’ve included pale in comparison to seeing everything with your own eyes. However, I hope the story and photos of our road trip inspire you to try doing this yourself one day!