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Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 6:21:13 AM   

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My family and I are embarking on our "last great family vacation" as our children are at the threshhold of college and working. We are heading west with a pretty definite itinerary, but I thought I'd solicit suggestions and recommends from those of you who know the "skinny" about the western United States.

Our basic route is pretty certain, so please refrain from recommending sites - no matter how spectacular - hundreds of miles away.

Our itinerary:

1. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado - one or two days.
2. Canyonlands N.P., Utah - one day.
3. Grand Canyon N.P., Arizona - at least four days (all on the North Rim with plans to hike the Wildfoss Trail, Cape Royal, and North Kaibab at least as far as Roaring Springs).
4. Brice Canyon N.P./Zion N.P., Utah - not sure here, perhaps two days total, perhaps four days total.
5. Grand Teton N.P./Yellowstone N.P., Wyoming - at least four or five days
6. Mount Rushmore, National Monument, South Dakota - one day
7. Badlands N.P., S.D. - one day if possible.

Any specific recommendations about those places - trails or other cool stuff in these parks? Any other "must sees" along that general route?

Thanks much for your input.

Canoe "Go West Young Man" Rebel

< Message edited by Canoerebel -- 4/24/2010 6:25:51 AM >
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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 6:43:32 AM   

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I'm not pretty sure where are you heading from but this is worth to see in my opinion*:
Bear Peak at,_Colorado - this one after sunset

*Whole Colorado Rockies are great


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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 6:55:52 AM   

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Wally World

Cheers, Neilster

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< Message edited by Neilster -- 4/24/2010 7:43:35 AM >

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 8:14:12 AM   

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I am not sure if it is near your route or not, but Rocky Mountain National Park in North Central Colorado is very scenic if you haven't been there.  If this is off your route, disregard this paragraph :).   If you go there, going over trail ridge road is worthwile.  Hiking from Bear lake to dream lake to emerald lake is a fairly short, but scenic hike.  If you like to hike, a longer hike would be glacier gorge junction to Loch Vale and then possible back and over to Mills lake - all scenic.  Another still longer, but also scenic hike, would be up to Odessa lake.  Depending on the time of year that you are going, the Elk can be fairly common.  Personal opinion only, but this is one of my favorite US parks (others are Grand Teton and Glacier in Montana).  If it is on your route, it may be worth a couple of days.

Arches National Park in Utah is very close to Canyon lands and might be worth a quick drive in to see some of the arches from the road if you havent' been there.  You can get a quick taste in a couple of hours.  I didn't hike up to it when I was there (quick pass through the park in my case), but delicate arch looked interesting.

In Zion national park, angels landing is an interesting, but possibly scary hike if anyone is afraid of heights.  You hike up and out onto a bluff.  At one point the trail drops off on both sides.  There is a set of posts with a chain to hold onto in the center in this area.  Once you get out on the main bluff are you are looking down at the valley on three sides.  There is also a walkway at the end of the road in the Southern part of the park that takes you further up into the river valley where the canyon starts to narrow.  This can be interesting.  In the summer, I believe they limit access to park shuttle buses only.  I believe the shuttle is free.

In the Grand Tetons, if you like to hike, take some time and hike up one or more of the valleys into the Tetons as they can be a lush green in the summer.  There is a boat that will take you across the one lake (Jenny lake I think) that drops you at a dock at the base of one of the trails up into a valley.  Places to pull over when driving around include Jenny lake, Snake river overlook, some of the Jackson lake overlooks and oxbow bend on the snake river.  I find the tetons are much more photogenic in the morning (esp early morning) as a haze seems to build up during many summer afternoons.

In Yellowstone, both of the main falls on the Yellowstone river are worth seeing.  Sometimes you can see a number of buffalo in Hayden valley.  Old faithful is worth seeing.  There is a big hot springs in the north west corner of the park at the one town that used to be the old military post that is interesting.  I think the name is Mamoth Hot Springs.  General caution - the park is huge and you can chase all over the place trying to see everything and some of it is fairly similar (i.e. all the different geothermal features).

Personnel opinion only on this one - I like the Tetons more than Yellowstone.  You might try spending one day in one, one day in the other and then see where you want to spend the rest of your time in that area.

In South Dakota, there is a state park near Mt Rushmore by the name of Custer State Park.  There is a fairly large herd of buffalo in the park.  Sometimes luck of the draw if you see very many.  Depending on your timelines, you might spend couple of hours driving in Custer state park and then spend the evening at Mt Rushmore.  The lighting show in the evening at Mt Rushmore is interesting to see.  When I was there, they gave a fairly decent presentation.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (not 100% sure I have the name right) is in South Western Colorado in the general area of Mesa Verde - not sure if it is on your route or not, but it might be worth a quick drive in an a look if you are going right by it.

< Message edited by Windfire -- 4/24/2010 8:15:11 AM >

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 2:25:42 PM   

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Windfire, thanks, these kinds of suggestions are just what we're looking for.

We're coming from Georgia.  Grand Canyon and Yellowstone/Teton are the two "anchors" on the trip, with the other destinations a litte more flexible.

I've been been to Rocky Mountain N.P. and would like to go to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, but they aren't on the menu on this trip due to their distance from our route.

We will visit Arches, not Canyonlands.  I also appreciate your suggestions about Zion, Yellowstone/Teton, and Custer State Park.

If anybody else reads this and has "inside" information about the parks I've listed (useful stuff like Windfire's mention of the "scary but worthwhile" trail in Zion), please chime in.

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 7:12:32 PM   


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I've been to Grand Canyon, Hoover Damb, so on and so forth I could go on for paragraphs.

I really, really enjoyed The Little Bighorn (Custer). You can walk, they have it marked out where each man fell and you can really see what happened there. I found it extremely interesting. Anyone who doesn't absolutely think the us indian wars were completely boring, I think would be glad they went. Anyway, there you go. I highly recommend seeing that. I haven't been in years and will go again next time I'm in that area.

I don't know you're routemap. I'd drive 150 miles out of the way to see it again. W/ the sights you listed you must be fairly close. I'm sorry I'm not interested enough in your vacation plans to pull up maps

There's so much to see in that section of the country I'm sure you'll have a good time

< Message edited by t001001001 -- 4/24/2010 8:04:52 PM >

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 9:23:09 PM   


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ORIGINAL: Canoerebel
3. Grand Canyon N.P., Arizona - at least four days (all on the North Rim with plans to hike the Wildfoss Trail, Cape Royal, and North Kaibab at least as far as Roaring Springs).

The Wildforss Trail is "just" a 10-miles round trip, but it's somewhat challenging. I'd recommend to skip it and go for the more scenic/interesting Trails or view points, though.

I'd also recommend to go to the Bright Angel Point below Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers a spectacular outer view. Cape Royal is a must too, imho, you listed that already ... and it's a good choice:


"The best roadside vistas are available on the Cape Royal Road which runs east off the main highway just north of the village to Cape Royal on the Walhalla Plateau, a total of 20 miles one way. About five miles along, there is a short turnoff to Point Imperial overlook which faces more towards the east and the Painted Desert. The plateau juts much farther into the main canyon with closer views including the river. From the end of the road there are short walks to Cape Royal (closest point to river) and Angels Window, a natural stone window with a spectacular vista behind it. The adventurous might try the road to aptly-named Point Sublime. The 17-mile rough, rutted dirt road rquires a high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicle, and is accessible only during dry weather. The vista provides views of the canyon to the west of the North Rim area."

Some warning:


North Kaibab Trail
"Distance and hiking times vary. This is the only maintained trail into the canyon from the North Rim. Even a short hike to Coconino Overlook (1.5 miles / 2.4 km round-trip) or Supai Tunnel (4 miles / 6.5 km round-trip) can give you an appreciation for the canyon's rich natural beauty and immense size. A hike to Roaring Springs and back is extremely strenuous and takes a full day (7-8 hours) - begin your hike before 7 a.m. Roaring Springs lies 3,050 feet / 930 m below the canyon rim and is 9.4 miles / 15 km round-trip. A day hike beyond Roaring Springs is not recommended. Many years of experience have shown that hikers who proceed beyond this point during the hottest parts of the day have a much greater probability of suffering from heat-related illness, injury, or death. This trail is also used by mules. NOTE: Round trip to the Colorado River is 28 miles / 45 km and trail descends almost 6,000 ft. / 1,800 m. Under no circumstances should you attempt to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day! Do not hike during the hottest part of the day."

North Rim maps:

Warning regarding water supplies:

During season (May - October), there may be water available at Supai Tunnel, but you can't count on it! Sometimes there is NO water. You'll find drinking water at Roaring Springs, the Ranger Residence and the Pumphouse (which also has an emergency phone). The Cottonwood campground's (North Kaibab Trail) water supply is operational from May - October.

Erm... don't drink water from Bright Angel Creek, unless you have a decent water filter.

That said, don't count on water supplies at places, bring a sufficient amount of water before you start hiking.
4 - 5 liters/day per person, if you plan to do longer trips (say the 7-8 hours trip to Roaring Springs). Oh, and watch your gas level before driving to the North Rim.

My 2 cents.

< Message edited by GoodGuy -- 4/24/2010 9:36:38 PM >


"Aw Nuts"
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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/24/2010 11:51:26 PM   

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Monument Valley is for me the most spectacular site out west. It is just west of the four corners region.

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/25/2010 12:20:04 AM   


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I'm heading East in a few days and my wife highly recommends Yellowstone (so much I cannot stand it).  Grand Canyon didn't really impress me years ago.  I found Bryce Canyon more picturesque. Although we just drove through the park and took peeks at several areas.

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/25/2010 6:04:05 AM   


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If you like western art and firearms, you'll definately want to stop in Cody Wyoming and check out the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. It houses some of the best western art in the world and has the Cody Firearms Museum. The Cody Firearms Museum is one of the largest collections of firearms in the world. It's a Second Amendment lovers dream. Cody WY is a hop, skip and a jump away from Yellowstone.

Here is the link for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/25/2010 6:37:03 AM   

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You will be near it when you go to Grand canyon. Its not a national park but I highly reccomend a trip to Las Vegas( if you have never been or the kids).

Plan to spend a day for sure. Lots to see.

< Message edited by Zap -- 4/25/2010 6:38:41 AM >


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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/26/2010 6:32:48 PM   

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I second this one. Must see.


"Life's a b***h, then you die."

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/26/2010 7:52:03 PM   


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you do know Mesa Verde and Canyonlands are not close together?
Assuming you ar edoing all this by car, I would do Mesa, and then a little spit of a park called Goose neck State park.. SE UTAH.. and then the BLM lands just to the north, fantastic cliffs, then garden of the Gods. Perhaps Chaco Canyon?, near Mesa...
and then grand canyon, then hit Zion Bryc Moab( Canyonlands and Arches.
In the Northern section of your trip not listing the so called Devils tower monument.. Yellowstone, Tetons, all very cool. I am in Colorado, and certainly RMNP is pretty, but not if you are a regular in the mountains... Mount rushmore honestly looks more impressive in pictures, other must see? That really depends on what you like? Indian ruins? Cliffs? mountains? other? If you had three months you might do justice to the amount of area you are covering, in CO alone there are dozens of great sites.. sands dunes etc... I like to fish, so Flaming Gorge and the green River below make my lists...
Desert? other?

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/28/2010 5:46:07 AM   

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Thanks, Gents.

We live a LONG way from the west.  Our family enjoys outdoors activity - long hikes included - and good scenery.  This will be our first trip out west and probably our only one before the children are on their own.  We have three weeks to work with - enough to do some things but barely scratching the surface. 

Yellowstone/Teton and Grand Canyon are our first priorities.  We will spend four or five days at these two points and do plenty of hiking there.  That allows us to get a pretty decent feel for where we our, enjoy ourselves, and to create the kind of memories that stick with us.

We'll try to work in some other parks that are easy to reach traveling to, between, and home from these.  Mesa Verde, Zion, Bryce, Mount Rushmore, and Badlands are on the route.  But we don't have time enough to stray far enough to take in some gems like Rocky Mountain or Glacier national parks.  I realize we could easily spend three weeks any of Colorado, Arizona, Utah, or Wyoming.

As for Las Vegas - not this time around.  We're going west to see the Rockies and canyons and Douglas fir and Clark's nutcrackers.  No cities allowed.

Thanks for taking the time to share your suggestons.  If anybody has highly recommended activities in the parks I've mentioned, though, chime in.  We have no idea, for instance, what Bryce and Zion are like, so if you know a really spectacular thing to do there (as one of the early poster's suggested for Zion), we want to know!

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/28/2010 7:16:30 AM   


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and all by car yes? The "devils tower" is fantastic, easily the most peacefull sereane place ever visited.. AND on the way to Yellowstone, just to the East...
In Utah I love the desert.. moab for arches would be a WONDER, equally as unique as GC and YS, not as big, BUT the larges collection of arches etc etc.. the drive down 191 is ok... IF you go take the westward little dirt forest access road to some point??? about twenty miles south of the entrance for canyonlands.. more or less.. its some point.. but it has this unbelievable view, and few folks are ever there!
also south along 191 is the four corners area.... three weeks is doable... and I would see brice and zion coming or going ... if you do not want to spend time on water skip lake powel and flaming gorge till you are here in the west again. ruins? top picks again in order of preference, Chaco canyon, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde,
cliffs? Grand canyon X10, Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone.. but YS is a trip all on its own... for sure you can camp in very very nice areas.. I liked every time there at different sites... but once there see mamouth, mud pots, and old faithfull.. LOTS of wildlife, Elk, Buffalo, Bears including Grizzlies, ... no other thoughts off the top of my head.. Independance pass, very cool drive... but most of CO in the mountainous area is beatifull. After Mid may the road to the top of Mt Evans, paved to top at over 14k is special.. and free, ignore the us dudes askingfor money, they only can charge for the services, and not the road use! one win for the state of CO against Bigbro! lol very nice to see the setting sun and lots and lots of starts.. at 14k and away from the city makes a great stop.... again co has lots of great mountains to see, BUT you are limited so given you spend time where you find the best oddities.. also the badlands are cool... R u flyining to Denver and getting a rental car? That does affect some of the recommendations...
HAVE FUN WITH THE KIDS! sounds awesome!!

fyi, my wife and I moved here, CO, from the Boston area  in 1993 and she had never seen the west, so we did several two and three week trips in the first three months after unpacking.. all the way to WA, lots to see... out of my many many miles in the west... there may be no better stops that Yellowstone/ Tetons and Grand Canyon... many different.. but no better and they are popular for a reason....

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/28/2010 8:42:33 AM   

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I found some of my maps of the parks and have some additional information to go with the earlier info.

Grand Tetons - The lake that you can take the shuttle boat across is Jenny Lake. When I was there it ran a couple of times an hour most of the day in the summers. It lets you out at the base of Cascade Canyon trail. Taking the boat saves you about two miles each way. From the boat let off point, a half mile or so up the canyon trail is Hidden Falls. In the same vicinity is inspiration point. From what I remember, both are worth seeing. FYI, because of the boat trip, both of these areas attract alot of people. Going further up the canyon beyond these two sheds people very quickly. The canyon trail splits at about the 4 to 5 mile point. The canyon is scenic even if you only go part way up towards the split. At the split, another 2 to 3 miles up the North side of the split is Lake Solitude, which is supposed to be scenic. (note going to the lake is around 7 miles in, with another 7 miles back out) We did not get there as we were backpacking through at the time and had to bail out down cascade canyon (poor choice of campsite resulted in everything being soaked - the next pass to paintbrush was covered in clouds with possible snow and cold - safety over scenery).

Grand Tetons Continued - The next canyon north - Paintbrush is also supposed to be scenic. No first hand knowledge as it was cut off the backpacking trip. Another hike that I have heard is good is suprise lake/ampitheater lake. No first hand knowledge on this one either as our backpacking route was behind the tetons at this point and this one is to the front.

Yellowstone - there is a trail that leads you to the base of the lower falls on the Yellowstone River (Canyon Village area). It is called "Uncle Toms Trail" It is paved/rock at the top and girders/steel with railings at the bottom as you are off the ground in areas at the bottom. It is a large number of steps up and down, but it takes you down near the base of the falls near the mist and the rainbow effect. I thought it was worth the hike down and back up. Artist point on the same side of the river is the iconic view that you see in most photos. I believe it is worth the going there to see the long scenic view of the canyon. Expansion of ealier discussion/caveat on Yellowstone - it is a huge park and you can spend alot of time driving around just trying to get to places and only seeing alot of pinetrees along the road if you are not careful. As mentioned previously, I think some of the main flavor can be caught by seeing the falls, old faithful, mamoth hot springs and possibly hayden valley to look for wildlife. You may end up stretched for time trying to see everything you may want to see in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone as there is alot that you can do in these two parks.

The main highlights that I found in Zion were in the river canyon on the south end. The two hikes I mentioned previously are both in that area. The one that takes you further up the river canyon is called "Riverside Walk". Its not that long of a hike from what I remember. "Angels Landing" is somewhat longer and has some elevation gain. Bryce is a fairly small park compared to some of the others. The main thing it has is the rock formations in it that can be seen from the overlooks. You can hike down into them, but I think they were more scenic from the road overlooks. I think we went to Bryce, spent part of the day looking at the sights with one short hike and then went to Zion and hiked there for a day to day and day and a half.

If you would like some pictures to get an idea of the scenary in the parks, let me know and I will send you some.

< Message edited by Windfire -- 4/28/2010 8:44:23 AM >

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/28/2010 7:44:35 PM   


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ditto on Angels landing, other than the multitudes there with you! lol

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 4/29/2010 2:22:14 PM   

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Thank you, Gents.  This is just the kind of information I was looking for.  Your recommends for Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, and Zion have been most helpful (and also encouraging that we have chosen a good itinerary even if we don't have the six months we'd need to really see everything we'd love to see).  I also noted that we can probably do Bryce in part of a day and put the extra time to good use in Zion.  Based upon your comments we will try to add Devil's Tower to the itinerary and we will do our best to get a day or two at Arches/Natural Bridges area.

Year's ago a friend told us he was on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon admiring the view.  A tour bus pulled up and unloaded a group of Asian visitors.  He says they walked up to the overlook, snapped a few pictures, and got back on their bus after about five minutes.  They had "seen" the Grand Canyon.  Well, that kind of vacation makes me nauseous.  Give me a pack and a book and a five or ten mile trail (the book is for reading while enjoying lunch at some amazing or intimate location).

I am grateful to you for taking time to your thoughts.


Canoe "Yes, we're driving all the way from northwest Georgia, but that's 750 miles closer than from Miami, Florida, like we did when I was 15" Rebel

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RE: Western USA Tour Recommends - 6/14/2010 6:46:19 PM   

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We returned from our camping/occasional hotel stay tour of the Rocky Mountain states.  We stuck pretty much to the itinerary listed at the beginning of the thread, but we did take into consideration some of the recommendations people were kind enough to provide in this thread.

In particular, we hiked the Angel's Landing trail in Zion National Park.  One word:  Wow!  Another word:  Yikes!  This trail is NUTS - a steep climb up a mountain, then some memorably steep switchbacks called Walter's Wiggles, then a "hairy" climb using chains up a rock ledge (with a 1,000 foot drop just to the right)...and then you reach the really crazy part:  about 1/3 mile up the very narrow spine of a ridge - a three foot wide ledge with a drop of 800 feet on one side and 1200 feet on the other, so climbers hug the rock and use a chain the runs the length of the climb.  It's remarkably and memorably steep and no place for people who have a fear of heights...and then you face the real problems:  (1) there's really only room for one person, but there were dozens using the trail, so you had to carefully negotiate the trail while those going the other way somehow went around you; and (2) then you have to come back DOWN!  Going down a crazy-steep trail hugging the rocks and holding on to a chain for dear life and having to go around or over or under the dozens of people going up...ACK!

Anyhow, I didn't do that last 1/3rd mile.  I was content to sit and watch the multitude of brave people who have more guts, or less fear of heights, than do I.

We also took the suggestion posted here to hike the trail to Hidden Falls beyond Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. We hiked around the lake rather than taking the shuttle boat. The falls were just amazing due to the high volume of water from snow-melt. The views from Inspiration Point were all we might have hoped for.

Thanks for the input, Gents.

< Message edited by Canoerebel -- 6/14/2010 6:47:19 PM >

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