Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook No 9: A Balancing Act of Risks and Adventure

Perched along the serene Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in Michigan lies the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook, a majestic 450-foot sand dune that offers visitors breathtaking panoramas of Lake Michigan.

While most tourists flock to the designated overlook area with informative interpretive panels to marvel at the captivating view, an adjacent rugged path along a steep dune beckons to the adventurous.

However, this path carries with it a reputation for numerous emergency rescue attempts. In this article, will take a look at this interesting spot and give some insight into the dangers and adventures that it offers.

What is the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook?

The Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook, also referred to as No. 9 Overlook, is a towering 450-foot sand dune located along the picturesque Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. From this vantage point, visitors are treated to awe-inspiring vistas of Lake Michigan.

Most visitors gather at the designated overlook platform, complete with informative interpretive panels, to soak in the breathtaking view.

However, adjacent to this spot, there exists a rugged path along a steep dune that adventurous souls sometimes venture down. This path has garnered a reputation for the numerous rescue attempts it has necessitated over the years.

Don’t get this overlook confused with the “dune climb” which is a popular tourist spot allowing visitors to climb up a large dune and proceed on a hike to the lakeshore if desired. That’s located at a different part of the park. If you want to find the No. 9 Overlook, you’ll run into it towards then end of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Related: Pictured Rocks Kayaking Tour Review (Tips For Your Visit)

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook history

Over the years, this overlook, known as No. 9 Overlook, has garnered quite a reputation as a hotspot for emergency rescues. It has been a site where numerous 911 calls have been made, resulting in some tourists facing substantial expenses when they found themselves unable to make a safe return.

Just how challenging the rescue is, depends on the water levels.

When lake levels are lower, rescue operations involve the use of an ATV to traverse the beach, reaching individuals and bringing them back to safety. This approach is not only more practical but also significantly more cost-effective than what is needed in high water level years. During these times, a rescue of this kind might incur a cost of approximately $700.

But in years with higher water levels, rescue operations become more expensive, requiring a team of 8 to 10 highly trained personnel to employ rope techniques for lifting victims to safety, sometimes hundreds of feet up the steep sides of the dune. This intricate and labor-intensive method can cost upwards of $2,000 to $3,000.

The responsibility for covering these rescue expenses falls upon the individuals who are rescued, although it’s reported that only approximately half of them actually fulfill this obligation.

Consequently, the fire department is left to shoulder the remaining costs, making it a challenging situation for both the individuals involved and the local authorities.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook

Why exactly is this considered so dangerous?

The biggest problem is probably visitors being unprepared for the strenuous climb back up.

Trekking uphill on loose sand is not an easy task and can be much more exhausting than a lot of people anticipate.

It’s also common to see people head down without any water supplies, even during warm summer months. After 20 to 30 minutes of strenuous exertion, it’s really easy to get dehydrated and that can be a major problem.

There’s also the issue of potentially getting injured going down.

While sand can be very forgiving, a bad tumble could send you down without being able to stop. Also, if you take a look at the sand you’ll notice that there are quite a few rocks within the sand that could easily cut somebody up.

These risks have been highly publicized and as a result the amount of rescue attempts have decreased.

This has a lot to do with getting the message out about the dangers of heading down to the water via volunteers. A few years back they started a program that brought out volunteers who would try to dissuade people from making the trip down the dune.

There’s also a sign at the top that warns about the dangers and about having to pay $3,000 for being rescued.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook No 9

Some people criticize the policy and warnings requiring people to pay for their rescue.

The argument is that this could incentivize people to not request for help and potentially put themselves in fatal danger. As someone who is big on personal responsibility, I don’t mind requiring people to cover their emergency fees. However, there is always that potential for it to backfire (though that doesn’t seem to be a problem here).

Regardless of some of the criticism, the success of these deterrents has been evident by the number of rescue calls which in some summers has been as slow as only 2 to 3 compared to previous years where in peak season they could receive as many as four rescue calls per day!

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook No 9

Should you make the trek?

Ultimately, the decision to undertake this type of climb rests with the visitor, and it’s important to assess your own capabilities and physical condition. Depending on your fitness level, it could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to close to two hours to get back up.

Regrettably, I found myself in a situation where I had thrown my back out a couple of days prior to my visit, making the temptation of attempting this climb out of the question for me.

Nevertheless, as someone who has tackled numerous hikes, including very strenuous ones like descending to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in a single day, I can offer some valuable tips.

First and foremost, pay close attention to the temperature, especially if you’re attempting this climb during the summer months. It’s advisable to start early in the morning when temperatures are lower. This approach will greatly aid in preventing dehydration and ensure that the sand isn’t scorching hot under your feet if you choose to go barefoot.

Personally, I would recommend wearing some form of footwear due to the concealed rocks in the sand. Nothing would be more unfortunate than injuring your foot while making your way down there.

I observed various approaches to descending the dune. Some adventurous souls opted for the thrilling sprint straight down the slope, almost seeming to glide on the sand – undoubtedly a lot of fun.

Others chose a more cautious zigzag pattern, a prudent strategy to avoid a potential disastrous tumble.

Then, there were those who took a measured and methodical walk down the dune’s flank, arguably the most sensible approach.

If you’re planning this adventure, I recommend having a CamelBak or a similar hydration system with a generous water supply, possibly around two liters. This ensures you stay well-hydrated for the ascent and allows you to easily sip water during your breaks. Having some electrolytes with you like liquid IV or tablets is also a good idea.

Now, onto the journey back up.

I strongly advise pacing yourself when ascending. While a 450-foot elevation gain may not sound daunting to seasoned hikers familiar with elevation changes, the challenge here lies in the loose sand underfoot. Climbing uphill through loose sand requires considerably more effort than scaling solid ground.

Therefore, don’t attempt to power through it on the way up.

Instead, take ample breaks and relish the breathtaking scenery below, including the shimmering turquoise waters. It might also be wise to have some extra supplies on hand, such as a light snacks, a hat, and sunglasses.

Final word

Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook No 9 has been a place where lots of people have gotten into a scary situation and there have been many rescues over the years. But with the public more educated about the risks, it seems that those rescues have declined. For many people, it’s worth just admiring the views from the observation platform which might be some of the best you’ll find in Michigan.

How to Get the National Parks Senior Pass (Benefits, List of Parks) [2023]

If you think you’ll be visiting national parks for years to come and you’re age 62 or older, I highly suggest that you look into getting the National Parks Senior Pass.

But how exactly do you get this pass and how much does it cost to purchase? 

I’ll explain everything you need to know about this pass and show you how to order your senior pass today. 

I’ll also talk about the senior pass benefits that could save you a lot of money and get you into a long list of park locations.

What is the National Parks Senior Pass?

The National Parks Senior Pass is version of the “American the Beautiful Pass” created specifically for senior citizens in order to allow them access to the national parks at a discounted rate.

It offers a discounted membership rate that can be purchased on a lifetime basis for on an annual basis for a lower cost. That means that when you visit parks like Yellowstone National Park, you’ll be able to save money or eventually get in for free! 

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

Yosemite national park

What is the American the Beautiful Pass?

The National Park Service offers a pass known as the “American the Beautiful Pass.” This is an annual pass that gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.

The pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person).

Each pass will cover the entrance fees and standard amenity fees at:

  • National parks
  • National wildlife refuges
  • National forests and grasslands
  • Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management
  • Lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation
  • Lands managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The cost for this annual pass is $80 but there are several different versions. You can find out much more about the annual pass here.

Annual senior pass
The Annual Senior Pass.

What are the National Parks Senior Pass benefits?

The Senior Passes admit pass owner/s and passengers in a noncommercial vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas and pass owners plus three adults, not to exceed four adults, where per-person fees are charged. (Children under 16 are always admitted free.)

So if the entrance fee is based on the vehicle everybody inside gets in free but if the entrance fee is based on a per person basis, only a total of four adults will get in free.

Also, at many sites, the Senior Passes provide the pass owner (only) a discount (up to 50%) on things like camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.

In general discounts are honored as follows:

Individual Campsites

  • The discount only applies to the fee for the campsite physically occupied by the pass owner, not to any additional campsite(s) occupied by members of the pass owner’s party.

Campsites with Utility Hookups

  • If utility fees are charged separately, there is no discount. The discount may apply if the utility fee is combined (seamless) with the campsite fee.

Group Campsites and Facilities:

  • (including, but not limited to, group facilities, picnic areas or pavilions): There is no discount for group campsites and other group facilities that charge a flat fee. If the group campsite has a per person fee rate, only the pass owner receives a discount; others using the site pay the full fee.

Guided Tours:

  • The pass offers discounts on some guided tours. Only the pass owner receives a discount if one is offered.

Transportation Systems

  • Transportation Systems: (Inquire Locally)

Concessionaire Fees

  • Concessionaire Fees: (Inquire Locally)

Special Use Permit Fees

  • Special Use Permit Fees: (Inquire Locally)

The pass generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessioners. Also, the Senior Pass does not cover discounts in on-site bookstores or gift stores.

Senior pass for state parks?

Note that the National Parks Senior Pass does not provide you with access to state parks.

Admission to those parks is controlled by your local state. Many states do provide discounted entry rates to senior citizens but the age requirements and terms of the discount could differ.

How do you qualify for the National Parks Senior Pass?

The National Parks Senior Pass is available for: U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. 

Keep in mind that applicants must provide documentation of age and residency or citizenship.

Documentation that may be required includes:

  • A U.S. State or Territory issued Driver’s License
  • Identification or Birth Certificate
  • A U.S. Passport or Passport Card
  • A Permanent Resident Card (Green Card)

How much does the National Parks Senior Pass cost?

There are actually two different versions of the National Parks Senior Pass.

1) Lifetime Senior Pass

The Lifetime Senior Pass will provide you with free entry into all of the above mentioned National Park sites for the remainder of your life.

The cost of the Lifetime Senior Pass is $80. 

2) Annual Senior Pass

The Annual Senior Pass will provide you with free entry into all of the above mentioned National Park sites but only for one year.

The cost of the Annual Senior Pass is $20.

A typical admission fee to a national park can range from free to $30 plus.

For that reason, I would recommend purchasing the lifetime pass because you will probably end up getting better value out of that, even if you only plan on visiting one national park per year for the next decade.

Lifetime Senior Pass.
The Lifetime Senior Pass.

Where can I buy a National Parks Senior Pass (purchase locations)?

There are a few different ways that you can purchase a National Parks Senior Pass.

In person

You can purchase a National Parks Senior Pass in person at federal recreation sites. Click here for a list of federal recreation sites that issue passes.


You can purchase the Lifetime Senior Pass or the Annual Senior Pass online through the USGS store.


If you’re a bit old fashioned, you can purchase the pass through the mail. You’ll need to use the specific application form which you can find right here.

If you mail in your application, you’ll need to provide a photocopy of proof of age and citizenship or residency and pay the processing fee. You will mail it off to: 

  • USGS 
  • Attn: Senior Pass
  • Box 25286 
  • Denver, CO 80225

$10 fee

There is an additional cost of $10 for passes purchased online or by mail. So the effective cost of the annual pass is $30 and the lifetime pass is $90 if you purchase it online or via mail.

Delicate Arch
Arches National Park. Photo by Scott Ingram. Image via Flickr.

List of recreation sites

Can I replace my National Parks Senior Pass?

If you lose your National Parks Senior Pass or it gets stolen there is no way for you to purchase another pass.

However, if the pass is damaged, it can be replaced as long as a portion of the pass is identifiable and you show proper identification.

The replacement will be subject to a $10 replacement processing fee.

Can I transfer my National Parks Senior Pass?

The National Parks Senior Pass is not transferrable so you are not allowed to give your pass to another individual.

Is there a National Parks Pass for veterans?

Unfortunately, there is not currently a special national parks pass for veterans.

However, there is a special pass for current US military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as most members of the US Reserves and National Guard.

In order to obtain that pass, proper military ID is required (CAC Card or DoD Form 1173). You can read more about the national parks pas for military members here.

What is the Golden Age Passport for national parks?

The Golden Age Passport was a pass for national parks issued by the National Parks Service until January 1, 2007. This is no longer available and the Senior Pass has completely replaced this.

However, these passes will continue to be honored according to the provisions of the pass.

Yosemite National Park.

What is the access pass?

You should note that there is also a special pass to United States citizens or permanent residents, regardless of age, that have a permanent disability. This is called the access pass and will allow you to have free entry into the parks.

There is no cost for this pass but you will need to provide documentation that you have a permanent disability, which could include:

  • A statement signed by a licensed physician attesting that you have a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and stating the nature of the impairment; OR
  • A document issued by a Federal agency, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Administration, which attests that you have been medically determined to be eligible to receive Federal benefits as a result of blindness or permanent disability. Other acceptable Federal agency documents include proof of receipt of Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); OR
  • A document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency, which attests that you have been medically determined to be eligible to receive vocational rehabilitation agency benefits or services as a result of medically determined blindness or permanent disability. Showing a State motor vehicle department disability sticker, license plate or hang tag is not acceptable documentation.

Here is the application form.

Why did the National Parks Senior Pass go up in price?

On August 28, 2017, the price of the America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass increased for the first time since 1994 due to Centennial Legislation P.L. 114-289 passed by the US Congress on December 16, 2016.

The prior cost was only $10 so the increase to $80 was a major price increase.

The price increase was meant to bring in additional revenue that “will be used to enhance the visitor experience in parks.” This price increase comes around the same time that we’re seeing price increases at many national park sites.

The reason being that the National Park Service needs more funds to support their much-needed infrastructure improvements, which have been needed with the rise of visitors of recent years.

How do I show my pass?

At Federal recreation sites with entrance stations, you’ll simply show your card to the park ranger working the entrance stations.

But if you’re arriving to a site with no entrance station or there’s no staff member there to verify your pass, you’ll need to display your pass or show proof of pass ownership to compliance officers via one of the two following methods:

  • HANGTAGS — A valid national parks pass can either be displayed on your rearview mirror using a free hangtag or on your dashboard with the signature side showing.
  • DECALS — If you own an open-topped vehicle (jeep, motorcycle, etc.) you can obtain a free decal to display on your vehicle to serve as proof of payment

Final word on the National Parks Senior Pass

It’s good to remember that access to the majority of National Park Service sites remains free—only 118 of 417 National Park Service sites have an entrance fee.

So in many instances fees are not an issue.

However, if you think you’ll be visiting some of the popular sites like Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite National Park, then I think it’s a good idea to look into the lifetime pass since you’ll end up saving money in the long-run.

Morgan Falls Guide (Marquette, MI)

If you’re looking for an easy Upper Peninsula waterfall hike that’s around 3 to 4 miles long, Morgan Falls is a terrific option. However, when trying to reach the falls, there are a couple of things to know about the trail, such as where to park and how to experience the most scenic hike. Check out the guide below, which will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Morgan Falls.

What is Morgan Falls?

Morgan Falls is a small waterfall situated in the South Vandenboom Recreation Area, within Marquette County, Michigan, approximately 2 miles to the south of Marquette. Formed by Morgan Creek and cascading 20 feet into the Carp River, it’s a popular destination for hiking and fishing, and you can easily access it via a short trail from Marquette Mountain Road.

Morgan Falls Michigan

Where is Morgan Falls?

The trailhead for Morgan Falls is found along M-553.

Something a little bit difficult about Morgan Falls is the parking situation. If you follow the directions to the trailhead you’ll likely arrive at a closed off road with no parking in the immediate area.

There is a campground nearby that could potentially be a parking option but we chose to park down the road on M-553. It’s about .2 miles south from the trailhead but there was a wide open parking lot for us to use.

You can then walk on the shoulder of the road which does mean walking alongside some pretty fast moving traffic (although there is another option to avoid that which I will talk about below).

Experiencing Morgan Falls

After figuring out the parking situation we made our way to the beginning of the trail which is basically a gravel road (SM 417) blocked off to vehicles.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

You can follow this trail all the way to the falls which is the easiest option.

It will take about 1.5 miles to arrive to the falls and you are only looking at a couple hundred feet in elevation so it’s definitely an easy “hike.” Along the way, several mountain bike trails intersect the path and you will see them on both sides of the trail.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

It’s a pretty scenic path taking you through a lush forest that I’m sure has some great color change in the fall. However, it’s not nearly as scenic as the other trails you can take that are shared with mountain bikers. For that reason, we ended up coming back on the Carp Eh Diem Trail, which I would highly recommend.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

Also, bugs can be an issue on this trail. We did the trail in the morning and dealt with a little bit of mosquitoes but nothing too bad and it helped that we had pants and long sleeves on.

Once we started to get close to Morgan Falls we jumped on the Carp Eh Diem Trail because we could not tell if the falls directly connected to the path we were on based on the map. However, whenever we got closer to the falls we saw that there was a wooden staircase coming down from the main path so I’m pretty sure that it connects right there.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

Once you make it to the falls area, you’ll head over a bridge that spans across the beautiful Morgan Creek.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

Then you need to make a short and a tad steep (but very doable) descent to the falls where you’ll need to get past a muddy spot but some logs are there that will help you get through without getting dirty.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

The falls were quite beautiful and the entire surrounding area is just a very peaceful spot with plenty of space to admire the falls and even a picnic bench to relax on. While only 20 feet tall, the falls are pretty loud which gives you a really immersive falls experience.

Morgan Falls Michigan

We had the whole thing to ourselves until we were ready to leave which was really nice but I do think that this trail gets busy on weekends, so be prepared for crowds if visiting at that time.

Morgan Falls Michigan

For the way back we decided to stick entirely to the Carp Eh Diem Trail.

Morgan Falls Michigan

This is what I would strongly recommend to do because the scenery is a lot better and you also get taken down to the Carp River for a portion of it, which is just beautiful.

Morgan Falls Michigan

The drawback is that you may have to deal with mountain bikers but we only saw three the entire way.

Morgan Falls Michigan

The trail is very windy though so just be prepared for a lot of twists and turns, not that they are difficult or technical when you’re not on a bike.

Additionally, should you encounter a mountain biker, it’s essential to be ready. Avoid making direct eye contact and aim to make yourself appear larger. My apologies, that advice was meant for mountain lions! Jokes aside, it’s important to be prepared because the trail can be quite narrow at times, and finding a convenient spot to step aside isn’t always easy. I once nearly slipped down the hillside while attempting to make way.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

On this path you will have to deal with a lot more tree roots and up and down so it gives you much more of an authentic hiking experience than the main path. The vegetation is also more interesting and diverse.

Morgan Falls Michigan Trail
Morgan Falls Michigan Trail

Whenever you are headed back you can choose to join the main path again and then come back the way you entered but we did not like walking on the side of the busy road so we took the Double Take Trail back to 553.

You’ll find a faint social trail just before the river crossing that you can use to jump back on the side of the road so that you only have a short journey on the side of the road to the parking lot. In total, this loop was 4.0 miles and the elevation gain was 383 feet. Not bad.

Final word

After doing the short trail to Warner Falls and experiencing our first Upper Peninsula waterfall, we instantly became addicted to these beautiful waterfall trails. Seriously, it’s great how many of them there are in this area and I just love how lush they are.

This one was even more enjoyable than Warner because it was much longer and offered some really beautiful forest scenery to take in for a couple of hours. I also liked that there’s a lot of space by the falls so you can enjoy it even if there were other people hanging around.

Visiting Pando Aspen Forest Ultimate Guide

Pando has fascinated me for years. It is still a largely unknown site but it is steadily growing in popularity. So when we decided to head out on a road trip through Utah, I knew we had to stop and check out the site.

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about Pando including some interesting facts and what you should know before you visit.

What is Pando?

Pando is a quaking aspen clone found in Fishlake National Forest that is thought to be the largest organism in the world measured by weight. In fact, it’s estimated that the total weight could be around 13,000,000 pounds.

All of the quaking aspens are connected by an underground system of roots and each aspen tree is essentially one sprout or branch of this mega organism. This means that every tree that you see has identical genetic markers.

The clone spreads over 106 acres and is made up of over 47,000 individual trees. After one tree dies, it is replaced by another tree that sprouts up from the root system.

Related: 18 Arizona National Parks & Monuments to Explore

Pando color change aspen trees

How old is Pando?

It’s disputed as to how old Pando is.

Most scientists seem to be in agreement that the organism is very old, likely thousands of years old but some take it even further.

For example, some have given an age estimation up to 1 million years and others have settled around a more modest figure of 80,000 years.

Many scientists think that the age is likely capped at around 16,000 years because Pando would have had to survive ice ages to be older which may have been unlikely.

As for the individual sprouts, some of the trees may be up to 130 years old. (These aspens typically do not live beyond 100 to 130 years.) The sprouts are on average older because mule deer have been feasting on the younger sprouts.

It’s not uncommon for quaking aspens to grow in colonies full of clones. And it is reported that some clone colonies have been found that cover and even wider area. But what makes Pando special is the density and the number of total sprouts that together comprise such a large organism.

Related: 40 Places to See in The Western United States 

Pando color change aspen trees

Pando under threat?

The word Pando is a latin word that means “I spread.”

But that spreading could be slowing down due to a variety of factors.

Ever since the 1980s, there has been a decline in young stems that has been largely attributed to mule deer. Grazing cattle and elk may also provide threats to Pando.

This is why there have been measures put into place to preserve the grove which is why you will find some of the area fenced off.

These fencing measures have proven to be effective and have allowed the mean regeneration per 10,000 m² to increase in areas that are fenced off.

Best way to visit Pando

Pando is extremely easy to visit.

As you can tell from the map below, the Pando Aspen Grove straddles Highway 25 and so you can choose to visit either side of the Aspen Grove. The western portion seems to have a much thicker density but that is also the side that is more fenced off.

Meanwhile, the east side is easily accessible via a dirt road which I will talk about below.

How to get to Pando

If you are using Google maps, you should be able to simply enter in Pando into the GPS and you should see a resort for “Pando,” “Pando aspen forest,” or perhaps for “the trembling giant.”

If you are coming from the south on Highway 25 you’ll see a sign for the Pando Aspen Clone as you approach Pando. (This sign was not always there and I believe was added recently to make it easier to find where to visit the aspen grove. )

Shortly after that sign there will be a turn off on the right that is a dirt road (FR 1483) that takes you through the grove.

This is where I would recommend you to turn off because it is the most convenient way to access Pando. Along the road there will be a few spots where you can park and then you can simply wander through the forest. (If you’d like you can continue down FR1483 through the Aspen Grove and it will eventually take you to the edge of Fish Lake.)

Pando color change aspen trees

The best time to visit Pando

I think most people would agree that the best time to visit Pando would be in the fall. The entire area is a beautiful site if you can time it right with the fall color change.

Pando is at an elevation of 8,848 feet or 2,700 m, which means that the color change will usually happen on the earlier side of fall. When we visited in late September it looked like many of the trees were peaking or maybe just slightly past peak. So don’t wait too long to visit.

Pando color change aspen trees

Since these are aspen clones, they should all color change right around the same exact time. When we visited, it looked like the majority of the leaves were in sync.

By the way, nearby Fish Lake is also an extremely scenic spot to check out. I would highly recommend to do the scenic drive that loops around the lake on Highway 25.

There was a decent amount of color change surrounding the lake area and it was a pretty beautiful site to check out and get some photographs. If you catch it on a still day you will be able to capture some awesome reflections from the hillsides.

There are some trails that wrap around the lake which would be great for going for a leisurely stroll.

Final word

Pando is such an easy destination to visit and its status as arguably the largest organism in the world makes it a worthy place to check out.

Dinosaur Ridge Review: A Prehistoric Trek with World-Class Tracks [2023]

Dinosaur Ridge is one of the most interesting sites to see when in the Denver area especially if you have an interest in geology or those prehistoric giants that we thankfully don’t have to co-exist with today.

There’s a lot to see at Dinosaur Ridge.

There are several museums, entry points, trails, and various ways to enjoy the experience, so it can be a bit overwhelming when you initially plan your visit to Dinosaur Ridge.

However, below, I’ll outline the different options for exploring this park and provide you with some of my personal recommendations to maximize your visit, drawing from my own experiences.

What is Dinosaur Ridge?

Dinosaur Ridge is a famous geological site located near Morrison, Colorado. It is known for its rich concentration of dinosaur fossils and remarkable dinosaur trackways.

The site gained prominence due to the numerous discoveries made in the late 19th century during the “Bone Wars” period. Many big time discoveries have been made in this area including those of dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus.

At Dinosaur Ridge, you can easily explore a paved trail that showcases exposed layers of rock containing dinosaur footprints, bones, and other fossils.

In addition to the fossil exhibits, Dinosaur Ridge also features interpretive signs and exhibits along the trail, providing educational information about the geological formations, the history of dinosaur discoveries in the area, and the ancient environments in which these dinosaurs once roamed.

Dinosaur Ridge dinosaur track

How do you get to Dinosaur Ridge?

Dinosaur Ridge is located in Morrison, CO, just to the west of Denver.

There are multiple ways that you can start off your experience at Dinosaur Ridge which also means you can arrive at different spots.

For the most part, you’re going to be choosing from starting at the East Ridge or West Ridge.

I recommend starting at the East Ridge (Cretaceous Gate) since this is the main visitor center and the address is: 16831 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465.

However, if there is little to no parking at the East Ridge then consider making your way over to the Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center at the West Ridge (Jurassic Gate) located at: 17681 W Alameda Pkwy, Golden, CO 80401.

Here are the hours:

Summer & fall (May 1 – October 31)

  • Main Visitor Center: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Exhibit Hall: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Discovery Center: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Guided Bus Tours: Daily, 9:30am-4pm
  • Walking Tours: Saturday & Sunday

Winter–spring (November 1 – April 30)

  • Main Visitor Center: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Exhibit Hall: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Discovery Center: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Guided Bus Tours: Daily, 9:30am-3pm
  • Walking Tours: Saturday & Sunday

Want to support Dinosaur Ridge? Consider donating!

Dinosaur Ridge parking

The different ways to explore Dinosaur Ridge

For the most part, on this dino adventure you will be walking along a paved road (2.5 mile round-trip) and you can start from either end. But there are multiple ways to enjoy your journey at Dinosaur Ridge and I’ll go into those below.

Free walking tour

If you just want to tour the dinosaur foot prints and other sites on your own the good news is that you can do this for free.

Free parking is available at the visitor center and there is also some free parallel parking options right by the trail head. You can then explore the sites at your own pace and rely on the interpretive panels to give you some insight.

You’ll probably be able to make some sense of everything that you’re seeing but it does help to get additional insight through one of the methods below because let’s face it, there’s a lot you’ll be curious about when it comes to the dinosaurs, discoveries, and the millions of years of geology you’ll be exploring.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

Audio guides

Another option is to purchase an audio guide.

These can be purchased at the gift shop for $7, and you will simply enter an access code to activate them. As you encounter approximately a dozen locations, you’ll listen to a brief audio clip that provides background information about the site and aids in your understanding of what you’re observing.

In addition to this, you can also purchase a field guide.

Be on the lookout for special discounts and promotions as we were able to get the $7 audio guide for free!

Shuttle bus

For $20 per adult, you can rely on the shuttle bus to transport you, and a well-informed tour guide will offer continuous commentary about Dinosaur Ridge during the entire trip. If walking is not your preference or if you have any mobility limitations, this could be a great option.

Dinosaur Ridge trail shuttle bus

Special guided tours

On the weekends, they offer special guided tours. You can do a standard guided walking tour for $18 which should take you about two hours.

But one of the coolest things available is the ability to do guided tours with a geologist, which you can do at Dinosaur Ridge Trail or at the nearby Triceratops Trail. This is something we are seriously considering doing on our next visit because I’m sure it’s a great opportunity to learn a ton.

Taking in the exhibits

There’s a small museum with a lot of cool dinosaur related exhibits that you can check out for $4 per adult. You’ll find this at the main visitor center, next-door to the gift shop.

Dinosaur Ridge exhibit

Package deals

You can also purchase package deals that will grant you a bus ride as well as entry into the Morrison Natural History Museum, which features fascinating dinosaur exhibits and interactive paleontology displays. If you want to go visit that museum, it’s about 10 minutes south from the main visitor center.

Hiking at Dinosaur Ridge

Dinosaur Ridge Trail is also a great place to do some moderate hiking. The walk on the paved street around the ridge is a hike in and of itself although pretty easy considering the gentle inclines and declines you’re dealing with. The standard path takes you about 2.5 miles round-trip.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

But if you want to get a little bit more exercise and enjoy better views, you can head up the Dakota Ridge Trail. This trail has multiple trailheads you can start from, but a good option is to take the trailhead that you will encounter along the way on Dinosaur Ridge Trail.

Dakota Ridge Trail head Dinosaur Ridge trail

I’d highly recommend at least going to the Arthur Lakes Overlook which is not that difficult to get to. But you can continue on the Dakota Ridge Trail for more impressive and expansive views.

You’ll have to deal with the sounds of traffic so you never really get a true nature escape but it’s still a fun trail to venture on. Just be aware that this is also a mountain biking trail so be on the lookout!

Dinosaur Ridge trail overlook

If you do choose to do the Dakota Ridge Trail and you track your movement on an app like AllTrails, your path will actually resemble the footprint of a dinosaur, perfectly aligning with the prehistoric allure of the trail.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

Our experience at Dinosaur Ridge

We pulled up to the main visitor center and found a host of live like dinosaur recreations including some beautifully painted ones. The parking lot was almost full and there appeared to be a couple of children groups visiting so it was a pretty lively seen.

By the way, as you would expect this is an awesome destination for kids and they can partake in lots of different activities including the “Seaway Fossil Box,” a replica dig environment that allows kids to sift for items like shark teeth and ammonites and even go home with a fossil that they find!

Dinosaur Ridge visitor center

We first hit up the gift shop to get our audio guide and free admission into the exhibits. I was impressed with all of the items in the gift shop which includes a lot of cool looking fossils and dinosaur bone recreations along with some interesting books. Because we are digital nomads now I don’t really accumulate souvenirs but it was very tempting to do that here!

Dinosaur Ridge gift shop

Upon arriving, if you’re not sure where you want to go or what you want to do, you can stop by the bright Dinosaur Ridge shed and get some guidance there.

Dinosaur Ridge shed

After arriving at the trailhead, we then set out on the Dinosaur Ridge Trail which follows the paved W Alameda Pkwy — a uniquely marked road closed off to the public.

Because there is very little shade and you likely will be exploring it while the sun is out, it’s a really good idea to carry some sunscreen with you and bring some extra water, which we made sure to do.

If you’re just doing the walking tour, you’ll stay on the right side of the road which is marked by pedestrian signage.

The shuttle bus will be driving just to the left of you so make sure you’re always aware of whether or not the bus is coming up on you. Also there will be bike lanes on the left side of the road and you obviously want to stay out of those if you are just on foot.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

One of the initial captivating sites we encountered was Crocodile Creek. It presented us with a glimpse into the past as we observed the tracks of crocodiles that date back a staggering 100 million years.

To enhance the experience, a well-constructed staircase now grants visitors a closer view of these ancient imprints. I was instantly awestruck by the abundance of remarkably preserved tracks, and my imagination couldn’t help but envision witnessing these magnificent crocodiles in their prime.

Make sure that you don’t miss some of the other interesting fossil sites where they discovered ancient critters and plant life. Throughout the trail you’ll find a lot of tiny placards that point out interesting prehistoric features in the rock so make sure you take your time as you progress through Dinosaur Ridge.

Dinosaur Ridge trail crocodile Creek

After passing through Crocodile Creek we made our way over to the ripples, which are remnants of early beaches. These type of remnants, along with other clues like shark teeth and the remains of prehistoric squid, give us enough evidence to determine that the entire region of the country was once covered in ocean which is extremely hard to envision given what the landscape looks like today.

Dinosaur Ridge trail ripples

Then we arrived at the main attraction—the huge wall of dinosaur footprints, rated #1 in the nation by paleontologists.

You’ll know you’re there when you see the big blue exterior.

To me, this is probably one of the coolest geological sites I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure why it’s not a bigger deal. The fact that there are so many dinosaur footprints easily visible in one location is mind-boggling to me.

You’ll see footprints of all shapes and sizes. Make sure you look through the bottom right for some of the larger and iconic footprints.

Dinosaur Ridge trail dinosaur tracks

In case you find yourself needing to use the restroom, there is a bathroom facility at the primary visitor center and an additional portable toilet situated midway along the trail.

As you approach the bend along the ridge, there’s a pleasant viewpoint you can explore on the opposite side of the road. While the Denver skyline remains hidden behind Green Mountain, you still get a lovely perspective of the open basin landscape below.

Dinosaur Ridge trail overlook

As we ventured further along the trail, we stumbled upon a captivating geological marvel known as a “concretion.”

This intriguing natural phenomenon occurs when mineralization gradually envelops objects like pebbles, shells, sticks, and even bones, resulting in the formation of striking bowling ball-like structures. It’s always such a cool site to see when nature transforms ordinary objects into extraordinary formations.

Dinosaur Ridge trail concretion

Another awe-inspiring sight that captured our attention was the remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption, manifested in the form of a compressed ash layer. This geological phenomenon harkens back to a time over 100 million years ago when a volcano unleashed its fury hundreds of miles southwest from here. One can only imagine the site of the once-raging volcano, ash billowing into the sky, blotting out the sun.

Dinosaur Ridge trail ash layer

Around the turn of the ridge, you’ll encounter the Front Range Overlook and surely be impressed by the panoramic vistas that unfold before you which include a view of the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The rock layers between you and the red rocks represent different ancient landscapes separated by millions of years. Gazing out at them, it feels as if you’re being transported through the annals of Earth’s history. It’s also just incredibly scenic.

Dinosaur Ridge trail Front Range overlook

After admiring the sweeping views, we went across the street to inspect one of the coolest tracks you’ll find which is the raptor track. This rare gem is a true treasure, as it is one of only twelve known raptor track sites in existence worldwide. It’s a relatively recent find, discovered in 2016.

Dinosaur Ridge trail raptor track

Continuing our expedition, it was now time to venture towards the “bulges.” These peculiar formations reveal themselves as sunken depressions in the earth’s surface, left behind by the weighty footfalls of colossal dinosaurs.

It is truly a captivating sight, offering a unique perspective of the hidden wonders concealed beneath the ground’s surface — truly a world frozen in time.

Dinosaur Ridge trail bulge

To conclude our tour, we proceeded towards the dinosaur bones, a segment of the ridge characterized by the presence of ancient Jurassic layers. It is within these very strata that numerous groundbreaking discoveries were initially unveiled. Notably, it was in this vicinity where the Stegosaurus first came to light in 1877, courtesy of Arthur Lakes — an esteemed scientist and historian hailing from Golden, Colorado.

Dinosaur Ridge trail bones

We then decided to turn around and head back to the Dakota Ridge Trailhead. We would end up hiking just under a mile on this trail which took us up about 300 feet in order to admire some great views.

The trail has some good incline to it so it can get your blood pumping pretty quick but it’s not overly strenuous making it a great way to incorporate a little bit of a workout into your visit. You’ll also encounter beautiful juniper and pine trees along the way.

Dakota Ridge Trail view

We then made our way back to our car and drove over to the main visitor center to check out the exhibit. It’s a pretty small museum but it contains a lot of really interesting exhibits.

You’ll witness awe-inspiring replicas of dinosaur bones and footprints, gaining extensive knowledge about the geological history of long-gone eras.

Whether it’s understanding how scientists unraveled the dietary habits of sauropods or examining ancient marine fossils, you’ll emerge from the museum captivated by these ancient creatures and the field of Ichnology.

Dinosaur Ridge  exhibit

Final word

Overall, I definitely think that Dinosaur Ridge is worth visiting.

Even if dinosaurs aren’t your main interest, it’s difficult not to be fascinated by the abundance of dinosaur tracks. As previously mentioned, this location is perhaps the best in the country to witness them.

With the help of interpretive panels, you’ll be able to piece together a lot of the information and learn a ton about the history of the changing landscape and the dinosaurs themselves.

For those really curious about these fossils and what they mean, I suggest looking into one of the guided tours with a geologist so that you can ask all the questions that you’d like.

Tips for Staying at Lodges in National Parks and Other Rustic Areas

If you’re thinking about staying at a lodge in or around a national park or national forest, there are a few things you might want to consider beforehand.

These are things that can help make your trip a little bit smoother and help you to avoid disappointment.

Note that this article is focused on rustic lodges and not ski lodges, which are sort of a different breed.

Know what you’re getting into

Lodges can come in many different forms when it comes to amenities offered.

Also, sometimes a single lodge can offer a wide range of room types including some that are a bit primitive. For example, you could be sharing showers or you could have your own private bathroom.

So when booking a lodge make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into especially if that lodge has a variety of cabins.

If the price seems too good to be true it probably is!

Make the right bed decision

Lodges may offer you familiar hotel room types like twin, double, queen, and king beds but the experience is not always what you might be used to.

For one, lodges don’t always have the most comfortable types of mattresses and bedding. You also might be dealing with bunkbeds, pull out mattresses, etc.

It’s also not uncommon for the sizes of these beds to be smaller than what you are used to. For example, I’ve seen queen beds at lodges that fell a few inches short of the standard bed dimensions.

So if you are someone who likes to have your space when sleeping, try to max out the size of your bed when choosing your room at a lodge. Err on the side of going too big.

Remind yourself what you’re paying for

Before you book a lodge, you should really take some time to think about what it is you’re paying for.

This will help set your expectations appropriately.

I’ve stayed at lodges going for twice the amount of nice four-star hotels in large cities despite those lodges offering amenities that are not even close to what I would find at those city hotels.

So what was I paying for?

Usually, it was all about the location.

Expect to pay a premium for lodges located inside national parks or other areas with limited lodging, such as in the mountains.

If you head to one of these lodges during peak season, you may experience some sticker shock which can be difficult to swallow once you arrive to your room and realize how basic your set up is.

But if you’ve already decided that paying a premium for the location is worth it, you can avoid this disappointment.

What’s more, try to plan something that utilizes the location so that you get your full money’s worth.

For example, if you’re staying inside of a national park make plans to head out extra early for a hike and take advantage of the solitude that comes from hiking on an empty trail that’s normally home to hundreds of tourists.

Related: Review El Tovar Hotel, Amazing Grand Canyon Lodge!

Not the best places to work

Unlike traditional hotels, where you can take advantage of high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the entire property including your room, you won’t always get that at a lodge.

Sometimes the Wi-Fi is limited to the lobby area and other times it may even be borderline nonexistent.

And if you’re headed to somewhere remote like a small town in southeast Alaska, you may not even have cell phone service.

So if you plan on getting work done during your lodge stay you might want to adjust your expected production output.

Or better yet, consider changing your focus.

Perhaps it could be a good time to take a break from technology for a while and give yourself some rest from your work?

Be prepared for spotty customer service

Over the phone customer service can be very hit or miss for lodges.

For one, a lot of lodges are not associated with a nationwide program that offers 24-hour customer service.

Not only may the hours be limited, but the staff also could be limited so that it becomes difficult to get things done over the phone.

Wait times can be very long (assuming you even get someone to pick up the phone). Some lodges may not even have an official front desk.

And if you send an email, you may have to wait several business days to get a response.

With that said, I’ve found a lot of the staff that works at lodges to be very passionate about where they are.

For example, you might be dealing with summer interns who are enjoying their summers day and basically always in a good mood.

So while the customer service might be lacking when you are away from the property, once you get there it can actually be a great experience.

So try not to be turned off by sub-par customer service before you arrive. Chances are, the people you will be dealing with face-to-face will be great.

Plan out your dining

One thing that might surprise you about lodges is that they can really deliver the goods when it comes to the dining experience.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised on numerous occasions by the quality of food at the different lodges we’ve stayed at.

But note a couple of things.

Because of the limited dining options, reservations are often needed at lodges. Also, sometimes they don’t offer dining service for every meal.

For these reasons, you want to plan out your lodge dining ahead of time and plan your activities around those dining times.

It’s also really helpful to contact the lodge about what kind of food offerings they may have in their gift shop or “market” because you may need to rely on them to get by.

Think twice about pet rooms or come prepared

I’ve stayed in a lot of dog friendly hotels and on occasion you might deal with a slight odor but when it comes to lodges, that odor can be on another level.

That’s because a lot of people visiting lodges are also exploring the great outdoors with their pets.

That means dirtier animals going in and out of the room more often, jumping on the couches, rolling around on the bed, etc.

One of my last lodge visits was in a pet friendly room and I have to say that it was one of the worst smells I’ve had to deal with while lodging in a while.

So if you are somebody bothered by strong odors, consider bringing something that might be able to freshen up the room.

Final word

Staying in lodges is a lot of fun because they can offer you a rustic experience and amazing location that a standard hotel just can’t normally do.

But it’s best to be ready for a slightly different experience and to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Review: El Tovar Hotel, Amazing Grand Canyon Lodge!

The El Tovar Hotel has been on my radar for quite a long time.

Situated on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, this is the place to stay for national park lovers and those who want easy access to the wonders of the Grand Canyon.

I finally got to experience what it was like staying at this historic hotel and below, I’ll tell you all about it.

Hotel Overview

There are a handful of hotels/lodges that you can find located right on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

These include:

  • Bright Angel Lodge
  • Maswik Lodge (1/4 mile from rim)
  • Thunderbird Lodge
  • Kachina Lodge
  • El Tovar Hotel

Each of these can offer a different type of room ranging from cozy historic units with a shared bath to standard lodge rooms with a private bath and satellite TV.

The “crown jewel” of these hotels is the El Tovar Hotel.

That’s mostly because of the ability to book special suites with great views and its history dating back to its 1905 opening.

The El Tovar was part of the initial wave of “destination resorts” that were built in newly-accessible areas like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.

These were made possible by the railroads like the Santa Fe Railway, which played a major role in the creation of the hotel.

A former Harvey House hotel, El Tovar also has the most interesting and unique architecture out of any of the properties with a fusion of rustic Western-Swiss themes and southwestern Indian accents.

There’s a reason it was featured in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and why it was visited by presidents like Theodore Roosevelt.

It’s just a special place.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon


The El Tovar Hotel is home to 78 rooms and has a lot of different room types including quite a few types of suites.

We booked a queen room for $400 per night including all taxes and fees (when we booked, we were required to make a 50% deposit).

I really wanted a suite but we did not find availability when we were searching for rooms several months out.

While it would be pricey at about $900 per night, I’d love to stay in the El Tovar Suite, which has a massive private balcony with rim to rim views from the third floor.

You can see some of the balconies in the image above. I’m pretty sure the views from these would be pretty solid. But it’s ridiculously hard to find open dates for that suite.

Grand Canyon Sunset rainbow

Location: South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The El Tovar Hotel is located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, which you don’t want to confuse with the North Rim that is located approximately four hours away (where you can find the Grand Canyon Lodge).

If you want to get even more specific, the El Tovar Hotel is found just feet away from the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village.

If you’re trying to soak up every bit of the Grand Canyon that you can, it really is hard to beat the location of the El Tovar Hotel.

It’s right next-door to the Hopi House, Verkamp’s Visitor Center, and also very close to the Grand Canyon Rail where you can board vintage rail cars in true western style.

Find interesting gifts and architecture at the historic Hopi House.

If you want to venture down into the canyon, it’s a super convenient place to stay for an early start on the Bright Angel Trailhead.

If you’re feeling really adventurous you can go for an epic hiking adventure down to the river and back but most people should probably settle for going down no farther than Indian Garden or even the 3 mile house.

The bottom of the Grand Canyon.

And of course, it’s located right on the Rim Trail which you can take in either direction (east or west) for sweeping views of the canyon.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon

This location means that as soon as you step out of the hotel you are only steps away from admiring the magnificent views of the canyon.

While the Grand Canyon is pretty amazing in the daytime, it truly is something special at sunrise and sunset.

It’s not always easy to linger around here during twilight hours, so being able to basically roll out of bed to admire these views is priceless.

Grand Canyon golden hour

Plus, you never know what kind of wildlife might come roaming up to the property for some early morning grazing.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon elk


We arrived a little bit prior to the official check in time but were able to get a room at about 1:30pm. If you’re not able to get early check in, you could just relax on the patio or go for a stroll along the rim. Getting a bite to eat is always an option, too.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon patio

When you arrive, you’ll make your way through a dim lobby lounge and the front desk area will be on your left.

Since we were visiting in October, the lobby was accented with fall leaves and I’m pretty sure they get into Christmas as well. They’re pretty festive around here.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon lobby
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon lobby

There are two things you need to know about check in.

The first is that there is no guaranteed parking for your vehicle.

We were visiting on a busy fall day and struggled to find parking anywhere in the vicinity of the property.

Eventually, we found a spot but it was at the Bright Angel Trailhead.

For that reason, you might want to arrive before the afternoon rush and try to avoid moving your vehicle once you find a spot.

Luckily, the shuttle busses can get you just about anywhere you would want to go so you don’t have to drive to get to some of the various look out points, trails, etc.

The second thing to be aware of is that there are no elevators!

The hotel will offer you bellman to assist with your luggage so it should not be a problem for some people. But if stairs are a problem, book a room on the first level.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon lobby

The queen room

Our room was on the smaller side but honestly I thought it was a pretty solid hotel room considering this is essentially a basic room at a historic lodge in a national park.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

It appeared that the “queen” bed was a bit on the small side, though.

We measured it out and it came out to a few inches under the standard dimensions for a queen bed of 60 inches.

That was a bummer because it made it difficult for us two to get comfortable. So unless you think you’ll be fine with a smaller queen, I would definitely try to book a king or two queens.

Nevertheless, the bed was comfy in a very fluffy type of way.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

The room came with your standard hotel features including: a phone, alarm clock, glasses, ice bucket.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

It also had a TV with standard satellite TV programming.

By the TV, you can find a room service menu, which offered pizza delivery from 4 PM to 8 PM. The pizza comes from the Maswik Food Court, which is located at the Maswik Lodge about a quarter mile from the rim.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

There was a table with two sitting chairs where you could find the coffee maker.

Outlets were not plentiful near the bed so we had to move this table closer to us so that we could plug electronics into the lamp’s outlets. (You can use the alarm clock on the other side of the bed which has some outlets.)

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

There’s a closet with an iron, iron board, safe, and room for your luggage.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

One thing I was worried about was the Wi-Fi as I had seen reports of it being pretty spotty.

However, I was able to get work done without any problems at all.

If you want to do a bunch of downloading or streaming that might be a different story but I was still able to watch YouTube videos for example.

We also had solid cell phone service which made up for any potential shortcomings of the Wi-Fi.

So this was a very different experience from my recent lodge experience in Glacier Bay National Park where we were without Wi-Fi and cell phone service in our room.

As for the view, we did not have a view of the Grand Canyon but instead we looked out over the parking lot. There’s also a ladder that ran directly outside the window to the roof which was an interesting site.

Sidenote: there is a back entrance to the hotel in this parking lot which can make it a little bit easier to navigate when coming from the parking lot in the back.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bedroom

The bathroom surprised me in a very good way with its classic look.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bathroom
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bathroom
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon bathroom


We tried out the different dining spots located both in the hotel and in the nearby lodges. Overall, I would say that you can definitely get some quality meals although not every place was a hit.

The first restaurant we tried was the Fred Harvey Burger, which is located at the Bright Angel Lodge. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Fred Harvey Burger

I ordered the Fred Harvey Burger, which came with fries and a potato bun.

It was a nice meal to have after being on the road for six hours but I wouldn’t rank this as one of the best burgers out there.

Keep in mind that there could be a long waiting time so I would head to make a reservation a couple of hours prior to your desired meeting time.

In our case, the waiting time was about one hour.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Fred Harvey Burger

Next, we tried out the Arizona Steakhouse, which was in a beautiful venue that offered partial views of the rim wall. It’s also located at the Bright Angel Lodge.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Arizona steakhouse

It’s still a little confusing to me because they don’t have steaks listed on the menu but instead offered one as a special. Just a little odd for a steakhouse if you ask me.

The menu also features beer and wine selections produced from local artisan brewers and vintners.

Reservations are recommended here and we made them for the earliest time available which was when they opened for lunch. However, it looked like people without reservations were able to get in without an issue.

I went with something light which was a turkey wrap ($16.50) that I thought was a perfect quick option for lunch.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Arizona steakhouse

Brad tried the New York strip steak ($38), which he enjoyed but it was wayyy over cooked for a rare steak.

Then, there was the El Tovar Dining Room, which offers fine dining.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Dining Room

This is the premier dining venue at the South Rim, where they also serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It’s also the most formal of all of the dining places.

While it sounds like you need to dress up for dinner from the restaurant’s description, casual dress was accepted just fine during our visit.

We enjoyed a really nice dinner during our stay. I went with a special short ribs dish (~$41) while Brad went with the lamb shank ($~37).

The portions were more than plentiful, food very flavorful, and the service was top notch making this a pretty memorable experience. I would recommend not passing it up.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Dining Room

To make your experience even better you should do two things.

First, definitely make reservations as far in advance as you can because all of the slots can fill up for both lunch and dinner.

Also, when you make a reservation you can request one of the tables with a view of the canyon if that’s the type of thing you’re into.

Here’s a look at the view:

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon Dining Room view

Personally, I would avoid booking a reservation during sunset so that you can take in the views from outside.

Grand Canyon South rim sunset


Inside the lobby, you’ll find a gift shop and a smaller news stand where you can pick up snacks and drinks.

There is definitely no shortage of gift shops anywhere in the Grand Canyon but it is nice having one in the lobby so close to your lodging.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon gift shop
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon gift shop
El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon gift shop

Here’s a look at the news stand.

El Tovar Hotel Grand Canyon newststand

Final word

The year prior to this visit we hiked from the rim to the river and back up to the rim in one day which was definitely a memorable and challenging hiking experience.

We were hoping to do something similar during this day but unfortunately life happened and made that an unrealistic option for us.

Despite the disappointment that came from that, I really loved this stay.

Hanging out at the rim during sunset is a really cool vibe and there’s something to be said about just looking off into the vast openness of the canyon that’s hard to explain.

Now that we live in Arizona, we try to make an annual visit to the canyon and I think this is a perfect place to stay for such an occasion.

40 Places to See in The Western United States (Vacations, Landmarks) [2022]

This article will show you 40 (stunning) places to see in the Western United States.

These are pretty stunning destinations perfect for vacations, road trips, and for anybody interested in discovering these landmarks and points of interest.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

1. Moaning Cave –  Moaning Cavern Park (California)

Moaning Cave sounds like the title to an Indie film you’d probably want to avoid, but don’t be deceived. Discovered (modernly) during the Gold Rush, this cavern earned its name from the moaning sound that echoes throughout the cave. You can’t deny the intrigue of caverns, especially ones that emit moaning echoes. If you’re in the Gold Country area then try to stop by.

Moaning Cave California
Hidden Gem by Ellie Stone

2. Paint Mines – Paint Mines Interpretative Park (Colorado)

Most people think about the Rocky Mountains when they think of Colorado. Here’s a lesser known spot worth your time called “Paint Mines.” This park is a cluster of hoodoos and sand-capped spires of all colors.

There’s an array of wildlife here, too. Everything from horned toads, mule deers, falcons, and coyotes call this place home. Definitely look into visiting.

Paint Mines
Paint Mines by Jabon Eagar
Paint Mines
Paint Mines by Curtis (CCBImages)

3. Horsetail Fall in February – Yosemite National Park (California)

Ever seen a “fire fall?”

Better yet, have you ever even heard of a fire fall?

You’ll only be able to catch a glimpse of this elusive wonder at Yosemite National Park two weeks out of the year in February when the sun shines on the fall just right at sunset. But if you’ve ever wondered what a waterfall looks like when lit on fire, now you know.

horestail fall
Photo by Don Vilfer

4. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Everybody knows about the Grand Canyon. And everybody knows about Yellowstone. But not everyone knows that there’s a “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone” and that it is one of the most stunning places in the country.

Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone
Grand Canyon Of the Yellowstone by Mike Jones
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone HDR
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by Brandon Kopp

5. Kanarra Creek – Zion National Park (Utah)

Now that Antelope Canyon is growing in fame and rightfully so, I felt the need to showcase another stunning slot canyon, Kanarra Creek. Unlike Antelope Canyon, you’ll actually have to do some hiking through the Zion backcountry to get to this picturesque location.

Kanarra Creek Utah
Under Your Spell by Eddie Lluisma
Kanarra Creek Utah
Daydream by Eddie Lluisma

6. Hidden Lake – Glacier National Park (Montana)

Really, the entire national park of Glacier could be put on this list because so few people know about the many peaks, lakes, and (you guessed it) glaciers that make up this spectacular park. I figured Hidden Lake exemplified the unknown beauty of Glacier, in both its name and its scenery.

Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake by Tony Hochstetler

7. Rialto Beach – Olympic National Park (Washington)

Standing tall and shaped like the Pacific’s version of the “Burj Al Arab” (the sailboat skyscraper) in Dubai, this iconic beach is a photographer’s paradise. And as the caption below suggests, Rialto Beach may be the best “Kelped” secret of the Pacific Northwest coastline.

Rialto Beach
Best Kelped Secret by Ryan Manuel

8. Painted Hills – John Day Fossil Bed National Monument (Oregon)

Here’s a scene right out of a Dr. Seuss book except it’s real life. I’ve seen a similar sight in Asia but who knew we had this here in the United States? The painted hills are a part of a larger area of the John Day Fossil Bed where you can find fossils of horses, camels, and even rhinoceroses. And by “you” I mean skilled paleontologists, of course.

Painted Hills
Photo by Stuart Gordon
Painted Hills Sunset Colors
Painted Hills Sunset Colors by Ryan Manuel

9. The Subway – Zion National Park (Utah)

Going to or from the Subway, you’ll dive through emerald waters, rappel through multiple slot canyons, scramble over boulders the size of houses, and pass dinosaur tracks. Oh yeah, and you’ll catch a glimpse of this wonder.

The Subway Zion
Lured By The Light by Eddie Lluisma
Dino Prints
Dino Prints by Daniel Gillaspia

10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison sounds like a place straight out of a fantasy novel and it looks like one, too. It’s one of the steepest mountain descents in the world and the photos here will leave you with no doubt of that fact.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Painted Wall by Daniel Cummins
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP by Patrick Huber

11. Zabriskie Point – Death Valley National Park (California)

Here’s yet another location you’ll have to see with your own eyes to believe it’s actually earth you’re looking at. See the tiny black things on the left that look like penguins? They’re actually humans — that’s how vast this unique landscape is.

Zabriskie Point
Collect Moments Not Things by Eddie Lluisma

12. White Pocket – Arizona

White Pocket’s not really white but actually full of brilliant, vibrant color… and dragons, too.

White Pocket - Arizona The Dragon
The Dragon by Naphat Chantaravisoot

13. Palouse Falls –  Palouse Falls State Park (Washington)

Not quite a hidden gem if you live in the Pacific Northwest, but Palouse Falls is a destination many outside of the photography and hiking world have not heard about. Not to mention most people can’t believe to find out this spot is in Washington state and not somewhere in the Southwest.

Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls by Naphat Chantaravisoot

14. Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota

For those who always ask what there is to do in North Dakota, well now you have an answer. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is full of badlands just waiting to be explored. The park is also known for its abundant wildlife, which include feral horses, golden eagles, and elk among many others.

Wild Horses at TRNP
Wild Horses at TRNP by John Hamilton

15. Hidden Lake – North Cascades National Park (Washington)

Another hidden lake makes the list. This one will take a few miles of hiking to get to capture the view but as you can see it would be worth it.

Hidden Lake
Hidden Lake by Ryan Mallady

16. Cathedral Lake – Yosemite National Park (California)

While this point may be known to frequent hikers to Yosemite, it’s still a destination constantly overlooked by many for other destinations inside Yosemite Valley that are easier to access. If you’re planning on making it here be sure you to apply for a permit early or take your chances with first come, first serve.

Cathedral Lake Yosemite
Cathedral Lake by Sean Goebel

17. Tent Rocks – Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (New Mexico)

I know what you’re thinking. These cones look like they were shaped by volcanic eruptions that likely occurred 6 to 7 million years ago. Well, you’re right. Stop by Tent Rocks to witness the artistic side of mother nature if you’re ever in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area.

Related: 18 Best National Parks in New Mexico

Tent Rocks National Monument
Tent Rocks National Monument by Daniel Cummins

18. McWay Falls – Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park/Big Sur (California)

Can it get more beautiful than a waterfall (or “tidefall”) pouring into turquoise waters on a California beach at dusk? I don’t think it can. I really don’t think it can….

A stormy day @ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park
A stormy day @ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park by LeighAnne Langman (Flickr: swazileigh)

Okay, so maybe it can….

McWay Cove Under the Milky Way
McWay Cove Under the Milky Way by Bill Shupp

19. Goosenecks – Goosenecks State Park (Utah)

A quick stop allows you to see this triple entrenched meander located close to Mexican Hat and not far from Monument Valley. Just be aware that your GPS on your cell phone will sometimes do some funky things in this region of the country. Make sure you’re actually headed to Goosenecks State Park and not an abandoned gas station 50 miles out of the way (not that it ever happened to me).

Goosenecks State Park
Goosenecks by Daniel Gillaspia

20. Garden of the Gods – Colorado

Visit the Garden of the Gods National Landmark and you will be blown away by the stark contrast between the Garden’s bright orange and the surrounding terrain. There are tons of photo ops around this place and it is easily accessible by car. Don’t miss it if you’re in the Colorado Springs area; it’s a perfect road trip pit-stop.

Inversion at Garden of the Gods
Inversion at Garden of the Gods by Dave Soldano

21. Mono Lake – California

In 2010, scientists thought they’d discovered a new “alien” DNA here, and can anyone really blame them? Just look at the formations happening here. Now, I’m pretty sure that “discovery” has been debunked, but I’m still holding out hope for aliens.

Mono Lake Sunset [Explored 03/24/13]
Mono Lake Sunset by Eddie Lluisma
Mono Lake
Mono Lake by Eddie Lluisma

22. Bisti Badlands – New Mexico

Badlands never get old, especially when they look like giant petrified mushrooms. Here’s some badlands in New Mexico, not known to many.

Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands by Naphat Chantaravisoot
Bisti Badlands
Bisti Badlands by Daniel Cummins

23. The Window – Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Big Bend is one of the least visited national parks due to its location just west of middle-of-nowhere, Texas. But what it lacks in visitors it makes up in breathtaking views like this one.

The Window is one of those places where you have to just put life on hold, get comfortable on a bench and watch the vast Texas sky transform into a real-life painting at sunset. It’s one of my favorite national parks in Texas.

The Window
The Window Sunset by Daniel Gillaspia

And after you get your sunset fix, head to nearby Marfa,Texas to see the sky get real freaky when the Marfa lights come out.

24. Green River Overlook – Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

A lot of people have seen images of the Canyonlands, but I still think Canyonlands National Park is overlooked so I included it. You’ll catch some of the most amazing sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen at this park. And if you’re a movie buff, try heading to Blue John Canyon where you can see the site where the actual accident occurred in the movie, 127 hours.

Same but different
Same but different by Daniel Cummins

25. Blue Mesa/Painted Desert – Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)

Now it’s back to Dr. Seuss land with more absurdly colored desert land. And what makes this place even weirder is that the brown stuff you’ll assume is dirt is actually little bits of petrified trees that are reallllly old. It’s one of my favorite national parks sites in Arizona (read more about others here).

Petrified Forest National Park----Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest National Park by Wenhao
Painted Desert
Photo by katsrcool
Painted Desert View in Petrified Forest NP JN036947
Petrified Forest NP by Janice and Nolan Braud
Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa by Daniel Cummins

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

26. Valley of Fire – Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)

Don’t think you’ll ever be able to make your way to Mars? Well, luckily you can catch a glimpse of Mars at this state park in Nevada where Hollywood has also gone looking for the Martian terrain. There are ton of formations to check out here but the Fire Wave (seen below) is one of my favorites.

This place is only about 60 miles out from Las Vegas, so if you don’t want to drive all the way to the Grand Canyon this is the place you want to stop. If you visit this place in the summer, be sure to bring extra water because it gets HOT. Dry heat or not, it’s still the Valley of Fire.

Fire Wave
Fire Wave by Eddie Lluisma
Atalatl Rock
Atalatl Rock by George Grossman
Pastel Slot
Pastel Slot by George Grossman

27. Antelope Canyon – Arizona

While Antelope Canyon is becoming more known it still deserves a place on this list, because I meet tons of people who still don’t know about this sacred place. Witnessing the light beams in this canyon should be on everyone’s bucket list. Check out my write-up on Antelope Canyon for more info.

Antelope Canyon light beam
Double Beam by Eddie Lluisma

28. Inspiration and Bryce Point – Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Well known to photographers, the average vacationer is probably more interested in seeing sites like the Grand Canyon when in the area but this sight is not to be missed, especially at sunrise.

Bryce Point
Bryce Point by Eddie Lluisma
Stuart L Gordon Photography: Bryce Canyon National Park &emdash; BryceCanyon_0005_06_07_08
Photo by Stuart Gordon

29. Smith Rock – Oregon (Smith Rock State Park)

Smith Rock, located in central Oregon, is a frequent rock-climbing destination for professional climbers and known as the birth place of “sport climbing.” The best of the best are consistently developing the latest routes and climbing techniques out here. Even if you’re not a climber it’s a beautiful setting to watch the sunrise as it illuminates this huge rock, resembling a castle towering over a surrounding moat.

Smith Rock
Photo by Stuart Gordon

30. Bodega Head – Bodega Bay (California)

When bringing up California beaches, the names usually mentioned first are those like Malibu and Big Sur. But here’s one you probably haven’t heard: Bodega Bay. At Bodega, massive cliffs suited for whale-watching overlook rocky beaches, and trails will lead you all around scenic terrain and even down to secluded beaches where you’ll be the only human being walking on the sand.

Say hello to the seals at Seal Rock and then visit the tide pools that are among the most diverse in the world and have attracted the likes of National Geographic. Just watch out for the birds when visiting the nearby town of Bodega.

Bodega Bay
Photo by Daniel Gillaspia
Bodega Bay
Bodega Cliffs by Daniel Gillaspia

31. Paradise Valley – Mt Rainer National Park (Washington)

Paradise valley. The name really says it all…

Edith Gone Wild!
Photo by Ryan Manuel

32. The Racetrack – Death Valley National Park (California)

Just how did these rocks get there? Aliens? The prankster of the century? God? Nobody really knows. The Race Track is a true natural wonder because if you visit it you will inevitably spend all day wondering who really moved these rocks?

The Racetrack Death Valley
The Playa by Eddie Lluisma
The Racetrack death valley
Breaking Dawn Pt. II by Eddie Lluisma

33. Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend is another spot growing with popularity but still often times confused with the Grand Canyon National Park. From a nearby parking lot, it’s a short hike to the overlook but be careful about getting too close to the edge — it’s a long 1,000 feet down to the Colorado River below.

Horseshoe Bend [Explored 01/17/13]
Horseshoe Bend by Eddie Lluisma

34. Badlands – Badlands National Park (South Dakota)

Badlands National Park is the place to see badlands. It’s also a perfect place to find unique wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, the swift fox, bison, and the most endangered mammal in North America: the elusive black-footed ferret. Try to catch the sunset or sunrise here and if you’re lucky you may even catch a sight of the Northern Lights.

Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park by Geof Wilson
Badlands National Park Sunrise HDR
Badlands National Park Sunrise HDR by Brandon Kopp

35. Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park (Utah)

So everyone goes to Arches National Park just to see the arches, right? Not exactly. Here’s one “non-arch” spot worth checking out. Enter the furnace at your own risk, however. Inside, there are no signs, trails, or cairns and due to the height of the sandstone walls your GPS is likely to fail as well.

Fiery Furnace – Arches National Park. Photo by Jerry and Pat Donaho. Image via Flickr.

36. Spider Rock – Canyon De Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Recently used as a backdrop in last summer’s record-setting flop, The Lone Ranger, Canyon De Chelly is another destination worth a visit. The taller of the two spires is said to be home of the “Spider Grandmother” who according to folklore is responsible for all of creation. There’s more breathtaking views like the one below to checkout so make sure you see them all. Also, be sure to bring some cash with you to purchase some local art that makes for great souvenirs.

Canyon De Chelly
Canyon De Chelly by Daniel Gillaspia

37. Giant Sequoias – Sequoia National Park (California)

So trees are kind of boring to most people including myself, but giant sequoias are definitely an exception. Sometimes growing higher than 300 feet, many of these trees are over 2,000 years old and have up to three-feet thick of squishy bark.

Head to Sequoia National Park to see them as well as the largest tree in the world, The General Sherman Tree.

The Biggest Tree in the World
The Biggest Tree in the World by Daniel Gillaspia
Photo by Bradley Darnell

38. Rio Grande Gorge – New Mexico 

The Rio Grande gets a bad wrap sometimes but this view should change your mind. If you’re ever making the cross country road trip through southern New Mexico then check out the “Gorge Bridge” where you’ll be awestruck with views like this.

Rio Grande Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge by Tony Hochstetler

39. Hospital Reef Potholes – San Diego, California

Hospital Reef Potholes, near San Diego, is known for its potholes that kind of resemble the surface of the moon. Speaking of the moon, all you national park junkies may want to start gearing up because you may have one hell of a hike to get to one of the upcoming National Park sites, soon.

Potholes! by Eddie Lluisma

40. Mammoth Springs – Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

We end the list with another Yellowstone site that many wouldn’t be able to recognize and constantly overlook, leaving it ranked as low as the 23rd attraction for Yellowstone according to TripAdvisor. On your way to the hot springs and in nearby areas, you may run into some real wildlife.

I’m talking about grizzly bears, moose, bison, elk, that kind of stuff so watch out. But everyone seems to be blown away by these hot springs, which make a worthwhile destination in the summer or in the -20 degree winter.

Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs by George Grossman

Remember to tread lightly and do your best to preserve these wonderful locations by using common sense and having respect for the land, the locals, and other visitors when you visit.

Mount Roberts Tramway Review: Here’s What You Need to Know

Juneau, Alaska, is surrounded by beautiful mountains and one of the best ways to take in the city and the surrounding area is to gain some elevation.

Luckily, you don’t have to plan an all-day hike to get up there thanks to the Mount Roberts Tramway.

Below, I’ll give you a full breakdown of what to expect if you choose to experience the Mount Roberts Tramway.

What is the Mount Roberts Tramway?

The Mount Roberts Tramway is an aerial tram that zips you up 1,800 feet to some of the best views of Juneau, Douglas Island, and the Gastineau Channel.

It’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area.

Home to a restaurant and quality gift shop, the tram is also a gateway to some great hiking trails.

Tickets for adults are $45 and $30 for ages three through 12. (You can purchase them online or in person.)

The daily ticket is good for the entire day so you could literally spend your entire day just riding up and down this thing (please don’t do that).

The tram usually opens at 8 AM and closes at 9 PM.

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

Mount Roberts Tramway

Where is the Mount Roberts Tramway?

You’ll find Mount Roberts Tramway right by the Juneau Cruise Ship Terminal Area.

The Tramway is a popular meeting destination for various tours so if you book any kind of tour requiring a shuttle bus pick up, there’s a good chance you’ll end up here.

That makes this site a really convenient attraction to add on to the beginning or end of your scheduled activity.

It’s also located right next to the famous Tracy’s King Crab Shack so if you are wanting to check that off your list, it doesn’t get any more convenient.

Related Juneau Posts:

Mount Roberts Tramway

Pre-visit tips

Since this is just a tram ride there’s not a whole lot you need to do to prepare for your visit but I would recommend you to consider two things.


Juneau can be a very cloudy and rainy place and when the low-lying clouds roll in, you might lose out on your view entirely from up on the Mount Roberts Tramway.

So you have to think about whether or not it will be worth it to go up there when it’s super cloudy.

It’s a tricky decision because the clouds can move out pretty quickly and views can open up even when it’s pretty cloudy.

Plus, those clouds can create some very dramatic views that would arguably be more stunning than a clear day.

Because the daily pass allows you multiple rides, you could always head back down and then try to come up later on in the day when the weather changes.

Mount Roberts Tramway fog


You also want to think about the type of activities you’d like to do up there.

Some of the hiking trails can take you a couple of miles up on the mountain which means you could be spending a couple of hours on a round-trip hike. So you want to bring water, snacks, and possibly bear spray.

They also have a nature center along with a restaurant so you might want to think about whether or not you’d like to eat up there.

Visiting the Mount Roberts Tramway

Inside the bottom lobby of the Mount Roberts Tramway you’ll find a bathroom and also a café in case you need a little bit of a jolt before heading up on the tram way.

That may or may not be a good idea for some people.

Mount Roberts Tramway cafe

We purchased our tickets at the time of our visit and there was virtually no line for tickets or for boarding. During peak afternoon hours on a beautiful day, though, I’m sure it gets busier.

Mount Roberts Tramway lobby

We loaded into the gondola and it was nice to see that an attendant is inside one of the cable cars at all times.

Nothing worse than getting stuck in one of these things without any idea of what’s going on while you dangle hundreds of feet in the air.

Your capsule is entirely enclosed although there are a couple of small windows in the front and back that open with a gap of only a few inches. You can sit or stand as they have some benches inside.

Mount Roberts Tramway car

Because of the low-lying clouds we only had views for a short amount of time so we were trying to take them in as much as we could.

Mount Roberts Tramway view Juneau
Mount Roberts Tramway view cruise ships
Mount Roberts Tramway view

The clouds drifting through the spruce trees were pretty mesmerizing.

Mount Roberts Tramway view

We soared through the clouds for a little bit until they completely engulfed us as we arrived at the top.

Mount Roberts Tramway view

It took us about seven minutes to get up to the top.

At no point did we ever not feel safe inside the gondola nor did it ever bounce around or act funny like these things can sometimes do.

So if you are a bit on the fence about doing this due to a fear of heights, I think you’ll probably be fine.

Once we got up to the top, it was pretty evident that we wouldn’t be spending much time at the overlooks but I’m sure they have some pretty nice views for you to admire on a clear day. Or at least that’s what they tell me.

Mount Roberts Tramway view

This view right here is about as good as it got for us. And believe me, it didn’t last too long.

Since we didn’t really have any views to check out, we decided to just explore some of the surroundings.

Initially, we wanted to do a hike but we had to switch around our plans for various reasons.

Plus with the record levels of recent rain, the trails were very muddy and I’m pretty sure we would not have had views on the hike anyway.

However, we did wander down the trail a little ways and it was a really cool experience because I’m always down to explore a foggy rain forest.

Mount Roberts Tramway hiking trail
Mount Roberts Tramway hiking trail

Plus, you never know what you’re going to come across like these carvings in the trees.

We made our way over to the nature center but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. With the views also closed for the moment, we didn’t really have whole lot to do up on the mountain except to wander.

The good news is that there are some indoor activities you can enjoy like the special film Seeing Daylight they put on at the 120-seat Chilkat Theatre.

It’s all about the native Tlingit culture and their indigenous ways of life and plays every 30 minutes or on demand if you are visiting during off hours.

Mount Roberts Tramway theater


Eventually, we decided we wanted to try out the restaurant “Timberline” to see what was all about.

Since we were visiting later on in the day and during a cloudy time, we basically had the restaurant to ourselves.

Mount Roberts Tramway restaurant

They serve some specialty drinks up there and we tried out the “glacier margarita.” Very strong and sweet with a pretty blue color.

Mount Roberts Tramway restaurant

For food we went with the popcorn shrimp and french fries.

The shrimp was super crispy on the outside and very soft and mushy on the inside which was just not my thing.

But the fries? Those were amazing.

I probably just should’ve just ordered a burger, though, because that is what they are known for.

Mount Roberts Tramway restaurant

The restaurant should have some pretty amazing views and they even have an outdoor deck where you can really soak up the views (or fog).

Mount Roberts Tramway restaurant view

Goldbelt Tram Gift Store

Later on we decided to take a visit to the Goldbelt Tram Gift Store.

It’s actually a really nice gift shop up there and they have a lot of 100% indigenous designed home and apparel products that looked really cool.

If you are into porcelain bowls, you’ll have a wide selection to choose from but they have a little bit of everything.

Mount Roberts Tramway gift shop
Mount Roberts Tramway gift shop
Mount Roberts Tramway gift shop


One of the main reasons you would want to ride the tram is to get access to the trails up here.

You’ll trek through a mossy rainforest and then make your way up on the ridge overlooking the Juneau area. You might even spot some deer or goats. Of course, you could also spot a bear.

The higher you go, the more difficult and overgrown the terrain may be. So just remember you can venture partially down these trails without getting in over your head.

You’ve got a few different options when it comes to hikes.

The hike that we wanted to do called the Mount Roberts Tramway to Gastineau Peak starts from near the upper Mount Roberts Tramway station. From there it’s a 3.9 mi round-trip hike with about 1,889 ft elevation gain.

Another more strenuous option is to begin at the Mount Roberts Trail trailhead down at sea level and then head your way all the way up at the top. You can then utilize the tram to get you down a little bit quicker. In that case, you only pay $15.

If you’re planning to make it up to one of the peaks, you may have to navigate through snow or ice so crampons might be necessary. This could be the case even in June or possibly July.

Also, there is an area at the upper station where you can clean the mud from your boots.

Mount Roberts Tramway hiiking trail

Final word

The tramway is a great way to get some good views of Juneau, Alaska.

However, with the way the weather is out here those views may not always be possible.

Thankfully, there are other things you can do here like hiking through a beautiful rainforest, shopping, enjoying a meal, or watching a film on the local culture.

Related Juneau Posts:

Mendenhall Glacier Ultimate Guide: Tips for Exploring

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers to access in all of Alaska and arguably the most popular attraction in Juneau.

There are many different bucket-list worthy ways to explore Mendenhall Glacier and in this article I’ll break down all of the different ways you might want to spend time visiting Mendenhall Glacier.

I’ll cover things like hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and how to see things like the ice caves.

I’ll also provide you with a lot of practical tips on things like transportation so that you can have as smooth as a visit as possible.

What is Mendenhall Glacier?

Mendenhall Glacier is a valley glacier only 20 minutes away from Downtown Juneau.

Found in Tongass National Forest, it’s a beautiful 13.6 mile long, 1.5 mile wide glacier with a face towering more than 100 feet at its terminus in Mendenhall Lake.

Due to its beauty and easy access, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Juneau.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center sign

Why is Mendenhall Glacier special?

Mendenhall Glacier is a special place to visit for a number of reasons.

First, it’s just a very accessible glacier.

Glaciers are not always the easiest places to visit. They may be tucked away in remote mountains or only viewable after going on a long boat ride through a deep fjord.

You don’t typically have the ability to just “stroll up” to a glacier.

But considering how easy it is to get to this place from Juneau, this might be one of the most accessible glaciers you’ll ever visit.

If you’ve never seen a glacier before, it really is a sight to behold.

The glacier itself will probably be a lot bigger than you imagine and it’s just a really beautiful site that’s kind of hard to put into words.

If you’re from a climate where you don’t see a lot of snow or ice, it’s even more dramatic.

Another reason why this is such a special place in my opinion is the recent history.

This glacier once covered the entire valley during a mini ice age a few hundred years ago. But by the mid-1700s, the glacier began to retreat creating the lake you see you today.

So when you admire the area you’re witnessing a recently revealed landscape with vegetation still trying to find its footing which is a pretty cool sight.

Mendenhall Glacier

How to get to Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is located at: 6000 Glacier Spur Rd, Juneau, AK 99801.

This is in Mendenhall Valley which is 12 miles northwest of Downtown Juneau and the Juneau Cruise Ship Terminal Area.

Driving a rental vehicle from these areas to the glacier will take you about 22 minutes.

If you book any of the adventurous tours such as a kayaking tour, canoe trip, helicopter tour, etc., your transportation should be covered.

You can also book a shuttle bus for $45 roundtrip that will take you to and from the glacier and allow you to spend as much time as you would like there. They sync up schedules with cruise ships which makes things easy.

We decided to use a rideshare service to take us over to the glacier and with the tip we ended up spending $38 for the one-way ride.

Utilizing a rideshare like Uber or Lyft in Juneau is not always easy because of the limited number of drivers.

Also, apparently rideshare drivers are not supposed to serve the Mendenhall Glacier so our driver had to basically sneak us in and we had to book a taxi on the way back.

Speaking of taxi companies, if you are looking to book a taxi to the Mendenhall Glacier consider utilizing one of these services:

  • Juneau Taxi: 907-586-1111
  • DLUX Rides: 907-586-2121

Expect the taxi cost to be about $35 one way.

Tip: Consider planning transportation ahead of time because you may not have good cell phone service at the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier pre-visit tips

Before getting into each different way to explore this place I’ll give you some helpful tips for planning purposes.

How much time you’ll need

The first thing to think about is how much time you’ll need.

If you’re just coming to the visitor center and walking around a few of the platforms then you probably only need about 30 minutes to an hour.

If you’re going to hit up the visitor center and plan on doing a short trail or two then giving yourself an hour and a half to two hours is plenty.

But if you want to embark on a kayaking adventure or one of the longer trails then you need to spend half a day or longer here.

Mendenhall Glacier from photo point

Cooler temperatures

Thanks to the natural AC effect, the temperature near Mendenhall Glacier can drop about 10° compared to the outer valley so make sure that you are dressed for the temperature swing.

Check on the visibility

If you’re visiting during a rainy time or when there is a lot of cloud cover, consider calling the visitor center before you head over and ask about the visibility of the glacier.

The park ranger on the phone will likely have a direct view of the glacier when they’re talking to you, so you can get real-time information.

Sometimes you may not be able to see the glacier due to foggy weather but luckily clouds can quickly move in and out over here so there’s always a chance it will clear up later.

Speaking of weather….

Mendenhall Glacier iceberg

Give yourself extra time for air travel activities

If you plan on doing a tour that is dependent upon air travel try to leave yourself with some open dates and brace yourself for cancellations because of how rainy the area can be.

(It’s not so much the rain but the clouds that can be the issue.)

Remember that if you book tours that take place on the water you can pretty much always go out regardless of the weather.

So if you only have one day that might be the way to go.


Bears can be found just about anywhere here so always be prepared for that encounter.

They advise you to not have any food on you when you come here which I think is probably a good idea. The visitor center and pavilion are dedicated eating areas but there are no lockers, vending machines, or food concessions on site.

(If you’re doing a hike you can have some snacks in your pack.)

Exploring Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier visitor center

A great place to start when exploring the Mendenhall Glacier is to simply go by the visitor center — the information hub for Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s where you can learn more about the glacier, browse the gift shop/bookstore, and spend some time indoors if the weather is not cooperating outside.

This is also where you can view the latest wildlife sightings posted by the rangers.

By the way, the park rangers are excellent over here.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center

You can make your way up to the Visitors Center via the stairs but if you have mobility issues they also have an elevator that you could take.

Inside the visitor center, exhibits shed light on the local environment and wildlife.

Learn how glaciers produce that brilliant glacier blue color. See a rare stuffed glacier bear.

If you have time consider catching the 15 minute film that covers the history of the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center exhibit

If you want some views, large windows brilliantly showcase the glacier and Nugget Falls.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center view

It’s a great view but I would definitely prefer to also do one of the hikes below to get a better vantage point.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center

Just outside of the visitor center you can find bathrooms and you also can utilize some of the overlooks, where you can check out the interpretive panels while you learn a bit about the history of this valley.

Tip: While the visitor center is relatively close to the glacier, consider bringing binoculars so that you can get a better view.

Don’t expect to see much calving at this glacier though.

This type of valley glacier is very different from a tidal glacier you would find in a nearby place like Glacier Bay National Park or the Tracy Arm.

Those get continuously disturbed by ocean currents and have frequent major calving events.

Those don’t really happen at this glacier — at least not as often.

Mendenhall Glacier

One last thing to mention about the visitor center.

This area technically is a fee zone although it’s a little confusing to me.

Day use passes sell for $5 per person but those age 15 and younger are free.

The passes allow access to the:

  • Pavilion
  • Photo Point
  • Steep Creek Trails

Fees are not necessary for accessing the:

  • Parking areas
  • Nugget Falls Trail
  • East Glacier Trail
  • Powerline Trail
  • Moraine Ecology Trail
  • Trail of Time
  • Dredge Lakes and West Glacier Trails

If you have an annual national parks pass such as the “America the Beautiful” pass, Senior Pass, or Military Pass you can use those to get in for free.

While the website states fees are needed to visit some of the locations above, we did not have to actually pay anything when we visited so I’m not sure how they enforce these fees.

As for hours, during summer months (May – September), the visitor center is open from 8:00am – 7:30pm daily. 

During the winter, (October – March) the visitor center is open from 10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, excluding federal holidays.

The grounds surrounding the visitor center are open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight year-round.

Check here for information


There’s quite a few different hiking trails that you can enjoy here.

The “must do” in my opinion is the hike to Nugget Falls. It’s 2 miles round-trip on a gravel path that feels paved and the trail has very little elevation. It will take you somewhere around 45 minutes to one hour depending on how swift you are moving.

Be sure to look for wildlife along the way including porcupines that might be resting up in the trees.

Nugget falls hike

I’d highly recommend you combine this with a small detour to Photo Point which is a paved loop path that offers some great views of Mendenhall Lake, Nugget Falls, and Mendenhall Glacier.

Photo Point hike

You also want to check out the Steep Creek Trail which is a series of boardwalks and paved paths.

A portion of this trail is closed during the peak salmon run but you can still check out some of the raised observation decks which can offer you an amazing (and safe enough) views of black bears and salmon (sockeye and Coho).

Your odds of seeing bears will increase during the peak salmon runs but it’s never a guarantee.

We were told they are most active in the morning and evening when there are fewer visitors but I’ve also heard they can be spotted at pretty much anytime.

And while some of the black bears may appear brown, they do not have brown (grizzly) bears here at Mendenhall Glacier.

Well, at least they are not common.

The last one officially spotted was back in 2008 so it always could be a possibility although extremely unlikely.

On that note, if we’re talking about rare bears a “glacier bear” has been spotted in the Juneau area before. You probably won’t see one but they do have one on display in the visitor center which is an underrated exhibit.

Finally, if you’re worried about finding bear spray, be aware the Visitors Center does NOT sell any.

You most likely won’t need any unless you are doing some hiking, walking with a dog, camping, etc. But you can find some in local sports centers like Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center steep Creek black bear
Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA.

Another trail close to the visitor center is the East Glacier Loop Trail, 3.1 miles and 775 feet elevation gain. It’s a good trail for encountering dense pioneering vegetation such as willow, alder and cottonwood and also for exploring the rainforest.

View from the East Glacier Loop Trail.
View from the East Glacier Loop Trail. Photo by David Baron.

If you want awesome views and to get close to the glacier then you need to hike from the other side of lake via the West Glacier Trail.

The trailhead for this trail is located about 10 minutes away from the visitor center in a completely different area on Skaters Cabin Rd.

West Glacier Trail view
West Glacier Trail. Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA.

If you wanted to do something more strenuous, then a popular option is the Ice Cave Trail. This is basically just an extension of the West Glacier Trail that takes you down to the glacier.

It’s an amazing experience because you’ll end up right at the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier, offering you an unforgettable encounter with this massive “river of ice.”

This trail is about 6 miles long (out and back) with elevation gain of about 1,200 feet.

That doesn’t sound too bad but the closer you get to the glacier, the less maintained the trail becomes and you may be dealing with a lot of wild tree roots and muddy conditions requiring a bit of technical work.

Rangers don’t recommend that you try this hike during the rain because of how treacherous some of the mossy rocks can become.

For many, this hike is a lot of fun but it’s only a good option for those willing to commit to a fairly strenuous hike. Stop by the visitor center and get a map of the trail and talk it over with a ranger if you are in doubt.

If you don’t feel comfortable leading yourself, you can book a guided adventure. Either way, you will want to have crampons if you plan on stepping on the glacier.

West Glacier Trail view
View at the end of the West Glacier Trail. Photo by Megan Madding via AllTrails.

If you don’t want to do the hiking, you can kayak over to this point. Be sure to pull your kayak way up out of the shore zone because it could be swept away.

Explore the blue ice caves

One of the most stunning sites to behold would have to be the ice caves that form under the Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s the ultimate way to take in that mesmerizing glacier blue and to view an otherworldly landscape that you just can’t mimic anywhere else.

Visiting the ice caves is a little bit tricky because the Mendenhall Glacier is always changing its shape so caves are constantly forming and disappearing.

Timing and safety are major concerns.

To get there, you can do the hike above or you can book hiking or kayaking tours and they will take you to the caves if they are safe enough to visit.

Consider calling in and asking about the latest conditions to see if you have a chance to explore these.

I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable venturing into these caves without a guide but if you know what you’re doing I say go for it.

As far as I can tell, the caves have been difficult to visit as of the summer of 2022 but hopefully that will change.

One way to find the latest conditions in the caves is to filter for things like “Mendenhall Glacier cave” on social media or check the social media accounts of the tour companies.

Make sure people know when to expect you to come back if you are venturing onto the glacier by yourself.

Mendenhall Glacier ice cave
Photo by adam_gulkis.


If you trust your kayaking skills you can bring your own kayak and set off by yourself. No permit needed.

The launching point is very close to the parking lot so it’s really easy to get in the water.

It’s about 2 miles to the face of the glacier so it’s gonna take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to get there for your average kayaker.

Just remember this water is like 34° so be prepared to deal with extreme cold in the event you take an unplanned dip in the lake.

You can also book a kayaking adventure tour in Mendenhall Lake for around $230.

You’ll set out and paddle something like five or 6 miles around the lake while taking in exceptional (close) views of the Mendenhall Glacier and other sites like Nugget Falls.

Wildlife sightings could include beavers, bald eagles, waterfowl, and arctic terns.

Another kayaking tour takes you out to sea and offers a view from a distance of the Mendenhall Glacier, while potentially seeing porpoise, seals, sea lions, eagles, herons, or even whales.

While having experience will certainly help you enjoy these experiences, experience is not necessary.

With that said, some of these adventures last for quite a few hours so make sure you are up for the physical challenge especially if your adventure combines kayaking with hiking.

Be sure to pay attention to the size requirements when it comes to kayaks.

If you are on the larger side either by height or weight you might consider going with a canoe which could be more comfortable.

Note: When you book a tour like a kayaking adventure, you should be supplied with all of the necessary gear you would need like a dry bag, rain jacket, and rain pants, so it’s relatively easy to prepare for these.

Mendenhall Glacier kayaking
Photo by Dan Nguyen.


Canoeing is another option that might be better suited for people not comfortable in a kayak or who are interested in traveling with more fellow travelers.

The canoes can hold a lot more people and sometimes you might be paddling along with close to a dozen other explorers.

Again, be ready for a full day adventure in a lot of cases as some of these tours combine hiking with your boat time.

The cool thing about the kayaking and canoeing tours is that not only do you get close to the glacier but you get some close encounters with ice bergs, some of which can dazzle you.

Getting in a kayak or canoe is probably the best way to experience the face of the glacier.

Canoe glacier paddle
Photo via

River raft

Embarking on a river raft adventure is another way to explore Mendenhall Glacier Lake.

You’ll get some time to admire the face of the glacier and then float through the milky blue-gray waters of the lake before starting downstream on your 5-mile route.

You’ll pass through Class I and II whitewater rapids, so it’s a great way to experience some adventure without committing to a super hard-core, white-knuckled rafting ride.

Expect to shell out around $165 for this adventure.

Glacier walks, treks, and climbs

One of the most memorable ways to experience Mendenhall Glacier is to actually step foot on top of the glacier.

To me, this is the ultimate way to experience the glacier as it’s not every day that you’re standing on hundreds of feet of tightly packed ice that’s been carving its way through mountainous terrain for centuries.

You can find three different types of adventures that will allow you to accomplish this. The price range is usually around $400 for these.

The first type it’s called a walkabout or walking tour and it will land you on the glacier and allow you to simply walk around and admire the scenery.

This is the most tame and least demanding type of experience but could still be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The second type is a trek that will be a little bit more physically demanding as you explore more of the glacier’s features. This type of trek takes you up close to crevasses, over glacier pools, and offers more of a work out.

And then finally there is a more strenuous option where you can even do a little bit of climbing. If you want to know what it’s like to go fully vertical on a wall of ice this is the type of tour you want.

Mendenhall Glacier trek
Photo by Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio.

During our trip to Juneau, we booked a glacier trek but unfortunately we were forced to cancel due to the weather. This was a major bummer because we also had to scrap our last plan to glacier trek in Iceland due to me getting sick!

I’m not sure when it will be but one of these days I’m going to find my way on to the top of a glacier!

Mendenhall Glacier trek
Photo by elaine.

Helicopter tours

Seeing Mendenhall Glacier from the air is one of the most impressive views you could have in Juneau.

You can accomplish this with a helicopter tour that will take you over the glacier. You can also book flight seeing tours.

Mendenhall Glacier View from helicopter
Photo by elaine.

If you’re not able to book any of those you can often see the Mendenhall Glacier from your plane whenever you fly in or out of Juneau.

We definitely had a great view coming back from Gustavus and I was able to sneak in a quick photo of the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier View from plane

Dog sledding

If you’ve ever seen the movie Togo or Balto then you know how far back dogsledding goes in Alaska.

You can venture up to the ice field further back on the Mendenhall Glacier via a helicopter and experience firsthand what it’s like to go dogsledding.

In my opinion, this is a much different “glacial” experience because the ice field is a very different environment than where you would be treking on the glacier or kayaking closer to the face.

However, if you wanted to experience dogsledding this would be a fantastic place to do it and it looks like an adventure of a lifetime. Prices are about $550.

Mendenhall Glacier dog sled
Photo by Curtis & Renee.

Package deals

There are tons of package deals that include a visit to Mendenhall Glacier.

You can often add on an experience like whale watching, the Salmon Bake, the Salmon Hatchery, or something else in the area.

Because the glacier is a little bit away from downtown it makes sense to go ahead and lump something else in so that you can efficiently use your time.

That is especially true if you are on a cruise ship.

Final word

As you have already seen, there are a lot of different ways to explore the Mendenhall Glacier. At the very least I would recommend a visit to the visitor center and doing the Nugget Falls Trail along with Photo Point.

If you can handle something more strenuous, the West Glacier Trail would be my preferred choice.

When it comes to the adventurous tours, I think the glacier trek would be amazing because you get exceptional views while in the air and also get to get up close to some glacier features.

But if you’re not able to get up in the air then kayaking or canoeing in the lake among the icebergs and face of the glacier would be quite the experience.

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