Hello Spokane, Washington

After heading out of Montana and towards the Seattle Metropolitan Area, I took a quick two-night stop in Spokane, the second most populous city in Washington, just barely ahead of Tacoma. I honestly didn’t really expect much out of Spokane, and I booked a stay simply because of its convenient lo­ca­tion between Missoula and Seattle, but I actually thought it was one of the more pleasant cities I’ve visited so far.

My hotel of choice was the Courtyard by Marriott Spokane Downtown at the Convention Center, a slightly older hotel in terms of décor, but still very well-maintained with great staff and an amazing location. I got an upgrade, presumably due to my Bonvoy elite status, which got me a nice view of the Spokane River and a nearby tree with blossoming pink flowers.

Long story short, I think downtown Spokane does downtown the right way. It definitely feels like a downtown area, but it’s not too congested, and I think it is the most welcoming “downtown” I have ever been to.

When I lived in Las Vegas, I lived on the Strip, which is sort of like the “second downtown,” but the City of Las Vegas was working on improving the “original downtown” to be a lot nicer. I feel like Spokane and Las Vegas have similar goals for what they want their downtowns to look like, but Spokane already finished development, and they did pretty much everything the right way. Las Vegas obviously can’t have a river slicing through the city, but if down­town Las Vegas ended up resembling Spokane, I would be very happy and very willing to live there (as opposed to the Strip).

Seeing as my hotel was in a perfect location and overlooked Centennial Trail, I decided to take a walk alongside the river and into Riverfront Park. My first “stop” was at the Spokane Pavilion, which seemed to have some sort of small business event going on, but was still open to the public so I could climb up some stairs and get some shots of the nice architecture of the outdoors area.

I retraced my steps and continued southbound, connecting onto North Howard Street. I crossed the wide bridge and pedestrian walkway, leading me to the Rotary Fountain near the Spokane Visitors Information Center.

I reconnected back onto Centennial Trail, then transferred over to Park Trail and Theme Stream Trail to head back closer to the river. A portion of this area was closed due to construction, but the Howard Street Middle Channel Bridge was open, which let me get onto Canada Island and get a nice view of the Upper Spokane Falls.

I’ve been to Niagara Falls at some point when I was an infant, so I obviously don’t remember it first-hand. I’ve also seen a few waterfalls during my road trip in the past year, though none of them were very big, and one of them was frozen.

I think Spokane Falls is the first waterfall of this volume that I remember seeing, and it is absolutely treacherous. The crashing water colliding with itself and the surrounding rocks, and the speed at which the foam atop the water forms, flows, and dissipates, is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. The waterfall created enough mist that I could feel the wetness from the pedestrian bridge, and it was a bit surreal being only a handful of feet atop a force of nature that could sweep me up and kill me within seconds.

After taking in the view for a little while, I continued northbound towards North Bank Park and started my loop back to my hotel, this time following the northern side of the Spokane River. I passed the Upper Falls Reservoir and continued east past Gonzaga University, where I ran into some marmots.

Just before reaching the intersection at East Spokane Falls Boulevard, I reconnected onto Centennial Trail and crossed the bridge towards Washington State University Spokane.

As I got closer to returning to my hotel, I saw some people huddled around a clearing of grass across from the Community Colleges of Spokane. I saw that they were looking at some geese, but upon closer inspection, I found what they were really interested in—the geese were standing guard over their babies. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I had ever seen baby geese, so of course, I snapped some photos.

Overall, my walk was 3.2 miles (5.15 kilometers) with negligible elevation gain.

After having such an amazing experience throughout Montana, I thought everything else would be underwhelming in comparison, but even with Mon­tan­a still fresh in my mind, Spokane was a very pleasant experience. I have plans to continue my road trip by going through Canada, but I haven’t fi­nal­ized my return path yet; needless to say, I’m thinking of a way to route my return path back through Spokane again, as I’m looking forward to ex­plor­ing the city some more.




Hello, The “M” Trail in Missoula, Montana

After making stops in Billings, Bozeman, and Helena, my final stop in Montana before heading west into Idaho and Washington was Missoula. I only ended up booking two nights in Missoula because hotel prices were high and there wasn’t much availability for my special promotional discounted rate that I’m eligible for.

On the day I made the two-hour drive from Helena to Missoula, I made a stop at the “M” Trail on the eastern side of Missoula to get in a quick hike during the time I had before check-in for my next hotel was available.

The trailhead is in the University of Montana campus, but I was able to get free parking in a lot on Campus Drive near the police department because I hiked on a Sunday, and restricted parking is not enforced on weekends. The trail itself is a series of fourteen switchbacks leading straight up to the big, white “M.” Because of the steep incline being built on the side of a mountain, there were nice views of Missoula on the way up, which progressively got better the higher I went.

The actual “M” itself appeared to be made out of some sort of stone (or possibly concrete?) painted white. I’m suspecting it could be concrete because it appears to have been molded into that shape (rather than assembled from smaller pieces), because I noticed that there was some writing engraved into the “M” in some areas.

The “M” isn’t the summit of this mountain—the summit was still a way’s away at the peak of University Mountain—but I hadn’t eaten enough that day and wasn’t prepared for a longer hike, so I decided to stop at the “M.” This was still plenty high enough to get amazing views of all of Missoula, as well as East Missoula and the interstate I took alongside Clark Fork River to get to Missoula.

And of course, with my luck with weather, it looked like some pretty gnarly storm clouds were fast approaching, so I hurried my way back down as to not get rained on or randomly struck by lightning.

The total hike was only a mile and a half, but the grade was high enough that it would leave me winded after doing a few switchbacks. My GPS tracker shows that I hiked 1.64 miles (2.64 kilometers), but I believe only about 1.2 miles of that was part of the straight ascent up and descent down; the rest was relatively flat as I went around to the other side to get another angle of the view. The total elevation gain ended up being around 650 feet (198 meters).

I’m looking at some of my past hikes, and I think this might actually be the highest intensity of incline that I’ve climbed. This comes out to an average of about 107 feet climbed every tenth of a mile, while I believe my previous steepest hike was Ensign Peak, north of the Capitol Hill district in Salt Lake City, Utah, at 94 feet climbed every tenth of a mile.




Hello, Mount Ascension in Helena, Montana

For my second major hike of Helena, Montana, I went to Mount Ascension on the south side of the Helena Micropolitan Area. I had difficulty finding a day to go hiking again because of how much it rained during my stay in Helena, and it was still forecasted to rain on the day that I went to Mount As­cen­sion, but I figured that I would end up not really being able to do anything if I keep rescheduling things trying to dodge rain, so I went anyway.

Mount Ascension is near Mount Helena, which I already hiked—it’s sort of “across the street,” on the opposite side of West Main Street and past Davis Gulch Road. Mount Ascension had way more smaller trails leading up to the summit than Mount Helena, and it seemed like it would be a very nice pick-your-own-adventure style of hiking area for the locals who would make repeated visits.

I started heading southbound towards the summit on Pay Dirt Trail, after which I believe I connected onto the edge of Little Moab Trail, then went a­long­side Pail Rider Trail. All the paths had some nice wildflowers nearby.

When I say that there are a lot of smaller trails leading up to the summit, I mean that quite literally—there was a fairly obvious, clear path forward most of the time, but there were very many forks and splits in the road, and I even saw one path that seemed like it would be an extremely strenuous straight-shot up to the top, but there were signs saying that the trail is closed, most likely because it wasn’t trafficked enough and the vegetation covered and ob­structed most of the path.

As I neared the top via 2006 Trail, I reached its intersection with Entertainment Trail and Mount Ascension Loop Trail.

This was just as nice as the other hikes I’ve done in Montana, and there were some convenient rocks at the top upon which I was able to have a seat, take in the sweep­ing views of Helena and South Hills, rehydrate, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the serenity of nature.

After beginning my descent from the summit on a small side trail directly to the north of Mount Ascension Loop Trail, I ran into another lookout spot with an amazing view that I would have probably mistaken for the summit had I ascended in the opposite, clockwise direction. This spot had nice views of the city, and it’s looking like the view extended as far as East Helena on the other side of the interstate highway.

My luck avoiding the impending storm was running out, and it started raining. I was hoping to have an opportunity to go more east and explore the Bom­part Hill area as well if my stamina allowed, but I figured it wasn’t exactly the safest thing to be around a bunch of trees on top of a mountain while it’s rain­ing, so I just took a quick route back down to the parking lot.

Overall, my hike was just shy of 3 miles (which translates to a little over 4.5 kilometers), and the total elevation gain was approximately 930 feet (283 me­ters).




Hello, Mount Helena in Montana

After having such a great time hiking in Billings and Bozeman, I wanted to get in a few more Montana hikes in Helena. Of course, the first thing I had to do was climb to the top of the mountain named after the city—Mount Helena.

On the way up, I started on Prospect Shafts Trail. The path was easy to follow, and there were some nice views progressively throughout the whole hike. The recent snow meant that the higher mountains in the back were still snow-capped.

On the way up, I ran into some wildflowers…

… as well as a pair of deer scavenging for food.

Usually when I run into deer, they keep their distance and are quick to flee when I get near to try and capture a photograph, but the deer I met here seemed to not mind that I was creeping closer and closer to try and get a better picture. That’s good and makes me happy, not only because I got a decent photo, but also because it tells me that the other people around here respect the deer enough that the deer have learned that people are not a threat.

I got pretty out of breath as I got closer to the summit; I’ve done hikes with a greater total elevation gain, but the summit of Mount Helena is 5,433 feet (1,656 meters), so the oxygen gets a bit more sparse up here than at the taller hikes I’ve done on the flatter East Coast.

I connected from Prospect Shafts Trail onto Hogback Trail for the final stretch.

Eventually, I made it to the summit and was able to take in the vast, sweeping, panoramic views of Helena and the surrounding area.

There were two guys already there at the top. Shortly after my arrival, an old man also made it to the top; he let me know that this was the first time he had made it to the summit in five years, and that he’s been really working on getting healthy and fit again.

On the way down, I switched over to Powerline Trail. The distance was shorter, which meant that the grade was a lot steeper, so it took a bit of extra focus and control not to trip, fall, and slide down the mountainside.

In total, the path I took was just over two and a half miles (which translates over to a little over four kilometers), and had a total elevation gain of about 1,100 feet (336 meters).

Needless to say, if you ever visit Helena, I definitely recommend hiking its namesake mountain. It’s a great workout, it has unobstructed views of the city and Lake Helena to one side, and amazing views of the mountains on the other.




Hello, Drinking Horse Mountain in Bozeman, Montana

After my stay in Billings, I made my way two hours westbound on Interstate 90 to my next stop in Bozeman. Unfortunately, it was raining during the eve­ning I arrived and snowing on the day after, but I managed to squeeze in a hike at Drinking Horse Mountain next to the Bozeman Fish Technology Cen­ter and Montana Outdoor Science School.

I parked over by Bridger Canyon Drive and started my hike on Nature Trail, later connecting onto Drinking Horse Hill Trail.

One of the things that I enjoy about Montana is the presence of no-leash hiking trails.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the culture of the places out here where it’s less populated is much more pleasant than it is in big cities, and I’ve noticed that the people here are far more kind, integrous, and respectful towards each other. Considering my past experiences living in cities, I feel like a no-leash concept absolutely would not work in or near a major city, not only because inconsiderate people would release their untrained dogs to wreak havoc, but also be­cause there are a lot more sensitive people who would feel violated by the presence of loose dogs.

In Montana, all the dogs I ran into were extremely well-behaved, even including hunting dogs that their owners had proactively leashed anyway due to the fact that they may have underlying aggressive instincts. There are few things more joyful than seeing random dogs happily roaming round, and as you approach, they skip and bound up to your side and wait for you to pet them. This seems like a fairly small thing, but with my love of animals, this made my hik­ing experience much better.

The path up to the summit was clear and easy to hike. It ended up being a mixture of light forest and open trail with some great views in all directions as you got higher.

I used to only include photos of flowers and other close-ups of vegetation in the “continue reading” section below-the-fold of my blog posts, but I got some feedback that including photos like this adds to visual diversity, so I decided to include a few above-the-fold this time (or rather, there is no below-the-fold this time, as this ended up being a fairly straightforward hike and I don’t have an excess of photographs).

Long story short, I think Montana is one of the most underrated states in America. With multiple layers of mountains, tons of trees, and some of the freshest air I’ve ever breathed, making it to the summit and just sitting down and looking around was one of the most calming, soothing feelings.

Prior to doing this hike, I thought I was hiking up to the Col­lege M, before realizing that I was on the opposite side of the road. For some reason, the Col­lege M hike wasn’t on All Trails when I had checked, and I didn’t want to take a risk and do an impromptu second hike after Drinking Horse Moun­tain in case the elevation gain was unmanageably high and the distance was too long—I hadn’t eaten yet that day, and I had to make it back to my hotel with only an hour or so to spare to attend a conference call.

The Drinking Horse Mountain hike ended up being a little bit over 2 miles, with a total elevation gain of about 650 feet. I’ve done hikes a lot higher than that, but not at an elevation comparable to Montana’s, so the hike definitely got me breathing hard.




Hello, Zimmerman Trail and Riverfront Park in Billings, Montana

After making a stop at Gillette, Wyoming, I was planning on making another stop at Sheridan, Wyoming before entering southern Montana, but because of a forecasted blizzard, I had to make some unexpected changes in my travel schedule. I ended up skipping Sheridan and going straight to Billings, Mon­tana, making it there early enough to dodge the snowstorm in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

The weather wasn’t exactly the best in Billings when I was there, but there were still enough clear days for me to fit in two hikes. The first I did was Zimmerman Trail, starting at Zimmerman Park in northern Billings and stretching across along the Rims. This trail had some nice views of Billings fac­ing south, as well some snow-covered mountaintops in the far distance.

I met a friendly ladybug at the far west side of Zimmerman Park where the path turned into the private property of the homes on Arapaho Lookout.

On my way back, I saw a car wreck on the lower trail, closer to some of the homes on the northern tip of West 37th Street, which reminded me of the car wreck I saw at the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park in California, and made me curious again about the story behind how the driver lost con­trol of the vehicle, and whether they survived.

Overall, the hike was a little bit over 3 miles and only had an overall elevation change of about a few hundred feet.

The following day, I went to Riverfront Park and took a leisurely walk around Lake Josephine and alongside the Yellowstone River.

This adventure was also a little bit over 3 miles and had nearly no elevation change. The far eastern side of the path I took, near the intersection of Wash­ington Street and South Frontage Road, ended up going through a bit of denser forest, but the rest of the trail was very beginner-friendly, with a lot of it even being paved with asphalt.

With two days spent indoors hiding from the rain, resting up, and playing some newly-released video game content; two days spent outdoors hiking; and the rest of the time in between filled in with work; that wrapped up my relatively short four-and-a-half day stay in Billings. Next up: Bozeman, Montana.