The Great Northern Railway, completed in 1891, pushed across the top of the nation from Minnesota, forging a path through the wilderness. The railroad planted huge log chalets along the way for the society mavens of the golden age who rode the train. They would travel to the mountains, then explore on horseback and rest in the lodges. This was the glamorous life at the turn of the century.
In 1932, Glacier National Park and adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada became the world’s first International Peace Park. Waterton-Glacier was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1974 and a World Heritage Site in 1995. The region provides a unique range of ecosystems and habitats serving a wealth of flora and fauna protected from exploitation such as mining and oil and gas extraction, which occur outside the preserved zone. Nonetheless, the habitat is threatened by the effects of such activities, which ultimately may cause global warming and groundwater contamination.
in National Parks Conservation Magazine, 2010.
from National Parks.
There are several historic lodges in and near Glacier National Park, including the Belton Chalet on the west side of the park, St. Mary Lodge, and Glacier Park Lodge on the east side, which were built for the earliest tourists at the beginning of the twentieth century (www.glacierparkinc.com/lodging.php). Grand old lodges designed to please the monied set of the golden age, these large properties boast inviting common areas and rather Spartan rooms typical of their era. The Belton and Glacier Park lodges are located near railway stops now served by the Amtrak Empire Builder line from Chicago to Seattle.
Other lodging opportunities include rustic cabins and motor motels in East Glacier Park, such as the Dancing Bears Inn, which is small and plain, but clean. East Glacier Park is also home to Serrano’s, a popular Mexican restaurant serving deliciously spicy and hearty fare.
For convenience to the Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, the Red Lion Hotel provides comfortable, basic accommodations with shuttle service to the airport and car rental agencies.
Whitefish, a small skiing town about half an hour west of Glacier National Park, offers many lodging options as well as unique artisan shops and delectable dining, such as Wasabi Sushi Bar and Ginger Grill or the Summit House at the Whitefish Mountain Resort – accessible by hiking trail or ski lift (open June through September – check to confirm).
The Going-to-the-Sun Road takes you through the park and its many ecosystems – from the verdant, mossy-floored forests at the west entrance, to the mountaintops surrounding Logan Pass, to the alpine prairies east of the ridge. The nine-mile-long Lake McDonald is visible near the west entrance to the park, and St. Mary Lake, almost as long, follows the road on the east side of the park.
There are many stopping points along the way with well-marked signs leading to trails showcasing cascading waterfalls and clear, glacial lakes that have a stunning turquoise blue from the powdered glacial rock that lines their cool, deep bottoms. One of the first stops from the west entrance is a trail to Avalanche Lake, and its small parking area is often crowded. There is a one-mile handicapped-accessible boardwalk hike or you can extend it another two miles on a dirt trail. Although bears are not frequently seen by visitors, trails do have a ubiquitous warning sign: “Bear Country: All Wildlife is Dangerous.” Visitors are advised to carry bear spray, a hot pepper concoction similar to the pepper spray used against human attackers.
- Glacier Park Boat Company offers several scenic summer tours of park lakes as well as boat, kayak, and canoe rentals – www.glacierparkboats.com/.
- Kruger Helicop-Tours, located near the west entrance of Glacier National Park, provides half-hour chopper views of the mountains – www.krugerhelicopters.com/.
- Glacier Outdoor Center, west of the park, offers ski and snowshoe rentals in winter and rafts in summer, plus guides and cabins – www.glacierraftco.com/.
- Glacier Distilling, also just west of the park, serves tastings of home-brewed whiskey, and locally brewed beers abound throughout the region – http://glacierdew.com/.