Glacier National Park received its designation in 1910. George Bird Grinnell, an early Montana explorer, was instrumental in prodding the United States government to protect this land. Today, about 2 million people visit the 1500 square miles of the park annually.
Fortunately, Glacier National Park is well served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder year-round. The Great Northern Railway (GN), which operated on the tracks Amtrak uses today, provided the initial lodging in the area along its stops. Here are lodging alternatives close to the four Glacier stops (going from east to west):
East Glacier Park: In 1913, GN opened its first Glacier lodge, the Glacier Park Hotel in East Glacier Park. Now known as the Glacier Park Lodge and Resort, the hotel retains the rugged looks of a century ago with modern amenities. The resort is open from late-May to late-September. Located across the street from the Amtrak train station, the 161-room lodge has accommodations that range from rustic “value lodge” rooms to a “Glacier Golf house” situated about ½ mile from the main lodge. The resort also has three restaurants and a “Cowboy Cookout” on Tuesday and Wednesdays. There are two retail stores on the property. Finally, there are over 20 other hotels and campgrounds nearby.
Essex: In a small sliver of land between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, lie Essex and the Izaak Walton Inn. Built in 1939 by GN to house winter snow removal crews, this hotel operates year-around. The Izaak Walton is located adjacent to the Amtrak stop at Essex. You have a choice of one of 33 rooms in the inn, four restored railroad cabooses, and six modern family cabins. The restaurant is opened for three meals a day. Reproductions of historic Great Northern dinnerware are the featured items in the hotel’s James J. Hill Gift Shop.
West Glacier: There are dozens of hotels and campground close to West Glacier. Three properties are on the shore of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. On the south end, in the Village of Apgar, there is the Village Inn at Apgar (the last Glacier-area lodge built by GN) and the Apgar Village Lodge. Apgar has a visitor center, restaurant and gift stores. On Lake McDonald’s north end, are the magnificent Lake McDonald Lodge, Cottages and Inn. The main lodge was built by GN in 1914 in a Swiss Chalet motif. The resort has three restaurants, a gift shop, and a campstore.
Whitefish: Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish have numerous lodging options including traditional hotels, condos, bed and breakfasts, ranches and campgrounds. Within an hour’s drive from Glacier National Park, this alternative is attractive to those who want to experience more than just the park. For instance, Whitefish Mountain Resort provides winter sports and summer hiking activities. Also, Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, is known for its fishing and boating activities. There are many good restaurants and shops in this area.