Stepping in Historic Footprints: Six Days in Glacier

View from the hotel with some of the structure visible and the lake and rising mountains beyond.

The historic Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915. Photo © Becky Lomax.

The Great Northern Railway built many of Glacier’s lodges to attract train riders. Starting in 2013, several of the historic lodges will be celebrating centennials in successive summers. This tour takes you into these old park lodges, most of them National Historic Landmarks, which have changed little in the past 100 years. Ride Amtrak to get to Glacier in historic style, but then rent a car from Glacier Heli Tours on your first day in West Glacier. History buffs will enjoy this tour with a copy of Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets: View with a Room in hand.

Day 1

Arrive in West Glacier to stay at the Belton Chalet in a room facing Apgar Mountain. Built in 1910, concurrent with the birth of Glacier National Park, this small hotel provides the perfect leap back in time as well as a start to exploring the park.

Day 2

Drive to East Glacier following the historic Great Northern Railway line as it parallels the highway. From the train station in East Glacier, saunter up the flowered walkway to Glacier Park Lodge, which opened in 1913 as the headliner hotel, and peruse the historic display in the lobby. Take a short drive to Two Medicine Lake to see what remains of the chalet colony built 1911-1915. Enjoy the views from the tour boat up-lake and walk three miles back along the north shore.

Day 3

Head north to Many Glacier Hotel via Browning and the Blackfeet Reservation. En route, stop at the Museum of the Plains Indians for the history of how the railroad impacted the Blackfeet. In the afternoon at Many Glacier, take a guided tour of the historic Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915, and dine in the scenic Ptarmigan Dining Room, now restored to its 1920s look. You can also glean historical tidbits from the display in the lobby.

Day 4

To get a feel for old-time travel in Glacier, take a two-hour trail ride with Swan Mountain Outfitters to Cracker Flats, the site of a mining boomtown in the late 1900s. In the afternoon, enjoy Swiftcurrent Lake by renting a canoe to paddle its waters or taking the double tour boats to the head of Josephine Lake.

Day 5

Drive to St. Mary, stopping at the visitors center to see the Native American displays. Head up Going-to-the-Sun Road, a National Historic Landmark that opened in 1932. At Sun Point, walk out to the site for the Sun Point Chalets, built in 1912 and razed after World War II. The once popular chalets commanded a postcard view of St. Mary Lake. At Logan Pass, tour the visitors center, walk some of the short paved loop trails and a portion of the boardwalk, and photograph yourself at the Continental Divide sign. Descend to Lake McDonald Lodge for the night.

Day 6

Before departing Lake McDonald Lodge, tour the grounds, the lake shore, and the main lodge, which opened in 1914. Drive to Avalanche to walk the one-mile Trail of the Cedars or hike two miles to Avalanche Lake, as early park visitors did. As you depart Glacier, you’ll drive the full length of Lake McDonald, stopping at a pullout or two to relish the lake’s clear water to return to your starting point in West Glacier.

Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Glacier National Park.

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