National Park Road Trip 2011: Glacier National Park's Interior Lodges

The stately Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park just might enjoy the most picturesque setting of any hotel in the National Park System. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: David and Kay Scott, having enjoyed the lodges on the west side of Glacier National Park, now fill you in on the latest with the lodges on the eastern side, including Many Glacier Hotel, as they continue working on an update to their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.

Greetings from Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel, situated in the most spectacular setting of any national park lodge. On the bank of Swiftcurrent Lake and surrounded by towering mountains, views from the hotel are unsurpassed.

Unfortunately, half the hotel is closed this season for safety and structural work. While the hotel normally rents 214 guest rooms, only 103 are currently available. Most of the work, much of which is being financed with federal stimulus money, is devoted to replacing antiquated plumbing and electrical systems.

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Construction has limited the available rooms at Many Glacier Hotel to about half of the 214. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The dining room is being restored to its original appearance, in part by removing the false ceiling. Although the huge dining room windows overlooking the lake are being replaced by smaller windows, the retro look should be quite attractive. Work is expected to be completed in June 2012. Money is currently unavailable to undertake the similar renovations the hotel’s other half.

On a related note, Glacier Park, Inc. announced last week the purchase of St. Mary Lodge, a large hotel near the park’s eastern entrance to Going-to-the-Sun Road. This makes the fourth major hotel near the park owned by the company that is currently the concessionaire for Glacier’s lodging facilities, a major competitive advantage going into bidding on the upcoming contract to operate Glacier’s lodging, eating, and transportation facilities.

We stopped at park headquarters to talk with Jan Knox, head NPS concession specialist for Glacier. She said that while the length of time covered by the new contract has not yet been determined, it is expected that the final proposal should be released for bid in 2013.

Several other companies have apparently shown some interest in bidding on the contract.

Our last note was from Village Inn on Glacier’s west side. From West Glacier we drove south on U.S. 2 that skirts the park’s southern border. On the way we stopped at the Izaak Walton Inn to eat lunch and get our railroad fix. What a great place for train buffs! Travelers can stay overnight in the historic hotel built on land owned by the Great Northern Railway, in a series of converted cabooses, or in a retired diesel engine that has been gutted and transformed into a deluxe overnight accommodation with a full kitchen.

From the Isaak Walton Inn we continued northeast through East Glacier, Browning, and St. Mary to access Going-to-the-Sun Road for a night at Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins. The inn is about six miles up Going-to-the-Sun Road and currently accessible only from the park’s eastern side because Logan Pass remains closed by snow. This scenic road has failed to open by July 4 only once since its inaugural year of 1933. This will be the second year and will likely set the record for latest opening. As of this date, the National Park Service has cleared about 15 miles on each end of the 50-mile road.

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The cabins at Rising Sun. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Rising Sun Motor Inn and Cabins offers 28 rooms in two motel-type buildings ($134), plus 35 rustic cabins ($122), and several rooms ($118) in the building that houses the store and gift shop. All Rising Sun’s guest rooms have a private bathroom.

Its location just off Going-to-the-Sun Road makes for a quiet stay compared to other lodging facilities in the park. Excellent mountain and lake views are available from nearby any of Rising Sun’s rooms. We generally walk to and through a nearby NPS campground but the night was quite windy and we retired early.

Following a night at Rising Sun, we drove back to St. Mary and north to access the 12-mile road that leads to Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins and Many Glacier Hotel. Swiftcurrent Motor Inn and Cabins is comprised of 26 rustic cabins plus 64 rooms in four motel buildings. Only two of the cabins have a private bathroom, but one-bedroom cabins without a bath at $70 per night represent the least expensive lodging in the park, unless you sleep in a tent or a bear box.

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The cabins at Swiftcurrent are small and most are without bathrooms, but they cost just $70 a night. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Six cabins have an extra bedroom and rent for an additional $10. Motel units cost $118 for smaller rooms and $134 for larger rooms.

Although the cabins are rustic, without a private bathroom, and are closely bunched, keep in mind that they rent for about half the cost of the least expensive room at Many Glacier Hotel. Although good views are not available from any of the rooms, a short walk to the registration building will offer some great scenery. Volunteers are often in the parking lot with spotting scopes for viewing mountain goats and other wildlife.

Nearby Many Glacier Hotel is a classic national park lodge built by the Great Northern Railway. A large annex was added two years following the 1915 completion of the hotel’s first section. The three-story lobby with a huge conical fireplace is the hotel’s centerpiece and where guests gather to read, talk, gaze at the mountains, and, occasionally, nap.

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The lobby at Many Glacier Hotel is rimmed by overlooking balconies. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The value, standard, and lakeside rooms range from $145 to $180, and six family rooms are $225. Suites are located in the portion of the building that is currently closed. The majority of rooms are located in the annex.

A large lounge at the end of the north wing and adjacent to the large dining room is being used for food service while the main dining room is under renovation. We have to admit the current construction has altered this summer’s experience of staying at the hotel.

From Many Glacier we headed north across the border for a night at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Then it is back south for a night in Glacier Park Lodge, a flagship property of Glacier Park, Inc., and another of the historic hotels built by the Great Northern Railway. These two picturesque hotels will be the subject of our next report.

Comments

What no video ? I really look forward to the short clips at each of your stops.

Ken, if you've ever been in this end of the country, you know bandwidth can be very limited in some areas;-) They're going to try to upload the video as soon as they find a strong enough carrier.

Love these articles. We have been to many of the lodges they are reviewing in their travels but I was wondering if they are going to Yellowstone on this trip to review the lodges there. We are planning a week in Yellowstone next year and don't know how to plan the week with lodging. The park is so big and we love to hike. Any help with lodging and related articles or books would be appreciated. Thanks for these articles.

Annemarie,

Yes, Yellowstone is on the Scotts' agenda.

I'd also suggest you take a look at our page on Yellowstone, as it contains a good overview of lodging in the park as well as many other resources to help you plan your trip. In the "Resources" section of that page you'll find some recommended books for planning and enjoying the park.

I thought the Great Northern, not the Northern Pacific, built what became the Izaac Walton Inn. Similarly, wouldn't the Great Northern have built Many Glacier Hotel? I thought the current Empire Builder ran on former Great Northern tracks, and the former Northern Pacific main line ran near Interstate 90 and 94 through most of Montana.

Will,

Thanks for raising this point, because the answer is interesting. First, I'm sure David and Kay meant Great Northern Railway, not the Northern Pacific, when they wrote the story, and I'll fix that.

But in reading about the inn's history on the inn's page, it says the railroad itself did not actually build the inn, but contracted with someone else to do that:

On April 28, 1939 the Great Northern Railroad and the Addison Miller Company entered into a contract that would allow Addison Miller to build and operate a hotel and lunchroom on railroad land at Walton, the contract was for 12 1/2 years from June 01, 1939 to December 01, 1951.

The Izaak Walton was completed at a cost of $40,000.00 and was to be formally opened November 15 1939. “Modern in every detail”, the two and a half story 36 by 114 foot structure boasted 29 rooms, ten bathrooms, a spacious lobby, dining room, kitchen with a two ton cook stove, drying room, store room, and general store. It took twelve carpenters three months to complete. Much of the interior and exterior of the hotel remains the same today. In spite of losses, the Addison Miller company continued to own the hotel beyond the termination date of their contract with the Great Northern Railway.

Annemarie, we usually split our Yellowstone lodging into a couple of locations to save on driving time. We like to stay a few nights at Old Faithful Inn (our favorite lodge) and a few nights at Mammoth. However, there are several options within the park. Be sure to make your reservations as soon as you have your dates planned.

Sorry about mentioning the Northern Pacific when we meant the Great Northern. We did the same screwup on another story but caught it before sending. By the way, we are now in Livingston, MT and just visited the old train station that has been turned into a railroad museum. Now here is where the Northern Pacific (later acquired by the Burlington) did offer passenger service until the late 1960's. It is an excellent museum and beautiful building that was constructed in 1902. The Burlington Northern freights stop just outside the station.

These videos are informative and interesting. Maybe they could be incorporated into an addition to the publication. Sort of like being there.
Certainly helping me in a vacation plan for next year.

Thanks Folks.