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