National Park Road Trip 2011: The Lodges of Western Glacier National Park
Editor's note: Having turned their car back towards the rising sun, David and Kay Scott have been spending time in Glacier National Park while working on an update to their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.
Greetings from Apgar Village just inside the western entrance station of Montana’s Glacier National Park. The park’s best-known feature, Going-to-the-Sun Road, remains closed due to snow and road construction and the National Park Service won’t estimate when the road may open. One person told us he heard it would be mid-July.
Travelers who wish to go from one side of the park to the other must take U.S. Highway 2 that skirts the southern border of Glacier. This is a nice drive, but doesn’t compare to Going-to-the-Sun Road.
We will be driving the road today on a roundabout route to get to Rising Sun Motor Inn where we are scheduled to stay the night. The motor inn is on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, but currently accessible only from the eastern side of the park.
In another twist of fate, flooding in North Dakota has curtailed service for Amtrak’s Empire Builder that connects Chicago and Seattle. This, along with the delayed opening of Going-to-the-Sun Road, has affected visitation to Glacier and its lodges.
The Empire Builder stops directly across from Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier, and also at West Glacier for travelers who wish to stay at Apgar or nearby Lake McDonald Lodge.
Alicia Thompson, marketing director for Glacier Park, Inc., told us that up to 20 percent of guests at Glacier Park Lodge arrive via Amtrak. Amtrak travelers can still access Glacier from the west, just not from the east where service from Chicago currently terminates at St. Paul, Minnesota.
Glacier National Park is simply magnificent. Many experienced travelers we have talked with consider it their favorite national park. The scenery is spectacular and crowds don’t approach those at some of the other major parks such as Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon.
The red “jammer” buses of Glacier seem to be everywhere.
Six lodges are within the national park. Another two, Prince of Wales in Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier Park Lodge, on the park’s east side, are closely associated with Glacier and are owned and operated by the company that manages five of the park’s six lodges.
Five lodges were built by the Great Northern Railroad. Current concessionaire Glacier Park, Inc., is a direct descendent of the Great Northern subsidiary that operated the lodges. As an aside, the lodging concession in Glacier is currently in its seventh one-year extension.
Our understanding is the National Park Service is working to finish the proposal and there are likely to be several bidders. Glacier Park Lodge and Prince of Wales are privately owned and not included as part of the concession.
In this first installment we will provide a brief overview of the three Glacier lodges on the west side of the park; Village Inn, Apgar Village Lodge, and Lake McDonald Lodge.
In several days we will follow with a report on the three lodges in the interior of the park. Our final report will discuss Prince of Wales and Glacier Park Lodge, the two privately-owned lodges that are each a short distance outside the park.
Apgar Village Lodge and Village Inn are both in Apgar Village a short distance inside the park’s west entrance. In addition to the two lodging facilities, Apgar Village includes a restaurant, several stores, and a National Park Service visitor center.
It is also near a NPS transportation center that provides free shuttle service up Going-to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass, starting July 1. From the visitor center at Logan Pass, visitors can transfer to a shuttle that covers the eastern side of the road.
Apgar Village Lodge consists of 28 rustic cabins plus two motel-style buildings. The cabins vary in size and all but two have a full kitchen. All the cabins and motel rooms have a private bathroom. Although not on Lake McDonald, the cabins are a short distance from the lake and several front on McDonald Creek.
We have always found Apgar Village Lodge to be a restful place to stay. Rates range from $90 for a motel room to $180 for a large cabin. Smaller cabins start at $105.
Nearby Village Inn is a motel-style building directly on Lake McDonald. A large picture window in each room provides superb views of the lake and distant mountains. Chairs on an outside balcony offer a place to drink a cup of morning coffee while enjoying one of the best views in the park.
The inn offers four types of rooms beginning with small rooms that sleep two.
Bigger rooms have either a second bedroom or a kitchen. Three suites are also offered. Rates range from $130 to $185 for rooms other than the suites.
Lake McDonald Lodge is the third lodging facility on the park’s west side. It is also one of the real jewels of this park.
Built in 1913 as a lodge to compete with those of the Great Northern, the current lodge consists of the main building plus 38 rustic cabins and 30 motel units. Each of the cabins sits directly on the lake. The main lodge has 32 rooms, all but two of which are on two floors above the main level.
The best part of the lodge is the lobby and its huge stone fireplace that serves as a draw for lodge guests. A covered back patio with chairs and good views of the lake offers another place for guests to relax. The concessionaire offers boat tours from the dock back of the lodge.
From the west side of Glacier we headed to the east side of the park along Highway 2 and then will turn west on Going-to-the-Sun Road to reach Rising Sun.
Along the way we plan to stop at the Izaak Walton Inn, a favorite place for train buffs. We have stayed at Izaak Walton on two previous trips, but will be stopping only for lunch this trip.