When I talk to tour operators from around the U.S. and Canada, I often get the same request for authentic Montana experiences for their clients. Besides the notable activities like horseback riding, red bus touring, fly-fishing excursions and whitewater rafting, we often talk about how choosing the right type of lodging options can strongly contribute to the types of experiences their group and FIT clients have on one of their tours. If the group is truly looking for a genuine Montana tour, an overnight stay at one of Glacier Country’s historic inns or lodges is a great option. We have many to choose from in the region, especially in the northern tier of Western Montana. Some were constructed as accommodations for railroad workers for Great Northern Railroad in the early 1900s and have been renovated into charming lodging, while other properties were built for early travelers to Glacier National Park.
The Historic Tamarack Lodge & Cabins—open year-round and located in Martin City about 10 minutes from the west entrance to Glacier National Park—was originally constructed in 1907 and has undergone numerous renovations over the last century as it added modern amenities, including in-room TVs, while still maintaining a rustic charm. The lodge has a true log cabin atmosphere, with four guest rooms, a great room, saloon and coffee bar. In addition to the main lodge, there are 14 cabins that range from motel units to large family-friendly and couples’ accommodations.
Built in 1910 to accommodate railroad workers during the construction period of the Great Northern Railroad is the Belton Chalet, located in West Glacier near the west entrance to Glacier National Park. The West Glacier train depot sits across the street from the Belton Chalet, making it convenient to those traveling on Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Seattle or Portland to Chicago. While renovations were completed in 2000, the Belton Chalet has maintained the same charm, ambiance and elegance of the early 1900s. In keeping with the historic era and relaxing atmosphere, no electronic distractions are located in the rooms inspiring guests to take advantage of the exceptionally beautiful views from the many decks built around the perimeter of the lodge. The lodge’s on-site dining room serves gourmet dinners created with local Montana ingredients.
The Izaak Walton Inn is one of Western Montana’s most notable and historic lodges. A year-round retreat built in 1939, the Izaak Walton Inn is located off of Highway 2 on the southern border of Glacier National Park in Essex. Listed as a national historic landmark, the inn has kept with the era in which it was built and is void of TVs, telephones, elevators and air conditioners, however Wi-Fi is available in the main lobby. Guests can choose from guest rooms in the historic lodge, converted railroad cars—including locomotives and cabooses—and cabins near the lodge. The Dining Car restaurant serves exquisite food with a Montana flare and locally sourced products. Essex is noted as a “flag stop” on the Empire Builder route from Seattle to Chicago and will not stop unless ticketed passengers are getting on or off. A fun tradition that has developed over time encourages guest to step out onto the deck of the Izaak Walton Inn and give a wave to the passenger trains as they pass by.
Within the boundaries of Glacier National Park are some of the most notable historic lodges in Montana. Located in the northeast side of Glacier National Park is the park’s largest hotel—Many Glacier Hotel. Open mid-June to mid-September, Many Glacier Hotel was built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1915. Situated on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake and offering magnificent views from all of the 205 guest rooms, the hotel is undergoing a major renovation planned to be complete in 2017. In keeping with the era, all guest rooms offer modest amenities—no televisions or air conditioning—and old-world style accommodations. The abundance of outdoor recreation, including red bus tours, boat tours on Swiftcurrent Lake, horseback rides, abundant hiking trails and the valley’s majestic views make Many Glacier Hotel quite popular with guests from all over the world. Early reservations are highly recommended and group reservations are limited.
The classic Swiss chalet-style lodge of Lake McDonald Lodge sits on the east shore of Lake McDonald. Open mid-May to the end of September, the historic hotel is located 10 miles inside the west entrance of Glacier National Park on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Built in 1913, the lodge has 82 guest rooms (including the main lodge rooms and cabins) and dining options that include Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria and Lucke’s Lounge. Again, in keeping with the era in which the lodge was built, guest rooms offer modest amenities and TVs, air conditioning and elevators are not available. The lodge offers an abundance of outdoor recreation including ranger-led programs, boat tours that leave from the lodge dock, red bus tours that pick up from the lodge as well as horseback trail rides making Lake McDonald Lodge quite popular with guests from all over the world. Note that early reservations are highly recommended and group reservations are limited.
If your tour takes you down the Seeley-Swan Valley—one of the prettiest in Montana—a visit to the Double Arrow Resort and the first “dude ranch” in Seeley Lake will add a true Montana retreat experience to any tour. The main lodge was built in 1929 with the focal point being a massive stone fireplace in the great room. Choose to stay in one of the three guest rooms in the main lodge (complete with a bed-and-breakfast Montana lodge feeling) or one of the many log cabins throughout the property. Kick up your heels at Stirrups Lounge or experience gourmet Montana-inspired cuisine at the on-site Seasons Restaurant. Other amenities include an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, outdoor tennis courts and horseshoe pits, as well as seasonal activities from horseback riding to horse-drawn sleigh rides in the winter.
If you need help planning an itinerary, visit our tour operator page here. If you’d like more information on adding a stay at one of the historic inns or lodges in Western Montana to your itinerary, drop me a line here. I am always happy to help.