Tour operators from around the U.S. and Canada often have the request for authentic Montana experiences. Besides the notable activities, like horseback riding, red bus tours, 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. 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. These historic lodges are a nostalgic stop even if you don’t overnight there. Book a meal, play a round of golf, take a wagon ride, or just walk the grounds for an immersive blast to the past.
MANY GLACIER HOTEL
Within the boundaries of Glacier National Park are some of the most notable historic lodges in Montana. Located on the east side of Glacier is the park’s largest hotel—Many Glacier Hotel. This hotel was built by the Great Northern Railroad in 1915 on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, and offers magnificent views from all of its 205 guest rooms. Partially renovated in 2016, the rooms are rustic, yet comfortable. The abundance of outdoor recreation—including red bus tours, boat tours on Swiftcurrent Lake, horseback rides and many hiking trails—and the valley’s majestic views make Many Glacier Hotel quite popular with guests from all over the world. On-site dining includes the Interlaken Lounge and the Ptarmigan Dining Room. Open seasonally, May to September.
GLACIER PARK LODGE
In East Glacier, on the east side of Glacier National Park, sits Glacier Park Lodge. Although the lodge is outside the park boundary, it’s located directly across from the East Glacier Amtrak, stop making it popular for those traveling by train. Known as the “Big Tree Lodge” visitors travel to the hotel simply to marvel at the grandeur of the lodge and its lobby—unpeeled log pillars line the two-story main lobby from floor to ceiling. On-site dining options include the Great Northern Dining Room and the Empire Bar. Explore the grounds further and you’ll find a nine-hole golf course—the oldest grass greens course in Montana, where each hole is named after a chief of the Blackfeet Nation. Open seasonally, May to September.
In West Glacier, the Belton Chalet was built in 1910 to accommodate railroad workers of the Great Northern Railroad (GNR). It was the first iconic lodge in the area. Conveniently located at the west entrance to Glacier National Park, it quickly become the original gateway to the park. The Swiss Chalet architecture is inspired by GNR board chairman Louis Hill’s recounting Glacier National Park as “America’s Alps.” In 2000, a three-year restoration and renovation project was completed, and the chalet became a designated National Historic Landmark. Over the years the Belton Chalet has maintained the same charm, ambiance and elegance of the early 1900s. The Belton Chalet Grill, Dining Room and Tap Room are well-known for gourmet dinners. 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. Open seasonally, May to September.
LAKE MCDONALD LODGE
The classic Swiss chalet-design was continued at Lake McDonald Lodge, which opened its doors in 1914. The lodge is located 10 miles inside Glacier National Park, along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and sits on the east shore of Lake McDonald. The lodge has 82 guest rooms encompassing the three-tiered lodge, a row of cabins, Snyder Hall (a converted historic dormitory) and Cobb House. Dining options on-site include Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, Jammer Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria and Lucke’s Lounge. 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, all making Lake McDonald Lodge quite popular with guests from around the world. It’s also the place to stop for the iconic crystal clear Lake McDonald photo with the stunningly colorful rocks. Open seasonally, May to September.
IZAAK WALTON INN
The Izaak Walton Inn is one of Western Montana’s most notable and historic lodges and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. A year-round retreat built in 1939, the Izaak Walton Inn is located off of State Highway 2 on the southern border of Glacier National Park in Essex. 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 flair 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. New in 2022, the Izaak Walton Inn was purchased by Loge Camps, whose mission is to “find forgotten motels near our favorite towns and trails and bring them back to life.” We expect to see a few new and exciting changes to come. Open year-round, with exceptional Nordic skiing options in winter.
In keeping with the era, all guest rooms for the above lodges, Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier Park Lodge, Belton Chalet, Lake McDonald Lodge and the Izaak Walton Inn, offer modest amenities—no televisions or air conditioning—and old-world style accommodations. This was a conscious choice to let visitors take a step back in time when they visit the lodges and provide inspiration to guests to take advantage of the beauty and wonder of Glacier National Park. Early reservations are highly recommended for these locations and group reservations are limited. However, each provides an opportunity to experience the iconic national park setting many visitors look for—worth a stop for a photo op, meal, hike, or to hop on a red bus tour.
DOUBLE ARROW RESORT
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 with bed-and-breakfast nostalgic vibes or one of the many log cabins on property. On-site, kick up your heels to enjoy a cocktail at Stirrups Lounge then meander to the adjacent Seasons Restaurant for some “classic country cuisine.” Other amenities include an indoor pool and Jacuzzi, outdoor tennis courts and horseshoe pits, as well as seasonal activities including a premier golf course, horseback riding, fly fishing, horse-drawn sleigh rides and more. Open year round.
If you need help planning an itinerary, visit our tour operator page here. If you’d like more information on adding a stop at one of the historic inns or lodges in Western Montana to your itinerary, drop us a line here. We’re always happy to help.
AS & DP
January 19, 2023