Tag Archives: West Glacier

Guest Post: Top 4 Shoulder Season Adventures With Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

Travel is all about the experience. Forget collecting silver-plated spoons from each state—travelers these days are out in the world to create intangible experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, especially in America’s national parks—Glacier National Park in particular. As tour operators, you are challenged by the ever-growing popularity of the parks, and seek help creating the memorable, unique experiences your guests demand. Waiting in long, hot lines does not create happy guests or repeat customers. We can help.

At Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, we’ve been in the business of creating unforgettable adventures since 1983. Our focus is on the quality of the experience, and our mission is to provide one-of-a-kind travel vacations and getaways in and around Glacier National Park, while preserving and protecting the park’s unique ecosystem using the most ecologically sound practices possible.

Glacier National Park in spring.

What we hear from our guests—some of whom we’ve been guiding for over 30 years—is that part of the Glacier Park experience they are looking for is one that includes intimacy, solitude and peace. Even if they are interested in an adrenaline-packed whitewater rafting adventure, they are still looking for an experience that allows the time and space for introspection and reflection. And our guides know how to use our rivers and mountains to do just that, while also educating, entertaining and attending to safety at all times.

For this more intimate experience with Glacier National Park, offer tours in our less crowded times of the year: May, June, September and October. There are many reasons Glacier National Park is so popular in July and August, but there are better times of the year if you are in the business of experiential travel. Here are our top 4 Glacier National Park shoulder-season activities.

1) Spring Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road
The first sign of spring in Glacier Country is the announcement that the snow plows are out, scraping a winter’s worth of snow off the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. As soon as the plows have advanced a few miles up that gorgeous road, we strap on our helmets and go biking. The plowed portions of the road are open only to biker and hiker traffic until mid to late June, and pedaling a bike up the nearly empty, quiet, Going-to-the-Sun Road is nothing short of spectacular. Breathing in the fresh alpine air, watching spring waterfalls cascade off the mountains and catching a glimpse of a new moose or elk calf crossing a greening meadow is an experience travelers will not soon—or ever—forget.

Spring biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

These interpretive, guided bike tours on the closed sections of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are exclusive to Glacier Guides and Montana Raft. Nearly all ages and abilities can enjoy at least part of this Glacier National Park shoulder-season experience. Our guides will go as far as the group wants to go, and for some groups (especially those with young children) that might not be very far. That’s okay. We think every trip is less about the destination and more about the memories made on the journey, like sitting on a sun-warmed rock on the edge of the cerulean waters of McDonald Creek, relishing one of our homemade, locally sourced, largely organic sack lunches. For other groups, we might bike all the way to Logan Pass, the apex of the road. Either way, it is sure to be a day guests will never forget.

2) Spring Whitewater Rafting on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River
For some guests, adrenaline is a necessary part of the experience. We provide an unmatched whitewater rafting adventure on one of the most stunning rivers in the world. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River is designated a Wild and Scenic River. Its crystal-clear, turquoise waters flow over gorgeous red and green rocks left over from Glacier National Park’s glaciated past. The Middle Fork forms Glacier National Park’s border to the south and the Flathead National Forest to the north.

Adrenaline pumping whitewater adventures.

In the springtime, and particularly in late May when runoff is at its peak, the water is high and the river’s nine named rapids vary from Class II to Class IV. Our impeccably trained guides keep guests thrilled (and safe) as they navigate John F. Stevens Canyon and the fun, splashy Tunnel Rapids, Bonecrusher, Washboard, Big Squeeze, Jaws, Pin Ball, CBT, Repeater Rapids, The Notch and Pumphouse rapids. Following the guide’s simple commands, guests actually become part of the crew that maneuvers the boat. In the spring, this trip is about two and a half hours long. Generally speaking, we do not allow children younger than six on this trip in the spring. Guest safety is our #1 priority. Wetsuits and river shoes are always complimentary.

3) Shoulder Season Scenic Floating on the Border of Glacier National Park
Whether it’s spring or fall, if whitewater rafting is more of an adventure than guests are looking for, but the beauty and peace of a calmer section of the Flathead River appeals to them, then our Scenic Float is perfect. Suitable for nearly any age (ages three and up) and ability, this trip never fails to inspire and relax. The beauty of the Middle Fork is perhaps even more enjoyable when viewed at the slower speed of the Scenic Float trip.

Stunning scenery on this scenic river float.

The trip is approximately two hours long, and guests enjoy glimpses of Glacier National Park from the comfort of a boat as their guide discusses geological, anthropological and ecological matters pertaining to Glacier National Park. Guests also float through the confluence of the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River, which forms the park’s southernmost tip. This trip is mellow in the best sense of the word, offering a peaceful, relaxing experience on one of the world’s most pristine rivers.

4) Fall Day Hiking on the Highline Trail
Around here, we love to hike in every season, but fall is our favorite. By September, all of the high mountain passes and trails have completely thawed out, and most of our visitors have gone back to work and school. Glacier National Park turns to gold with changing tamarack needles and aspen leaves, and Montana’s famous big sky is never bluer. The cool, crisp autumnal air is invigorating. It’s simply an ideal time of year to go hiking.

Hiking in Glacier National Park.

Glacier Guides was chosen as the exclusive backpacking guide service in Glacier National Park. We offer a wide range of adventure hiking options, from day hiking and backpacking, to hut treks and vehicle-supported excursions. All of our trips are ecologically friendly, and family or custom adventures are available. Our friendly, experienced guides take care of every detail, use top-of-the-line equipment and prepare delicious, healthy meals. With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier Park is a hiker’s dream, and we provide trips to accommodate all ability levels. We can create a custom trip that’s tailored to your guest’s interests and desired activity level. We’d love to help plan the perfect Glacier National Park experience for your guests. For more information, visit glacierguides.com or call 406.387.5555.

Happy Adventuring,
Courtney Stone

The author, Courtney Stone

About the author: As Marketing Director for Glacier Guides and Montana Raft, Courtney strives daily to meet its mission of providing exceptional active travel vacations and experiences in and around Glacier National Park, while preserving and protecting the park’s unique ecosystem. Otherwise, you’ll find Courtney hiking, backpacking, rafting, skiing or cleaning up the trail of glitter her kids leave in the wake of their own daily adventures.

6 Historic Inns and Lodges in Western Montana’s Glacier Country

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.

Stay at the charming Izaak Walton Inn.

Stay at the charming Izaak Walton Inn.

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.

The cozy great room in the Historic Tamarack Lodge. Photo: Tamarack Lodge

The cozy great room in the Historic Tamarack Lodge. Photo: Tamarack Lodge

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.

Belton Chalet in West Glacier. Photo: Belton Chalet

Belton Chalet in West Glacier. Photo: Belton Chalet

Elegant dining at the Belton Chalet. Photo: Belton Chalet

Elegant dining at the Belton Chalet. Photo: Belton Chalet

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.

The lobby of the Izaak Walton Inn takes you back in time.

The lobby of the Izaak Walton Inn takes you back in time.

Stay in a caboose. Photo: Izaak Walton Inn

Stay in a caboose. Photo: Izaak Walton Inn

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.

Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.

Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park.

The view of Swiftcurrent Lake from Many Glacier Hotel.

The view of Swiftcurrent Lake from Many Glacier Hotel.

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.

Beautiful fall day at Lake McDonald Lodge.

Beautiful fall day at Lake McDonald Lodge.

The views from Lake McDonald Lodge.

The views from Lake McDonald Lodge.

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.

Welcome to Double Arrow Lodge.

Welcome to Double Arrow Lodge.

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.

DP

Top 5 Winter Experiences in Western Montana

Located in the northern Rocky Mountains, it’s no wonder Western Montana’s Glacier Country is known as a winter destination with great recreation activities. Among Montana’s snow-covered landscapes, your FIT clients can have a different adventure every day of the week as they enjoy 300+ inches (7.6 meters) of snow that fall on our mountain ranges and create powder-filled playgrounds in our valleys, making the region ideal for winter-focused experiences.

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To help with creating custom itineraries for your FIT market, here are the top 5 winter experiences in Western Montana.

1. Snowmobiling. With hundreds of miles of groomed trails for riders of all abilities, snowmobiling is one of Montana’s favorite winter pastimes. There are scenic and well-groomed trails for travelers who prefer a more relaxed experience to mountainsides and rock cliffs for the more skilled and extreme adventure seekers. Experienced guides can also help ensure your clients experience the best of Montana’s snowmobile trails and offerings. Additional resources include local snowmobile clubs and snowmobile dealers,

snowmobiling

2. Downhill skiing and snowboarding. The most popular winter activity in Western Montana is skiing and snowboarding at the region’s six ski areas that include small family-owned ski hills to a world-class resort. No matter which one your clients choose, they will enjoy affordable lift tickets, thousands of acres of terrain, fresh powder and, best of all, no lift lines. In addition to our maintained downhill offerings, Western Montana also has incredible backcountry terrain that is accessible via skinning, snowmobile or snowcat.

skiing

3. Cross-country skiing. Situated among various mountain ranges, your clients will find multiple groomed trails systems throughout the region that are ideal for cross-country, Nordic and skate skiing. Due to our location in the Rocky Mountain West, Glacier Country is known for its reliable snow and has a well-maintained trail system that is fun and challenging for both skate and classic skiers of all ages. Most of the ski trail systems have no user fees but will accept donations.

XCountry Skiing in Glacier Country

4. Snowshoeing. Making a comeback with smaller, lighter and easy-to-use equipment, snowshoeing is an easily-accessible activity in Western Montana. Popular snowshoeing locations include Glacier National Park, where free ranger-led snowshoe walks are offered on weekends during the winter months. In addition, many of Montana’s national forests have trails that are prime for snowshoeing adventures, with snowshoe rentals available in most communities.

snoeshoeing

5. Horse-drawn sleigh rides. Perhaps one of the most tranquil ways to experience winter in Montana is on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through a snow-covered forest.  Several properties offer sleigh rides during the winter months to help their guests experience a quieter side of Montana, one that includes a journey across an open meadow, complete with stunning views and hot chocolate beside a cozy fire.

A cowboy on the Bar W Guest Ranch prepares horses for a winter sleigh ride.

A cowboy on the Bar W Guest Ranch prepares horses for a winter sleigh ride.

For more information on Montana’s top 5 winter offerings, check out more winter itineraries and suggestions here. Or, if you would like more information on how to create a custom winter in Montana itinerary for your clients, contact our Tourism Sales Manager, Debbie Picard.

Come join the fun,

RF

Experience Western Montana by Rail

Traveling by train has been a popular mode of transportation for years in Europe and Canada and is gaining in popularity in the U.S. That’s great news to us here in Western Montana’s Glacier Country, especially as one of the most scenic segments of Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels through the northwestern corner of Montana. Tour operators can create itineraries where their clients can choose to travel the entire route of the Empire Builder, with flexible stops along the way to see what nearby towns have to offer. Or they can have clients travel sections of the route, then bus or rent a car for the remainder of their itinerary. No matter which option is chosen one thing is for sure: Montana by rail is an easy way to travel.

Empire Builder near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak.

Empire Builder near Glacier National Park. Photo: Amtrak.

Running from Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon to Chicago, Illinois, Amtrak’s Empire Builder travels through the northern tier of Montana with stops in seven of Western Montana’s communities, including Libby, Whitefish, West Glacier, Essex, East Glacier Park, Browning and Cut Bank.

Libby is the first stop in Western Montana and is located at the base of the breathtaking Cabinet Mountain Range and along the winding Kootenai River where travelers will find the largest undammed falls in the state and the backdrop to famous films including “The River Wild” and most recently “The Revenant.”

The Cabinet Mountains.

The Cabinet Mountains.

Kootenia Falls near Libby.

Kootenia Falls near Libby.

The next stop is Whitefish–Western Montana’s most authentic mountain town and home to Whitefish Mountain Resort. Known for its world-class skiing in the winter, Whitefish Mountain Resort also offers fun-filled adventures in the summer including mountain biking, an Aerial Adventure Park, an alpine slide and Walk in the Tree Tops. Plus, your clients will see some of the most breathtaking views of the Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park from the top of Big Mountain. Downtown Whitefish boasts gourmet restaurants and boutique shopping along the quaint main street, Central Avenue. Unique lodging options abound in Whitefish from a 4-star hotel, to mountainside lodges and bed-and-breakfasts.

Historic Whitefish Station.

Historic Whitefish Station.

View of the Flathead River from the train.

View of the Flathead River from the train.

A popular stop to disembark is West Glacier, due to its close location to the west entrance to Glacier National Park. The train depot sits across the street from the Belton Chalet, the first lodge built by the Great Northern Railroad at Glacier National Park. Opened in 1910, the Belton Chalet has been fully restored and is one of the most charming accommodations in West Glacier. Plus, their on-site dining room serves gourmet meals made with local Montana ingredients.

Breakfast at Belton Chalet.

Breakfast at Belton Chalet.

Leaving West Glacier, the train travels east along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park as it passes jaw-dropping scenery out every window. The next town is Essex and features the Izaak Walton Inn. Once a railroad bunkhouse, the Izaak is now a historic inn that sits trackside and has lodge rooms, as well as train cabooses and a luxury locomotive that have been converted into adorable lodging options. The Izaak Walton Inn is quite popular with international visitors, cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiast, as well as train historians. Essex is noted as a “flag stop” on the Empire Builder route and will stop if ticketed passengers are getting on or off at the Inn.

Historic Izaak Walton Inn from the train.

Historic Izaak Walton Inn from the train.

Charming bedroom at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Charming bedroom at the Izaak Walton Inn.

Travelers are greeted with views like this from the train.

Travelers are greeted with views like this from the train.

Once the train passes Essex it crests the Continental Divide at Marias Pass and then continues east to its next stop at East Glacier Park. Across from the station is Glacier Park Lodge, an impressive lodge made of timbers that are estimated to be 600 years old. The lodge was originally built by the Great Northern Railway to promote train travel and attract visitors to the region. The East Glacier Park station is open mid-spring through mid-fall.

Beautiful mountain views cresting Marias Pass.

Beautiful mountain views cresting Marias Pass.

East Glacier Park Station with Glacier Park Lodge in the background.

East Glacier Park Station with Glacier Park Lodge in the background.

The next stop is Browning, the headquarters of the Blackfeet Indian Nation. A stop in Browning gives travelers easy access to The Blackfeet Heritage Museum and Museum of the Plains Indians both offering great information on the history and culture of the Blackfeet. Keep in mind that the Amtrak station in Browning is open from mid-fall to early spring (typically October – April).

Statue of a Blackfeet warrior.

Statue of a Blackfeet warrior.

The last stop in Western Montana’s Glacier Country on Amtrak’s Empire Builder is the town of Cut Bank. The town started as a Great Northern Railway camp with workers who were there to build a train trestle over Cut Bank Creek. Today, it boast abundant outdoor opportunities including fishing, guest ranches, birding, hiking and incredible views of the Rocky Mountain Front.

A few things to note about the Empire Builder and train travel:

  • The scenery is spectacular during every season and the train runs year-round.
  • From April to September Amtrak welcomes volunteers from the National Park Service, Trails & Rails program to offer educational information from the observation car.
  • Each coach seat provides reclining options and a leg rest with a free pillow.
  • Sleeping accommodations range from roomettes to full bedrooms with private baths.
  • Some train travel can be up to half the price of a plane ticket to get to the same destination.
  • Amtrak often gives discounts to children, military, students, seniors and AAA members.
  • The train is eco-friendly and more energy efficient with less emissions than cars or planes.

If you need help planning an itinerary visit our tour operator page here, or want more information on adding Amtrak’s Empire Builder to an itinerary drop me a line here. I am always happy to help.

DP