Glacier NP without a car

Old Jan 31st, 2014, 05:32 AM
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Glacier NP without a car

It occurred to me that this might be the year to see Glacier with a train adventure thrown in by way of the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago I checked the NP website, and there are substantial ranger-led hikes available. PERFECT. Then I started reading reviews for the Empire Builder...ugh. Even the positive reviews were not really encouraging.

I am NOT up for a solitary car trip this year, I don't care if it is "easy." Won't happen. So, is it possible somehow? I have heard good things about a company called Gadventures.com, but they don't seem to have anything in Glacier.

~Liz
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 07:19 AM
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Empire Builder does have a VERY poor record and is made worse now due to heavy freight train traffic from the Balkan oil fields in North Dakota/Montana.
How about flying into Kalispell, Mt. and renting a car? Drive from the airport to the park is only 35 miles!
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 07:31 AM
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Lots of people don't like long-distance Amtrak trains, including some here. Too long, too many delays, food not up to their standards, etc... I've taken the Empire Builder twice (always with a sleeper) and can tell you that they were among the most enjoyable, eye-opening trips I've taken in my life, but it's not for everyone. I always however factor in the possibility of delay on the order of several hours (what would I do if the train is 5 hours late? etc...). If you're worried, maybe only take the train as far as Glacier, then you'll learn whether long-distance train travel is for you.
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 07:43 AM
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Where are you starting from - Seattle?
If the Empire Builder continues to be delayed, take it only from Seattle to Whitefish MT. Rent a car in Whitefish (or Kalispell airport). The eastbound train usually leaves Seattle on time and should be in Whitefish before 10AM.
After seeing Glacier, Take the westbound EB no matter how late it is to Portland. (Train splits in Spokane).
Take a Cascades train back to Seattle from Portland if that is where you want to go.
The problem with the cronic late EB lately is the bitter cold and the amount of oil tanker trains moving in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota etc.
Our first trip to Glacier (2005) included being met at the station by a van from the Meadow Lake Resort and then having a car delivered to the resort from the Kalispell airport.
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 09:18 AM
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Hmmm, back to undecided.

I'm on the east coast, and a flight is definitely planned. I've taken and enjoyed long distance trains in Europe, including sleepers. I also have taken Amtrak from Phila. to Boston.

I can deal with delays, it's the description of constant toilet smells and all night train whistles and dining car reservation mix-ups that concern me. Although not knowing what time of day/night I might get to Seattle/Chicago concerns me as a female.

I haven't spent a great deal of time on the Amtrak site, but you can't seem to enter a stop at Glacier, although they obviously do? Also, there is an Amtrak excursion that does basically what I want, but only goes west-bound. Not clear if that somehow is the better direction.

Thanks for the input so far!

~Liz
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 09:52 AM
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Coming eastbound from Seattle (or Portland) the route of the Empire Builder is on the southern edge of Glacier NP. I suggested Whitefish because it is the easiest to rent a car from. The other stops are West Glacier, Essex (Isaac Walton Lodge) and East Glacier. There are several options for lodging and car rental at East Glacier.
Our second visit to Glacier (2012) we got off the EB in Cut Bank MT about 15 minutes late and had a rental car waiting for us in the station parking lot. We spent the night in a hotel in Cut Bank and then went to the east side of Glacier through St. Mary. We visited the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning before returning in the car in Cut Bank. The train that night was 20 minutes late but we got to Spokane 40 minutes early. Our car was parked in a lot near the Spokane station for 11 days. It was fine.
The major delays on the EB route are mostly east of Wolf Point Montana.
From the east coast, if you want a LD train experience, fly to Chicago and then take the California Zephyr to Sacramento CA. See the sights of Sacramento and then take the northbound Coast Starlight at about midnight. Take the Coast Starlight to Portland and transfer to the Empire Builder there.
Enjoy your trip no matter which city you fly to/from.
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 09:54 AM
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As a family we went to Glacier on Amtrak back in 2003 I believe--there were horror stories even then, but we had a great trip. I recall there were two different Glacier NP stops, one on the east side and one on the west, but the names of the towns escape me.
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 10:08 AM
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Thanks, musicfan, glad you enjoyed it! I found the stations: East Glacier, and West Glacier. Duh!

~Liz
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 03:05 PM
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What you need to know about the bus tours in Glacier:
http://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/bus-tours.htm
The Red Jammers are neat old buses. Sometimes the GTTS road is not open to Logan Pass until after June 20. This could be open earlier if we continue the snow drought.
The easiest access to rental cars is at East Glacier if coming in from Chicago and at Whitefish if coming in from Spokane.
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Old Jan 31st, 2014, 08:33 PM
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"I can deal with delays, it's the description of constant toilet smells and all night train whistles and dining car reservation mix-ups that concern me."

I've taken Amtrak many times long-distance and I'm sure there have been dining car mix-ups but never in my experience. The whistle is not constantly going and doesn't seem to bother me, but does blow now and again; I konk out easily and sleep on my good ear (I'm deaf in one ear though) so it's never been an issue. Perhaps it is for others? I've never noticed toilet smells when in my roommette, although I'm sure it can be an issue for some. I always try to do my part to help keep the bathroom tidy, as I know the train staff can't clean the bathroom after each passenger.
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