Need help with Glacier National Park Trip

Nov 24th, 2019, 08:03 PM
  #1  
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Need help with Glacier National Park Trip

Hello,I would appreciate some advice on planning a trip to Glacier National Park. We have been invited to a family wedding in Whitefish, MT for September 13, 2020. I will be 70 and my husband will be 73 when we take this trip. We used to do a lot of hiking and camping in New England in the 1970’s, but alas, we have gotten a little bit lazy and haven’t hiked in many years!

We plan on taking Amtrak from Boston to Glacier because we think this will be a nice way to see the country. We have about 2 weeks for this trip, and that includes 2 nights on Amtrak. We will spend several nights in Whitefish for the wedding. So I think we will have about 8 nights for Glacier National Park.

I have some questions. Can anyone recommend lodgings outside the park that are clean and well kept? I know the lodgings inside the park are fully booked. Has anyone stayed at Cedar Creek Lodge in Columbia Falls? I know they have availability for our dates. Any other recommendations? Our budget is about $200 per night. Should we have two bases for GNP? I am thinking of just outside West Glacier and perhaps St. Mary’s?

Is there enough to do in the park for 7-8 days for 2 older people who won’t be doing any rugged, strenuous hiking? We definitely want to take easy walks/hikes in the park, perhaps moderate if we think we can handle it. I am interested in the boat tour at Lake McDonald. And of course driving along the Going to the Sun Road. I might consider some guided hikes, too. And perhaps some ranger activities.

I just purchased the Moon Guide for GNP, and have quickly browsed it, but have not read it in great detail, which I will. I plan my trips by using guidebooks, doing internet research, and asking the very helpful Fodors community for advice. Thank you!

Last edited by KarenWoo; Nov 24th, 2019 at 08:07 PM.
KarenWoo is offline  
Nov 25th, 2019, 08:00 AM
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The one time that my wife and I came to the east side of Glacier by Amtrak, we got off at Cut Bank MT. It was about 6PM and still daylight. I had arranged a rental car from a local car dealership. The rental papers were on the sun visor and the key was in the gas flap. I did not want to arrive in Whitefish after 9PM. We had a motel room in the east end of Cut Bank. The next day, June 1, we went to St. Mary and then up the GTTS road to the locked gate several miles below the top of Logan Pass. We also saw Two Medicine Lake. We made it back to Cut Bank in time to catch the next Empire Builder west to Spokane where our car was parked.
Our first trip to Glacier was in the month of November. We took the Empire Builder east from Seattle and arrived in Whitefish in the morning. A van from the Meadow lake Resort picked us up and we got a rental car delivered the next day. We really liked our condo room with a hot tub at Meadow Lake Resort which is also a golf club.
Because of the timing of the Empire Builder I would consider taking the train all the way to Spokane and spending the day there and then taking the overnight Empire Builder east to Whitefish. The two halves of the Empire Builder are joined in Spokane every night around midnight PT. The train station in Spokane will hold your luggage through the day if you are going back on the next eastbound train. Spokane has a lovely park that was the site of a small World's Fair.
Check on availability at Meadow Lake Resort also in Columbia Falls MT.
Unless you want to see a lot of upstate NY, I would skip the Lake Shore Limited and fly to Chicago to catch the Empire Builder from there
tomfuller is offline  
Nov 25th, 2019, 08:38 AM
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The obvious choice IMO would be the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex.
https://izaakwaltoninn.com/
If the Going to the Sun road is closed, you are going to have to drive past it anyway. Use it as a base to go in either direction (east/ west) to go into GNP.

There may be some VRBO rentals in Essex.

"Is there enough to do in the park for 7-8 days for 2 older people who wonít be doing any rugged, strenuous hiking?"

That would be "too long" IMO.
starrs is offline  
Nov 25th, 2019, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by starrs View Post
The obvious choice IMO would be the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex.
https://izaakwaltoninn.com/
If the Going to the Sun road is closed, you are going to have to drive past it anyway. Use it as a base to go in either direction (east/ west) to go into GNP.

There may be some VRBO rentals in Essex.

"Is there enough to do in the park for 7-8 days for 2 older people who wonít be doing any rugged, strenuous hiking?"

That would be "too long" IMO.
Great idea starrs! The Empire Builder has a flag stop at Essex where the Izaak Walton Lodge picks up their customers. I don't know about renting a car there but they can tell you their options.
At the west end of Browning, there is the museum of the Plains Indian which is good for an hour or two of your time.
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Nov 25th, 2019, 09:18 AM
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Originally Posted by tomfuller View Post
Great idea starrs! The Empire Builder has a flag stop at Essex where the Izaak Walton Lodge picks up their customers. I don't know about renting a car there but they can tell you their options.
At the west end of Browning, there is the museum of the Plains Indian which is good for an hour or two of your time.
I imagine they have arrangements for a rental car. If not, get off the train at East Glacier, walk across the not very big street to the general store like Glacier Park Trading Company -
Glacier Park Trading Company ? Your Glacier National Park Adventure Starts Here

The Avis rental counter is inside.
Also inside, gifts, ice cream, fudge, gourmet groceries, great pizza from the pizza oven and almost everything you need. Great pie is a few doors down at the diner.

Then drive the 30 minutes to Essex on Hwy 2 to the Izaak Walton. Stay in the inn (small rooms) or one of the cabooses.

In the other direction from the IW, is west Glacier., 35 minutes away.

Again, if the GTTS road is closed, you are going to have to drive past the IW anyway each day if you stay in East or West Glacier - or points past. To get into GNP, you'll be driving Highway 2.

The restaurant and bar there are great - with great steaks.

Last edited by starrs; Nov 25th, 2019 at 09:37 AM.
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Nov 25th, 2019, 01:15 PM
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Thank you to tomfuller and stars!

My plan right now is to attend the wedding first on September 13, and then to spend sometime in GNP after the wedding. So we would probably spend a few nights at the Lodge On Whitefish Lake, where the wedding will be held. One of my daughters was in Whitefish last summer for a wedding, and she told me they enjoyed spending a few days there visiting Whitefish, Kalispell, taking a gondola ride up a mountain, and they also visited a bison preserve that was a 1.5 hour ride one way from Whitefish. So we might spend 3 or 4 nights in Whitefish first.

I notice on my map in the Moon Guide that there is an Amtrak Depot in Whitefish, so I assume we can take the Empire Builder to Whitefish. So we wouldn't have to go to Spokane in this case, right? And we do plan on renting a car. Is that easy to do in Whitefish?

I notice that both of you mention the GTTS Road might not be open in September. However, my Moon Guide says the GTTS usually closes in mid-October. I realize that early snows can affect the closures and that weather is different from year to year. How likely is it that GTTS would be closed in mid-September, based on your experience and knowledge?

Thanks for the tip about the Lake Shore Limited. We will think about that. The downside to flying to Chicago is that it makes the trip a bit more complicated. We have to purchase airline tickets, and then take a taxi to the train station, and of course coordinate airline flights with the train's departure time. Taking the train from Boston to Chicago, and then from Chicago to Whitefish is simpler, even though the scenery might not be as interesting from Boston to Chicago.

I will check out the Izaak Walton Inn!
Thank you!
KarenWoo is offline  
Nov 25th, 2019, 01:28 PM
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From the GNP website -
Closing portions of Going-to-the-Sun Road is also weather dependent. Typically the road is fully open until the third Monday of October, but that can change due to weather conditions at any point.

https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrinfo.htm

Logan-Pass-Open-Close-Dates_Press-Kit-6-26-2017.pdf
starrs is offline  
Nov 25th, 2019, 01:29 PM
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My comments about the location on Hwy 2 is more about location than prediction that the road will close. IF the road is not open, you have to drive Hwy 2 to get from one side of the park to the other - driving past the IW.

We stay in Essex in any season. If the GTTS is open, we can make a complete loop. If not, the drive via east and/or west.

If you are using Whitefish as a base for several days, you may want to drive up to Polebridge -
http://polebridgemerc.com/

Last edited by starrs; Nov 25th, 2019 at 01:33 PM.
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Nov 25th, 2019, 02:39 PM
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It's definitely possible to experience temporary closures due to a storm in mid-September. The temporary closure might only be on a portion of the road where the elevation is higher so that you can drive in from the west and drive in from the east but not drive all the way through.

We had two bases for Glacier and felt that it worked well. It takes a while to get from one side to the other whether you take GTTS Rd or Hwy 2 (if GTTS is temporarily closed). Have you checked accommodations inside the park yet https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvis...ngsleeping.htm? The latter half of September is a fairly quiet time of year for Glacier so there may still be availability. You could also keep checking back for cancellations. If you stay outside of the park, St Mary is a very convenient base for both the east side of the GTTS Rd and the Many Glacier area. For me staying some place like the Izaak Walton would be too far from the areas where I'd want to hike (approx an hour and a half one way to the east entrance of the GTTS Rd and longer to Many Glacier). For the west side, you could just use Whitefish as a base if you don't mind the half hour drive to the west entrance. We found Whitefish to be a pleasant mountain town.

I found this site very helpful for planning hikes https://hike734.com/hiking/ You can sort by distance and location. Some of the shorter hikes we enjoyed were Hidden Lake, St Mary & Virgina Falls, Redrock Falls, Lake Josephine and Avalanche Lake. I think there's enough of interest for a week if you're planning to do easy/moderate hikes. If you had said no hiking, then I'd say a week is probably too long. The National Bison Range is also a nice day trip.

Last edited by Patty; Nov 25th, 2019 at 03:38 PM.
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Nov 26th, 2019, 08:50 AM
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Starrs, thank you for clarifying why you recommend Essex, and thanks for the links and the tip about Polebridge.

Patty, I did check the lodgings inside GNP for our dates, and they are all booked up, but I will periodically check for cancellations. What are the 2 locations that you stayed in at Glacier? And thanks for your list of shorter hikes. That's very helpful.

How far is Whitefish from Columbia Falls? Would it make sense to stay in Whitefish for the wedding and to do some sightseeing in that area, and then move to Columbia Falls or West Glacier? I think I like the idea of having at least 2 bases, one on the east side and one on the west side.
KarenWoo is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 10:30 AM
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Here is a picture from the parking lot of Many Glacier Hotel the morning we left on 9/13/16 (they had construction then). The location is why you have to play the National Park lodging game and check almost every day for openings. Unfortunately, with the snow we got the day prior GTTSR was closed past Logan Pass parking lot. We drove up to there then back out and around on Route 2 on our way to Fairmont Hot Springs then on to Banff. As mentioned there can be temporary closings, I understand they opened back up the following afternoon.


DaveS is offline  
Nov 26th, 2019, 11:43 AM
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We stayed in St Mary and Kalispell. We went very late in the season so there wasn't much open on the east side and the motel where we stayed was very basic and probably not what you're looking for. Whitefish to Columbia Falls is about 15-20 minutes. I think any of those locations would work as a base for the west side. I posted a brief report of our trip Photos from Glacier National Park October 2016
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Nov 26th, 2019, 03:55 PM
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Another suggestion is to visit Waterton Lakes if you have a passport and have the time We spent a couple of nights in the village a few years ago, took the boat cruise across the lake, and then visited Head Smashed in Buffalo jump. Even though we didn't stay there, we enjoyed visiting the Prince of Wales Hotel. The view is stunning.

We can attest to the weather getting bad early in September. It started raining during the evening before we were departing WL. By morning it was wet snow and by the time we got to the east side of GTTS road, it was closed. A winter storm warning was then posted for the east side of glacier and we had to change our plans and move to the west side of the park. We did get to drive part of the way on GTTS, but snow started moving in and everybody had to turn around.
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Nov 26th, 2019, 04:07 PM
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It snowed on us on the 4th of July on the GTTS road.
Closures happen. Like on the Beartooth
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Nov 29th, 2019, 08:30 AM
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I hope everyone had a wonderful and bountiful Thanksgiving yesterday!

Thank you to Starrs, Myram, Patty, and DaveS. Looks like we have to be flexible regarding snow and temporary closings of the GTTS. DaveS, your photo is gorgeous. I will try to check the hotels' availability on a regular basis. Is it better to call the hotels directly or check online?

I have read some trip reports on Fodors. A few people mentioned meeting up with bears on the trails! Not sure if they were grizzlies. How likely is that to happen? I would love to see bears from afar, but not close up. What do you do in that instance? Leave the trail and give the bear(s) a wide berth?

Thank you!
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Nov 29th, 2019, 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by KarenWoo View Post
A few people mentioned meeting up with bears on the trails! Not sure if they were grizzlies. How likely is that to happen? I would love to see bears from afar, but not close up. What do you do in that instance? Leave the trail and give the bear(s) a wide berth?

Thank you!
Very likely in Glacier. If you are hiking, carry bear spray. Read about bear safety in Glacier.
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Nov 29th, 2019, 11:09 AM
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We like staying in Whitefish. Good restaurants and itís a fun town to walk around in the evenings. I far prefer Whiteish to Columbia Falls.

Iíd pick Whitefish for one base and then see if you can find lodging near Many Glacier on the east side of the park.
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Nov 29th, 2019, 02:07 PM
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There are both black bears and grizzlies in Glacier, the latter is the one you need to be primarily concerned about https://www.nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/bears.htm

Don't hike alone, make noise so you don't surprise a bear and carry bear spray. Make sure your bear spray is easily accessible and familiarize yourself with how to use it. We saw a grizzly sow and cub as we were driving on the road to Many Glacier. When we hiked to Redrock Falls, returning hikers said they saw a grizzly near the trail past the falls so we opted not to continue farther. In general we saw more wildlife on the east side of the park.
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Nov 29th, 2019, 03:28 PM
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We were about five years younger than you two when we did this park. We had a car and drove up from Yellowstone arriving via the east side and stayed at Many Glacier, which we (w another couple) loved. Yes, we saw Grizzlies from the lodge. Yes, the guys saw moose from their horseback ride. We were there a few days (3-4 nts) which seemed plenty, and exited to the west past Lake MacDonald and on to Whitefish. Whitefish is a lovely town. My husband and I (not our friends) continued on Amtrak to Portland which was great. From there we drove to Seattle and flew back east from there. I feel 7-8 days is about twice too long for Glacier. Consider continuing on to Portland/Seattle, but also consider driving down from the east side to Choteau and further to the capital city of Helena. Choteau is ripe w dinosaur fossils and Helena is an interesting city with great river ride. Helena is about 200 miles south from St. Marys, easy driving. I think this is the perfect time of year for Glacier, exact time we were there and weather was perfect. BUT be aware of conditions through the spring/summer and plan accordingly w options. I can find where we stayed in Helena and where we stayed in Whitefish and will get back to you in a couple days re same.
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Nov 29th, 2019, 08:13 PM
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Whitefish Lake Lodge and the Firebrand are two good places to stay in Whitefish (owned by the same company). Lake Lodge is on the lake but itís not as easy to walk into town. Firebrand is few years old and downtown. We prefer the Firebrand because itís easy to walk to dinner and home.

Love Tupelo Grille, Loulaís, Great Northern, and Wasabi. Sweet Peaks has great ice cream.



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