by Judy Zimmerman
When friends realize I have visited most of our country’s national parks, they often ask, “Do you have a favorite?” My answer, “Yes! Glacier National Park in the remote northwest corner of Montana is one of the most staggeringly beautiful landscapes in the world. It’s so glorious that you must plan to go one day soon.” Although it’s a long road trip from Sacramento, there are several attractive alternatives to driving.
By Amtrak Train
Amtrak’s Empire Builder offers a six day tour from Portland to East Glacier National Park. In about 18 hours, as a pampered explorer in the train’s glass-domed Observation Lounge, you can travel through the same majestic wilderness that follows in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. The tour includes lodging in Glacier Park Lodge, some meals, a tour of the park, and a Two Medicine Valley boat cruise. In the summer of 2021, the total price for two adults was $3,365. This tour is so popular that it’s important to make a reservation as soon as possible at www.amtrakvacations.com.
MY INSIDER TRIP: For no additional price to the standard coach fare, there is only one comfortable private bedroom with its own toilet and bathing facilities that is set aside for a mobility-challenged person as well as a second traveling companion. Fortunately, when I had to cancel my plane ticket at the last minute due to a medical reason a few years ago, this room was still available for the three-day journey from Chicago to Sacramento.
Also from Sacramento, it’s about a five hour flight (with one stop in Salt Lake City ) to Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, only 25 miles west of Park headquarters. Shuttles are available to the park. (Delta Air roundtrip price in the summer of 2021 was about $400).
For Independent Travelers and Campers in 2022
If you prefer to travel independently in the Park and stay at several of the historic “Great Lodges of Glacier” inspired by the classic resort of the Swiss Alps, it’s important to book as soon as possible, preferably a year in advance. www.glaciernationalparklodges.com www.nps.gov
Other Recommended Lodging and Dining Choices
If there is no available lodging within the Park, 10 other hotels nestled around the Park’s boundaries also offer the flavor of a romantic by-gone era. www.glacierparkcollection.gov
My favorite is the Belton Chalet just outside the Park’s west entrance. The first of the iconic lodges built by the Great Northern Railroad, it was viewed as the pinnacle of modern hospitality. Today it is known for its elegant dining experience and its Tap Room, which are still a favorite of locals and travelers from around the world. Each evening the staff lines the balconies to welcome the evening train, just like they did in 1910.
Red Vintage Jammer Buses
Be sure to experience a journey on the vintage Red Bus through the heart of Glacier on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The romantic open-air red sedans are both a symbol of the Park and a reminder of a time when adventurous travel was done with style and grace. Locals call them “jammer buses”, a carry-over from the days when buses could be heard “jamming” the gears as they drove up and down the rugged mountains. The antique buses now have modern frames and safety features along with engines that run on clean-burning propane. On clear days their canvas roofs are rolled back and transformed into convertible buses. www.redbustours.glaciernationalpark.com
They climb and wind for 50 miles along the narrow road, past shaggy mountain goats and big horn sheep that dot the cliffs. Mountain lions and lynx hunt for food. Bears scavage for blackberries or fish in the rivers near windswept Logan Pass. Rippling fields of delicate yellow glacier lilies and giant fuzzy white cones of common bear grass are abundant on the Garden Wall section of Highline Trail, a favorite day hike.
There is also a system of shuttle buses for those who are traveling in large recreational vehicles which are restricted from driving on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
My All-time Favorite Hike – Grinnell Glacier
One of the most popular hikes in the Park begins at Many Glacier Campground down the road from Glacier Park Hotel. The trail passes through a wilderness teeming with vibrant Ice Age wild flowers, emerald valleys, and rushing waterfalls. It is also one of the park’s best locations for spotting a bear. Hikers can choose to ride the tour boat along Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes the first part of the way and then book a ranger-led group hike to Grinnell Glacier, but my husband and I opted to hike the entire strenuous 12-mile trail, wearing bear bells around our necks to warn the bears of our presence!
Small Group and Custom Tours
A ideal choice for those who prefer a six-day small group guided tour (two-eight persons in a van) or expert advice in planning a flexible six-nine day custom tour, be sure to check out www.offthebeatenpath.com
Do it Your Way!
No matter how you arrive or where you stay, head for Glacier National Park under the Big Sky of Montana in the summer of 2022. It’s an outpost of civilization that will make your spirits soar. Secure your travel plans by purchasing a policy at www.insuremytrip.com.